On truth and beauty.

From the Catholic Herald:

Catholicism is a visual religion. In Catholicism, you look at things and there is usually plenty to look at. Moreover, Catholicism prepares you for eternal life where you will look at the Beatific Vision forever. So, what you look at here on earth is an encouragement to strive for heaven, and a taste of heaven on earth… the embroidery on a chasuble is the prayer of the person who made it, and its intricacy of design exists to stir up a similar prayer in the heart of the beholder.”

When I was stationed at the US Naval Hospital in Naples, Italy, we had the chance to take tours of churches. Lots of churches. There is a church on every corner, and even the lowliest of them exceeds anything we have here in these United States in terms of beauty and intricacy. I recall the first time I entered one of these places, along with a bunch of other tourists. Standing at the back of the church, and looking forward, my eye was drawn every upwards and forwards: there was just too much to take in. Every nook, cranny, crevice and crack was filled with something: a carving, a painting, a staining; whatever it was, it was something that was the product of all of someone’s skill, patience, undivided attention, time, and, yes, love, love in the truly Catholic sense of willing the best for the other.

Napoli Church 2.jpg

Of course, those thousands of unknown someones who produced each of these tens (hundreds?) of thousands of tiny, intricate little, and often not so little, things, not to mention those someones who integrated all those things as parts of a very great whole, did it for pay. Of course they did it for pay. Most of us – me included – do what we do for a buck.

“But in the end,” to paraphrase Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, the defense lawyer in one of my favorite novels, The Caine Mutiny*, “what is it that you do for a buck?”

Well, for a buck, all of these long dead someones built beautiful churches, put all of their time and attention and skill and intellect and heart and soul into the ten thousand little, and not so little, things, and, in so doing, made beautiful things for God. And they did something else, as well. When you stand at the back of one of these churches, and let your gaze be drawn ever upwards and forwards, trying to take is all in, eventually your gaze comes to rest on a tiny figure barely visible in the far distance, up on the massive altar. The figure is always there, in every church you go into. The figure is always more or less the same, no matter how large, ornate or elaborate the altar and surroundings. The little figure is nearly naked, his head hangs down, his body slumps, suspended by his hands nailed to a cross. And it struck me, standing there at the back of the church, that maybe this is what the long dead someones were trying to say.

“This”, they were saying to me, “this is what we think heaven is like. Or at least it’s as close as we can come.”

“And this”, they seemed to be whispering as my eyes were drawn to the tiny, far away figure, “is how we showed our gratitude.”


Not so long ago, I had the occasion to attend Mass at church I don’t normally go to. It was a little white clapboard church, built in the 19th century, but well preserved. Inside, it was clean, to be sure, and in decent shape. But something was different. Outside, it looked much as it had a century ago. Inside, the sanctuary had been gutted. The altar rails were gone, the various statues were gone, leaving empty alcoves and, most importantly, the high altar was gone. The outline was still there, painted bland white; I imagine it only remained because to remove it would have required the destruction and rebuilding of the entire rear wall. But the altar was gone, only the ghost remained. From the old outline one could guess that the altar had been a work of beauty and love, a visual centerpiece of the masses said there. And, along with the altar and, of course, the altar rail, had gone all the accouterments: candle stands, altar cloths, tabernacle veils and frames, communion vessels, patens, the crucifix, all the stuff that had once been so central to this little church. Who knows where it went. All that remained was the lonely tabernacle, devoid of any coverings, sitting naked on a little pedestal. I felt ashamed that my contemporaries had seen fit to destroy and obliterate the work of beauty and love and sacrifice that generations past – people far poorer than we – had worked to build.

In its place is a “memorial table” (this altar with legs is sometimes and in some circles known as a Cranmer table), and some candle stands that can only be described as “cheap”. Don’t misunderstand, everything is clean, and reasonably well cared for. But the past, the tradition and heritage, the visual reminders of those who had gone before us, and sacrificed for those yet to come in their future – us - had been deliberately obliterated. The Mass itself was a sing-along, c.1983, with guitar accompaniment. Everybody held hands as often as possible, and especially during the guitar strumming Our Father, hands held and raised, slightly waiving. Don’t misunderstand, everyone there was quite sincere, and quite enthusiastic about what they were doing. But visually, to the disinterested unchurched observer, it was not really very different from what the Baptists down the street do. In fact, the Baptists are much better at this sort of thing.

