It was at an airport once where I encountered an extremely beautiful woman. Everything about her captivated my visual sense. For an instant, though it felt much longer, I was trapped in time and space as she walked past me in the opposite direction. Then time sped back up again as I responded the urgency of the moment, which my imagination had created. Moving along side of her, I said with a smile, “Hi, I’m David. What is your name?”
This is how all true relationship begin, do they not? Giving your name away is the first sacrificial act in a relationship, because it gives the other person the power to intimately call on you. I never learned this woman’s name, because she didn’t speak my language. She returned my smile, but it was followed by a look of disappointed remorse as she shook her head, fumbled her fingers in the air, and uttered a word I didn’t understand. We couldn’t enter into a dialogue, because I couldn’t speak her language, nor she mine.
Notice how the very first dialogue in sacred Scripture takes place when God is about to create humanity. Up until that point in Genesis chapter 1, God is uttering His creative word, but there is no dialogue of persons, until He says, “Let us make* human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Gn. 1:26).
We draw from this that the creation of humanity necessitated a conversation within the mutual will of the Holy Trinity that wasn’t necessary at any other point. It was this spoken dialogue about the nature, essence, and call of man that lovingly moved God to voluntarily act on our behalf.
This very first dialogue would go on to serve as a model of grace. For, at every point of salvation history, whenever God desired to act on our behalf, a necessary dialogue would first take place. Whether that dialogue was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah, Mary or Jesus, God always condescended to speak to His creatures in their own language; in the vernacular; in a manner that they would be able to acquiesce or respond to. Even after God steps into our life as one of us, Mary and Joseph teach Him how to communicate in Hebrew and Aramaic, so that He could understand and be understood by those in His family and community. The arch-Angel Gabriel tells Mary to name her son Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ, meaning ‘God saves’), which was a name that was that His family and community could understand. When Christ Jesus begins His ministry He proclaims and evangelizes the good news in the local vernacular. He renames Shimon ben Yonah (שמעון, meaning ‘heard’) Kephas (כאפא, meaning ‘rock’). The text of the Gospels often uses actual Aramaic words that Jesus spoke. When Jesus celebrates the last Seder Passover meal with His disciples, He doesn’t offer it in Greek or Latin; rather, it is in the local vernacular that He says, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).
Obviously, there is something very important to God about speaking to people in their own language. Moreover, it demonstrates the humility of God; how there is no learning curve necessary to encounter Him.
While the Eastern Catholic liturgy makes a great appeal to my senses, there always comes that part of the Mass that I don’t understand what is being spoken by the Priest, who is ‘in persona Christi’ (i.e. in the person of Christ), whether it be Syriac, Aramaic, or Greek. How is it that Christ is present, but I do not understand Him? How is it that Christ is present, but I cannot communicate with Him through the prayers of the Mass? The Traditional Latin Rite has never appealed to my senses, but the issue of the language barrier is there for me as well. God is present, but I cannot enter into verbal dialogue with Him.
Being that prayer is necessary for salvation, and dialogue with God mutually benefits the Divine and human desire for the latter’s salvation, there remains to be only one liturgical rite of the Sacrifice of the Mass that is always able to meet all people where they are and afford them the opportunity to dialogue with God no matter what country they are in as long as there is a Priest present who can celebrate the Mass in their language. In this way, the Novus Ordo Mass is truly catholic (universal) to all people.
While the Novus Ordo does, arguably, a miserable job in appealing to all of the senses, it is the most beautiful Mass in that it was constructed to meet all people where they are. In the Novus Ordo, there is no language barrier between the Creator and the created. There is no learning curve between God and man. There is no need to hold a book with the English translation of the Mass. Leave your language interpreter at home. The Novus Ordo allows one to truly ‘come as they are’ so that they might fully give themselves and fully receive their true self In Christ.
I had considered for a long time learning the Syriac language and joining an Eastern Rite parish, but one day I broke from my custom of going straight to my car after Mass. I lingered around in the common area and noticed that no one was speaking English. They were all in small circles socializing, laughing, and reconnecting with each other. A couple of people exchanged pleasantries with me, but to speak to me in English seemed like a burden for them. The next week I went to a Latin rite Mass and noticed how no one spoke Latin after the Mass, but neither was there anyone socializing or building community afterwards. The next week I went to a predominantly Black Catholic Church and noticed how afterwards everyone was speaking and English and in small circles socializing, laughing, and reconnecting with each other. A couple of people exchanged pleasantries with me, but to speak to an outsider seemed to be a task for them.
While observing one group of people speaking the same language outside of the Mass, as they do during the Mass, and another group of people speaking a different language outside of the Mass, than they do inside, I took one simple point from it. That, community needs a common language; they need to understand each other. No one speaks Latin in the gathering area after a Latin Mass. I’m not bashing the Traditional Latin Mass here, but simply demonstrating the great value of the Novus Ordo Mass; that it best facilitates the means to establish community, because it recognizes the beauty in meeting people you otherwise would not have met exactly where they are.
Altogether, perhaps, we should conclude in saying that a Catholic Church shouldn’t be measured by the love they have for their rite or liturgy, but, rather, by the love they have for friend, neighbor, and stranger. Perhaps, also, we should be quicker to measure a Catholic Church not by what is given and received during the Mass, but, rather, by what is given and received by the congregants once they are dismissed from it.
4 PART SERIES ON ‘LOVING THE NOVUS ORDO MASS’:
- Loving the Novus Ordo Mass: Holy Things & Sacred Space
- Loving the Novus Ordo Mass: Presenting a Visible God
- Loving the Novus Ordo Mass: The Magnanimous Quad Presence of Christ Jesus
- Loving the Novus Ordo Mass: A True Dialogue of Persons
- Loving the Novus Ordo Mass: The Admirable Exchange Resolves Babel in the Mass