Latin as an Appropriate Language for Mass

Despite Vatican II’s declaration that Latin should still hold a place of primacy at Mass, and the people should learn those Latin responses which pertain to them, the language has been more or less extinguished from Catholic life. At best we’ll sing “Salve Regina” on a Marian feast day. The rest of the time, however, we assist at a Mass which is completely in the vernacular. Many people find this to be a positive change. They like being able to understand what’s going on without having to flip through a missal, Mass in Latin sounds like gibberish to the one who doesn’t speak it, and besides, the language is dead anyway.

So goes the reasoning of such people.

File:DominusVobiscumChant.jpg
We really shouldn’t have gotten rid of this stuff

There are many reasons why Latin is an ideal language for something like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We can start with the fact that it’s dead, something which is actually to its credit. A living language is subject to change. For example, the English we speak in the United States is different in many ways from the English spoken by William Shakespeare, and it’s even different from the English of modern England. The beautiful thing about having Latin not only as the language of the Church itself, but of the Mass specifically as well, is that it’s not going to change. Whether a priest said the Tridentine Mass four centuries ago or just last week, the meaning of it would all be the same. Likewise, it will remain the same another four centuries from now, so that the Mass has its one meaning “frozen and solidified” in this one, sacred language.

A second reason Latin is so good for Mass is the Catholicity of it. If you went to any parish of the Roman Rite before Vatican II, everything would have been the same: the prayers, the readings, etc… The only varying thing would be the priest and his adherence to the rubrics of the missal and reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament. The Mass itself, though, would be identical wherever you went. Now, I suppose a case could be made that having a multitude of languages in the Mass also feels very Catholic, since it proves that we’re all-encompassing, but overall I would say Latin all around is a stronger sign of the Church’s unity of purpose.

A third reason Latin is appropriate for Mass is its distinction from the language we use everyday. Even the Jews around the time of the New Testament used a different language in their worship than the one they commonly spoke. They would have spoken Hebrew in the Temple, though they might have spoken Aramaic on a day-to-day basis. Why? Because they recognized that the worship of God deserved a language which was elevated. Is it good that modern times think differently? I’m hesitant to affirm that.

Another reason? It’s just pretty.

Having Mass in the vernacular has both a positive and negative aspect, moving on from all that was said above. The positive side is that, yes, people can understand it and might get more out of it. The negative side is that it makes us lazy. As anyone can affirm, having to follow a priest speaking quickly in a foreign language, who’s often inaudible anyways, takes work. Latin makes it so that we have to really stay on our toes so as to pay attention. I’ll admit that it can be hard to pay attention at times, but let’s be honest: a lot of folks don’t bother paying attention when the Mass is in English, either.

 

God bless,

Michael

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Latin as an Appropriate Language for Mass”

  1. Ok, disagreement time. You say that having mass in the vernacular makes a person lazy- however, I have experienced the opposite! The latin mass crowd, at least the ones here, never do anything in the mass but stand up, sit down, or kneel. No talking. Much giggling and whispering. The older folks use the background noise of a mass they cannot understand as a chance to pray the rosary, read a book, or gossip with friends.Congregants also have this horrible snobbishness to them- a poisonous mentality that because they have the mass in the original language (ahh! Catholic hipsters!) they are better than the rest of us. They’ve said their spells, confident that because they’ve spoken the latin jumble they were supposed to, they have no further need to be decent, kind people.

    The Novus Ordo has just a much beauty as the latin mass, if done well by a good priest. Being able to understand the priest, without having to flip through a book or spend years learning latin (which, though a good idea in theory, simply cannot be done either to modern youth or modern adults) is a beautiful way to become immersed in the mass! The people are actually involved in the mass, as opposed to the privileged few altar servers and latin speakers in the latin mass. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I love being able to understand the words of the prayers, to be able to say them along with my pastor, to know what is going on at the altar.

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    1. Do they need to talk? They’re there to receive Our Lord, and even the current Holy Father has made the point that “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Mass has been largely confused with “external activity”. Yes, giggling and readings books is a problem in Mass, but again: people do that when the Mass is in the vernacular as well (such as this awful couple that sat behind us in our old parish…ugh; they would talk and talk and talk…).

      Well, people like that who’ve “said their spells”, as you’ve so derogatorily put it, and then have a holier-than-thou mentality are foolish, Pharisee-like individuals and don’t get what the Mass is. But again, the majority of Americans don’t get what the Mass in the vernacular is either. That argument can’t be used as a detriment to the Mass itself.

      It’s not wrong of you to like Mass is English, but to me, having the Mass in the vernacular in general–not you liking Mass in the vernacular–has a sort of dangerous Protestant air about it. One of the key parts of the Protestant revolt was the abandonment of Latin in worship. I’m not saying Pope Paul VI was a Protestant, far from it, but still.

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  2. Tanichca, while there are some at our local Tridentine Mass that seem as if they are just going through the motions (mostly the teens who are there only because their parents prefer the Tridentine Mass?), the general feel at these Masses is one of greater reverence and a deeper understanding and appreciation of what is happening up there on the altar. None of the people I know leave Mass and feel “no need to be decent, kind people”. Perhaps this is because the Tridentine Mass is an option, so those who choose it are genuinely there because they want to be. Those who would rather read books and gossip are down the street at our post office church.

    Also, Mike failed to mention this, but he has told me that he would actually prefer a reverent and properly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass—in Latin—to the Tridentine Mass. I agree with him. I have been privileged to assist at such a Mass, and it was truly beautiful!

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    1. I wouldn’t even need the reverent Ordinary Form Mass in Latin! Have the priest face the same direction as the rest of us, let us use altar rails and the Communion Paten for Communion, remove girl altar servers, get rid of the extraordinary ministers, and let it be in English, and I would be the happiest guy in the world.

      PS: Spot on calling it a post office church, lol.

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  3. And of course, there are a few of us Latin Mass teens out there who actually have started learning Latin too! :D
    Michael, I think we need to add something to your mass qualifications: Gregorian chant. The Holy Father (John Paul II, I believe) did say that Gregorian chant should be given a primary place in the liturgy. I think I’d miss that if it was *just* a mass in English.

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    1. Ah, mea culpa. Whichever Holy Father did say that, he was just reiterating what Vatican II said! Give us some quality Mass music and not this congregation-centered, non-theological nonsense!

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