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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

Nor is the practice of celebrating divine service in a tongue unknown to the people without precedents in ancient and modern times. The Jews always celebrated the praises of Jehovah in “the language that the prophets spake”—i.e., the ancient Hebrew. This was so far above the reach of the people that it was found necessary to supply them with translations in the shape of the so-called Targums,1 in order that they might know something of what was done (see Renaudot in loc. cit.); and that this custom is yet kept up by the modern Jews in their synagogues innumerable witnesses prove (see Bannister’s Temples of the Hebrews; Jahn’s Archæology; Dr. Rock, Hierurgia, p. 216). We may be pardoned for taking another instance of praying in an unknown tongue from the Mahometans. It is well known in what deep veneration these people hold the Koran,1 which is to them what the Bible is to Christians. It is written in the purest Arabic, and so much afraid are they of it becoming common that no one is allowed to attempt a translation of it in the Arabic spoken by the people. This pure Arabic is a dead language to the masses (see Guthrie’s Grammar of History, p. 719). “Though it has long ceased to be spoken,” says Murray (in his Encyclopædia of Geog., vol. ii. 229), “it has continued to be the liturgic and learned language of all the numerous nations professing Islam,1 from the shores of the Indian Ocean to the westernmost corner of Morocco, and from the Wolga to Cape Delgado, in Africa.”

Another example in point may be cited from the Hindoos, who allow none but the Brahmins to read the Veda on account of the great respect they have for the language in which it is written. The Hindoos carry this thing so far that they will not allow some of their minor ministers so much as even to listen to the reading of this book or to speak of it (Burder, Religious Ceremonies and Customs, pp. 528, 529); so also with the language known as the Bali, a half-sister of the Sanscrit, which has long since ceased to be spoken, yet it is the liturgical language of Ceylon, Bali, and Madura, of a great part of Java and Indo-China. It is also the religious language of all the Japanese who profess Lamaism (Murray, Cyclop, of Geography, vol. ii. p. 231). We have, therefore, clearly shown that if precedent be wanted for what is styled “a strange, unmeaning discipline,” the most critical mind can be satisfied by looking into the pages of antiquity and examining the religious customs of any ancient people. In nearly every case the liturgical language will be found different from that in use among the common people.

The principal reason why Protestants reprobate our use of a language not understood by the people is, as far as they themselves are concerned, very rational, but, as far as Catholics are concerned, highly absurd. A Protestant goes to church to utter a few prayers, or at least to hear the minister utter them, and nothing more. His service is essentially prayer, and nothing but prayer. Not so with the Catholic. His service is something higher and greater than mere prayer: it is a tremendous sacrifice; and as the sacrifice may be offered entirely independent of prayer, it matters but little whether the share prayer takes in it be little or great, provided everything else is duly ordered. For which reason some of the ablest spiritual writers have said again and again that one of the most efficacious ways of hearing Mass is to watch the actions of the priest at the altar with great attention from beginning to end, and look as little at the prayer-book as possible. A person who could do this without distraction would reap incalculable spiritual fruit from it, and would, without a doubt, be assisting at Mass in the strictest sense of the word.








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