Many weeks ago, I chanced on a news item on the revival of the Latin mass in all catholic liturgical services. It says that the “Vatican…wants its official language, Latin, to be used more often in the mass,” since this will prevent the “arbitrary deformations of the liturgy.” The Church leaves no room for personal interpretation. It seems that one has to think in Latin in order to resolve personal spiritual issues. In any case, The Church–as the official Latin voice–is the sole authority on the “real” message of Christ.
Like many pundits, I believe that this recent move reverses the populist message of Vatican II, which instructs that the Church should move closer to its community. Vatican II has spurred the vernacularization of the liturgy and, has in effect, made the liberating message of Christ accessible to more people. Wherever the “divine” word was translated and localized, communities embraced the liberating gospel of the Church and forged this into a weapon against oppression and exploitation.
So, why is the Latin mass resurrected? The Vatican, it seems, is well aware of the power of language and how translation often leads to decontextualization–the message lost in the cacophony of fire-and-brimstone preachers. Just click on the TV and one could find a smart-aleck spouting biblical interpretations after shouting Basa! to an underling.
In the case of the Philippines, the tradition of decontextualizing the liturgy has been one of the hallmarks of our indigenized Catholicism. The Spanish colonizers came well within the Inquisition period (e.g., the Dominicans were the prime global Inquisitors then), which means that the early missionaries were stricken by the purity of the word. The missionaries must have been inspired young men who were willing to risk life and limb to shed “light” on the “darkness” that embraced the archipelago. No wonder then that the early missionaries were adamant at erasing all vestiges of the native religious beliefs and, oftentimes, infusing new christian meanings on old native practices–such as the case of the founding of Sto. Nino of Cebu (i.e., the “idol” discovered by the Spaniards could have been a local deity aka the Igorot’s bulol).
The early missionaries however were only half-successful. They may have installed grandiose churches over the native’s sacred ground, but the belief in aswang, gaba, liti, dakit, dangkoy, di-ingon-nato, taw-an, etc. insidiously comes to the fore once in a while. Lowland Filipinos may have embraced the Catholic faith, but their catholic experience is a hodge-podge of many things–appropriating both western and nonwestern elements; integrating the premodern, modern, and postmodern into the faith. You have, for example, the Binaliw festival in one of the islands of Cebu which is supposedly a feast for San Vicente Ferrer but could be some sort of a syncretic fusion between the saint and a local thunder god (as anthropologist Harold Olofson wrote in a landmark paper). Another would be the San Antonio de Padua rendered into Cebuano as San Antonio Way Kaluoy. While San Antonio de Padua is the patron saint of lost souls, San Antonio becomes the dispenser of gaba in the Cebuano mind.
With the onset of the Latin mass, the Vatican should be well aware that Cebuanos tend to celebrate decontextualized religion despite the authorities’ protestations for the purity of religious meaning and practice. Like Leon Kilat and his bunch of Katipuneros, we have a tradition of appropriating the power of the priest to speak Latin and turning their words into bullet-proof vests, sacred oil, oraciones, and tattoos. We transform the colonizers’ texts and make these part of the masa’s arsenal of antinganting.
The word has become flesh indeed.