Are you ready to answer questions?

QUAERITUR: If someone were to ask you to explain why the Catholic Church uses Latin as its official language, what would you say?

Let’s have some of your explanations and then see if we can’t refine some good bulletpoints for your own discussions.

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61 Responses to Are you ready to answer questions?

  1. Cristero says:

    It is a language, that while alive for me, is also set. Consubstantialem means the same to me as it did for St. Gregory the Great. In Spaniah and in English and other languages, this is not true. If I said “that person is acting in a gay manner,” means something different in the 1920’s than it does today.

    There is unity in the Latin language. What we profess as Catholics means the same in Mexico as in does in China as it does in unity with the Holy Father, the Pope of Rome.

  2. - It is a dead language, so the meanings of the words will not change, while translations into the vernacular are often updated. This protects the teachings of the Church from heresy.

    – It is truly universal and doesn’t favor a certain country or culture.

  3. Oneros says:

    In the context where I could imagine being asked this question (namely, when it comes to my love of the Old Rite and promoting it)…my tendency would be to downplay the Latin thing, which I think is a huge distraction.

    As John Zmirak said in the recent article you recommended: “I don’t know a single Traditionalist who wouldn’t prefer the old Mass, facing the altar, said in English, to the Novus Ordo chanted in Latin facing the people.” And that, given time, this may be the solution that is ultimately reached, though we could probably maintain the Ordinary chant parts in Latin, people are familiar enough with those.

    I would definitely NOT play the whole “a Catholic could go to the same Mass anywhere in the world” card, which is accidental to the question. And it smacks of globalism, liturgical hyper-centralization, a monolithic notion of unity, and disrespect for the Eastern Rites and patriarchal boundaries.

    As for “why Latin” historically, I’d say simply because Latin was the language of Rome, where the Pope is, so that was his language.

    Technically, it is not “the official language of the universal Church”…there is no such thing. Each of the sui juris churches has its own “official language”. The Western Patriarchate’s language happens to be Latin, and since the bishop of Rome is also the Pope…he uses Latin, even in his “universal” correspondences. But that’s not quite the same as being “the universal language of the Church.” It’s the language of the Vatican apparatus, which just so happens to be the organ of “federal” authority in the Church. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

    Likewise, just because the president and congress happen to all speak English, that is different than it being the “national language”. Though there are pushes to give it such a legal status, theoretically an individual state could still designate a different State language.

  4. wchoag says:

    My answer:

    The Catholic Church does not “use Latin”. The ROMAN Catholic Church, one of 23 particular churches in the Catholic Communion, employs Latin as its official language for worship, instruction, and legislation. This use is based upon historical and cultural causes rooted in the early centuries of the Church at Rome, a church unique in that it was the only major bishopric in the western Roman Empire with an undisputed apostolic origin. This made the Roman uses and styles highly influential throughout western Europe, especially during the Romanizing renaissance under Charlemagne in eighth and ninth centuries.

    However, the other 23 particular churches within Catholicism have their own languages, e.g., Koine Greek, Church Slavonic, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, Ge’ez, etc. These other churches have their origins in the near East and Eastern Europe. They extend as far eastward as India.

    As a side, Latin is among the three languages made sacred by their use upon the titulum afixed to our Lord’s Holy Cross. The other languages were Greek and Hebrew.

  5. wchoag says:

    My answer:

    The Catholic Church does not “use Latin”. The ROMAN Catholic Church, one of 23 particular churches in the Catholic Communion, employs Latin as its official language for worship, instruction, and legislation. This use is based upon historical and cultural causes rooted in the early centuries of the Church at Rome, a church unique in that it was the only major bishopric in the western Roman Empire with an undisputed apostolic origin. This made the Roman uses and styles highly influential throughout western Europe, especially during the Romanizing renaissance under Charlemagne in eighth and ninth centuries.

    However, the other 22 particular churches within Catholicism have their own languages, e.g., Koine Greek, Church Slavonic, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, Ge’ez, etc. These other churches have their origins in the near East and Eastern Europe. They extend as far eastward as India.

    As a side, Latin is among the three languages made sacred by their use upon the titulum afixed to our Lord’s Holy Cross. The other languages were Greek and Hebrew.

