Our Mother Tongue

Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season.

2 Timothy 4:2

“Before those who are opposed to the Tridentine Mass,” advises Fr. Roberto Spataro, “let us present a clear and solid argumentation, peacefully and politely, starting always from the reasons held by the other, accompanying him and helping him to appreciate our own reasons.”

Did this good priest, when he spoke these words in 2015, count the present Bishop of Rome among those “opposed to the Tridentine Mass”? If so, he did not let on.

Given the charitable stance Fr. Spataro takes toward Francis in this collection of masterful meditations, we may well wonder. Does his heroic effort to accompany the Pope of Accompaniment toward a deeper appreciation of the Vetus Ordo Missae constitute a tacit acknowledgement that the perceptive professor sensed opposition from the highest quarters, to be addressed “peacefully and politely”—and prudently?

As scholar of ancient literature and head of the Pontifical Academy for Latin, Fr. Spataro is both conscious of his commission to promote the vision of its founder—Pope Benedict XVI—and eminently worthy of that commission, even when the message is decidedly “out of season.”

When this blogger first discovered the usus antiquior two decades ago, he knew virtually no Latin; and after twenty years of frequent attendance, he knows precious little more.

As Fr. Spataro understands, the key attraction of the old rite is not so much the language it employs, but the avidity with which it turns—and encourages us to turn—to God.

At the same time, the intrinsic qualities of Latin, combined with its unique place in Western civilization and intimate entwinement with the Catholic faith, render it a precious patrimony and an ideal vehicle for the elevation of the mind and soul to our Creator and Redeemer.

“In the old Mass,” Spataro notes, “each word and each silence, each gesture and each rite is broadened and elevated to create a truly supernatural tension that can open up a human space, enlarging the soul and its faculties—like the most pure womb of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Heart—to gather grace.”

In a manner that is at once learned, orderly, and engaging, Fr. Spataro demonstrates how the Latin language, in its beauty, elegance, and stability, is supremely qualified as an instrument for the clear articulation of timeless truths, and the union of souls to their eternal Spouse.

With its loving elaborations of the central tenets of our faith—the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Sacrifice of our Redemption—“the Vetus Ordo is a summarium, a summary of the teachings and commandments of our Lord”—including the call to live these truths to the point of courting our own “martyrdom, whether it is white or bloody.”

If, as the Holy Father insists, “evangelization in the Church calls for a liturgy that lifts the hearts of men and women to God,” then what better vehicle is there for evangelization than one “founded in grace,” and known for its ability to fill souls with “wonder, adoration, gratitude, and silence” through the palpable reception of “a divine gift”?

“Whenever the novatores”—the enemies of changeless truth—“have wanted to arbitrarily change what we believe,” Spataro warns, “they have taken up the hammer to demolish liturgical structures.”

As distressing at this may be, it is also an indication of how we may “block the spread of spiritual illnesses inside the Church, such as its sociological drift, betrayals of the depositum fidei, a worldly spirit, the reduction of faith to emotional experience, and adulterous unions with the cultural fashions we are passing through.”

In short, “if we delve into the treasures of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, as Pope Benedict has defined it, we draw out something vetera et nova (old and new) and give a push to the counter-revolutionary work of restoring the order of things willed by God and denied by the devil.”

Though “the work is urgent,” it must be conducted “without worry of success and without fears of failure.”

God is our Father, and the Church is our Mother. If we turn to the Lord in humility, penance, and trust, he will surely restore to us our patrimony, and teach us once more to speak our mother tongue.

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