I recently finished rereading Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, and enjoyed it so much more now that I am older and Catholic, and it has led me to purchase all of his four books—the newest Darling: A Spiritual Auto biography, just published—which I am now reading in publishing sequence.
Richard Rodriguez is from Sacramento and attended Catholic school and was an altar boy at Sacred Heart—the Sacramento parish where those of my family who are Catholic also are parishioners—and he wrote a profoundly beautiful paragraph about the Latin Mass in his book I would like to share with you.
Latin, the nuns taught us, was a universal language. One could go into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and hear the very same mass. But Latin was also a dead language, a tongue foreign to most Catholics. As an altar boy, I memorized Latin in blank envelopes of sound: Ad day um qui lay tee fee cat u vent u tem may um. Many of the ‘ordinary’ prayers of the mass were generally unrecognizable to me (Any Catholic who used a bilingual missal could, after a while, recognize the meaning of whole prayers like the Credo.) I had the advantage of being able to hear in the shrouded gallery of Latin sounds echoes of Spanish words familiar to me. Listening to a priest I could often grasp the general sense of what he was saying—but I didn’t always try to. In part, Latin permitted escape from the prosaic world. Latin’s great theatrical charm, its sacred power, was that it could translate human aspiration to a holy tongue. The Latin mass, moreover, encouraged private reflection. The sounds of Latin would sometimes blur my attention to induce an aimless drift inward. But then I would be called back by the priest’s voice (‘Oremus…’) to public prayer, the reminder that an individual has the aid of the Church in his life. I was relieved of the burden of being alone before God through my membership in the Church. (pp. 98-99) Rodriguez, R. (1982). Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. Boston, Massachusetts: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.