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Friday, November 28, 2008

Lose Your Language, Lose Your Culture

Back in 1994 when I lived in Mexico, we took a "study-trip" to Cuetzalan, which is a little puebla in the Sierra Madres. We walked the few kilometers to the local village belonging to the decendents of the Mexicas (commonly called "Aztecs"), who still speak as a first language that ancient tongue of Nauhatl. San Miguel Tzinacapan (St. Michael at the top of the noble mountain) consisted of homes of varying sorts; most had dirt floors, cooking implements akin to that of colonial America (or before), and in most ways, the people were still living much of the ancient lifestyle. Their religion was Catholic, but with the flavor of their culture; the ancient dances, such as the one that used to honor the god Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent) was danced in order to honor the One True God on special feast days. Likewise, the Voladores would dance on the top of a high pole and fly downward, on those same feast days.

Lessons from the Ancients

On the day we arrived, we were treated to these dances, for it was the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron of their city. The Church, built during the colonization of Mexico, was the center of the town, and Mass, the center of their lives.

It was amazing; they had lost nothing of who they were, but had embraced all they could be. It wasn't about materialism; it was about God. Life was about loving God and loving neighbor, even we, the strangers, as they welcomed us into their town and into their homes.

But we heard one dominating complaint, both there, and in articles written in various publications. It came up in class lectures, and is perhaps one of the biggest lessons I took with me from that experience: the young people were ashamed of their history. They had grown up first with their own culture, and then learned the adaptations to mainstream culture, that of the Spanish language and contemporary Mexican culture. They were being well educated in their towns, sent out to learn even more, and they were learning to be ashamed. They were TRYING to forget their ancient language.

Their elders were concerned; for if they lost their language, they would lose the rest of their culture as well. For their culture wasn't just a bunch of trappings, but was something far greater which was bound to them by their common language. It was the language that could properly define the culture and traditions they carried.

Their language was the key.

American Culture

America, as we've all learned from grade school, is a "melting-pot". It's a bunch of people from a bunch of places that nearly erased the native peoples in favor of what has come to be known as "tolerance" which tolerates only popular opinion.

As Americans, we have no culture. Although English is our common language, we're even losing that. We still see hints of the various people who came to live in this country; the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, and more recently, the Nigerians, the Somalians, the Hmong, the Vietnamese, and all those refugees from Mexico, Central America, and South America.

There are pockets of religiosity which are becoming smaller, but more intense. As we enter into this Holiday (Holy-Day) season, the culture wars become more obvious. The religious versus the secular. The secularist hodgepodge trying to erase any semblance of culture in the name of "tolerance", which tolerates nothing but the gray.

Overall, we have nothing that we share in common. Not even our language, anymore. We are all screamed at to be more "tolerant", and in this tolerance, we find that nothing is tolerable, for everything that defines us in a particular group, especially religious, is not acceptable in this society.

Many years ago my Mom was taking a class in Native American Studies. I went with her to a pow-wow where she spoke with a woman who observed, "America has no culture." I didn't understand then, but I do now. SHE had a culture; it was very easy for her to see how we did not; she was sad for us, my mother and I, who had lost ours. She saw us as orphans.

She was right.

Cultural Catholicism

Catholics were known from the beginning, for we stood out in the pagan culture. Our ways were documented in the Letter to Diognetus, and those same premises stand today...if we let them.

But there was more.

The Catholic Church is commonly identified in the media as ONLY the Roman Catholic Church, but there are many more Rites; the Maronite, the Syriac, the Ruthenian, the Byzantine...there are many. Each in union with Rome. We are united in our beliefs, under the Vicar of Christ, and the Roman Rite (Latin Rite) used to be more recognizable by our liturgy which was held in Latin, our common language. It was the largest Rite of the Church, and remains so...and is also, today, the most FRACTURED of Rites, for we have lost our language....and thus, our culture.

Vatican II was a very good thing and did make many reforms. However, the documents stated clearly that although the vernacular was to be given more freedom, such as in the readings and in the Gospel, the common language of Latin was to remain, as was the musical heritage of Gregorian Chant. The latter, which is purely in Latin, was to "maintain a high place" in the liturgy.

Yet, we've seen the systematic attack against this common language since the late 1960's so much so that Latin, as the main root of the English language, isn't even taught anymore. The prejudice against Latin and the Roman Church is so strong that classical education has been completely lost in this country.

Especially among Latin-Rite Catholics themselves.

This loss is horrific, for with the loss of our common language, we have also lost our common culture. After Vatican II, those who did not actually understand the hermeneutic of continuity interpreted them according to the spirit of the age, and attached the term "Spirit of Vatican II", bullying the American Church into accepting "reforms" that had NEVER been intended. It erased our language, cleansed our churches of art and beauty, and made us utilitarian in our newfound protestantism.

