Just when you thought things couldn’t get any nuttier in the Vatican, they do. On June 28 (the vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, of all days), Monsignor Franco Camaldo, secretary of the canons of St. Peter’s Basilica, informed the canons of a new policy enunciated by the new Archpriest of the Basilica, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, namely, that henceforth liturgical celebrations would be conducted principally in Italian, rather than Latin.
First, a couple of points of information.
The canons of the Basilica are priests who, as a body, are responsible for every aspect of the life of the Basilica. They form a juridic body; they are not just place-holders or figure-heads, who decorate ceremonies with their nice outfits (which the present Pope doesn’t like, anyway). They form policy. Thus, for them to be “informed” of a policy indicates that they have been bypassed and that someone has arrogated to himself authority he does not have. This reminds me of two actions of Cardinal Virgilio Noe who, with no consultation of Pope or canons, introduced Communion-in-the-hand into the Basilica and who, similarly, ripped out the original altar of the Chair in the apse of the Basilica.
Now, on to the substance of the issue.
On March 15 (the Ides of March!), an unsigned notice informed all that “private” Masses would be banned a week hence. Such a hue and cry went up that on June 22, the Archpriest walked back parts of that ban. That’s the context for the new policy.
The first point to make is that this flies in the face of Vatican II, the Code of Canon Law, and statements of post-conciliar Popes. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council Fathers declared: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites”(n. 36, § 1). The Code of Canon Law (canon 928) stipulates: “The Eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in the Latin language or in another language provided that the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.” Read carefully, we see that primacy is to be given for liturgical celebrations to be carried out in Latin, with the possibility of the vernacular. St. John Paul II taught: “The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself” (Dominicae cenae, n. 10). In continuity with the Magisterium of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, besides wishing that there would be a greater use of the traditional Latin language in liturgical celebrations, especially during international gatherings, wrote:
Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant. (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 62).
If Latin cannot be used in the “parish church” of all believers, where can it be used?
Aside from this decision being made in an arbitrary manner (like the previous one of March 15), contrary to the constant affirmations by Pope Francis of the need for “collegiality” and “synodality,” what’s at stake here?
Whenever I have been in Rome, I have made it a point to concelebrate the 5 p.m. Latin Mass (Ordinary Form). It is very well attended by laity and visiting clergy. It is conducted with great dignity and with full congregational participation in the Gregorian chant. In keeping with the Vatican II principle, the Scripture readings and homily are rendered in the vernacular. If that Mass is now to be celebrated in Italian, priests who do not know Italian (which would be the vast majority of visiting clergy) would not be able to offer Holy Mass. Lay pilgrims from outside of Italy would likewise be marginalized. Is this the incarnation of Bernini’s colonnade of Mother Church’s open arms welcoming one and all?
Pope Paul VI embarked on a decided program of the internationalization of the Church: in the Roman Curia and in the College of Cardinals. :John Paul II continued that process. In the present pontificate, we seem to be witnessing a re-Italianization of the Church, as well as the pushing aside of Latin. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV, the Vatican Press) is no longer printing Latin liturgical books (even reprints) and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is denying publishing houses permission to publish the books which LEV has laid aside.
It must be noted that the books in question are for the Ordinary Form of the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours.
The anti-Latin mania in today’s Vatican goes against the entire tradition of the Church, which has always regarded Latin as a treasure, especially in the Sacred Liturgy as a sacral language to elevate the minds and hearts of the faithful. That mania also violates a fundamental principle of Christian hospitality and may well be driving despondent and disaffected Catholics into the arms of the Lefebvrists.
Cicero bemoaned the situation of the Rome of his day, “O tempora! O mores!” That was best translated by the classicist Charles Duke Yonge as: “Shame on this age and on its lost principles!”
This ill-advised policy needs to be walked back, just like the one of March 15, so that it is clear that ours is a universal Church, not an Italian one.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!