A Note on Latinizations

Today is the Feast of St. Charbel Makhluf, a Maronite monk known for his life of contemplative prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. Were he alive today and inclined to visit certain “Eastern Catholic” or “Byzantine Catholic” websites, he might be surprised to learn that piety toward our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament should not be emulated by Christians of the East, but rather reviled as a “Latinization.” That at least is the fashionable opinion of some Internet loudmouths who stumbled upon Eastern Christianity the day before yesterday and have now anointed themselves adjudicators of the “authentic” when it comes to the theology, spirituality, and liturgy of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome. They’re an obnoxious lot, but it seems their numbers may be on the rise as more and more boutique religious consumers, already bored with the fruits of Summorum Pontificum, seek ever more exotic and mysterious rituals to dabble in before either growing wise to their shallowness or, as has already happened with some notable liturgical fetishists out there, exiting the Catholic Church altogether. A large part of me wants to say, “Good riddance!,” but charity compels me to still hope they’ll recover some sense of what it means to be a Christian once their incense high wears off.

Now, let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with de-Latinization per se. It’s the ahistoricism and triumphalism which is often attached to de-Latinization which is nauseating. There is a world of difference between leaders in, say, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church trying to steer their church back toward the normative liturgical praxis which abided at the time of the Union of Brest and Anglophone liturgical refugees trading horror stories about parishes with the Stations of the Cross attached to the walls. Most of these folks who uncharitably assail Latinizations have never been in a so-called Latinized environment. Moreover, they make the cardinal error of equating a lack of “liturgical purity” (by their lights) with a lack of “spiritual purity,” as if centuries of Eastern Catholics were trapped in darkness, unable to work out their salvation because the Divine Liturgy was missing a few minor litanies.

It doesn’t help that many de-Latinizers subscribe to a rather simple, but in many ways false, narrative that at some point in the dark past a bunch of conniving Jesuits, Basilians, Redemptorists, or whatever tricked backwards Eastern peasants into adopting a bunch of alien liturgical and para-liturgical practices that were fundamentally at odds with the “true spirit” or “authenticity” of the Eastern rites. Sure, sometimes Latinizations were brought in from the top down, but the truth is that sometimes Latin practices were adopted freely because they were seen as good in themselves. Further, such adoptions were not always done out of ignorance or simply stapled onto existing practices in a thoughtless manner.

Take, for instance, the importation of the Feast of Corpus Christi into the Ruthenian Catholic Church. In an excellent and very detailed paper, “The Latin within the Greek: The Feast of Corpus Christi in 17th-18th Century Ruthenian Practice,” Maria Takala-Roszczenko shows how the Ruthenians adopted Corpus Christi without losing sight of their Byzantine liturgical patrimony. Instead of simply translating extant Latin Corpus Christi hymns into Church Slavonic, the Ruthenians created new hymns which drew on existing Byzantine themes while maintaining consistency with many of the Biblical texts and themes that were already a part of the Latin liturgy for Corpus Christi. Similarly, a brief perusal through any old Ukrainian Catholic prayer book reveals orders for the Stations of the Cross, Rosary, and Benediction which are uniquely flavored with Byzantine liturgical elements; they are not carbon copies of Latin forms.

Of course a lot of this stuff is already looking like ancient history. With the exception of a few pockets of resistance here and there, there is no concentrated movement in any of the Eastern Catholic churches for re-Latinization. Some, naturally, want to hold on to some of these Latin practices, arguing that through centuries of use they have become an integral part of Eastern Catholic liturgy and spirituality. I agree. As one blog commenter mentioned on the old Opus Publicum, it’s rather absurd to tell old ladies throw away their Rosaries, grab some prayer ropes, and become hesychasts now. While I suspect that Latinizations within many of the Eastern churches (with the possible exception of the Maronites) will remain on the fast track to extinction, I still have fond memories of the (lightly) Latinized Ukrainian and Melkite environs of my youth and the real, three-dimensional human beings I shared the pew with each Sunday. May there be more of them throughout all of the corners of the Catholic Church. Today they are sorely missed.

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  1. Noah Moerbeek
    July 24, 2014

    To add to that one of St Charbels favorite books as child was The Imitation of Christ and he prayed the 15 decade rosary every day. Just to make some traditionalists uncomfortable a bit: his step father was a deacon and was eventually ordained a Priest after he married St Charbals saintly mother (his Father died at an early age).

