Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Vernacular Option for the Lessons; A Call for Discussion

One of our readers sent in this story: Aufer A Nobis: Missa Pro Pace at St. Mary's in Washington, DC. The Mass, offered in the ancient form of the Roman rite, occurred in relation to the Pro-life March in that same capital city.

What I found particularly interesting however was that the celebrating priest, a European priest from the Institute of Christ the King, employed a practice that -- to my knowledge -- tended to be employed within continental Europe, and in particular France: while the celebrating priest quietly read the Epistle and Gospel from the altar in Latin, another member of the clergy read the lessons in the vernacular aloud concurrently:

For whatever reason this practice had not found liturgical expression within the English speaking world -- enough so that to even see or hear of this might seem novel to some -- with the preference instead being for the proclamation of the readings in Latin from the altar and later again from the pulpit (in the vernacular) prior to the homily.

The former, more European practice has always seemed to me to be a more elegant solution that meshed better with the flow of the liturgy. Today however, the option for the use of vernacular readings has been made available to us by the Pope, therefore firming up a development that had been already occuring:

"In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See." (Article 6, Summorum Pontificum)

Simply put, the readings proper to the 1962 Missal may be spoken or chanted by the priest at the altar in the natural course of the liturgy.

While it is a point of legitimate disagreement amongst those of us attached to the ancient Roman liturgy, I myself believe that if one is going to have vernacular readings proclaimed (rather than simply read as we might do elsewhere in the liturgy with our missals) then doing so in the way described in article 6 of Summorum Pontificum is a preferable option to exercise given the right conditions -- i.e. pastoral preparation.

Previously we were more limited in this regard and so the aforementioned workarounds were implemented. These have served their purpose in the context of their day, but in the present situation I think we need to now re-analyze our approach to this.

In my mind, neither of the aforementioned practices are the best liturgical solution any longer. After all, if we wish to have the readings proclaimed in the vernacular, why have the priest say them in Latin at the altar while having someone else do so concurrently? Likewise, why have the same epistle read twice and why have people stand and listen to the same gospel proclaimed twice?

In the case of the latter, what I have often found mentioned is the aspect of the preserving the chanted Latin readings. I'd propose that we need not be all or nothing about this. A vernacular equivalent can be worked out using those same melodies -- thereby preserving the chanted aspect -- and if a community wishes to preserve the tradition of the Latin readings (a good thing as well) why not simply make the translation of the readings available to the faithful so that they might read along as the priest or deacon says/sings them in Latin, just as they might at other times in the Mass?

Some might say that I am myself being rather "all or nothing" in promoting a choice between using either the vernacular or Latin for the readings of a particular liturgy -- rather than both-and. However, it seems to me there is something to be said for preserving the normal place of the readings in the context of the natural ebb and flow of the liturgy itself with its associated prayers, tracts, alleluias and ceremonial. So perhaps we need to just make our choice for that Mass, Latin or vernacular readings, and proceed with it accordingly.

There may indeed be some need for preparation of course. Perhaps all that will be required in one community is a simple explanation by the priest of this in the light of the Pope's motu proprio. Perhaps time will be needed for priests to learn how to chant the reading in the vernacular. Perhaps it will take time to source out an approved edition of the readings in question. Moreover, perhaps one's congregation is peculiarly sensitive to this issue, in which case it may be best to work in such possibilities gradually over a more extended period of time.

This is all fine of course. We have had enough rushing into things to last us for quite some time and we need measured, prudent and responsible applications. I am not interested in promoting such rushing in. However, I think it would also be a mistake to not at least begin to approach the issue, or to simply assume that there will be a negative response, particularly now that the Pope has made it a formalized option.

With that in mind, I would be curious to hear your comments either in support, caution, or disagreement. Let's hear your thoughts. In particular, I would be interested in hearing from our clergy celebrating the usus antiquior.

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