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Back to the future for the pope

September 7, 2010 |  3:05 pm

Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate important parts of the Mass in Latin during his forthcoming visit to Glasgow, Scotland. Like his preference for elaborate vestments, the pope's partiality to Latin is a signal that he is, as they say in Catholic circles, a "restorationist" when it comes to the pre-Vatican II church.

According to the Herald, a Scottish newspaper, the pope plans to say the Canon of the Mass, or Eucharistic prayer, in Latin "to emphasize the universality of the faith and the continuity of the Church," as his master of ceremonies put it. 

If universality is the point, English, not Latin, would be the way to go. English isn't just the language of the congregations the pope will be encountering in Britain; it's the closest thing there is to a universal language. The Latin of its day, you could say.

It's likely, however, that universality -- and comprehension -- are less important to the pope than continuity with a particular period in the church's history. In that epoch the Mass was "said" by the priest in a language foreign to the congregation, who essentially functioned as bystanders. This is the church of the pope's childhood, but it will be alien to many of those "hearing" his Mass in Scotland.

-- Michael McGough

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