The Church seeks to answer the same question about identity, which makes learning about Catholic history and culture worthwhile. Accordingly, one of the lesser-known — and underappreciated — aspects of our faith is that the Catholic Church is not monolithic. Rather, the universal Church comprises 23 Churches sui iuris (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 27). (The Latin term sui iuris means “of their own law,” or “self-governing.”)
By far the largest of these autonomous Churches is the Latin or Western Church, to which most of us belong. This is normally what we think of as the “Catholic Church.” But in fact there are 22 other Eastern Catholic Churches which are sui iuris as well.
Within my own Diocese of Richmond — although they technically belong to different ecclesiastical jurisdictions known as “eparchies” — two of these other Catholic Churches can be found: the Maronite or Lebanese Church, and the Byzantine or Eastern European and Greek Catholic Church. The Maronite and Byzantine Churches, like all of the sui iuris Churches, are fully in union with the pope. Thus they, too, are appropriately called “Roman Catholic.”
One of the distinguishing features of the sui iuris Churches is that they use different liturgical rites (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). In the case of the Latin Church, the vast majority worship according to the Roman Rite. (Other, local Western rites include the Mozarabic in Toledo, Spain, and the Ambrosian in Milan, Italy.) The Eastern rites include traditions associated with Alexandria (Egypt), Antioch (Syria), Armenia (near the Black Sea), Chaldea (Iraq), and Constantinople (Turkey).
All of this enables us to grasp the breadth of the Church — the term “catholic” means “universal”— and to appreciate our Latin heritage. This is why Vatican Council II, while permitting the use of vernacular in the sacred liturgy, taught: “The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 36). Furthermore, “Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass [i.e., those prayers and responses that do not change from Sunday to Sunday] which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 54). Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated this teaching (Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 62).
The notion of Churches sui iuris is essential for understanding the new translation of the Roman Missal; it is the unspoken premise behind the whole project. As the title implies, the Roman Rite of the Latin Church is to worship God by using these prayers for the Missa or Mass. (Actually, only the Roman Rite uses the term “Mass”; the other rites refer to the Eucharist as the “Divine Liturgy.”)
The Roman Rite has both an “Extraordinary” and an “Ordinary” Form. The first refers to the Mass as it was celebrated prior to Vatican Council II (the Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII ), while the second designates the Eucharistic Celebration as Vatican Council II revised it (the Missal of Pope Paul VI ) (Summorum Pontificum, article 1).
The Church’s current guidelines state that, for the Ordinary Form of Mass, the Latin text “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner” (Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Liturgiam Authenticam, No. 20). This applies not only to the words, but also to the unique style, word order, and sentence structure of Latin (Liturgiam Authenticam, No. 57). In short, when the Roman Rite is translated into English — or into any other vernacular language — its “Latiness” should shine through.
According to a famous axiom, “The Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church” (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 26), this means that the Church cannot be what she is apart from the Eucharist. Brought into existence by the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, she celebrates this Sacrifice “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Thus the Eucharist is the fullest expression of the Church. In the words of Vatican Council II, the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11).
And so the manner in which the Church celebrates the Eucharist reveals who she is: a universal Church that exists in local communities, particularly the sui iuris Churches. (This is one reason why we name the pope and local bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer in order to express our “communion” or unity amid diversity.) In other words, the worship that we render to God tells us who we are as a Church.
Our Latin heritage, whether in the original language or in vernacular translation, is not so much concerned with preserving an artifact, or even handing down a relic. Rather, it is concerned with safeguarding our identity as a Church. The unique history of the Latin Church is inscribed in the Roman Rite. That history is the story of the ancient faith of Rome coming into contact with various cultures in the West as well as in the East. That narrative continues in our day. Thus, “the Roman Rite is itself a precious example and an instrument of true inculturation” (Liturgiam Authenticam, No. 5).
As we prepare to receive the new Roman Missal, there are several reasons for thanksgiving. In addition to theological precision and elegant English, we will be able to perceive more clearly the richness of our faith — the faith of the Latin Church expressed in the Roman Rite. TP
FATHER MARQUES, a priest of the Richmond Diocese, is pastor of St. Timothy Parish in Tappahannock, Va.