Cardinal Ranjith on Latin in the Liturgy
“With regard to the use of Latin in the liturgy it must be stressed that what the Council decreed was that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36). It allowed the use of the vernacular in the following areas: the readings and directives and some of the prayers and chants…With regard to Gregorian chant too the Council was circumspect in that while opening up to “other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony” it stated that the Church “acknowledged” Gregorian chant as being proper to the Roman liturgy and “should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (n. 116). This limited concession of the Council allowing the use of the vernacular in the liturgy was rather adventurously extended by the reformers in that Latin almost totally vanished from the scene and became the best-loved orphan in the Church.
“This I state not because I am a fanatic of the Latin language. I come from a mission land where Latin is hardly understood by most of my community. But it is a fallacy to believe that a language needs to be always understood by all. Language as we know is a means of communication of an experience which most of the time is greater than the word itself. Language and words are thus secondary and follow the experience and the person sharing it in importance. Language always carries with it a kenosis –an impoverishment in its expression. The more this experience undergoes trans-communication into other languages it tends to be increasingly less expressive of the originality of what happened. The word “OM” in the Hindu liturgy, for example, is untranslatable. Besides, the oriental religions use a language which is strictly limited to their prayer and worship forms. Hinduism uses Sanskrit, Buddhism uses Pali, and Islam, Koranic Arabic. None of these languages are spoken today. But they are used for worship…
“The liturgical use of Latin in the Church, even though it starts somewhere in the fourth century A.D., gives rise to a series of expressions which are unique and which constitute the very faith of the Church. The vocabulary of the Credo is quite clearly filled with expressions in Latin which are untranslatable. The role of the lex orandi in determining the lex credendi of the Church is very much valid in the case of its use of Latin in the liturgy. For doctrine often evolves in the faith experience of prayer. For this reason a healthy balance between the use of Latin and that of the vernacular languages should, I believe, be maintained.
“The re-introduction of the usus antiquior –the older form of the Roman liturgy –by Pope Benedict XVI was thus not a retrograde step as some called it, but a move to bring back to Sacred Liturgy a deeper sense of awe and mysticism and a way in which the Pope sought to prevent a blatant banalization of something so pivotal to the life of the Church. This initiative should be given due value and support. It may also lead to the evolution of a new liturgical movement which could be a step in the direction of the “reform of the reform” which has been an ardent desire of Pope Benedict XVI.”