The Sacrifice of the Cross and the Language of the Liturgy

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The language of the liturgy is the very language of the cross. More than just a communal meal, the Catholic Mass is a sacrifice. Indeed, it is a re-presentation (and not simply a representation) of the once for all sacrifice of Christ our High Priest (Heb 9:28). In all of her wisdom, Holy Mother Church gives us the very languages from calvary as the means by which we worship in the Holy Mass.

“Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.” (Jn 19:19-20)

It was on the titulus crucis (the title of the cross) that Pontius Pilate had the above words inscribed. In fact, it is from the Latin inscription on the cross—“Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum” —that we get the abbreviation “I.N.R.I.” found on many Crucifixes today.

The significance of language in the liturgy was addressed by Monsignor George Moorman in his informative pre-conciliar work, “The Latin Mass Explained”:

“It is curious to note that the three foremost dead tongues-the Hebrew, the Greek and the Latin-were employed at the crucifixion for the inscription fixed above the thorn-crowned Head: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” These were the languages chosen to tell the great truth to the whole world.”

Writing circa 1920, Msgr. Moorman explained how the languages found on the cross are now the language of the liturgy:

“So today, in the commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross, in the Mass, these three languages are still employed. The greater part of the Mass is said in Latin. The Kyrie Eleison is Greek. Vestiges of the Hebrew are found in the words, Alleluia, Amen, Hosanna.”

What a sacred reminder we have been given by the Church through her use of language. As the Holy Mass transcends both time and space, the utilization of Greek, Hebrew and most especially Latin, assists us in recognizing our very participation in salvation history. Through the use of languages that are non-vernacular and immutable, we more fully realize that the ordinary has been left behind; it is something supernatural and extraordinary we have entered into.

It is unfortunate that for many Roman Rite Catholics there is little to no liturgical language connecting them to calvary. While Hebrew remains, very often Greek and Latin are missing altogether from the Mass, replaced instead with the vernacular.

However, with the papacy of Benedict XVI, and the ordinations of more and more tradition-friendly priests, it is a time of cautious optimism. In addition, the increasing availability of the traditional Latin Mass has introduced a whole new generation of Catholics to these liturgical languages. May the Sacrifice of the Cross be more fully realized by the faithful through these sacred languages.

(Picture: Christ Crucified by Diego Velázquez -1632)

Posted on January 25, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Again a very nice article and of the many things that popped out at me that I would like to comment on these:

    The language of the liturgy is the very language of the cross. More than just a communal meal, the Catholic Mass is a sacrifice. Indeed, it is a re-presentation (and not simply a representation) of the once for all sacrifice of Christ our High Priest (Heb 9:28).

    And this one

    What a sacred reminder we have been given by the Church through her use of language. As the Holy Mass transcends both time and space, the utilization of Greek, Hebrew and most especially Latin, assists us in recognizing our very participation in salvation history.

    The two statements are one. The mass in not just a representation, but it is in fact a what you said is a re-presentation of the Mass. Christ himself as the form of the priest and though space and time, we are there at the last supper. It is fascinating to me that what we are seeing is not a reenactment of what happen some 2,000 years ago, but it is happening now for the first time before our eyes because as you said the Holy Mass Transcends time and space.

    You see, I am a firm believer that Time only exists for man. It does not exist for any other creature. Birds do not fly south because a calendar reads October 30th, they do so because it is in their nature. No other reason. Only man have a need for time; it helps him understand what goes on around him. But it is not needed.

    Now, for God time does not exist. He moves according to his Holy Will. There is no portal, no door he has to enter. He wills any moment and it there. He wills creation to stop as it did just before our Blessed Virgin Mary responded to the Archangel Gabriel. For us, the response was immediate; however, for creation that is not bound by man’s silly, it was forever. Creation stood still.

    Therefore, what we witness at Mass is the actual events that happen. Very powerful if you think about it and as Catholic we are privileged to witness what very few have ever seen.

    Now, my comment about the article.

    I loved it because it was talking about the language of the Church. My comment extends to the language of the Holy Bible.

    The Holy Bible is the word of God and is everlasting. It cannot or should not every be changed. It needs to stay pure and holy. Only then does it help man. However, when we insist on changing his word to meet our needs, we lose it true meaning. We cannot improve it, you cannot improve perfection, and we however destroy it. Curse those who do… for they are not doing God’s work.
    I find that if the Bible is hard to read that is because the Holy Spirit is telling me to dig deeper into passage and find the meaning. The Bible that I use is the Douay-Rheims 1989 version of the Bible. For those who do not know: Pope Damasus assembled the first list of books of the Bible at the Roman Council in 382 A.D. He commissioned St. Jerome to translate the original Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin, which became known as the Latin Vulgate Bible and was declared by the Church to be the only authentic and official version, in 1546.

    The Douay-Rheims New Testament was first published by the English College at Rheims in 1582 A.D. The DR Old Testament was first published by the English College at Douay in 1609 A.D. The process was painfully long to transfer from Latin to English. Kings James used the Douay-Rheims bible in 1611 as a blue print for his version of the Bible.

    Then, the whole Douay-Rheims Bible was revised and diligently compared with the Latin Vulgate by Bishop Richard Challoner in 1749-1752 A.D. The notes included in the text (in italics) were written by Dr. Challoner.

    Many of the people who comment or made notes for the Douay-Rheims throughout history, were Doctors of the Church, Saints, Popes, Bishops, Priest; Holy men that walked with Christ everyday of their life.

    I have to physical copies of a Douay-Rheims Bible one printed last year; the another was printed in 1914. Both prints are exactly the same because, God’s Word does not. Both Bibles are in pristine conditions. They are used by me; however, I do not mark it up like a textbook with highlighters, underline text, make notes in the margins or use post-its. This is the word of God and needs to be treated and giving the respect that it deserves.

    Please understand this the next time you purchase a Bible. You want to get as close to the word of God as you can. I do know one thing the Kings James Version of the Bible has so many (admittedly) errors and should never be used. When my sister-in-law tried to give my daughter KJV of the Bible, they were quickly returned.

    Again, we must not tamper with perfection. If we do not understand, then learn what you do not know.

    Again, very good article.

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