    St Charbel’s teacher was St Al Hardini, which of him is said that his favorite two books were the Holy Bible and Glories of Mary by St Alphonsus and he especially loved our Lady under the title of her immaculate conception.

    Reply
    1. modestinus
      July 24, 2014

      Oh good — a reason for ideologues of all stripes to dislike him!

      I actually only started reading about St. Charbel a few months ago when I was doing more research on the Maronites. I was annoyed — but not surprised — to learn that there’s a contingent of online Eastern Catholics (or so they say) who detest Eucharistic Adoration among the Maronites. Go figure.

      As for St. Charbel’s step-father, I assume he was ordained a deacon after the marriage, yes? Or do the Maronites have different rules on that? I know in the Russian Orthodox Church at least one cannot get married after being made a subdeacon, though the Antiochians don’t seem to follow that practice. They draw the line at the diaconate.

      Reply
      1. Noah Moerbeek
        July 24, 2014

        They do have different rules. His step father was married when he was a deacon, and became ordained to the priesthood after his marriage.

        These wonderful monks will warm your heart, http://www.maronitemonks.org/ To my knowledge they are the only group in the Church that mandates 2 hours of Eucharistic Adoration for every monk.

        Reply
        1. Diane Marie Kamer
          July 24, 2014

          Noah, thank you for that link. It is beautiful.

          Reply
          1. Noah Moerbeek
            July 25, 2014

            Your welcome!

        2. Anthony Ferrara
          July 26, 2014

          I have been on retreat to their monastery twice. It is very beautiful and you are right, the monks there are wonderful. Not surprisingly the “purists” on Eastern Catholic forums attack them because they have Eucharistic Adoration.

          Reply
  2. Brian M
    July 24, 2014

    Could you please cite the title and publisher of a decent “old Ukrainian Catholic prayer book” with “orders for the Stations of the Cross, Rosary, and Benediction [that] are uniquely flavored with Byzantine liturgical elements,” if you have one at hand? I’d love to pick one up.

    Reply
    1. modestinus
      July 24, 2014

      You would have to find one used. Look for the “My Prayer Book” published in various editions between 1944 and 1964, and compiled by Dr. Julias Grigassy. I had one for sale a few months ago, but it’s gone now. It’s the only Slavonic/English book that I know of with these services in it. Otherwise, the Chlib Dusi (Daily Bread) prayerbooks that were published in Eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries are the place to look, though the ones I have are all in Slavonic with no English.

      Holoviak Church Supply still sells a copy of an English/Slavonic Chlib Dusi which was used by the Carpatho-Rusyns in the U.S., but lot of the “Latin” elements have been removed. Still, it has certain Latin practices in there like the Angelus and so forth.

      Reply
  3. Adam DeVille
    July 24, 2014

    Two questions, both in the spirit of the “advocatus diaboli”:

    1) You end by noting that these devotions are “sorely missed.” By whom, pray tell?
    2) The same question I posed on the Old Fogey’s blog a while back when he was on an anti-de-Latinization campaign: name three people (with real names, and links if possible) from this “obnoxious lot” of yesterday’s converts and “boutique religious consumers.”

    Like you I’m generally sympathetic to people practicing whatever theologically unexceptionable devotions will get them closer to God and heaven. But it’s not an idle question: what is one to do with the mandate of an (by Catholic lights) “ecumenical council” and all the subsequent papal documents (e.g., Orientale Lumen of 1995, and the Liturgical Instruction of 1996) that strongly recommend de-Latinization? Is fidelity to the Catholic communion demonstrated by holding on to pre-conciliar Latin devotions, or by following the council and later popes in this regard?

    Reply
    1. Adam DeVille
      July 24, 2014

      LOL. For how many months have you been lying in wait to use this? That would be pathetic were it not so risible. Have you nothing better to do than introduce your hurt but totally otiose feelings in this most extraneous fashion to a discussion that has nothing to do with them–save for providing you a platform for a passive-aggressive lecture dripping with sanctimony? Who even remembers from one day to the next what someone likes or fails to like on FB or elsewhere? I certainly haven’t the slightest recollection of anything you are on about. Grow up.

