Should catechumenal and adult Catholic catechetical programs include classes in the Greek and Latin languages?
The recent restoration of broad outlines of the historical catechumenate in the RCIA program has better prepared converts for the sacraments of initiation or full communion with the Church. In addition, many “cradle” Catholics have also found that catechetical instruction intended for catechumens enriches their own intellectual and spiritual development.
While numerous catechetical programs for the RCIA exist, few if any Greek or Latin textbooks exist to prepare catechumens and adult Catholics to appreciate, read, and understand late antique and medieval commentary, homily, liturgy, and scripture within an integrated Catholic approach. While these four categories encompass a very broad literary and liturgical range, a knowledge of koine (New Testament) Greek and late Latin grammar and vocabulary unlocks participation in liturgies celebrated in these languages. A greater knowledge of these languages also affords a catechumen or adult Catholic a source-language-level appreciation of critical doctrines and dogmas. In turn, a discovery of two ancient yet still critically relevant Christian liturgical and theological languages will certainly enhance catechumens’ and cradle Catholics’ spiritual and theological growth. Dogma and doctrine, then, will not merely be placed before the initiate or adult learner in dissected and translated portions. Rather, the student will learn through struggling to unlock the meaning of the source text.
The resurgence of interest in the 1962 Missal (the ‘extraordinary form’ [EF] of the Roman Rite) contributes greater urgency to the development of a liturgical Latin curriculum. While the “traditional blogosphere” has witnessed an explosion of interest in the ceremony and material artistry associated with the celebration of the EF, less effort has been devoted towards liturgical Latin instructional syllabi. The cultivation of a knowledge of Latin liturgical language, for both the extraordinary and ordinary forms, dovetails with Greek and Latin instruction for catechetical knowledge. A fuller participation in Latin-language liturgy requires comprehension of the Latin language within the frame of liturgical celebration. This participation in turn underscores the importance of participation in the scriptural and theological allusions which course through all liturgy. These allusions are best understood through a mastery of the languages in which they were originally composed.
The Greek and Latin of the first half of the first millennium of the common era share many grammatical similarities. Despite the different alphabets, the morphology (conjugation, declension) of these languages in the aforementioned time period is quite similar. While I have long wondered if it would be best for those without any knowledge of either language to learn both simultaneously, even a separation of the languages into two instructional streams should reveal a synergistic pedagogical effect. Acquisition of grammatical knowledge in one language should enhance grammatical knowledge in the other.
I must clearly state the following points as a necessary part of my proposal. These points must be emphasized, as they not only contribute to interpersonal charity but also allow for the coexistence of different subjects within one Catholic instructional program.
1) Participation in Greek or Latin classes is not necessary to become a Catholic. Classes in Greek or Latin are meant to enrich the belief, faith, and knowledge of a catechumen or confirmed adult Catholic. The Catholic faith can be fully lived without a knowledge of Greek or Latin through participation in sacraments celebrated in the vernacular.
2) (by corrolary) The Catholic Church does not favor one form of the Roman Rite over another. Both are equal, full, and valid expressions of the sacramental mysteries of the Church.
3) Participation in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite does not require a reading knowledge or verbal comprehension of Latin. There are many means to assist at Mass which are just as fruitful as listening to the spoken Latin of the liturgy or reading a Latin text of the liturgy.
Perhaps the greatest peril of holding optional Greek and Latin classes concurrently with catechesis resides with the possibility that certain persons will feel excluded if they do not wish to participate in the language classes. Exclusion might be particularly acute for those who struggle with language acquisition. The greatest sensitivities must be exercised. Despite every good intention, I do wonder if optional Greek and Latin instruction would drive some catechumens away from initiation into Catholicism, or alienate confirmed Catholics. The salvation of souls and the unity of a parish certainly supercedes language instruction.