The Catholic Church is the visible Church. It is visual, audible, tactile. The Sacraments - as well as sacramentals - are real, physical things. This is because we are not angels, we have bodies, and live in the physical world, are moved by, and understand physical things. The past half century has been a time of experimentation with the obliteration of the most publicly visible aspects of the Church’s physical, tangible patrimony: the form of the church building, and the form of the Mass. How has the experiment worked out? From my worm’s eye view, the data is in and the result is incontrovertible to those who have eyes to see: the experiment has not worked worked out, not worked out at all.

Quid est pulchritudo?

Quid est veritas?


* There are lots of quotables from The Caine Mutiny. One of my favorites: “The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.” Into which of those two groups did I fall? Well, I wasn’t a designer...


So you're new to the Latin Mass...

An Una Voce Maine member sent me a couple of articles, and I thought I’d pass them along.

First we have Steve Skojec, manning up to come clean about his little Latin problem. You can feel his pain:

“ …I wanted to tell them. I wanted to get it off my chest. I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “I GO TO THE LATIN MASS AND I DON’T KNOW ANY FREAKING LATIN! DOES THAT MAKE ME LESS OF A PERSON? AM I SINGING THE SALVE REGINA CORRECTLY? DOES GOD EVEN LOVE ME?!?

But I kept my mouth shut. I had a family. A reputation to consider…”

As Tow Mater likes to say, “Yup, that’s funny right there…”

tow mater.jpg

But Skojec goes on:

“The Church recommends Latin for all. No less a pope than Pope St. John XXIII, who invoked the Second Vatican Council … spoke beautifully of the importance of Latin in the life of the Church in his apostolic constitution, Veterum Sapientia:

‘Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all…’

The pope went on to order the bishops to ensure the study of Latin for those entering the priesthood and teaching theology...

As everyone now knows, his orders were disobeyed…”

Go there and read the whole thing. It’s funny, it is. But it’s also pretty serious.


 Secondly, we have an article at The Liturgy Guy, here. I’ve snipped a bit, but do go and read the entire thing:

“If you are new to the Latin Mass, my recommendation to you is not to worry about how to participate. Put down the booklet all together. Watch and listen in the silence and let your prayer arise... Realize that during this Holy Hour, something magnificent is happening: Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is offering the Holy Sacrifice....

... the modern Roman Rite relies upon the spoken word. On the other hand, the Traditional Roman Rite communicates on various non-linguistic levels, relying heavily on ceremony to communicate what is happening. The spoken words are veiled behind a sacred language, and also veiled in silence because the Canon is prayed in a whisper..."

The priest who wrote the article is Fr. Eric Andersen, pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Portland, OR. The Archbishop of Portland is Alexander Sample, a man known for his orthodoxy, articulate and brave defense of the faith (and especially the “hard teachings”), and an awareness of the importance and centrality of proper worship, as highlighted in his 2017-2019 Pastoral Priorites (a PDF is here).

I’ve snipped a few of Archbishop Sample’s priorities from the PDF:


Initiative A: Improve quality of liturgical music. Provide education & support for liturgical musicians. Train and inspire music ministers.

Initiative B: Increase the knowledge, reverence and effectiveness of all liturgical ministers.

Initiative C: Increase the lay faithful’s knowledge of and appreciation for the Mass.

Initiative D: Promote more consistency in the Mass experience (my emphasis) and ensure that it is in accord with the Church’s faithful celebration of the sacred liturgy. Provide liturgical education and training for the clergy and laity.

Initiative E: Promote a culture of hospitality in our parishes.

St. Stephen’s, by the way, is a church where the EF and the OF exist side by side, no? Check out their website and Mass schedule. I’ve mentioned other such churches in other posts, churches like St. Mary's Church in Norwalk, CT; Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Dunn, NC; St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal, VA; St. Mary of Pine Bluff, WI; St. Gianna Molla Parish in Northfield, NJ; St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City, NJ. There are lots of others. Maybe I’ll put together a list someday, the point being to refute those who claim that bringing the EF to an existing OF parish is somehow destructive. On the contrary, it enlivens and enriches the parish more than the naysayers would ever have imagined!


