Thursday, January 03, 2013

The old religion

I wouldn't swear to this, but my recollection is that when the Latin liturgy was superceded by the new vernacular one, I was very much in favor of it. And although there were elements of the old rite that I was fine with letting go, some of its Baroque fussiness and its monotony, I never wanted to see it all disappear. Which it did. Entirely. When I had the opportunity, I used to try to save things, the Latin chant especially, some of it more than a thousand years old. Sounds that a friend of mine used to call "base-of-the-brain music." When I found the place where my father was buried, for instance, I took an old Latin breviary to his grave and recited the Office of the Dead for him in the old form, the one that  he would have known in life.

And there were least I think so...when the new rite began to take the tacky and soulless shape that it often has, that I missed the old Mass, was hungry for the kind of mythic power that it had and which the all too cheery and didactic reformed one lacked. The old rite could be hurried and a bit tacky, but it was never silly or embarrassing. Unlike the 12.30 Folk Masses I had to endure: cheap cheer and caterwauling combined. I first learned how to be an altar server in the Roman rite when I was in fifth grade, speaking the responses by rote, participating in the complex courtly choreography, and did that often for the next several years, til it disappeared in 1963 or so. My memories of that ritual remain vivid. I can still recite a lot of it from memory.

Simili modo postquam coenatum est accipiens et hunc praeclarem calicem in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas...

Anyway, in an article about the apparent interest of young Catholics in the ancient rite, I read words that struck me as true, that in the Roman Mass which evolved over twenty uninterrupted centuries, it evoked

"some sense that you're peering through a window out of time, seeing through a glass not quite so darkly into another world far realer than our learn to 'see' something profound and true: a sacrificial ritual enacting a solemn marriage between the fallen muck of earth and fire falling from heaven."



Leah said...

Explains why I like traditional Jewish prayer - very important sections (like the prayer for the dead) are in Aramaic, never changed to Hebrew or the vernacular. There is something very satisfying about an old language that ties you to the world 2/3 thousand years ago.

DrAndroSF said...

Amen. There is intrinsic and irreplaceable value in speaking the same sacred words that your ancestors have spoken to God for so long, even if you don't speak the language. All sane religious cultures do this, no?

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