I've observed at the traditional Latin Mass oratories I've attended that some older members seem to be there mainly because they are strongly attached to the Mass of their childhood. They love the Latin Mass but they are indifferent to the Latin language. Unless they went to college when Latin was still required for college entrance, few have learned much of the language. Some of them avoid going to a Missa Cantata (Sung Mass) or Solemn High Mass if there is a Low Mass available on the Sunday schedule, because they complain that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony make the Masses go on too long.
But the people I know who do love and cultivate Latin, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony, do so because they understand to one degree or another their continuing importance in the Roman Catholic Church. Latin Mass lovers who also have a love for these treasures of the Church probably will also love the society that is called Familia Sancti Hieronymi, the Family of St. Jerome.
I recently returned from my first experience of one of the Family's yearly Latin-immersion gatherings, which was held this year in Menlo Park, CA from July 27 through August 1. I want to write about my experiences and what I learned while my memories of those "tranquilla et jucunda" (peaceful and joyful) six days are still fresh.
Richard Chonak at the New Liturgical Movement website wrote this good summary of why Latin matters to the Church, in a post about the Familia Sancti Hieronymi before last year's retreat, "The bond of Latin links us to the universal Church and her worship, and also to the thought of our forebears in the faith across the centuries."
Familia Sancti Hieronymi is a Canonical Society dedicated to the learning, speaking, and reading of Latin in order to promote its continued use as the living language of the Roman Catholic Church. Their patron, Sanctus Hieronymus (Saint Jerome), is most well known for his translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin.
The Familia is not only devoted to the Latin language but also to Latinity. Latinity is the total of the writings of the Church fathers, and doctors of the Church, the writings of the Popes and other magisterial documents. Knowledge of Latin is important to preserve Latinity because, as everyone knows, much is lost in any translation.
The organizer of the yearly retreat, which is called a cenaculum, is Jan Halisky, who is the secretary of the Familia Sancti Hieronymi. I found Mr. Halisky to be an affable soft-spoken man in his 60s with an engaging smile, who dressed in light summer suits and often wore a jaunty straw fedora; Halisky is also a lawyer and the father of an impressively large family of eleven children ranging from 40 to 22 years of age. Three of his daughters and one son attended the cenaculum this year.
Ecclesiastical Latin: the Sacred Language of the Church
The Latin used by the Familia is ecclesiastical (from the Latin word ecclesia, which means church). Well-known Fr. John Hardon, S.J., who spoke in 1991 at one of their yearly gatherings and joined the Familia at that time, explained the importance of ecclesiastical Latin in the following ways. (Fr. Hardon gave the lecture in Latin, so the following are paraphrases by Mr. Halisky.)
Fr. Hardon "asserted that the settlement of Peter in Rome was no accident but was guided by the Holy Spirit and is part of Divine Revelation. Peter and subsequent Popes, he went on, consecrated the Roman language to the use of the Church and brought that language to a new and supernatural height.
“The language of Rome under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit became the language of Christianity. The language became animated by the Christian Faith, so that it is possible to say that while the soul of the Catholic Faith is Divine Revelation, the Catholic Faith also has a body, and that body is the Latin Language.” -- Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
Mr. Halisky went on, "Father Hardon felt that it is difficult to teach the Catholic Faith in the vernacular because Catholic dogmas, having been codified in Latin, do not mean quite the same thing when translated, one of the causes, he believed, of the crisis in modern day theology. Father Hardon’s thoughts are echoed in Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, On the Study and Advancement of Latinity."
Fr. John Hardon, S.J. stated that Catholic dogmas that were originally codified in Latin "do not mean quite the same thing when translated." This lack of accuracy when the doctrines are translated into local languages is "one of the causes of the crisis in modern day theology."
Ecclesiastical Latin's Evocative Power
The retreats of the Familia Sancti Hieronymi are called cenacula (which is the plural of cenaculum. The multiple associations carried by the word cenaculum is one illustration of the evocative power of ecclesiastical Latin. The word in English that is used for a cenaculum is cenacle. To Romans who were speaking what is now called classical Latin before Rome became the center of the Roman Catholic Church, cenaculum meant merely upper room, attic, or garret.
