Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lent and Latin, Latin and Lent

Latin is still, on paper at least, given pride of place in the
Roman Mass. Yet except for an occasional Latin Gloria at
Christmas or Greek Kyrie in Advent, suburban Catholic Mid-America
saves Ye Olde Languages for Lent. That's if they don't totally
ignore them, of course. I had at least one pastor who made it
clear he had exactly zero use for Latin.

There's a great O Henry short story (title long-forgotten, sorry)
about an atheist newspaper writer that decides to throw a big
Christmas party for all the homeless so they're not stuck with the
usual mission propaganda. Then he watches in horror as it
degenerates into one guy after another giving his testimony about how
far he's fallen but with God's help he's going to come back, and they
start singing "those awful southern harmonies". The whole shebang
turns into an exact replica of the mission Christmas dinners he so
abhored. Really funny stuff.

We ARE still wretches. Forgiven beloved wretches, but still. The
more we go around the rest of the year pretending we're not, the
better a season like Lent begins to look. It's kind of like food
cravings - our spirit needs the same kind of balanced diet our bodies
do.

Lent doesn't resonate with everyone, of course. But a lot of the
rest aren't coming to church anyhow. I'm sure we all have friends
who do Mardi Gras big time, don't do Ash Wednesday at all, and can't
understand why the party has to stop.

Here's a thought - and it's an outsider's observation, in that I did
NOT grow up Catholic - but I wonder if the "returning to Latin" is in
a sense a return to our childhood relationship with the church? For
those who grew up with the Latin mass - like my wife - the
Lenten "You are dust" message is not too unlike the every-week
message she used to get, back when we were wretches year-round and
had to be continually warned of the fires of hell, and had to
continually return to the confessional. Those "wretch" memories are
from the same time span as the memories of the Latin mass - and the
message stopped when the Latin did - and hence the language and the
attitude seem to somehow belong together. N'est-ce pas?

For the younger generations, that specific connection would be gone,
but parents hand a lot of baggage down to the kids, and the ongoing
practice of returning to Latin at Lent sure seems like it could be
self-perpetuating.

3 comments:

Steve said...

RIP Jay. You are missed.

watkinssr said...

Miss you brother...Happy birthday.

nuntius said...

miss you Jay. you're still having an effect on my life. thank you for being such an inspiration.