It is just a thought, but perhaps the reason Benedict XVI choose to discuss the apologist Tertullian is a signal that the return of the Latin language within the Church is imminent. Tertullian is considered the “Father of the Latin Church” and was a leading figure in the traditional use of the Latin language in his writings. Please don’t misunderstand me. The Latin language has never really been gone from the Roman Churchâ€¦just in most cases placed on hiatus from daily usage. The Second Vatican Council permitted the increased use of a local vernacular language for the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments.
Â However, the same council never abolished the universal use of Latin. Frankly, it endorsed the use of the Roman tongue when large gatherings of Catholics were present to worship from all over the world. That really makes a lot of sense. The universal language for Catholics universally is Latin. The ability to communally pray in one language is a great symbol of the unity of the Catholic Church throughout the world. We have been praying in English in the United States since the conclusion of Vatican II. One matter that has never really been popular in the United States however is the recommendation from the General Instructions of the Roman Missal is that the faithful be able to say (and sing) critical components of the Mass in Latin. Typically as a result of this linguistic aversion most Catholics in the United States cannot even recite the Pater Noster in Latin. Quite frequently as was our custom prior to the liturgical changes of Vatican II, the parts of the Mass which were commonly used were sung in Latin by a cantor or a choir. What is unique however is that we have quite literally been reciting the English translations of the Latin Roman Ritual for almost half a century.
It would be an easy remedy to have Catholics now start reciting parts of the Mass in Latin with the use of an interlinear sacramentary or guide. Not only would the occasional use of Latin in this manner provide a true link to our historical and liturgical developments, it would provide a great primer for all Catholics to understand the truly universal status of their faith. In the same way occasional usage of Latin in the Liturgy would focus on the ethnic and cultural diversities that reflect the inclusive nature of the Catholic Church. Perhaps we are just getting back to a nice balance in our liturgical lives by including the vernacular languages of the local communities and the universal flavor of Latin in our expressions of worship.
It continues to fascinate me that our world is quickly becoming a global village. Peoples from all nations commonly learn multiple languages with which they communicate. Traditionally, individuals in the United States have not always accepted a multicultural understanding of learning new languages. That time is past. As Catholics we are truly a global religion that embraces multiple languages and cultures. Our liturgical expression needs to reflect this global desire to communicate with each other. Latin as the unifying tongue bridges this chasm of communications, and permits united prayer. Of course the local vernacular language offers security and comfort to local parish communities, and that should not be discontinued. Familiarity with the liturgy in Latin will greatly contribute to a deeper sense of participation and appreciation of the historical development of our liturgy. Most importantly, what we don’t want to become as Latin savvy Catholics is exclusive of other believers, but rather linguistically inclusive worldwide.
I guess it is quite a reverse from the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, however I think it is the manner of usage which the council Fathers had in mind. Namely we need to find a harmonious balance between the uses of the vernacular with Latin. If we can accomplish this task, not only would we be restoring a traditional sense to our liturgy, we would also enhance global understanding and communications among our faith. Latin is not a dead language, for the Church it is the language that unites us and compliments each and every vernacular language throughout the world. Benedict XVI’s inclusion of Tertullian during his weekly audiences is diplomatically astute and makes all Catholics consider the global view of our ecclesiastical communion.
In the same manner, Benedict also reminds faithful Catholics that “true communion” with the teachings of the Church is not something which is arbitrary or selective. This point is very important to realize, that even Tertullian, considered the pinnacle of the Latin Fathers made a serious error in his embracing of heretical teachings. While the great apologist fostered universal use of a common language, he failed to remember the common doctrines of our faith that joins us all together. It is a good thing to recall Tertullian’s best and worst points and learn from them. Together as a Catholic Church we universally profess our faith in Christ Jesus. Linguistically we have many languages and dialects, but strive towards a universal use of Latin as our call to prayer, and most importantly we realize that regardless of the language we use, our genuine interpretation of the faith is incumbent on accepting true unity with each other.