      Reply
    2. modestinus
      July 24, 2014

      Adam,

      I have met plenty of people — mostly older — in parishes in Michigan and Illinois who do not want to see full-throated de-Latinization, nor drop para-liturgical devotions that have become engrained in their respective parishes. While I agree that they are a minority presence, they’re not ghosts either. Moreover, given that the Society of St. Josaphat in Ukraine — which continues to grow — makes de-Latinization one of its protest points, it stands to reason that there is still a small, but noticeable, movement in the “motherland” to keep these practices alive. Were the SSJK comprised mainly of old ladies and aging priests, I’d tend to see it as the last “hurrah” so-to-speak of a quickly fading era, but the age of their seminarians and priests, coupled with what I can glean from the photos of their churches, tells a different story.

      As for your other query, here are some of the folks I have in mind, all of whom pop up on various blogs and message boards

      1) The Rad Trad (has his own blog)
      2) Rubricarius (mostly into Latin liturgy, but gets involved in Byzantine stuff, too)
      3) Patricius (he’s flipping Greek Orthodox now)
      4) A whole host of folks who hang around the Byz Cath message boards

      I don’t think it’s hard to find these people. Just Google “Latinization” and they pop up on the feed pretty fast.

      Reply
      1. The young fogey
        July 25, 2014

        ByzCath was the first thing I thought of when I started reading this piece. I go there occasionally but would never send an inquirer into Catholicism there. Toxicity just like Modestinus describes and untruth. Stuart Koehl reigns there: personally conservative most of the time but thumbing his nose at Rome from within Catholicism yet thinking he’s better than the Orthodox too.

        Reply
        1. Anthony Ferrara
          July 25, 2014

          Stuart is a disciple of Father Robert Taft, who in his mind can do no wrong. Stuart parrots everything the guy says. Taft recently disparaged the traditional Latin Mass in an interview and I have seen Stuart do the same. This is ironic, since Stuart left the Ruthenian Catholic Church after they modernized the English translation of the Divine Liturgy, which Taft had a role in. When this is mentioned to Stuart he claims Taft just said their was nothing heretical in the new translation and had no role in bringing it forth. Yeah, okay. Taft is a liberal and probably prefers the RDL over the older translation.

          Reply
          1. modestinus
            July 25, 2014

            Interesting. As Owen White once said, the greatest ecumenical gesture the Catholic Church can show to the Orthodox East is keeping Stu in our fold.

          2. William Tighe
            July 25, 2014

            Truer words have seldom been spoken, Mr. Ferrara.

          3. Scott
            July 29, 2014

            As someone who spent years in the SSPX, I find “liberal” an utterly meaningless term.

            Taft, despite many of his good points, just knows jack crap about the Roman rite, which means he has a lot in common with the 1962 “EF” Fr. Z crowd.

      2. Adam DeVille
        July 25, 2014

        Thank you. This is very helpful. I am not familiar with the first three places you mention.

        Reply
      3. Cabbage
        July 28, 2014

        Patricus is going GO? Oh, this will end well.

        Reply
          1. Anthony Ferrara
            July 29, 2014

            I never heard of this guy before or read his blog, but looking through some of the posts there, I’d feel sorry for the Orthodox if he does end up joining them.

          2. dianeski
            July 29, 2014

            I had the same reaction. (And I had never heard of him, either.)

            I’ve seen obsession with liturgical minutiae before, but this takes the cake.

            Are there any normal people on the Internet? (Asking half-facetiously…and without any reference to present company, of course.)

          3. dp
            July 29, 2014

            In Patricius’ defense, he has been pretty open about his diagnosis of autism. I always keep this in mind when reading his blog, especially his recent foray into anti-semitism.

        1. modestinus
          July 29, 2014

          This is karma for you sending me a link to his blog ages ago and telling me I sounded like him.

          Reply
          1. William Tighe
            July 29, 2014

            Who, me?

      4. Scott
        July 29, 2014

        Here’s the thing…

        I know The Rad Trad personally. Decent guy, very knowledgeable, and young. He is something of a liturgist but is also a realist with other interests (he doesn’t go as far as Rubricarius, who he knows personally, and will probably remain Catholic to his dying breath). I find far more obnoxious the people who attack people like me and him who have an interest in liturgy. I mean, why not have an interest in liturgy?
        I do not know Rubricarius, but know people who know him. From what I understand, his love of liturgy was poisoned by the nastiness of the tradosphere (something I have deep personal experience in). While he was driven out of the Catholic Church, mostly due to unfortunate circumstances, there is a definite possibility he could one day return.
        Patricius…. is a lunatic.

        And the Rad Trad blog has a lot of good material on it.