From the new "visionaries" that arose out of the pot-induced smog of the 1960's came the idea that Latin was the root of all that was wrong in the Church, and it MUST be QUASHED at any cost.

So it remains even today, even after we've emerged from the disorienting scent of weed into the growing popularity and clarity of pure incense, people hear the word "Latin" and automatically turn into war machines. It has become such a point of contention that those on both sides of the issue have seemed to become polar opposites, refusing even to see those things that truly divide them.

Latin is the symbol, but it isn't the problem, nor is it the cause. Even as it remains to be the key.

Have you noticed that this dichotomy does not exist in the other Catholic Rites? They have NEVER lost their common languages. ALL of their ancient traditions remain in place.

It is the Latin-Rite Church that is struggling, for our common bond has been lost. We lost the key to our culture, and we haven't been able to access it or understand it ever since.

There is something to be said for a common language. There is something to be said for allowing the vernacular, but with a common thread of a language we ALL understand, no matter where we are in the world. To know that those in Vietnam are hearing the Consecration in Latin, and understanding know that those in Germany are hearing the Sanctus in Latin...and are singing along. To know that those in Mexico are raising their voices in the Latin....warms my heart.

We are not just united through Holy Communion, but through our language and our culture. I have been in contact with Catholics all over the world, and know that, if we all spoke Latin, we would be even more closely bonded.

The American Church, the Roman Church as a whole, lost our language, and that was only the first step. We've lost nearly our entire culture.

Those who claim to be "cultural Catholics" cite things they remember prior to the "reforms" of Vatican II. But they don't even live those things out today, and dissent against all those things CLEARLY taught by the Church, in the common vernacular. The popular media, when portraying ANYTHING Catholic, falls back on Gregorian Chant, upon statues, stained glass, and high altars, for those things are our true culture.

Are you seeing this? Those who dissent...claim as their own things they've never seen, or remember ONLY from their childhood. And those who observe, do not portray the Church in America as she is, but as she used to be, in all her beauty.

Even THEY see Truth and recognize what is right...even as they arm themselves in battle in order to defile her.

Yet we have an entire generation or so trying to lose that culture, and who have done everything they could to erase it even from their own memories. The memories they claim define them as "Cultural Catholics".

We, who survived the self-destructive tendencies of the now-graying and dying Baby Boomers are trying to revive the war-torn parishes, restoring what has been lost. Our dear Pope Benedict XVI has heard our cries and has made a huge move not only to restore the Mass as it was prior to Vatican II, but to reconcile those who reacted too strongly to what was wrong, and went into schizm.

Our culture is coming back; our true culture. It is no mistake that the most identifiable part of this culture is the Latin language.

The world calls Latin a "dead" language, and it also claims triumphantly that the Church is "dying". Yet, in my entire life on this earth, I've never seen more life in the Church than there is today with the ongoing restoration of all that has been lost, from the language, to the art, to the liturgy, to the morality going back to the Didache and beyond.

We will not "go back in time". The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass, and I do love it in its own way, for I grew up with this Mass. I accept the authority of our Popes and our Bishops, but I rejoice in the restoration of a history I have never been given a chance to experience.

I have never attended a "pre-Vatican II Mass" for it was only a memory by the time I was born. I've been to a Latin Novus Ordo, and it changed my life. I hope, this weekend to attend the Extraordinary Rite (ie "pre-Vatican II Mass") this weekend at St. Agnes, and even though I don't expect to understand anything going on...I embrace it as an experience in true culture.

You can destroy a civilization by destroying their language; the Catholic Church is far stronger than that, and refuses to devalue that which the rest of the world has defined as "obsolete".

I understand the concerns of the Elders at San Miguel Tzinacapan, and I thank them for sharing their wisdom. I pray they are well, that their children will grow to embrace their history instead of destroy it, and that God will have mercy on the Church in America and throughout the world.


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

beautiful Adoro, beautiful

Catherine Lucia said...

I'm a bit conflicted on this, and have been for some time. Whenever I read/hear other people's opinions about the Latin Mass, etc. it always falls into one of two categories: "it's mysterious and beautiful" or "it's distancing and annoying." The way I feel about it is completely different.

I don't find it "mysterious," nor do I think it should be. Latin was the definition of common. As you pointed out, it was the common cultural/lingustic LINK in the Church. It's not supposed to be 'mysterious.' But it should be prayerful.

I don't find it 'distancing.' Perhaps this is because I understand a fair amount of it, not because I have studied Latin but because I am studying Spanish. I find that the only confusion one can have with other languages is through one's own fault. If we don't understand or if we aren't able to navigate the Latin Mass, or ANY Latin-Catholic-thing for that matter, it is because we haven't made the effort to study it.