For Catholics the words cenaculum/cenacle bring to mind one particular Upper Room, the room in Jerusalem where Christ celebrated the First Eucharist at the Last Supper. The cenaculum is also where His followers gathered together after Christ's Resurrection with His Blessed Mother to pray and strengthen one another during the anxious days that led up to the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost.
Cenaculum obviously carries much more meaning than the English word retreat or other possible Latin equivalent words for retreat, such as asylum, could ever convey. Also because the word cenaculum in ecclesiastical Latin has several associations derived from the New Testament, when you go to a cenaculum, you intuit that you are going to a safe place and a sacred time that is set apart from the world, where you will be enclosed with a family of other believers. You will be taking yourselves away from the world for a while to a place where you can pray, meditate, learn, worship God with others, where you will support and strengthen one another for the tasks that God intends for you to do when the cenaculum is over.
Family at the Familia
Sometimes whole families attend the cenacula. All of the Halisky children have attended cenacula since the first one twenty-six years ago and have absorbed the Latin language from the speakers and the mealtime conversations, the talks, and the games, which are all in Latin. When they play volleyball post prandium (after lunch), when they score, they do it in Latin, if they call the ball out they do it in Latin.
Incidentally, when I complimented him in English on the attractiveness of his children, Mr. Halisky mildly reminded me about the equivalent Latin words I should have been using. The daughters (filiae) are formosae, and the son (filius) is formosus. In my enthusiasm at being able to converse with a group of like-minded people, I kept forgetting that one goal of the cenaculum, after all, is to speak only in Latin, all the time.
Priests Following the Wishes of the Popes
Six priests attended this year's colloquium, and several of them have been coming for years. Five of them are young, and four wore their cassocks. It is encouraging to me to see so many priests willing to immerse themselves in Latin.
Canon 249 of the Code of Canon Law prescribes that priests be well-versed in the Latin language, but in reality Canon 249 just might be one of the most ignored canon laws in history. For decades after the Second Vatican Council, Latin was almost completely unavailable in seminaries, even though anyone who ever read Sacrosanctum Concilium, which is the Vatican II document about the liturgy, could see for themselves that Latin was not to be banned from the liturgy, but that the vernacular was to be "allowed." Latin is now back on the curriculum at some seminaries, including St. Patrick Archdiocesan Seminary's in Menlo Park, CA, which is, incidentally, near the Vallombrosa Retreat Center where we stayed, but even for seminarians studying to be priests, Latin is still optional.
In an unpublished interview he gave in 2007, before Pope Benedict XVI's retirement, Mr. Halisky emphasized that the popes continue to remind the faithful that Latin is the Church's language, "Every modern Pope, including Pope Benedict XVI, has referred to Latin as 'lingua Ecclesiae propria,' the Church’s own language, and has insisted on its preservation in the life of the Church."
It seems that priests who come to the colloquia have grasped the truth that even though Latin was in effect banned in the Mass and from seminaries for decades, official Church teaching never banned it.
A Familial Sense of Religious Vocation
During the six days of the cenaculum, the religious vocation that is part of being a member of the Familia was woven into the daily schedule. We rose at 6:45. We participated in Extraordinary Form Masses. We prayed several Hours together from the Liturgy of the Hours that was revised after Vatican II, but in the Latin translation: Morning Prayer (Laudes), Daytime Prayer at Noon (Sexta), Evening Prayer (Vesperae), Night Prayer (Completorium) and Office of Readings (formerly called Matins). We had Benediction every evening.
We ate our meals (jentaculum, prandium, and cena) with before and after Latin blessings, of course, and some played volleyball, always in Latin. We had two or three lectures in Latin every day, and Ludi Latini in the afternoon, in which we played Latin word games, and we had slide presentations in the evenings, narrated, of course, in Latin.
A Field Trip with a Vivid Example of the Absence of Latin in Catholic Education
We took a field trip to Mission Santa Clara, which is located on the campus of the University of Santa Clara--well-known as a liberal Jesuit university. An encounter I had with a young graduate while we were there is strikingly illustrative of how Latin is still absent from most Catholic education in our times.
When our group found a shady corner outside the Mission to eat our bag lunches, I found myself sitting on a bench next to a young man named Jason, who had recently graduated from SCU with a degree in history and who was back on campus to prepare for a short summer mission trip that was leaving to India the next day. After we found out we both know the same historian from SCU and attended the same Massachusetts university for two years many decades apart, we started to talk about the cenaculum. Jason was very interested when I explained to him the purpose of the Familia and told him that the Church never forbade Latin and that even the document on the liturgy from Vatican II clearly did not intend that Latin should be banned.
