The Value of the Traditional Mass by Alice von Hildebrand # 1 “I can’t understand Latin”

I will do a series from the article by Alice von Hildebrand from the “Latin Mass Magazine” Spring 2010.  She is one of the greatest women Catholic intellectuals we have today.  I admire her greatly.  Her decease husband was the great Dietrich von Hildebrand.

AvH“Father Goodwin’s program on EWTN should be welcomed by all those who treasure the “Traditional Mass.  Lovingly and wisely, he responded to the objections of those who do not know the “treasure” that the “old Mass” (“so ancient and so new”) offers to starving sheep.

patrick ottawaOne objection to the traditional Mass is that “people are passive and do not participate in the holy events taking place on the altar.”  The obvious answer is that we are not going to Mass to be active, but to adore.   Adoration implies contemplation, silence, and receptivity.  The great danger menacing “modern man” is that he places “doing” over “being,” and has lost sense for a mystery that calls for silent adoration.

transfig-beato_angelico-e1331068374349Another objection is that Mass in Latin prevents people from understanding the liturgy.  This is a shallow objection indeed.  Those of us who have been blessed with a Catholic education picked up elementary Latin as children do, without any effort.  To learn a foreign  language when one is young is easy; the child imitates spontaneously.  Later in life, learning a foreign tongue is for most people a hopeless affair – even though there are, as always, exceptions.  Being exposed to the Latin Mass from the age four, the words “Introibo ad altare Dei” became “my religious mother tongue.”  I soon learned by heart the great Catholic hymns and prayers such as the Adoro Te devote, the Ave Maria, the Salve Regina, the Memorare.  

My parents had a male servant named Philip who left a Catholic grammar school at fourteen when he started working for his father.  One day, upon coming back from school, I started to sing a hymn in Latin.  He interrupted me and said: “Miss, you are making a mistake,” and he corrected me.  I had used the accusative instead of the ablative.  He did not know the Latin grammar, but having spent several years in a Catholic school (and Belgium was at that time a Catholic country), he heard, learned, and sang these beautiful traditional hymns, and, having a fine musical ear, noticed my mistake.  This happened a long time ago; I never forgot it, for it made a deep impression upon me.  Those of us who spent time in Italy, were struck by the fact that the peasants knew basic prayers in Latin.

st peters papal massFor my First Holy Communion, I was given a beautiful missal with Latin on one side and French on the other.  Soon much of the liturgy came to me spontaneously without any effort.   Ill will alone can explain why people are allergic to Latin.  Or is it their tacit hatred of tradition?  Jewish children learn Hebrew in Grammar School as a matter of course.  It has a note of sacredness.  Divine services calls for a sacred language.  The same is true of Hindus: Sanscrit is used.

It is “proper and just” that when addressing God we should use an appropriate mode of expression.  The vernacular easily degenerates into vulgarities, as it is alas, but too well known.
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Iglesia de SahuayoWhen we hear a Priest, referring to God, address Him as “the Nice Guy upstairs,” (sic) it must make the Angels cry.  They cover themselves, bow and sing “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.”

The use of Latin as the universal language of the Church has another great advantage.  A “dead” language does not change, and therefore does not alter meaning of words.  “Living” tongues constantly evolve; either they add new words or they change the meaning of words.  We need a “dead” language to keep the dogmas in the Church unchanged. For coming from God’s revelation, any change means a potential heresy.

DetroitWhen I first came to the United States, when I asked people how they were, they answered “I am well.
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”  Today, everybody is “good”, thereby giving the word “good” another meaning and changing it’s traditional use.  Years ago, being “good” would have been unpleasant self-praise.  The word “discrimination” used to refer mainly to the ability to make distinctions.  Today, it is a “condemnation” of the person daring to “discriminate.”

Those of us who have traveled extensively will recall the joy at “homecoming” when they entered a Catholic Church in Istanbul, in the Hague, in Lisbon, or in Mexico.  The moment we heard the words “Introibo ad altar Dei,” we knew we were home and felt profoundly the bond uniting people sharing the very same Faith, quite independent of their race.