  6. TNCath says:

    As a universal language and the mother tongue of ancient Rome, it preserves the historical continuity with its roots and is a common language that all can use, so that no matter where in the world one goes, one can always assist at Mass in this ancient, universal language.

  7. Oneros says:

    As for the “being dead protects its meaning” thing…I find that hard to square with the fact that Latin WASN’T really “dead” up through the Middle Ages, clerics often spoke and wrote in it fluently…and it was originally adopted BECAUSE it was the vernacular at Rome. Furthermore, I find that argument hard to square with the romantic notion many trads have of reviving Latin as a spoken language among Catholics or at least their clergy? Also, meaning can still change, even in a dead language. “Consubstantial” has new baggage attached to it since Scholasticism, for example. The Vatican Latinists create new words for new concepts in encyclicals and such, and if clerics were to start writing fluently in Latin again, you can be sure that new idioms or connotations WOULD develop.

  8. Oneros says:

    “so that no matter where in the world one goes, one can always assist at Mass in this ancient, universal language.”

    Except if you’re in the 2/3rds of the world which are supposed to be within the Patriarchates of the East…

  9. Tradster says:

    I live in the US and do a fair amount of traveling overseas. I have gone to OF Masses conducted in German, Spanish, etc. I was almost completely lost each time because I don’t speak a word of the language, and they all have their own spin to the prayers. If Latin were used universally then I would be able to participate no differently abroad than at home, and feel like I was part of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church no matter where I was.

  10. Oneros says:

    “I would be able to participate no differently abroad than at home, and feel like I was part of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church no matter where I was.”

    Except when you’re in an Eastern Patriarchate where, not only would the language would be different, but the whole liturgical format.

    This monolithic notion of unity has to go. The unity is in the diversity. The Eastern Churches are the norm, not “exceptions to the rule”.

  11. dmwallace says:

    1) Mystery
    2) Stability
    3) Continuity
    4) Integrity
    5) Universality

  12. wolfeken says:

    Because Good Pope John XXIII said so in Veterum Sapientia, and the sessions of Vatican II and its liturgies were conducted in that language — all in the 1960s. :>)

  13. Short answer: because it’s cool.

  14. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Our Lord said “I am with you always”. That presence – particularly the Eucharistic presence – relies on a stable church. The Church adopted the use of Latin (admittedly alongside Greek) early in her development. Maintenance of Latin helps us to stay in communion with those saints who have gone before us who used Latin.

    Scholars value the Vulgate texts because, in its translation, St. Jerome used manuscripts that have since been lost. Use of a standard and stable text helps to prevent novel misunderstandings based on the whims of current translators. Similarly the prayers of the Church have their clearest meaning when approached in the original tongue. The vastly divergent translations that exist in other languages can obscure central tenets of the faith.

  15. pseudomodo says:

    Let’s see now…

    The first historical liturgical language was Hebrew but not just any form of Hebrew – Aramaic; which means “the common language of the people”.

    The second historical liturgical language was Greek but not just any form of Greek – Koine; which means “the common language of the people”.

    The Third historical liturgical language was Latin but not just any form of Latin – Vulgar; which means “the common language of the people”.

    The fourth historical liturgical language is Vernacular; which means “the common language of the people”. Vernacular is a language that is comprised of a conglomeration of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Slav, and Oriental. However if you travel the world you quickly find out that the vernacular consists in and almost solely dominated by the English language which (no surprise) is absolutley PACKED with Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Slav, and Oriental words, phrases and idioms.

    That being said, Almost all of the peoples of the world, when they want to express intelligence, precision, and universality, they resort to LATIN almost without exception. Among ALL of the dead languages in the world, Latin is the most cherished, vibrant and alive language we have ever had and will ever have.

    It is pure.

  16. at3p says:

    Actually, “pseudomodo,” Aramaic was not the “liturgical” language of Second Temple Judaism (nor of Judaism today), Hebrew, by then a classical dead lanugage was and is the liturgical language. As to Greek, Koine was not the lanuage of the common people, it was the “common literary lanuage” used by people throughout the mediterranian. The Latin of the Liturgy was not “Vulgar Latin” either. I was a highly rhetorical formal language following the stylistic norms of the 300s: look at the Roman Canon or the Collects. And the Latin of the Vulgate, while not Cicero was a purified formal idiom crafted by Jerome to mimic Hebrew and Greek syntax. Again, a learned Language.

