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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Finally listening to Blessed John XXIII?


Blessed Pope John XXIII, in the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia of 1962, strongly mandated the study and use of Latin in ecclesiastical studies, theology, the Liturgy, and as a prerequisite for priestly formation. This February, there is to be an International Convention in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of Veterum Sapientia. I can't help thinking that after 50 years we are perhaps finally prepared to take the document of the Blessed Pope seriously.

Here is one passage from the standard translation that you can find in various places on the internet:
Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
And here is the Latin original:
Suae enim sponte naturae lingua Latina ad provehendum apud populos quoslibet omnem humanitatis cultum est peraccommodata: cum invidiam non commoveat, singulis gentibus se aequabilem praestet, nullius partibus faveat, omnibus postremo sit grata et amica.
The translators didn't want to say that Latin was pleasing and friendly to all, only that it was "acceptable." Hmmph! You can see that Veterum Sapientia was going to become a dead letter quite quickly. 

It is true that Optatam Totius, Vatican II's Decree on Priestly Training (1965) said that before beginning specifically ecclesiastical subjects, seminarians should acquire a knowledge of Latin (n.13) but that was largely ignored too. In fact, the current code of canon law says that students for the priesthood should understand Latin well (canon 249) and Pope Benedict said: 
Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; (Sacramentum Caritatis n.62)
Pope Benedict also spoke to the German Bishops on their 2006 Ad Limina visit, of the classical languages in the context of the introductory course before beginning study at the seminary;
"In this regard, Vatican Council II, in its decree ‘Optatam Totius’, established important norms that, unfortunately, have not yet been completely implemented. This is particularly true of the institution of what is called the introductory course before the beginning of real and proper study. This should not only transmit a solid understanding of the classical languages, which is expressly required for the study of philosophy and theology, but also familiarity with the catechism, together with the religious, liturgical, and sacramental practice of the Church. In the face of the growing number of interested persons and candidates who no longer come from a traditional Catholic formation, such an introductory year is urgently needed. Furthermore, during this year the student can attain greater clarity on the vocation to the priesthood. Besides this, the persons responsible for priestly formation have the possibility of getting an idea of the candidate, of his human maturity and his faith life. But the so-called role-playing games with a group dynamic, the groups of self-exploration, and other psychological experiments are less adapted for this purpose, and can create confusion and uncertainty instead." 
Here is the Programme for the Convention on Veterum Sapientia.
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