by Fr. Pat McNulty.
It was about 3 a.m. when I pulled my car into the checkpoint at Canadian Customs and Immigration. Though there were trucks in their own lane, mine was the only car around.
The middle-aged man in the booth requested my ID and then asked, "Where are you going?"
"To Madonna House, a Roman Catholic community in Combermere, Ontario."
"What’s the purpose of your visit?"
"I’m a priest and I’m going there for a retreat."
"Odd day-um qui lay-tiff-i-cot," he said.
"I beg your pardon."
"Ad deum qui laetificat…"
"Oh, ahhhh… Juventutem meum," I answered.
The man smiled, gave me back my ID and said, "Better brush up on your Latin, Father. Welcome to Canada. Have a nice day."
That was, of course, a long time ago, back when every Catholic boy who had ever served at Mass knew that Latin phrase. Those were the first words out of his mouth after Mass began at the foot of the altar.
Father would say, "Introibo ad altare Dei. I will go to the altar of God." And you would answer, "Ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meum," or something that at least sounded like that. It meant, "to God who gives joy to my youth."
I knew I had to know some Latin if I wanted to serve Mass, but I never dreamed Latin would one day facilitate my entry into another country like Canada.
I sometimes wonder if it might not help me get into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven? Let me try to explain that one.
I couldn’t figure out why Latin was on my mind as I sat down to write my article for Advent, but then I remembered that I always choose a word during the special seasons in our liturgical life.
Then during that season, I try to put some of my own flesh on that word. The word that kept coming to me for this Advent-Christmas Season is a Latin word which best describes Mary’s response to God’s desire to become Man. Fiat. Let it be done.
As I thought about that Latin word, I remembered what a great blessing a language other than your own can be. It can teach you to see more deeply into words in your own language.
For example, many of us are well acquainted with the Latin words for "go" and "come." Mass used to end with the words, "Ite. Go! Missa Est. The Mass is ended."
Generally we think we know what that means.
But what we think it means is not quite what the Latin words really mean, and you can’t hear it in the English.
In Latin the word, "ite" is a command-word. So, "Ite. Missa est. Go! The Mass is ended" is really saying, "Go right now. You are sent, commissioned, to live what just happened here."
You don’t hear that in the typical English Sunday sending-away. It often sounds more like, "Our community gathering is over until next week. Thanks for coming. You can go now. Have a nice day.
That is not what "Go. The Mass is over," really means.
So it is with the wonderful Latin word, "fiat." Fiat is equal to the word of Mary’s own mother-tongue which she spoke to the Archangel Gabriel when he announced that she was to become the Mother of the Messiah: "Fiat. Let it be done!"
But that’s not quite what the Latin means. Saying the Latin word, "fiat," is not like saying, "Yes. I will do what it is you are asking."
No! "Fiat" is a word in the subjunctive mood, and I don’t mean the feeling kind of mood. In this case, "mood" is a grammatical term.
It’s the mood that kings and rulers use when they make an absolute decision affecting the life or death of the people in their kingdom.
Let it be done. No questions asked. That’s the end of that. Fiat.
So Mary didn’t say to the angel, "Oh yes, I’ll do it if that’s what God wants."
What she really said was an absolute decision: "Let it be done. No questions asked. And that’s the end of that. Fiat.
Thinking about the word, fiat, as I look toward the great feast of Christmas, I am immediately reminded of one of our most treasured Christmas carols which begins with the Latin words, "Venite," Come! "Adoremus." Let us adore him.
But once again the English does not say it very well. We are not singing, "Hey everybody, let’s go to Bethlehem and see what’s happening."
No. Once again venite, come, is a command-word just like the ite at the end of Mass. Venite. What the Latin really means is "Get on your knees and bow down right now and adore him who is Christ, the Lord. Period. Adoremus."
Can’t you imagine a fiat in that carol somewhere?
Venite Adoremus. Fiat. Let it be done!
Fine, so what’s with the Latin thing, Father? Well, I am certainly not proposing that we return to Latin. After all, in seminary I flunked Latin 101, 201, 301 all the way to the 6th year, Latin 601. But knowing about meanings that are hidden in the Latin words can help us see more deeply into our own English words.
Go! Right now. Ite. Come! Right now! Bow before what you cannot understand! He is God! Period. Venite Adoremus. Fiat.
And so, through a language other than our own, we can gradually begin to see the hidden power of the word Our Lady used in her own language and translates for us into, "Let it be done! No questions asked. That’s the end of that!"
Fiat. The subjunctive mood of faith. If we are aware of the subjunctive mood, much more happens to us when we hear, "Go. The Mass is ended," or "Come, let us adore him," or "Let it be done."
I have a strange Advent/Christmas wish to put in my stocking by the chimney with care this year: I am asking Mary for the gift of a subjunctive mood faith implied by the Latin word, "fiat." Out of that word, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us. And it’s out of that word that I can put my flesh on the Word of God.
That’s the gift I want for Christmas this year. So that when I drive up to that great Customs and Immigration booth in the sky, even if St. Peter is a little rusty on his Latin, my fiat will get Mary’s attention. She will venite and open the gate for me, and I will ite right in and join the angels and saints in an eternal adoremus.
P.S. You don’t need Latin to get into heaven, but I know one word I’m gonna take with me just in case. No questions asked. That’s the end of that. Fiat.
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