  17. Cavaliere says:

    I would definitely NOT play the whole “a Catholic could go to the same Mass anywhere in the world” card, which is accidental to the question. And it smacks of globalism, liturgical hyper-centralization, a monolithic notion of unity, and disrespect for the Eastern Rites and patriarchal boundaries.

    I don’t have a problem with this, particularly if you have ever attended the International Mass in Lourdes with its use of several languages for each part of Mass. It is pure distraction.

    The ROMAN Catholic Church

    This term was originally a perjorative term used by Protestants to distinguish it from other (false) Catholic Churches. In more modern usage it would include all Catholic rites faithful to Rome. It would be more correct to say the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church I believe.

    Pope John XXIII had many great points in his letter, Veterum Sapientia.
    1)Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favour any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.

    Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity”[5] makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.

    her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more easily with Rome and with one another.

    Thus the “knowledge and use of this language,” so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.”[7] These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonise to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time… of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

    It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens the wits and gives keenness of judgment. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.

    We believe that We made Our own views on this subject sufficiently clear when We said to a number of eminent Latin scholars:

    “It is a matter of regret that so many people, unaccountably dazzled by the marvellous progress of science, are taking it upon themselves to oust or restrict the study of Latin and other kindred subjects…. Yet, in spite of the urgent need for science, Our own view is that the very contrary policy should be followed. The greatest impression is made on the mind by those things which correspond more closely to man’s nature and dignity. And therefore the greatest zeal should be shown in the acquisition of whatever educates and ennobles the mind. Otherwise poor mortal creatures may well become like the machines they build—cold, hard, and devoid of love.”[17]

  18. snowowl1234 says:

    “For the church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time…
    Of it’s very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

    Pope Pius IX, Officiorum Omnium, 1922

  19. Jason Keener says:

    One reason the Latin Church retains Latin as a special sacral language is because when we worship God, we ought to make the effort to use a special language devoted to Him and His holy worship. Why would we always address Almighty God in ordinary and everyday language that we use on the street? Many religions wisely make use of a sacral language.

    (It is also interesting to note that Latin did NOT start out as the universal language of the Western Church. A move was made to Latin from Greek by the early Church because Latin was the vernacular language of the time. It is hard to see then how some people today can take such a definitive stance against the usage of all vernacular language in the Liturgy as something totally antithetical to Catholic worship when the move was made to Latin in the Church precisely because Latin was the vernacular language of the day.)

  20. The Church uses Latin for a variety of reasons.

    1. Latin is a dead language in the sense that it is no longer being spoken anywhere in the world. This means that the meanings of its words cannot be changed. They mean exactly the same thing that they meant to the Romans and the Church Fathers.

    2. Latin is a universal language. This means that when a person is absolved in the Confessional or when he attends a Latin Mass somewhere in the world, the Mass and its elements remain essentially the same. You can go to Britain, Thailand, China, or Russia, and the Mass you would attend would be exactly the same except for some variations here and there. Latin, therefore, fosters unity.

    4. It is the language of the Church Fathers. Although the Apostles themselves mostly wrote in Greek, a large majority of the Church Fathers wrote in Latin. If you think about it, most of the early Doctors of the Church wrote in Latin and that includes such luminaries as Ambrose of Milan, Hilary of Poitiers, and Augustine.

    Of course, there are other reasons that I could add, but I have the sneaking suspicion that my post is long enough as it is.

  21. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Ooh, wchoag, I love that last one: much more than just an aside!

    – It reminds us that the liturgy of the Roman Rite does not belong to a particular parish or religious community but is universal (in the western Catholic Church) and so should not be tampered with at the whim of a particular celebrant or liturgist.

    – One gets a strong sense of the communion of saints, especially when the Roman Canon is used in Latin: as the names of the Roman martyrs are read out at the altar, we are reminded that we are participating in the and witnessing the same sacrifice not only on Calvary, but that in which Felicity and Perpetua, Agatha and Lucy, &c. rejoiced.

    – Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are inseparable, and Latin is frankly beautiful (except maybe for “spem”, “ut quotquot”, and “pulchra”, which has got to be one of the ugliest words for “beautiful” in any language!)

