Damian Thompson’s wonderful blog notes that the Holy Father will celebrate John Henry Newman’s Beatification Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo) in order to emphasize the universality of Christ’s Church.
This follows news that the Holy Father and his personal assistant celebrate the Holy Mass according to the 1962 Missal in private as a private devotion. What does all this mean?
By using Latin the Holy Father stresses three things:
- First, the use of Latin emphasizes the continuity of the Catholic Church over time – the Catholic Church did not become a “new Church” in the 1960s, nor did it imbibe a “new spirit.” It’s the same old Church – our Mother.
- Second, the use of Latin emphasizes that the Church is truly universal. Latin is a “dead language” – but not really. It is used by the Church, but not in common discourse. This means that Latin belongs to no nation, and yet to every nation. When we use Latin, we place everyone on an even playing field. Latin discourages nationalism at the expense of our highest identity as Christians.
- Third, Latin emphasizes the Roman-ness of Catholicism – it proclaims the universal jurisdiction of the Pope as Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ on earth. The Bishop of Rome is not merely “first among equals.” Rather, the Bishop of Rome holds a unique and divinely instituted office. Rome (not Constantinople, not Canterbury, not Moscow, not even Jerusalem) is the divinely appointed earthly capital of the Church.*
Personally, I think this is all very positive. There has been a general tendency to undermine the role and place of the Pope in an attempt to defend the sacramental and juridical role of the diocesan bishop. Moreover, as everyone knows, liturgical abuse is everywhere. Benedict seems to be making slight and subtle correctives in this regard.
*My third book (due in 2011) in the “Origins of Catholicism” trilogy, entitled The Eternal City: Rome and Origins of Catholic Christianity explores the divinely instituted role of the city of Rome in the Old Testament and in the New Testament up until Constantine. It seeks to show the biblical and theological arguments for Roman supremacy.