Finally, there’s this: One of the first things one comes up against regarding the Extraordinary Form is the problem of what to call it. It goes by many names, although in this blog I tend to use EF (“Extraordinary Form”) for the Vetus ordo – Old order of the Mass, and OF (Ordinary Form) for the Novus ordo – New order. I do this because that’s how Summorum Pontificum refers to them. Simply calling it "the Latin Mass" is, though widely practiced, not truly accurate, as much of the OF is actually supposed to be said in Latin (and in some parishes in other Dioceses, this is done.) But go to "Whaddaya call that Mass anyway", Fr. Z’s post from a few years back to get a detailed, and amusing, overview of the thousand and one names for the Mass of All Time.

st johns.jpg

PS: Here’s a new book. Haven’t read it, but I thought I’d pass on the link: Confessions of a Traditional Catholic


Latin II: Why teach Latin?

Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
— Verterum Sapientia

In addition to the many good, and still valid, secular reasons for learning Latin that we discussed last week, Latin is, still, the language of the Church. Pope St. John XXIII was a strong advocate of Latin, and probably gave the best case for it in, on the eve of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), with the Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia: On the Promotion of the Study of Latin (1962). (My emphases.)

“…But amid this variety of languages a primary place must be given to that language which has its origins in Latium, and later proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity throughout the West.

“And since in God’s special Providence this language united so many nations together … it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See. Preserved for posterity, it proved to be the bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe…

And, deliberately repeating myself:

“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.”

This is especially true today: offering a Mass in English, or Spanish, or Chinese is, intentional or not, as much a political statement as it is anything else. Not so with Latin: no one “owns” Latin, not even the Church. Further, in 1962 an English speaker could walk into a Catholic church in Bangor, Maine, Napoli, Italia, or Tokyo, Japan, and follow and participate in the Mass. That is certainly not the case today.

“For these reasons,” Bl. John XXIII continued, “the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin … For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

St. John XXIII then goes on to elaborate on all three of these characteristics, in particular developing the importance of the characteristics of immutability (“modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority…”) and non-vernacular (“…a most effective bond, binding the Church or today with that of the past and future in wonderful continuity…”)

He also develops the educational benefits of Latin, laying out specific provisions for the promotion of Latin studies, and to restore the Latin curriculum in both the seminaries (where it had not, as yet, been so widely lost as is the case today) and in secular schools.

A few quotes from the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum concilium are worth tossing out here:

“… the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way…” (No.4)

“… the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” (No. 36)

“… the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office…” (No. 101)

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy, other things being equal it should be given the pride of place in liturgical services.” (No. 116)

In 1964, Bl. Paul VI wrote an apostolic letter Studia Latinitatis: The Need for Latin remains unchanged.”  This letter was covered very nicely in 2012 by a ZENIT interview from which I quote here:

“… In recent years (2012), tentative beginnings have taken place within the Catholic Church in terms of renewed interest in the study of Latin. Among these are the birth of new religious communities and lay movements that have understood well how a most precious patrimony belongs to the Tradition, to the life itself of the Church, of liturgical, canonical, magisterial, theological expressions whose content is comprehensible only in its linguistic form, namely, Latin…”

One of those “new religious communities” would be The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter established by St. John Paul II in 1988 via the Apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei.

Also in 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued a Motu proprioLatina Lingua, Establishing the Pontifical Academy for Latin” called for by Bl. John XXIII and established in an earlier form by Paul VI.

Finally, as a matter of Canon Law, following on St. John Paul II, Sapientia Christiana (1972) is Can. 249 from the 1983 Code:

“The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well (“lingua latina bene calleant”, lit: “let them be very well versed”) and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.”

