Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the February AD 2002
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question:  A neighbor is interested in traditional Catholicism, but is put off by the use of Latin in the Mass. Why do we use Latin? Didn't Vatican II forbid the Latin Mass?

    Answer: In theory, Mass could be celebrated in any language. The Last Supper was conducted in Hebrew, and early Jews converts heard Mass in that language or in Aramaic.As Christianity spread beyond Israel, Mass began to be said in Greek, the international language of literate people of the ancient world. Only around the third century did Latin begin to replace Greek in the Western Empire. Roughly a thousand years would pass before literate westerners wrote much in any language other than Latin. Even the illiterate were able to take their part, in song and speech in the Latin Mass, hearing it daily from childhood. Sixteen hundred years or so of Latin Masses allowed the development of a vast treasury of Gregorian Chant and polyphonic music based on Latin syntax and syllabification -- a treasury sadly neglected where Latin has fallen into disuse.

    For the past thousand year Latin has been pretty much an unchanging language. This protected Catholics and Catholic theology from the uncertainties introduced by changes in language. A fixed liturgical language also kept doctrinal errors from creeping into the Mass by way of bad translation, either accidental or purposeful. One has only to examine the banal, occasionally heretical, and even invalidating translations of the New Mass to confirm this point.2 While the Latin Novus Ordo itself represents a departure from Catholic theology,3 the vernacular translations depart even farther. A side by side comparison of the original text with modern vernacular translations shows a consistently greater deviation from the concept of the Mass as the Sacrifice of the Cross, together with identical mistranslations of the Consecration of the wine.

    Although during the Counter-Reformation some priests and bishops over reacted to Lutheranism by restricting participation in the Mass to the clergy, this trend was being reversed since the time of Pope Benedict XIV, and participation of the congregation was being restored by the holy popes of the first half of the 20th century.4 At least until the Second Vatican Council, Latin continued to serve the Roman Rite Catholics almost exclusively. One could attend Mass almost anywhere in Europe or the Americas and, apart from the sermon, be fully familiar with the Sacred rite. In a multilingual parish, people might go to the Mass at which a sermon would be preached in their language, but the language of the Mass itself was uniform, and no source of division. Since the early 1900s inexpensive hand missals were available, making the Mass comprehensible even to those who could not understand Latin, and giving them the opportunity to learn.

    Vatican II was not supposed to change any of this. It permitted the vernacular language where necessary to accommodate the understanding of those parts of the Mass that change frequently and which were unreasonable to expect most people to hear and understand; chiefly the scriptural readings like the Epistle and Gospel, and perhaps the Psalm chants.5 But priests were directed to instruct their people in order for them to "be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."6

    Learning enough Latin to pray at Mass is not all that difficult. We have missals and missalettes printed in English and Latin, making it easy to read the texts of the Mass in either language. Most people pick up a working knowledge in just a few months by listening and reading or singing along with their fellow parishioners.



1   Parish Bulletin, "Q&A," October A.D. 2001: Stem Cell Research?
2   Jews at the time of Christ spoke Aramaic, but generally conducted their sacred services in Hebrew, as Orthodox Jews do in our time.
3   Probably not accidental, as the same errors are found in any number of languages officially mistranslated.
4   The Ottaviani Intervention (available on the Web or from TAN) documents the problems found in the Latin original by Cardinal Ratzinger's predecessor in the Congregation for the Faith.
5   See May & June A.D. 2000 Parish Bulletin, Q&A. .
6   Constitution on the Liturgy, Article 36
7  Ibid., Article 54, 113, 116

Dei via est íntegra
Our Lady of the Rosary, 144 North Federal Highway (US#1), Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441  954+428-2428
Authentic  Catholic Mass, Doctrine, and Moral Teaching -- Don't do without them -- 
Don't accept one without the others!