15 April 2000

Latin in Anno Domini 2000

Liturgy meets Word™
contributed by Kay Goodnow
April 2000
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. — Luke 1:46-55, KJV
From time to time, I contemplate life on paper. Writing ‘exorcises my demons’ by letting my emotions run in a safe space, indulges my humorous sense of the absurd, and gives final form to my thoughts. I write so that I can move on.

I am old enough to remember Big Chief tablets and fat pencils, handwriting exercises intended to improve my script, the ‘blue books’ we used for writing examinations (utilizing my flowing handwriting) and calligraphy a' la quill pen and inkwell. This last was taught in an effort to "preserve an ancient art." (I did not live prior to the invention of the printing press!)

Through the years, I cut my teeth on DOS, WordStar and Lotus. Admittedly, I struggled with the new ways and the old ways until, at long last, the typewriter became obsolete.

Of course the information superhighway arrived on the scene, and the progress of computer technology, along with the evolution of the computer itself and all its appendages, gizmos and ‘must haves’ nearly exceeds the speed of light. It certainly exceeds the speed of my brain which, left to its own devices, would still be happily ensconced in WordStar. But I am almost current now that I have Windows 95 and Word.

Because my son is extremely adept at understanding computers (and making them do whatever it is he wants them to do) my computer and appurtenant equipment move from old to new via Dr. Frankenstein. My son understands that his mother does not want to know how he does these things or how the computer works. When I push the ON switch, it should work. With software, though, I will experiment for hours and hours. Hand me a manual and it will end up in a drawer. Push the ON button and let the software teach me… I am happy. I have two hard drives and the Internet. What more could I need?

From time to time I also contemplate my Catholicism, or what is left of my Catholicism. In all fairness, my Catholicism is mixed in with my Episcopal forebears; I choose to believe I got the best of both.

I am old enough to remember holy cards with gilt edges, scapulars and medals of assorted ilk, incense, nuns who wore long black dresses, the rules about patent leather shoes and wearing slips with zippers in them under my navy blue pleated uniform skirt and my light blue blouse. I remember holy water, Benediction with incense and chants, relics, statues, JMJ letterhead and what it meant to be a Third Order Oblate. I remember all of the Baltimore Catechisms (1942 through 1954). I can tell you about most of the virgin-martyrs, the movie and book Indexes, retreats that scared any evident demons out of me, and daily Mass.

The only difference between myself and any other Catholic raised in the 40’s and early 50’s is that my Catholicism came to me through French and Latin, while my Episcopal heritage was in English, King James, Rite I version. In short, I was an Episcopalian in a Roman Catholic all-girls French finishing school run by European nuns. I was there from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Ten years of that time I was an Episcopalian who wanted to be a Catholic. The last two years I was a Catholic. Then I went out into the world and learned about the reality of life. I lasted, as a Catholic, until I was about 24.

I walked away, due to my failed first marriage and my intent to marry again. I walked away, because I believed myself ‘excommunicated’ by Rome or whatever entity and/or ‘rumor’ excommunicated people back in those days. The Episcopalians asked that we go marry elsewhere and then come back to them. "Boggle!," I said to both denominations, and I ‘excommunicated’ them from me.
Suffice it to say that I spent many years as wife and mother of three children. I was busy, happy, immersed in mothering and growing up along with the kids. But I avoided church and I buried all of my treasured memories way down deep. Occasionally I would contemplate them, in the silence of my heart. In 1975 the voice that lives in my head (which of course is God, by any of His names) said, "Come home!"

So I surfaced into the world of religion. In the course of time I discovered that Vatican II had occurred, that there were no more Baltimore Catechisms, that there was a "Dutch Underground," that the Latin Mass was gone, and finally, that Episcopal churches more closely resembled my old Catholicism than the new Catholicism did. I devoured the Articles of Vatican II in its entirety and I kept hearing "conscience, conscience, conscience."

Light, I decided, Pope John XXIII had used Vatican II to share the light. My heart sang (in Latin, of course, and it didn't really sing, it chanted): Magnificat anima mea Dominum… [My soul magnifies the Lord... (Luke 1:46)]

But not so, not so! Just as the original uncomplicated message of Christianity has been boxed, broadened, defined, redefined, underdefined, smothered, altered and amended, made lawful and unlawful, waged wars and more wars over, made legal and illegal and, in spite of itself, evolved into the reverse of what it was intended to be, so has the complicated message of Vatican II been interpreted in reverse.