        Reply
    3. The young fogey
      July 25, 2014

      Thanks, Diane. Actually, unlike the kind of convert Modestinus describes well, I say it’s not either/or, just like the church isn’t just one rite. The church has, as it should, both unlatinized and old latinized forms, and I like them both.

      Reply
  4. Tom Smith
    July 25, 2014

    Regarding Adam’s question #2, here in Pittsburgh, the “breadbasket” of rust belt Ruthenian Byzantine Catholicism in the US, most parishes are populated by older folks who say the rosary, pray the stations during Lent etc. While some of the younger folks are true Byzantinists or are refugees from the Novus Ordo, I’d say that the majority are people who grew up in Latinized parishes and don’t particularly want to be told that their devotional practices are somehow objectionable. They’re generally not people who engage in internet polemics, though, so I’d be hard-pressed to offer links backing me up.

    Reply
    1. The young fogey
      July 25, 2014

      I’ll vouch for Tom and for Modestinus. Right, the ethnic Byzantine Catholics mostly don’t get involved in this on the Internet.

      Refugees can be either Byzantinists or supporters of the native latinizations (intentionally pointing out a paradox).

      There are good Westerners turned Byzantinists and bad. The good kind do it out of love for the rite, not self-hatred: for example, the almost all Western convert Russian Catholics and the Byzantine Catholic priests who were trained in Rome itself. The bad kind are anti-traditionalist, anti-Western, and ultimately anti-Catholic. And probably don’t get along with the native Byzantine Catholics. Online Orthodoxy’s feeder school.

      Some Western Catholics are called to become Byzantinists. I think Metropolitan Andrew (Sheptytsky) should be their patron saint.

      Reply
      1. Scott
        July 29, 2014

        To give your thoughts a concrete example, we’ll look at my case.

        I spent years in the tradosphere, which ranged from Independent-Sedevecantist to SSPX to FSSP. I stumbled into a Byzantine church one day and have never looked back.

        I love the Roman Rite in principle, but hate what it became. I see the traddies as mostly wanting to set back the clock to nineteen-fifty-whatever without any desire for true restoration. Still, my desire to escape the traddies is far outweighed by whatever it was that pulled to Byzantium. In fact, I learned a greater appreciation for the Roman rite when I took up the Byzantine divine office and then decided to try the Pre-Trent monastic Roman (divinumofficium.com is a wonderful thing).

        I am against latinizations except when they are absolutely necessary (note: the rosary is not a latinization). My church is not latinized at all, and I am happy for it.

        Reply
  5. Anthony Ferrara
    July 25, 2014

    I agree there are big problems with the ecclesiology of many of the regulars there . They think being Eastern is more important than being Catholic and actually congratulate people who leave the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy. They seem to act like the teaching of the Church is not against such indifferentism, but they are completely wrong. The Church’s teaching is still that the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ and that will never change.

    Reply
  6. Diane
    July 25, 2014

    Thank you, Gabriel, for deleting several of my comments at my request.

    The only thing I would retain from those comments is my agreement with Young Fogey.

    Am typing this on my phone at the DMV, so I can’t elaborate further re my agreement with Young Fogey — too difficult! Later, maybe.

    Reply
  7. bernardbrandt
    July 25, 2014

    The last time I recall having committed a latinization was fifteen years ago. It was a Friday: Great and Holy Friday, just after we had completed praying and singing the Royal Hours for that day at St. Andrew’s Russian Catholic Church. We (an SATB a cappella quartet) waited a minute, so that everyone knew that the prior service was over. And then we sang “O Sacred Head, sore wounded”, text and music from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, in parts, all verses. Then we went our separate ways that day, until the Vespers of that evening.

    I have nothing to say bad about Western lay devotions used by Easterners, such as the rosary. Better some devotion than none at all. And, to tell truth, I believe that the Byzantine rosary is a decided improvement upon the original. But I’ll keep my prayer rope, thank you very much. And when I say the rosary, I use my fingers rather than beads, in memory of the Soviet martyrdom, when people were permitted neither beads nor prayer ropes.

    But few things Western measure up to or mix well with the Divine Liturgy or the monastic hours. Hans Leo Hassler’s little ditty, as filtered through the kidneys of Johann Sebastian Bach, and englished by the makers of the English Hymnal, is one of the few things that can. Just sayin’.

    Reply
  8. Woody Jones
    July 26, 2014

    OK, I bite, who are the ones who gave left? And where did they go?

    Reply

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