Letter from Sebastian Tong (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)
I refer to the letter by Benjamin Wang Xianwei bemoaning the use of Latin at Masses. (Jan 22)
Mr Wang seems to ignore the fact that so many popes have called for the wider use of Latin in liturgy and a return to traditional Catholic music. Pope John Paul II told an international group of pilgrims in Rome in 1999: "We strongly encourage you all that, by diligent study and effective teaching, you may pass on like a torch the understanding, love and use of this immortal language in your own countries."
Does he think that our tiny Catholic community in Singapore is somehow excluded from this?
His argument that Singaporeans' pronunciation of Latin would be "surely inaccurate" is also weak. We are capable of learning. Our ancestors didn't speak English and many of us grew up in households where we didn't speak the language. Yet there are many among us who pronounce and speak English well enough.
Mr Wang also misunderstands the notion of having people "participate fully" in the Mass. Singing loudly or praying loudly does not necessarily mean â€˜participating fully' in a Mass. Silent and sincere prayer is also full participation in the Mass.
Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church and using it in liturgy is powerful as it links us to her very beginnings â€” it was the language of the Roman Empire that dominated the world when the Church began her life and the language of many of her early martyrs.
The local Singapore Catholic community is part of the larger body of the universal Church. Catholics from different parts of the world can worship together in a common tongue when they are gathered together - especially important given that so many Singapore Catholics these days travel abroad. Within our own shores, we also have many in our community who are non-native English speakers â€” Mr Wang should not assume that English would be a more familiar language for them to worship in.
Perhaps the return of Latin to our parishes in recent months was sparked off by the globally televised funeral of Pope John Paul II. It could be that Catholics here caught on TV and were edified when they saw and heard the Creed and Our Father sung in unity by the congregation gathered at St Peter's Square in a common tongue.
That Mass showed us that Latin eloquently demonstrates the unity that we possess when we partake of the Eucharist.
(continued on page 2)
Letter from Aloysius Ting (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)
In his letter â€˜Keep Masses in English' (CN, Jan 22, 2006), Benjamin Wang speaks on the "Latinization of our Masses" and its deleterious effects. This view seems to have only considered one side of the issue. While my own stand is that the usage of vernacular languages should be continued and supported as per the decision of Vatican II, we should not shun or put down what is necessarily the heritage of the church. In fact, we should be willing to do some personal research into its usage and the reasons behind it.
As far as the church is concerned, "particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (Sacrosanctum Concilium III 36.1). The idea of Latinizing Masses is a fallacy as Latin was the original language and if anything Masses have been "vernacularized". Translations to other languages such as English have resulted in some losses in original meanings of many of our traditional hymns such as the "Our Father". It is in Latin that these meanings and their proper contexts are to be found and appreciated. For instance, would we expect to hear "Salva Regina" in anything but Latin? Likewise if an English hymn were to be translated into another language it would lose something.
To understand things we need to remember the motivation of Vatican II, which was to define the role of the church in the modern world and to increase the role of the laity. One of the initiatives designed to address the latter issue was permission to use vernacular languages in Eucharistic celebrations. In Singapore we see this as Masses in every major language and dialect. Has it encouraged participation and understanding? The answer is a definite yes.
Does it mean, though, that this is all we have to learn? It is true that the majority of Singaporeans do not know Latin but we do have the resources to learn at least the traditional Latin hymns. We can definitely do better than simply continuing to go along with what we're already comfortable with. What better way, too, to further increase our level of participation than to learn something new (or in this case, learn about something old) together? Especially something tied to that which we profess as our faith.
With the focus on effective participation by the congregation, the use of a Latin hymn or two would not mean that all hymns would ultimately be Latin ones, neither is there any "danger" of Masses reverting to being conducted completely in Latin. There really isn't any reason to shun the language. Perhaps things might be better if choirs explain their choice of hymns and teach the congregation the lyrics and their proper pronunciation and if the congregation is willing to give the occasional Latin hymn a shot. In no way would we be surrendering any of what we've come to identify with the church in Singapore. What we would discover is more about the church as a whole. Aloysius Ting
(continued on page 3)
Letter from Bernard Yee Weng Wai (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)
I have read the various letters from your readers, the latest from Benjamin Wang (22.1.06 issue), about the "Latinization" of the English Masses here.
As far as I understand, and I stand corrected, the introduction of Latin for certain prayers/portions in the Mass stems from the pope's wish/vision that all Catholics may one day, regardless of their race or language, pray with one voice during the Mass, irrespective of the language in which the Mass is celebrated. Personally, I would be very happy to join fellow Catholics in praying the Our Father with one voice in one common language at a Mass celebrated in say the Swahili language. That, for me, would be a sure sign of the universality of our church.
Given that this is a vision which the church is working towards, perhaps our response to the introduction of Latin to the Masses could be like that of Samuel in today's first reading (15.1.06) and say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening", rather than "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking".Bernard Yee Weng Wai