Yes, I tried to salvage my Catholicism and I tried to restore my Episcopal heritage. My first marriage was successfully annulled even though I called the procedure off twice as it was happening. My second marriage, which by this time had produced three children and had lasted more than 14 years, was convalidated by both denominations. The annulment procedure and the learning experiences provided by this procedure were devastating to me. There was no evidence of the message of the Christ anywhere, but there was a ton of evidence of church authority. I tried very hard for another five years and finally one day, from inside my heart and in silence, I contemplated my buried treasures and God said, "Rest, now."

This is the year 2000. 25 years have passed (give or take one or two) since I last ventured forth into the world of organized religion. God suggested that it might be time to take another look.
I did. Among other encyclicals I located Ecclesia Dei. From there, it was an easy jump to the Latin Mass. I also located the Pius X Society. I learned too of the changes and schisms in the Episcopal Church. The Catholic Archdiocese in which I reside has a web page, which I read in detail. Unfortunately, the annulment forms I found there have not changed, not one word in 25 years.
God said, "I AM."

The joy and beauty of the Latin Mass recreated the wonderful, mystical feelings of my youth and I thanked God for allowing me to experience them again. In a lovely, old church (with two spires which are not twins) my Latin came back, completely, as did my French. I could remember and I could feel. The incense, the vigil lights, the statues, the vestments and the words, those glorious Latin words, were unchanged.

And yet there are changes. Or perhaps I have changed. The words, after all, are older than I am. I hear the messages in the epistle and in the gospel but my interpretation varies so dramatically with the words spoken in the sermon or homily that I find myself in conflict.
I have given those entities known as ‘authority’ in organized religion back to God. In so doing, I am free to keep my treasured memories of my Catholic past. I am free to keep her music and her beauty, her solemnity and her splendor and all the feelings that they create in me. I am free to experience her mysticism. In addition, I am free to wander through the Psalter and the Song of Songs and St. Luke. The words I hear are mine to keep, and they are simple. I am free to explore other religions, keeping only those values which are essential to me. Best of all, I am free to see the love and joy of God in others.

Sunday night, when I was listening to the silence in my heart and God revealed that every breath of life is sacrament, I again felt Magnificat anima mea Dominum…
On Monday, determined to retain Mary’s song of glory, I dug through several translations in four different sources to find the English equivalent to the Latin. None of them sounded right. Even St. Paul failed me. It is always difficult to translate feelings, even into English, with the written word. I wonder about the Hebrews and the original Greek and how they would sound, were I gifted enough to understand them.

On Tuesday, determined to retain what Latin I can recall, I began to record the words, through what is in the memory unit I call my brain and through what I own in musical arts, onto paper. I am rusty, but willing.

On Wednesday, having decided that the original Latin will outlast everything else that lasts at all, I decided to go into Word and begin my memory book.
Today, Thursday, it is painfully obvious to me that computer technology may, in time, control everything.

‘MAGNIFICAT ANIMA MEA DOMINUM’ I invoked as a title. Word went nuts! It underlined all four words in green squiggles. When I got that corrected, it went right back and underlined all four words in red squiggles. Red means (usually) that a word is not recognized. I typed every Latin word I know. I used eight single-spaced pages and I did not punctuate or use proper paragraph format. I just wrote.
I turned on spell check and I let it run. It went through all eight pages, word by word, and it let me have it in red and green. I could have used the printout for Christmas wrapping paper. Slowly and deliberately I pushed the "Add to" key. Immediately, Dominum was recognized. Then my software recognized Anima, and finally, all of those words, all eight pages of Latin phrases.

I turned on my edit program and began structuring for prose and for poetry and for something new that (I think) I invented called ‘psalming.’ Word doesn’t like ‘psalming’ but it recognizes it as a part of the way I say things. I have taught Word some Latin, but no grammar. It also recognizes French, and my personal dictionary is full to capacity.

I am happy! I have God and I have His Word. I have the Sacrament of Life to live and to share. I have what I believe to be this world’s most magnificent love song, and in Latin. My heart invokes: "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" and my soul, strengthened by the light, warmth, peace, joy and love that is God, hears Him in the silence.

Editor's Note: Ultimately, Goodnow left Catholicism because she had been abused by the Church. See her writings elsewhere on this site.

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