Dicas Latinae? (Do you speak Latin?) Fortasse (Maybe).
I’m continuing with my explorations and investigations of what is variously called the Traditional Latin Mass, the Tridentine Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but it’s clear I still have a lot to learn. For instance, I just figured out that the Latin phrase I have been using to open each post in this series may actually be wrong. I learned it from an old retired priest who was filling in at a parish I used to belong to back in South Carolina. He was old enough to remember the days of the Latin Mass and could even remember the days when seminary classes were conducted in Latin to improve would-be priests’ command of the language. He said he could recall instances where his brother priests greeted him with a phrase that sounded like “Dicas Latinae?” meaning “Do you speak Latin?” I learned the word fortasse (maybe) by using an online translation website. However, when I try to translate the English phrase, “Do you speak Latin?” using an online translator, I don’t get Dicas Latinae, but something else. When I type in Dicas Latinae, I get something like, “The phrase you entered is not in the dictionary.” Hmm. If someone out there in the interwebs can help improve my Latin and tell me which phrase to use, I would be grateful
Be that as it may. Since I last blogged on this topic, I’ve been to the Extraordinary Form Mass a few more times and officially joined the parish here in Charlotte where the EF Mass is regularly celebrated. (Those familiar with the Charlotte area or anyone else who really cares to can probably figure out which parish that is, but I will refrain from mentioning them by name here). For purposes of comparison, I’ve also attended one of their Ordinary Form (English) masses, and I found that both forms of the liturgy were celebrated with beauty, dignity, and, most importantly, reverence for Christ present in the Eucharist. I am ever so slowly beginning to get a sense of what’s what in the EF, but much about it still mystifies me. I don’t know if I’ll switch to the Ordinary Form or continue with the Extraordinary Form. The little paperback hand missal for the Extraordinary form that I have (which is also available at the church) has only the Ordinary of the Mass but not the Propers. I’m pondering purchasing a hand missal which would have the Ordinary, the Propers, and perhaps some explanatory material which would help me understand, appreciate, and participate in this form of the Mass more fully.
On the other hand, perhaps the key to participating in the EF is not so much reading and following along and understanding as it is watching and listening and praying. A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the first Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Father Jason Christian, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newest priest. Father Christian chose to celebrate a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, assisted by several brother priests and numerous acolytes, servers, singers, and musicians, in addition to the schola cantorum of the parish. It was glorious to hear Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony in their proper context, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but I was frustrated by my inability to follow the liturgy because so many of the prayers of the priests and servers are said in a low, inaudible voice. Then it occurred to me that perhaps what I should do is not read along but watch, listen, pray, and enter into the liturgy that way.
I’d like to suggest that we do a similar thing when we watch a play or a movie. If I were going to see a performance of Othello, for example (my favorite Shakespeare play), I probably wouldn’t take along a paperback copy of the script and read along with the actors as they deliver each line. If I did that, I’d miss the action on stage and miss the drama and excitement of the theatrical experience as the actors brought the story to life. Instead, I would probably reread the story beforehand so that I would know what to expect from the plot, thus freeing myself to watch the story unfold on stage, react, and relate to the characters.
I’m just thinking out loud here, but perhaps, in a similar way, we can view the Extraordinary Form as the greatest and highest kind of liturgical theater. By this I DO NOT mean that it is merely a show put on for our entertainment in the manner of a Broadway musical. I mean that it is a sacred drama whose story we already know: the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice of his Body and Blood on the Cross for the salvation of the world. We can read the “script” or the story for this drama any time we wish by opening and reading the words in our missal. By attending Mass, praying, watching, and listening attentively, however, we can see and react as the “actors” in this drama, the priest, deacons, and servers, bring the story to life liturgically.