Thoughts on Francis’ claim that non-vernacular readings are “laughing at the Word of God”

From Fr. Z’s Blog:

Fr. John Hunwicke’s blog is a constant source of fascinating details, amusing invective, and inverting insight. Those first two may be obvious, but what do I mean by “inverting insight”? I mean that Fr. H has a keen ability to “turn the sock inside out”. Okay, so what does that mean? He can flip perspectives and see an issue from another angle.

He did that on his blog today when he tackles the absurd notion about Latin that Francis apparently holds – though it’s often hard to tell what he really thinks. In an interview, Francis said that having the readings in a language not understood by every one (i.e., Latin) during Mass “would be like laughing at the Word of God”. I think he means, “treating the Word of God with disdain”, but who really knows?

What did Francis say?

For example, that the proclamation of the Word be in a language that everyone understands; otherwise it would be like laughing at the Word of God. Little things.

He didn’t say “Latin” but it was in the context of his cruel attack on the traditional Roman Rite (and… therefore on the people who want it).

We can make several points here.

Firstly, what is the level of understanding of the people of the biblical readings at Mass. If they hear the words in some arrangement from the vocabulary and grammar of their mother tongue (some have bigger vocabularies than others and better command of grammar), so what?  Do they get what they are hearing?   And then ask them on the way out the door (having just received Communion) what the Gospel was a few minutes before.

You will object that the priest has to “break open the bread of the Word” like Jesus at Emmaus.  Okay, fine.  But a priest can do that if the readings are in Latin, too.   On the road to Emmaus, Christ quoted and interpreted Scripture concerning Himself. His explanations surely would have been in Aramaic or… were these two disciples of Greek Hellenic background?  Did Christ bypass quoting the Hebrew Scriptures and merely paraphrase them?  That doesn’t seem like His style.   No, surely He quoted them in the sacred language they were recorded in: Hebrew.

Next, what Francis doesn’t seem to get is that the readings themselves are sacrificial in nature.  Part of the problem with the modern view of Mass is that the readings are didactic in nature and also that they are paranetic, useful for moral teaching.   While readings are certainly both instructive and hortatory, their main function in liturgical worship, just as the offerings of bread and wine, incense, the candles being burned, etc., is sacrificial.  They are raised to the Father as part of the sacrificial action of the Mass.   Hence, it is most fitting that they a) be read at the altar and b) by the priest and c) in a sacred language.   Thereafter, if they are repeated at the ambo – the locus of proclamation and explication – in the vernacular, that is entirely appropriate, though secondary.  By “secondary” I don’t mean “unimportant”.

Consider how in wreckovated and new “municipal airport terminal” churches there was even a fad of placing the ambo and the altar on equal footing in the sanctuary (if there was a sanctuary at all).  This was to symbolize the belief of the designer that the altar and ambo were on equal footing, of equal importance.  No wonder so many today don’t believe in the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist: it’s in the architecture itself in some places.  Ironically, the desire to escalate the reading of the Word of God at Mass by stressing it so strongly and making it readily understandable, in practice diminished the Word by stripping it of mystery, sacrality, and sacrificial character.

Back to Fr. H’s post.   Before checking it out, you should know what he means by “John Henry Newman on the Suspense of the function of the Ecclesia docens”, that is, the “teaching Church”.   We hold that the Church is Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher, right?  What if that teaching function goes haywire for a while?

In “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine”, Newman wrote:

On the one hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the “Ecclesia docens.” The body of Bishops failed in the confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicæa, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithfu1 were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.

I think we have seen examples of the “suspension” of the teaching activity of the Church in modern times, as in from Paul VI onward and the Church’s feeble adherence to what was affirmed in Humanae vitae.  We have seen total lack of focus concerning Catholic higher education… speaking of Ecclesia docens.  There is Amoris laetitia and adultery.   The attack on traditional liturgy is also a suspension of teaching because liturgy is doctrine.

So we come full circle.   Here’s Hunwicke…. my emphases and comments:

Pope Francis attacks the Holy English Martyrs

Reading the Scriptures at Mass in a non-vernacular language is, according to our Holy Father, “like laughing at the Word of God”.

I find this a remarkable insult to hurl at our English Martyrs.

It is a good thing that, some years ago now, after reading S John Henry Newman on the Suspense of the function of the Ecclesia docens, I concluded that we must now be in precisely just such a period of Suspense. I cannot see how else one can fit PF into any sort of Catholic Ecclesiology.  [Liberation Theology?]

The earliest of the English Martyrs were attached to the Sarum Rite … not really, Fortescue explains, a ‘Rite’ but a dialect of the Roman Rite. S John Fisher … the Holy Carthusian Martyrs … John Forest … the blessed Benedictine Abbots … Blessed Thomas Plumtree who restored the Sarum Rite to Durham Cathedral … layfolk such as the glorious yokels martyred in the South West and Oxfordshire, and the Lord Chancellor and Cardinal Pole’s martyred mother and Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland. (There is still a sweet little stained-glass window of him in the former, 1820s, Catholic Church in Alnwick, beneath the shadow of his castle. Secularised, the church is now a museum.)

And the readings in the Sarum Rite were not done in the vernacular.

Those martyrs were “laughing at the Word of God”!

Then, in 1576 at Douay, they started to teach the young men the ‘Tridentine’ Rite … young men whom S Philip Neri addressed in the streets of Rome with the words Salvete flores martyrum. The last beatified martyrs were Fr Thomas Thweng and William Howard, Viscount Stafford, condemned for “the Plot” in 1680.

And the readings in the Tridentine Rite were not done in the vernacular.

They, too, were “laughing at the Word of God”.

I wonder if it will ever occur to this obsessed person to apologise for his campaign of hatred against Catholic worship; against so many holy priests who have used the Authentic Form of the Roman Rite, including our Martyrs.

So many heroic lives; so much blood.

And all, we are taught by the Summus Fidei Magister, so that those martyrs could “laugh at the Word of God”.

Thanks, Fr. H.

Fr. Z kudos.

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