Once upon a time I was at university to see my sister receive her degree. And the most amazing thing happened. I discovered that receiving a degree from the University of Sydney in the Great Hall is not a simple thing. You don’t just wear what you want, walk up when you name is called, and grab your degree as you want. The whole process is regulated by an ancient code of dress, rank, bows, nods, movements, and words – a precise hierarchical order of movement. And because everyone wants to show the respect for the institution, the person, for the work and achievement, and that they now fit into the institution, everyone does their best to fulfil it.
And so if that is how we honour degrees, how much more does it make sense that, in participating in the Heavenly liturgy, we have these codes of dress, order, movement and language to fit in with what God is doing, learn about Him, what he asks of us, and express our love and respect for him and each other’s gifts.
And this is the point of our first reading. What God is doing is so worthy of praise that even the angels, even though they have no bodies at all, participate in the liturgy… Above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings. And they cried out to one another in this way, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. His glory fills the whole earth.’ The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke.
This is what is happening at mass. This is what we are participating in. Our baptism into Christ makes us present and participants in this eternal worship of God. Some people say, We need to be more like nature. Quite so: before anything else, all creation is constantly worshipping and praising its One Holy Source.
Which brings me to the question of language. Some of you have been asking why we are beginning to integrate a little Latin into the liturgy. It’s because the Church asks us to. As Vatican II asks us, Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. (1) The GIRM, the official instructions on how to celebrate mass, tell us exactly the same thing: it is desirable that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Profession of Faith and the Lord’s prayer. (GIRM #41). Do you know how to sing all your ordinary parts of the mass in Latin? The Church expects us to be able to. And in 1974 Pope Paul VI sent a chant booklet to all the bishops, called Jubilate Deo, with a list of non-mass stuff he expected us to be able to sing. Do you know how to sing the Magnificat, O Salutaris, the Tantrum Ergo, the Veni Creator, and these other chants in Latin? This is what the Church asks of us. This is why we practice it in the Liturgy to learn, and teach our children the culture of their faith. This is not to say that everything has to be in Latin: the Church does not say that. But it would be strange if we knew nothing of our own culture and identity.
And the very first basic way of starting to do that is not turning up to mass with my mouth shut, but with the choir, and the angels, and with the whole cosmos, singing the praise of God. So let us ask for this grace in this mass: for the grace to show him our love, by singing to him and about him, and to decide from now on at every mass, to sing out loud our praises to God in all the hymns and chants. Amen.
- Sacrosanctum Concilium #36.