Monday, November 13, 2023

The Incomparable Latinity of the Church’s Prayer: Two Newly-Released Books

It is characteristic of our strange in-between times that, while officialdom in the Church frowns severely upon all manifestations of tradition, be it in the wearing of cassocks and lace or the use of a bimillennial liturgy or the defense of the decalogue, “on the ground” there is a never-ending stream of indications that tradition is seeping in everywhere and saturating the rising generations who still believe in Christ. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of publishing, where nine out of ten books appearing on liturgy, sacraments, spirituality, and the like are either markedly conservative or defiantly traditional in approach.

Today I am pleased to announce the nearly simultaneous release of two books—the one by a living writer familiar to all NLM readers, namely, Dr. Michael Foley; the other a reprint, after many decades, of a valuable preconciliar work by Fr. C.C. Martindale—that have, in their distinctive ways, very similar concerns. Both are written to expound and exult in the enormous riches, the world of subtlety, the colorful details, of the Church’s specifically Latin orations, which no vernacular language can convey or capture.

The New Book

Michael P. Foley. Lost in Translation: Meditating on the Orations of the Traditional Roman Rite. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2023. 302 pages. Paper $21.95; Cloth $32.
Publisher’s Description: At every celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, one of the greatest achievements of Christian culture passes by virtually unnoticed. The orations of the Roman Rite—the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion—are literary masterpieces: a unique species of rhetoric, they ingeniously combine tight structure, poetic rhythm, literary order, succinct imagery, and a panoply of human experience. These brilliant gems are underappreciated because much of their splendor comes from their deft exploitation of Latin, which, like any other language, has its own ecosystem and way of doing things. As a result, even the best translations will leave something out.

Lost in Translation was written to introduce readers to these gems even if they do not know Latin. In its pages Michael Foley explains one or more orations for every Sunday of the Church year and for a number of Saints’ feast days, unearthing the subtle nuances and vivid images that make these prayers such a delight. The result is a new portal into the beauty of sacred liturgy and the mystery of our redemption.
Praise for “Lost in Translation
“The orations of the classical Roman Rite are rich and illuminating, especially when placed in their proper context: the days and seasons of the liturgical year. Acting as missal mystagogue, Michael Foley takes us on a delightful tour from Advent to Apocalypse, unpacking the prayers’ dense content, reveling in their linguistic finesse, and applying their lessons to our spiritual life hic et nunc. Food for prayer and kindling for homilies, Lost in Translation is guaranteed to intensify the reader’s astonishment at the treasure-chest of tradition, with the orations as its diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.” —PETER A. KWASNIEWSKI

“In this excellent book, Michael Foley skillfully guides us through the liturgical year using the Collects, Secrets and Postcommunions of the traditional Roman Rite. These liturgical prayers of the Church are crammed full of theological, biblical, and patristic insights as well as poetry, imagery, and wordplay, all of which can often be overlooked in vernacular translations. Dr. Foley’s valuable insights are sure to prove spiritually fruitful for laity and clergy alike, and will no doubt be a source of fresh inspiration for those entering into the Church’s traditional liturgy.” —MATTHEW P. HAZELL

“In clear, conversational prose, Michael Foley attentively studies the orations of select Masses of the 1962 Roman Missal in their context. His meditations foster personal inner appropriation of the Church’s common prayer and teach us how the prayers school our desires. Foley’s work is pleasantly enriched by the pertinent inclusion of words from Fathers and Doctors of the Church and of historical facts and customs that tell us about a feast’s celebration or highlight theological and spiritual truths presented in its Mass texts.” —LAUREN PRISTAS

Available directly from the publisher here or from Amazon (here, or at any other country’s site).

The Reprint

C.C. Martindale, SJ. The Words of the Missal. Lincoln, NE: Os Justi Press, 2023 (originally published by the Macmillan Company in 1932). 226 pages. Paperback $17.95.
For those unfamiliar with him, Cyril Charlie Martindale (1879–1963) was a Catholic priest, scholar, and writer, who, with fellow Jesuit Martin D’Arcy, was among England’s foremost Catholics of the first half of the twentieth century. He kept up a correspondence with such figures as Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene. In 1931, Fr Martindale wrote a fine and accessible study of key Latin words in the Missale Romanum, with this admirable goal: “All I want is that this book may help people to pray still better, and to love the Missal still better, so that what is old and familiar shall reveal new beauty and lovableness.”

The resulting book, accurately (if not excitingly) entitled The Words of the Missal, long out of print, has now been reprinted by Os Justi. Here are some words from the Introduction:
If you read St. John or St. Paul, you are almost sure to love their works, or at least some parts of them. But if you take real trouble to find out what exactly their words mean—Faith, for example; Justice; Fulness; Spirit; Light—their value begins to glow forth from within, and the page becomes transfigured and quite different from what it was before you took the pains to pause, compare, ponder, and to catch all manner of elusive shades and depths of meaning in such words. When you re-read those writers you will not any more have to spend time over such details, nor find yourself pulled up or committed to any complicated work, but the flow and the glory of the inspired pages will be a new thing for you.
          Something similar can be done with the Roman Missal. The Latin words in the Missal at times float and waver, and require care before they perfectly yield up their sense. Others have so definitely "Latin" a flavour that it is very difficult to translate them exactly into English; still, the attempt should be made, along with a little explanation. Others may seem so ordinary that we might take them for granted and not notice some of the richer meaning that is theirs.
          The method of this book, then, is quite simply to take a few of the words which come often in the Missal so as to be in a certain sense “favourite” words in the Liturgy, or else, other words that we might not notice; to collect several instances of their use (for isolated instances prove little; many exercise a cumulative effect); and then, to “worry” them until a kind of valuable juice of meaning is crushed out of them. Certainly no reader would be expected to attend to such details during Mass itself; but, having done it outside of Mass, he will find that Mass becomes full of added delight.
The Table of Contents:

1 “Rejoice in the Lord”
2 Human Fragility
3 The Divine Initiative
4 God’s Hand of Power
5 God’s Largesse
6 Man’s Transformation
7 Drastic Discipline
8 How the Church Speaks to God and How We Should Think of Him
9 The Wording of Our Payers
10 The Mysticism of the Missal
11 The Light of Life
12 Newness of Life
13 Charity, Unity, Peace
14 Lights and Shades of Meaning
15 Delicacies of Meaning
Appendix: Latin and English

Available directly from the publisher here or from Amazon (here, or at any other country's site).

Although Fr. Martindale speaks generally of “the missal,” in fact nearly all of his examples are drawn from the orations. That makes the Foley book and the Martindale book wonderfully complementary to each other, as each covers different parts of this vast territory and by different methods: Foley looking one by one at particular days or feasts in the Church calendar, Martindale exploring themes across the entire missal.

May books like these restore among eager Catholics the knowledge, appreciation, and savor of the wisdom of our inherited tradition—and may they help to bury, once and for all, the folly of those who claim that all of the Latin Church’s tradition of prayer can be effectively conveyed in vernacular. It cannot be, and these books demonstrate it with atomic force.

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