Someone recently asked me why I sing latin chants and go to Traditional Mass, even a couple of times a month. This inspired me to write down my thoughts here to share with others. Although I'm trying to learn latin, and study the latin words of the prayers I sing, my latin skill is still pretty minimum. So why, and how meaningful they are to me? I'll try to explain it with my not-so-perfect Enligsh.
On the way to the Traditional Mass this morning I asked my 11 year boy whether the Mass is too hard for him to follow. He said ' not really.' (I know he meant it. He is the one I can tell when things are too hard and needs help.). He added, "although I don't understand all the meanings of the prayers, I understand 'what's happening' and follow the Mass better. In other Masses (our local parish Masses) things are changed alot and do not follow the traditional Mass, so hard to follow." Of course he studied "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass' (in English). Actually he is better in following the Traditional Mass than I do, because only Mass I know was OF Mass(now called 'Mass in Ordinary form', Novus Ordo, the new Mass) until last year.
He also told me about getting excited about learning new words and new prayers in latin in children's schola. In children's chant class, we started with learning simple Ordinary parts of the Mass, Kyrie, Sanctus and Angus Dei. They of course know them very well in English, so singing them in Latin wasn't so hard (actually they think it's very cool.), and they do know the meaning. After we learned those (most of them memorized), I added chants that are easy to understand and sing, such as Ave Maria, Veni, Veni Emmanuel... I teach children not just the pronounciation, which is very important to sing beautifully (including pure vowels), we also learn the meanings of the prayers as a whole as well as word-by-word traslations. Of course, I don't expect them to remember them all. But the more they repeat, the more they will remember and understand. Isn't that how we learn prayers in English too? We learn the prayers and we recite them without knowing all the meanings ( not just the words, but the deeper meanings.) We discover the meanings, the more we pray and experience them in our lives. I don't think I know all the true meanings of "Our Father' yet even in English. But that doens't mean I should not say the prayer until I know all the meanings. God fills my humble prayers of imperfect knowledge and imperfect language with His Holiness and love.
We know that there are many reasons that the Church wants keep latin in Mass, universal, immutable to change, and non-vernacular, sacred. Latin is the consecrated language and consistently used for centries in our Church after the purification period in the early Church. The sacredness of the language lifts up the prayers and fills shortcomings our saying those Church's perfect prayers. Of course I should keep studying the prayers, but I won't wait saying those prayers in latin until I master the prayers. Our mind might not understand the words we utter in the prayers, but our spirit does.
I have a friend who is from an European country who hardly spoke English but fell in love and marry to an American who didn't spoke her language either. Without knowing each other's language, they fell in love. After more than 20 years, now they understand better and can speak the same language. When you love someone, the language is not as important. You understand the other, because you love that person. And then of course you get to learn about each other more, and learn to speak the same language. (I married to an American. My husband cannot speak Korean. I learned Enlgish. But once in a while I still wonder whether I'm speaking the same language. In another words, in order to understand each other more deeply, we also have to be in the same spirit)
After the Mass yesteday I heard a funny, but sad story from a mom who takes her children to Traditional Mass. Last summer they had to go to a different church nearby the farm the family just bought. They had singers and guitarists and all. After the awhile, her boy asked the mom when the Mass is going to start(?!) In someplaces the Mass has been changed so much by the 'taste' and 'creativity' of the people, you cannot tell that it's a Mass any more. The sacrament of Eucharist is from God, and when the people change so much, it's impossible to receive His grace fully. I have been reading Church's documents and trying to learn and appreciate OF Mass more. The Holiness and dignity seem to be lost in New Mass, especially in the music after Vatican II. The music in Mass should be chosen by people or by the Church? The Church guarded the sacrament to be holy and dignified, and Her sung prayers were kept in our liturgy so we can glorigy God and sanctify ourselves and receive His grace more fully. Our personal prayers can be kept in our personal devotions, and in public worship the Church has the authority to use Her own prayers, so we can glorify God and sanctify ourselves as a true community of God. When I sing Gregorian chants, I truly feel I'm connected with our Holy Church and all the saints, holy men and women, and all the angels and ultimately to our Lord on the altar. The casual style of music and pop and rock, even worse, style cannot give the sense of the dignity and holiness that are essential to our holy liturgy. Many people didn't understand the intention of the Church fathers of Vatican II. Things that are allowed in the documents became the norms, and even abused for last 40 years in our litugy in many parishes.
When you go to a Traditional Mass , there are translation booklets in the church. I believe most Catholics know Ordinaries (Gloria, Kyrie, Sanctus...) by hearts. And the other prayers and reponses you can follow by the translations first in the booklet, and then as the time goes by, you get to know them pretty well by heart. Also following the Propers get easier as you familiarize with latin more and more in Mass. So I don't understand why people say they get lost. You don't really have to be a mastered scholar in latin to follow the Mass.
Maybe it's not the language actually, maybe many people don't know the Mass well? The actions. The Tradtional Mass has so much deep meanings to each part and action, and I discover something new every time I go. It's like learning about God more and more. It seems to me that the idea of 'explicity' is imported into how we perceive the liturgy these days, and our 'Mystery of Faith" is replaced by "reasonging of the Faith." Of course we should try to learn and understand faith with our reason, but our "Mystery of Faith" cannot be understood only by our reason. There are so many things I learn in Traditional Mass, which I believe, can help to understand and apprecaite OF Mass better.
To me, language has been also a main tool for survival. When I came to US, I had to speak and listen. Grammar that I learned in school wasn't much help that time (helped when I wrote papers mostly though). Reading the textbooks took very long because I coudn't really guess many words just by the contexts. Some friends gave up and went back to their country, missed the comfort back there. But for me there were many things I wanted in this country and I decided to stay and learn. Hardships paid off, and I actually appreciate my cultrue more when I'm here.
I think it depends on how much you see the value of the Traditional Mass and willing to learn and sacrifice other comforts. This also takes lots of humility. If you want to learn Traditional Mass, you actually have to go there and experience it, and learn the Mass and the prayers in latin. latin is a main tool, but that's not everything about the Traditional Mass. It takes lots of sacrifice but this might be one of most joyerful experience we can ever have in our life.