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Rene Descartes and the Latin Mass

What Vatican II did with the Mass, Rene Descartes did with the Academy. From the founding of the first university in Bologna, Latin was the language of the schools. […]Descartes deliberately published his first important work—The Discourse on the Method—in French. His action was shocking and, in the minds of many in the Church and the University, needlessly reckless.


What has this to do with the Latin Mass? Plenty. Descartes is telling people, in their native language, that they can “do” philosophy as well as anyone in the Academy. No one need be alienated from the world of ideas. Nothing strange, or difficult, or humbling going on here. No need for humility. No need to feel “less than” anyone else. Everyone can play. In the same way, the vernacular Mass encourages the faithful to think of transubstantiation as no big deal. We are all just getting together and celebrating our warm and fuzzy—our accessible to everyone—faith.


If we are to maintain the humility that is the necessary condition of worship and of learning, we have to find a way to remind ourselves that the liturgy is an act of sacrifice and worship, not a get-together to feel good about our faith. It may well be that a return to Latin would remind us all that what is going on at Mass is something not of this world, something much more profound than anything else happening in our lives.


We have managed to bring the Mass down “to our level” when Mass is happening as far away from “our level” as is possible. The Latin is gone, and in the vernacular that replaced it, the words of sacrifice and redemption are, Walker Percy says, “worn smooth as poker chips … a certain devaluation has occurred, like a poker chip after it is cashed in.”

—from the on-line article Lessons from Descartes on the Virtue of the Latin Liturgy by Anne Maloney


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