To finish up with an observation from Fr. John Hunwicke,

“We have, in other words, a coherent expectation in the teaching of popes S John XXIII, B Paul VI, S John Paul II, and Benedict XVI that all seminarians should become proficient in Latin, the language of the Church. And the attitude of the popes to the promotion of Latin studies in even broader contexts than that of the formation of the clergy is demonstrated in the establishment by B Paul VI of a Latin Academy; a foundation re-established and strengthened by Benedict XVI.”

Latin is not dead, nor is it irrelevant to either the Church or to education in general. I offer a final thought:

There is a painting in the Sacristy at St. John’s Church here in Bangor. It shows Jesus, and has the caption “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Does that mean anything to anyone who passes through there today, especially the youngsters? I guarantee you, Fr. John Bapst (who established St. John’s in the late 1800s) knew what it meant, as did every altar boy who ever served under him. I want my children to know what it means. I want them to be able to access their Catholic patrimony, the rich heritage of the Church, which has been locked away in the memory hole these past 50 years. My children need the full strength of this Catholic patrimony, this heritage, as they go forward into a confused and stormy future. Even rudimentary Latin will allow them this.

Latin I: Why Latin?

Latin’s dead, it’s dead, it’s dead, as dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me.
— Prof. Hans-Friedrich Mueller

In the not too distant past, Latin was an integral part of every middle school, and even elementary school, education. Why? Simple: it made you smarter. It made you think, it made you learn how to learn a difficult subject (no, Latin is not easy, but neither is it harder than any other language) and these skills – thinking, learning how to learn – that the child picked up along the way were transferrable to pretty much any other human endeavor worth doing. Today, in muchof the country, the teaching of Latin is making a comeback. Two of the highschools in my area offer multi-year programs. But what about middle and elementary schools?

A short search using your favorite engine will bring up a bunch of contemporary comments on why resuscitating (L. resuscitatus, stirring up again) the hoary practice of teaching Latin to children today, Anno Domini MMXVII, is a great idea. I've taken the liberty of cutting and pasting bits from one of them in purple. Please note, these are secular (saecularis, adv: worldly, not of the Church) educators, with no association (or apparent interest in) the Catholic Church. So, here goes:


Latin Grammar is the Best Grounding for Education

“But why should they learn Latin? Dorothy Sayers says it best:

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.”
-- From the National Review .


Latin Helps With English Grammar

“While neither the language nor grammar of English derives from Latin, many of our grammatical rules do…” (Noto bene: tons of English words are derived from Latin as well, which has a lot to do with both improved SAT scores and general improvement in written, and oral (orare, v,: to pray, speak) communication – TC)


Latin Makes You More Careful in English

In Latin you have more to worry about than whether a plural pronoun refers to a singular noun (as in the politically correct - grammatically incorrect: each student has their own workbook).

In Latin there are 7 cases with which not only pronouns, but adjectives -- not to mention verbs -- must agree. Learning such rules makes the student careful in English.


Latin Helps You Maximize SAT scores

Through Latin, test takers can guess at the meanings of new words because they already know the roots and prefixes. But it's not just enhanced vocabulary. Math scores also increase.


Latin Increases Accuracy

This may be due to the increased accuracy Professor Emeritus William Harris notes:

"From another point of view, the study of Latin does foster precision in the use of words. Since one reads Latin closely and carefully, often word by word, this focuses the student's mind on individual words and their usage. It has been noticed that people who have studied Latin in school usually write quite good English prose. There may be a certain amount of stylistic imitation involved, but more important is the habit of reading closely and following important texts with accuracy."


There are even living Latin movements which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church, but are all about the benefits of Latin with respect to education. So, I've taken this opportunity to link a couple of places where you can introduce your kids, and introduce (or re-introduce) yourself to pulchra et aeterna lingua Latina.

Memoria Press
Little Latin Readers
Latin 101 offered through The Great Courses
Seton Homeschool has a bookstore which has a ton of Latin resources (some, but not all, from Memoria Press listed above) which anyone can purchase, regardless of whether you are enrolled in the Seton homeschooling program.
Henle Latin is a very intense program, available through Seton and Memoria Press (and, I'm sure, other places.)
Rosetta Stone has a Latin program, interesting because it has a lot of Latin neologisms like computatoria.

Well, you get the idea. Latin is very much alive, and there's tons of resources out there.