Letters to Editor
Sep 16, 2016

Letters to Editor

Liturgical Music—East and West

Dear Editor,

I am a Catholic and personally assisting our choirmaster mainly on Latin language, Gregorian chant and polyphony repertoire. One of the problems for our choir, just like that of many church choirs in China, is that most of our choir members and even the parish priests believe and advocate that “Latin language and Gregorian chant are obsolete in the post-Vatican II Church.” Some of them are just “tolerating” Gregorian chant, if not openly opposing, since our choirmaster is strongly pushing it in the recent years.

A few months ago I happened to read the article “Buried Treasure” by Susan Benofy at your website and found it very informative and beneficial with its abundant materials and great insights. I think it is very good teaching material for those who have been otherwise falsely taught before, and I am eager to introduce it to our choir members as well as other church choirs who are potentially in need. However, it is difficult for most of them to read in English, so I’d like to translate it to Chinese.

So, I want to check with you first to see if I can get the permission at all to do so (i.e., translate the essay “Buried Treasure” and share it with our choir and others freely). Would you please let me know whether it is permitted? Thanks, and best regards,

— Michael Zhang
Shanghai, China

Adoremus replies: Dear Michael, thank you for your service to the Church and her liturgy. Adoremus exists to help the clergy and the faithful like yourself in carrying out the Church’s liturgical apostolate in the most authentic and beautiful way. Please translate as you like.

Appreciating Sacrifice

Dear Editor, I almost skipped over David L. Augustine’s magisterial article in the July 2016 Adoremus, “Sacrifice as Deification: Reflections on the Augustinian Foundations of Ratzinger’s Sacrificial Theology,” figuring that it would put me to sleep. But I read the first line, then the second line, then the third line, and couldn’t stop until I came to the end of this long article. I found it so richly profound, so beautifully crafted, so well researched. It nourished my soul. This is one article I will copy into my computer “ad perpertuam rei memoriam.” I’m pleased that David is a graduate of Mundelein Seminary’s Liturgical Institute and will regale the Church with the fruit of his studies for years to come. The late, great Cardinal George, who in the year 2000 founded the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein, would be proud of David. Kudos also to the editor for daring to print this article.

— Rev. Gino Dalpiaz, C.S.
Chicago, IL

Ad Orientem Debate Continues…

Dear Editor,

Shortly after Cardinal Sarah encouraged priests to return to an ad orientem posture during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, several cardinals responded that n. 299 of the General Instructions to the Roman Missal (GIRM) showed a preference for Mass ad populum. While future Missals may make that preference clear, a close examination of GIRM n. 299 shows no such preference.

The text in Latin and the approved English translation follow (I have added clause numbers for ease of discussion):

[i] Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, [ii] ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, [iii] quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

[i] “The altar should be built apart from the wall, [ii] in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, [iii] which is desirable wherever possible.”

Proponents of offering Mass ad populum argue that clause [iii] modifies clause [ii], while proponents of offering Mass ad orientem argue clause [iii] modifies clause [i]. Either construction is permissible in Latin, but proponents of the former construction miss an important point. Clause [ii] contains two elements, not one—walk around the altar easily and face the people. If clause [iii] modifies clause [ii], then it modifies both elements in the clause. In other words, not only is it desirable for the priest to offer Mass facing the people under this construction, but it’s also desirable for him to make several trips around the altar during Mass. Clearly that is not the intent of GIRM n. 299.

Given the structure of GIRM n. 299 and the repeated instructions throughout the rubrics to face the people (a superfluous instruction if the default position is ad populum), an objective interpretation of the GIRM would support a slight preference for Mass being celebrated ad orientem—at least until there’s a change in the GIRM.

— Steve Herbes
Via email

Father Rob Johansen responds for Adoremus: Mr. Herbes, after reading your email, the original Latin text, and consulting with other Latin experts, I’ve concluded that I think you are on to something. However, (and this probably won’t surprise you) the issue is a little more complex than you state in your letter. You are almost correct in writing that the quod clause refers back to the preceding clause. But, in fact, the quod clause refers back to both of the preceding clauses (I and II).

The subject of the verb phrase peragi possit (“able to be done”) is celebratio (celebration). Quod cannot refer back to the celebratio phrase alone, as celebratio is feminine and the relative pronoun quod is neuter. (Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in gender and number.) It also can’t refer to altare maius alone, as “the principal altar is expedient wherever possible” is nonsense. The quod clause makes the best sense when taken as referring back to the whole preceding sentence. This same interpretation is given in the Congregation for Divine Worship’s response to a similar question on GIRM 299: “the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]” (September 25, 2000, Prot. No 2036/00/L, Published in Notitiae).

Based on this observation, the reading of the quod clause as meaning only, or even primarily, that “the celebration versus populum is expedient whenever possible” is not tenable. But one cannot, on the other hand, read this as implying only that the altar should be constructed apart from the wall.

Furthermore, I believe the meaning of the adverb ubicumque weighs against interpreting the passage as referring to the mode of celebration of Mass, as opposed to the manner of constructing the altar. Ubicumque is an adverb of place, not time. Therefore, it logically should be construed as referring to the physical placement of the altar. It seems to me that to translate it as referring to the celebration of Mass is to fudge the sense of “wherever” into “whenever.” One could stretch the meaning of the ubicumque phrase to the grammatical breaking point by interpreting it as a “temporal clause,” but no Latinist I have consulted does so. Neither, in fact, do the official English translators, at least literally. This seems to me an instance of some translators nudging the interpretation of the passage in a certain direction. Of course, any translation conveys an interpretation; as goes the old Italian saying, “Il traduttore è un traditore.” (The translator is a traitor.) But, in this instance, I do not think the actual Latin grammar and syntax justify the “nudge” that some have advanced. 

Here is my translation of the text: “Wherever it is possible, it is expedient that the principal altar be built separate from the wall, so that it may be walked around easily, and so celebration facing the people may be conducted upon it.”

So, in conclusion, it does not seem to me that there is any basis to construe the Latin text of this paragraph as implying a “preference” for celebration of Mass either ad populum or ad orientem. Again, we must bear in mind that the paragraph is an instruction concerning the construction of the altar, not the manner of celebrating Mass. It simply means that when the main altar is built, it should be built in such a way that a priest may walk around it and celebrate versus populum if he wishes, without implying that such celebration somehow constitutes a new norm for the act of celebrating.

Thank you again for your letter, Mr. Herbes. It has given me the opportunity to study the matter more deeply and thereby gain a clearer insight into the matter.

The Editors