I told Jason a few of the reasons why we are dedicated to keeping the Latin language alive by speaking, thinking, and praying it together for the week of the cenaculum.
I told Jason a few of the reasons why we are dedicated to keeping the Latin language alive by speaking, thinking, and praying it together for the week of the cenaculum.
I mentioned that at least some Ordinary Form Masses are still celebrated with some parts of the Mass in Latin, such as the Sanctus. From the look on his face, I realized I was drawing a blank. Sanctus? Haven't you ever heard Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, you know Holy, Holy, Holy? He knew Holy, Holy, Holy.
What is notable and lamentable about his lack of exposure to even the word Sanctus is that the Sanctus was one of the Ordinary chants of the Mass that Pope Paul VI included in a booklet called Jubilate Deo (Joyfully Sing Out to God) that he issued in 1974 because he wanted every Catholic to learn the chants in that booklet. Paul VI wrote in an accompanying letter that the booklet could be freely reproduced, that it was a "personal gift" to the Catholic Bishops of the world and the heads of religious orders.
Practically no one has ever heard this, but Paul VI instructed the bishops and heads of religious orders that the Gregorian chants contained in the booklet were to be considered the "minimum repertoire of plainchant." He asked them to teach the faithful these Latin chants and have them sing them. The fact that a Catholic, even with a history major, can graduate from a Catholic university without any sense of the role of Latin is one striking example of how official church teachings and the wishes of the popes about Latin are being ignored.
|Jubilated Deo Cover and Letter to Bishops|
Jason said he would be glad to join us when I invited him to come into the Mission with us to say a rosary after we finished our lunch. I gave him a handout with the Latin and English Rosary prayers side by side, which I've prepared for tutoring at a homeschool academy, and he followed the Latin prayers with us. At the end of the rosary, Mr. Halisky and his daughters sang a lovely short motet, Jesu Rex Admirabilis.
Jesu Rex Admirabilis, by the way, is addressed to Jesus as the Admirable/Wonderful/Mighty/Transcendent/Glorious King, and it is a beautiful example of sacred polyphony, which is part of the priceless treasure of Latinity the Familia is working to preserve. It is a three part motet written by Palestrina from a long poem attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. No piece of music written in the vernacular with modern notation could even approximate its awesome contribution to the worship of the Catholic Church. (You can listen to a rendition of Jesu rex admirabilis here.)
Before we parted, I offered to let Jason keep the rosary handout, and he said he was glad to have it. He said this to my surprise, "You people have brought me out of the darkness into the light." I can only attribute his reaction to the beauty of the setting, the prayers in the ancient tongue of the Church, the obvious devotion of the Familia on its knees, including the five priests in their cassocks, the attractive Halisky family's gorgeous chanting--all together must have touched Jason's heart.
An excellent introduction to the origins and goals of the Familia is available on a YouTube video of Mr. Halisky's appearance on January 2, 2012 on an EWTN Live show with Father Mitch Pacwa. You can see it here.
For those who don't have access to or interest in watching the video, here is a little background about the society from the show. Mr. Halisky told EWTN Live viewers that he has been with the society since it was founded in 1989 by a polyglot Austrian Carmelite monk, Fr. Suitbert Siedl of St. John of the Cross, O.C.D. (Suitbertus a S. Joanne a Cruce) 1923 – 2006. Fr. Siedl was able to speak more than twenty-five languages, which was quite a linguistic tour de force, but Fr. Siedl always emphasized that for Catholics the Latin language is preeminent and must always come first.
|Pater Suitbertus a S. Joanne a Cruce|
One of the principles of the Family of St. Jerome is that Latin is a living language, and they teach that it cannot be learned from textbooks. Mr. Halisky said that thousands around the world are learning Latin in a home study course called Cursus Linguae Latinae Vivae (Course on the Living Latin Language) that Fr. Siedl created, with CDs and a coursebook which the family offers for sale at its website.