So I'm not sure where I fit in. I like the Mass in the vernacular, because I feel that it does make the Mass more understandable to those who aren't well versed in or used to Latin. But I do think Latin (and Greek) should have a role, which is why I enjoy having the 'Agnus Dei' and the 'Kyrie.' It does annoy me when every other segment is in Latin (Sanctus, Gloria, Agnus Dei etc) not because I find the Latin offensive or annoying like many people do, but because I feel that there is a place for such things. If the Mass is in the vernacular, don't try to say the whole thing in Latin. If parishioners or the pastor want a Latin Mass then they should have one. But don't try to Latin-ize the vernacular Mass because it just ends up totally incomprehensible.

That said, I have noticed that the Mass in the vernacular is SO publicly recognized that some--not all, but some!--Masses tend to turn less away from prayer and more toward performance. When this happens, it is a sure loss indeed. If Latin would be more prayerful for that particular priest or congregation, then he/they should say/attend those Masses.

You see what I mean? Both the Latin and the vernacular have a place in Catholicism. Catholicism, linguistically, is kind of like America in the sense that it's a melting-pot. We have all kinds of stuff, but whereas in America, English is more or less expected, in the Church, Latin no longer is. That, I'd like to change.

Anyway, I'm done with my long ranting comment. I hope I have been comprehensible enough. :-)

By the way, you are unbelievably lucky to have been able to live in Mexico. I spent three weeks studying archaeology in San Andres Cholula (Puebla, Mexico), and I loved every bit of the culture I could soak up! Nahuatl is a poetic and beautiful but COMPLICATED language, and I was totally impressed with the speakers I did encounter. The Voladores were pretty cool, too.

Catherine Lucia said...

And by the way, just so I don't sound like a complete hypocrite: I am planning on taking both Spanish (III) and Latin (I) next year at school, so hopefully I will be more eloquent on such matters next time! :-)

Mark said...

What a brilliant post!

The attempt to suppress/destroy cultures by means of (among other methods) control and manipulation nof language strikes me as reminiscent of communism.

I recently read a post on the Domine Da Mihi Aquam blog in which Fr Powell OP reported a group of dissident Catholics as saying(incredibly) that "The Reform Movement of the Catholic Church in America — in the spirit of Vatican II is on the cusp of a 'Great Leap Forward', to borrow a phrase from Mao".

Dissident Catholics want, effectively, to obliterate 2000 years of Catholic culture (just as Mao sought to obliterate 5000 years of Chinese culture) - and this involves invoking the spurious "spirit of Vatican 2" in order to consign to the history books twenty centuries of culture, theology, mysticism, popular devotion, moral teaching, liturgical tradition, religious art, etc.

Dissident Catholics who desire a "Great Leap Forward" regard the EF of the Mass (both its language and its liturgical and theological content" as symbolic of a Catholicism which has no place in the new, revolutionary world, which explains why they're so hostile to the EF and to Pope Benedict's liturgical reforms.

owenswain said...

Amen. I experienced what many 'converts' have - we fell in love with one Church and then arrived at a local parish.

There is a Latin Rite, pre VII, in our city and I have attended once. It was enough for me that I would have switched right then but for the other members of my family whom I must consider and as we have become a part of our local parish community not merely attending a Mass.

That said, I long for the truly Catholic, as in universal ways.

Adoro said...

Catherine Lucia ~ Totally cool...I lived in Puebla for a semester! LOVED it, and am very familiar with Cholula. :-)

I would advise you, if you haven't already, to read Sacrosanctum Concilium, which is available online. If you just do a google search the first link is probably the Vatican version. It describes how Latin and Gregorian chant should be maintained and have a "high place" in the Mass. Mass was never intended to be entirely in the vernacular, but rather, to use the vernacular for the readings and the Gospel. The document also called for more readings (not just one), and to eliminate useless repetetion which had come to take place.

Adoro said...

Mark ~ I did read about that...amazing, isn't it? But then again, not really...everyone on the left is either heading into socialism/communism, or is already there. They cite their heroes and the philosophy of their heroes and then become incensed when people logically point out their political position.

Owen ~ When I first attended the Latin Novus Ordo, well, I was flying for weeks! If I lived closer to that church, I would attend it far more often! But instead it just becomes a sort of treat for me. :-) And I thank God for it!

J.Samuel Ross. said...

I'm so lucky. I don't know how it happened, but I'm in walking distance of a parish that has TWO Latin masses every Sunday, and isn't afraid of sprinkling it in the English masses !
I remember a humbling experience from easter of this year.
I was at the Latin Novus Ordo mass, and a group of pilgrims from Ecuador on their way to the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia stopped by for mass. And they knew the ordinary of the mass.
It was amazing, standing there singing in the same language (Latin), knowing that we did'nt speak the same language ,but could worship in the same language.
I also thank God, my diocese's seminary is'nt totally opposed to Latin. They had a mass last week that was almost entirely in Latin, and they offer training for the Extraordinary Form.[/toolongpost]

owenswain said...

Joe, you are richly blessed.