More from the aforementioned book.  Again, italics are original, bolding is mine. 

I think this first little section should be posted in large letters in every Catholic Church in America:

Conversation in Church

With Catholics the purpose of attending Church is to worship God.  The Catholic Church is more than a meeting house.  It is a holy place where God dwells in the Blessed Sacrament.  Out of reverence for the sacred surroundings, without intending incivility or discourtesy, the faithful avoid conversations with their neighbors in order to preserve a recollected state of mind and to show due regard for the Sacred Presence.

I have actually met people (even other Catholics) who were turned off from Catholicism because they found the churches and the people therein to be cold, unfriendly, unwelcoming.  I don’t doubt that might be genuinely true in some ways and in some cases, but I wonder how much of it is simply based on misconceptions and on divergent opinions about what Church and worship should be like and what they really mean. 

I think back to my childhood, when Dad would take my sister and me to Mass and CCD on Sunday morning, and then Mom and our Granny would take us to their Baptist church on Sunday evening.  I guarantee you, we had more fun at the Baptist church–it was loud and energetic and sociable, and we were allowed to goof off and chew gum and eat mints during the service, and nobody seemed to take note or mind.  It didn’t seem as much like, well, Church. 

I’m not at all saying this to belittle or demean the folks in that Baptist church–least of all my saint of a grandmother.  Those people were sincere, they were on fire, and they were worshiping God the best way they knew how.  But I knew even as a child that the Mass was something very sacred and very holy… and it was something I needed, something that would have been deeply missing from my life had we stopped going.  I knew that God was in the Catholic Church in a way that He is not in other places… and that He deserves more attention than anybody or anything else.

This next section is very instructive–and I think the modern Church, and modern America in general, would do well to take heed:

The Use of Latin

In sermons and instructions the Church uses whatever language is suited for imparting knowledge.  It may be a sign language or any spoken language.  In ritual intercourse it uses the Latin because this plan is apostolic and useful for the following reasons:

First.–A world wide religion needs a common language for convenience in intercommunication.

Second.–The Latin language is fixed; it does not change.  Modern languages do; they undergo modifications which permit confusion in the sense of many words and phrases as understood by successive generations.  The Church safeguards her doctrines from the danger of being misunderstood by the use of Latin.

Third.–All scholars know that the Latin language is lucid and precise, that it has power and grandeur; and the experience of many ages is that it aptly serves the purposes of ceremonial worship.

Fourth.–A common language employed in religious worship gives a character to the act which makes all men brothers.  Entering a house of God in a strange land the Catholic is at home, for he finds a sameness in the mode of worshipping.  The experience anchors him to home memories, and not less it exemplifies for him in a practical manner the common fatherhood of God.

Fifth.–The primate of the apostolic college, Peter, fixed his See finally at Rome, the centre of ancient civilization, which, in consequence, became the principal seat of Christianity.  From this historical fact springs the use of Latin in the Church. 

Basically, Latin works.  It has worked for a very long time, and it could continue to work if we would let it.  Contrary to popular belief, the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed this.  The current efforts at re-translating the English liturgical texts to be more faithful to, and expressive of, the original Latin reaffirm this as well.  Having read over some drafts of this re-translation in the past, I can say that it makes an enormous difference.  It gives a much more solemn, rich, and (again) sacred character to the liturgical texts. 

And frankly, in many cases, it grants greater clarity.  One Latin word can shed more light on a concept than a clunky, multi-word English approximation can every hope to.  Just one example: that Christ is consubstantial with the Father makes a lot more sense than that Christ is “one in being” with the Father.  Frankly, I think “one in being” has a rather cheesy New Age feel about it.  Gosh, I just hope that the new translations come out soon–and that the final forms are as good as the drafts I have read.  Dear Holy Spirit, please!

I found the fourth point to be a very poignant wake-up call for white, English-speaking Catholic Americans such as myself: not so long ago, white Catholic America consisted of people from numerous faraway lands who spoke only the languages of those lands.  Catholic immigrants left Catholic nations to find themselves in strange new regions, often on the frontiers of civilization, and often marginalized by a predominantly non-Catholic society.  They left ancient parishes for mission churches often feverishly attended to by single, overworked priests, often immigrants themselves. 

I think that many white, English-speaking Americans today have lost sight of this immigrant past and lost any concept of what a difficult and frightening experience it must have been for many of our ancestors.  So, naturally, we don’t realize how important it was for those people to be able to enter a Church and find something familiar and comforting and to be able to understand the language, and perhaps to be drawn into greater fellowship with fellow immigrants from different lands, to be able to start to form a new American community with them.  An American community that we, their descendents, usually take for granted. 

And in our multiculturalism-crazed culture, we have forgotten about how hard our ancestors worked to become one, one America, one great culture built upon the best characteristics of a variety of cultures.  Not in order to deny those cultures, but to mutually buy in to and build up what was held and valued in common.

So much we have lost… so much to learn!

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