"This course is the fruit of a nearly lifetime long experience in teaching and using Latin as a spoken language. It is entirely different from other available instructional materials in method and approach to the language; you learn from the very beginning to think in Latin and to avoid the usual method of 'deciphering and decoding' by grammatical analysis and by constructing 'translations.' Moreover, this course is based on the obvious assumption that language is an acoustic phenomenon and has to enter into our mind through the ears and not through the eyes, and that our memory has to keep the sound of the words and not the image of a printed text; therefore the cassettes which go with the Cursus are an essential part of this method." --The Family of St. Jerome Catalogue of Materials.
Here are some more related quotes from Mr. Halisky about why the society is devoted to the Latin language, "The primary benefit to Catholics is that it furnishes the key to the treasure of the Catholic Church.Without that key, you are at a disadvantage."
This quote is from the unpublished 2007 interview with Mr. Halisky that was mentioned earlier, "The Latin Fathers and Doctors of the Church and many saints wrote their works in Latin, and the Popes and Western Councils have transmitted the teachings of the magisterium in Latin. The Vulgate Bible, which the Council of Trent declared to be 'authentic,' was rendered by St. Jerome in Latin. Until thirty-eight years ago the Roman Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours were always celebrated in Latin; and even after the change to the vernacular, Latin celebrations have been constantly increasing, being given a brand new impetus by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum."
Summorum Pontificumis the 2007 Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI that was issued motu proprio (on his own iniative). In it he affirmed that the Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII had never been judicially abrogated. He declared that there are not two Masses, the old Mass and the new Mass, but two forms, equally valid. He referred to the Mass as it has been commonly celebrated since 1969 is called the ordinary form and the Mass of 1962 as the extraordinary form. Priests were given permission to celebrate the extraordinary form without permission, and restrictions on the public celebration of the traditional Latin liturgy were relaxed.
Mr. Halisky also said in the unpublished interview, "The music which the Church calls its own, Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, is sung in Latin. Communications of the Holy See are always in Latin. Latin was the universal means of communication among priests and the more learned. It is a tremendous source of unity. For example, before the liturgical changes one felt at home in whatever country one attended a Latin Mass. Latin transcended and transformed every culture so that the faithful would truly become Roman Catholics, not members of a national church having ties with Rome in juridical ways only."
And as Halisky said in the EWTN interview, "Latin unlocks the real riches that one learns from the fathers of the Church and the doctors. Latin is not studied as a language. It is our vehicle into sanctity."
Mr. Halisky told me at the colloquium that his first encounter with Fr. Siedl was transformative. He had been studying Latin for a long time, but trying to read the doctors of the Church was an arduous process that involved a lot of trying to remember conjugations and declensions from tables he held in his head. The first time he heard Fr. Siedl speak, most of it went over his head, in part because Fr. Siedl spoke so quickly. But the next time Mr. Halisky tried to read the same passage in St. Augustine's writing that he had read a short time before, something had changed. Reading it was easy, like reading a newspaper. Something about being immersed in Latin as an auditory experience and trying to think in Latin had moved it for him from an academic exercise to a living language.
In close, I think this quote from Cynthia Gilbert sums up the just plain niceness of the people in the Familia. Cindy (Cynthia in Latin, as in English), who was identified as mater familias in the course list, attends with her husband Fred (Fredericus), who is a retired consulting jurist who won first prize for Latin at Harvard many years ago. Cindy quoted Sharon Thoms, who is an organist who goes to the same oratory I go to and who has also attended several colloquia, "As Sharon has said several times, if she ever had to be stuck on a desert island, if she could choose who she would be stuck with, she'd pick this group."
|Some performers at the talent show|
|Quick sketch (my contribution to the talent show)|
|Another quick sketch|
The next cenaculum will be held July 11-16, 2016, in New Orleans. Send an email to Familia Sancti Hieronymi familiasanctihieronymi @ gmail.com if you would like to be notified about the details, which will also be posted at the website of the society. (The website has a wealth of materials, but I have to say I find it difficult to locate what I want. To do some technical nit picking, the site relies on a construct called "frames,'" which are no longer used on most websites because they make a website hard to use and its information hard to access. It would benefit greatly from a wholescale redesign that included the removal of colored backgrounds and the addition of a search function.)
More photos of the cenaculum are in this photo gallery.
 "Latin Holidays with the Familia S. Hieronymi," Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Richard Chonak. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
 The word ludi is the plural of the word ludus, which can mean game, fun, or school, so ludi latini are either Latin games, Latin fun, or Latin classes, or at the cenaculum, all of the above.