    – It’s hard to tamper with or ad lib. the text unless you are a skilled Latinist, in which case you probably have too great a respect for the riches and layers of meaning in the text the Church has given us that you wouldn’t want to mess with it.

  22. sally says:

    In the Diocese of Tyler, Texas we have large Hispanic
    populations in many parishes. When we all come together to worship by using the Latin responses we give preference to no one and can worship together as a single catholic community.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Allow me to endorse what at3p said.

    Latin was not adopted as the vernacular language. Latin was the language of Empire–of business and government. It is unlikely that in the provinces it was the spoken by uneducated, indigenous people. That is why in French we find words like “garcon” and “pomme” that have no Latin origin.

    If the Church in the mid 60’s had done what the Church had done 1700 years before, English would have been imposed on the Catholic world. German, French, and Spanish speakers would all have mass in English.

    The use of “vulgate” refers to the commonly used Latin Bible, not that Latin was the vernacular.

  24. Christopher Milton says:

    Yes, Jason Keener!

    Mass is set apart from the world, so we use a language that is set apart.

    That is a point that I try to make about using the organ for music, as well. Everything else musically and linguistically is abused and bastardized by the world. The organ (for music) and Latin (for the Latin Rite, perhaps Greek and the other languages for the other rites) remain as elevated, holy (as in set apart) things that rock’n’roll and pop culture haven’t twisted and tainted.

  25. John Weidner says:

    One advantage of using Latin, or some other ancient tongue, is as a reminder that we should not be trapped in the fads and ideas of our particular moment. Particularly we should resist the “chronological fallacy” that asserts that we are wiser than the people who lived in the past, and can safely ignore them.

    Someone pointed out that a liturgical language is a different tool for a different purpose than day-today speech. Part of its purpose is partly to convey things that can’t quite be captured by words. Obscure language teases us out of our quotidian thought-world, and hints at mysteries. So clear easily understandable language actually fails to convey part of the message.

    Also, I’ve been pondering the problem of men not going to church that is found in many “mainline” churches and synagogues. I believe that one of the reasons is that ceremony and ritual is a masculine realm. And part of that realm has always been the use of special language or secret jargon. It is something men DO. You don’t see it in women’s clubs or groups or harems or cults.

    I think attacking Latin was part of the much larger trend of attacking all things masculine and manly which has ravaged both the Church and the world.

  26. 1. As Catholics we recognize the importance of unity that is rooted in communion with the Church and the fullness of the tradition of the Church. The use of Latin allows us to be always in communion with the Catholics who have gone before us.

    2. Latin ensures unity in present worship because it takes away the possibility of variance in translation, so that if we are all praying in Latin we can be certain that we are all praying the same liturgy everywhere throughout the world.

    3. Latin is beautiful. Beauty matters.

    4. Latin is a great aid in sacramentally (with a little “s”) presenting the mystery that is intrinsic to Catholic Liturgy.

  27. The men/women language point isn’t a good one. For one thing, women can talk plain English, and men still won’t understand what they’re saying. :)

    Secondly, you’re wrong. Historically, there have been plenty of “women’s languages” which were totally separate in grammar and vocabulary from that of the men in the society, and which were often kept purposefully obscure for either ritual or historical reasons. For example, in classical times, I believe this was true of… the Lydian women? Can’t remember. Anyway, the ones whose men were all killed by Greek invaders, and who learned the tongue of their new “husbands” but persisted in their own among themselves.

    So anyway… not a good example, and not true.

  28. Onerus said: I don’t know a single Traditionalist who wouldn’t prefer the old Mass, facing the altar, said in English, to the Novus Ordo chanted in Latin facing the people.

    I don’t know about that. I would be really torn, but in that case would likely prefer the Latin chanted Novus Ordo. I’m almost certain I would.

  29. John Weidner says:

    Suburbanbanshee ,

    Historically, there have been plenty of “women’s languages”

    But you can only vaguely refer to one. And that one has nothing to do with ceremony or ritual, and was not invented by women.

    Men invent (or preserve) such things–both languages and ceremonies–all the time. Think of all the old “secret organizations,” such as the Knights of Columbus or the Masons. What do you find? Rituals, ceremonies, costumes, memorizing of arcane terms or phrases (often in Latin).

    Another example is the way homosexuals reveal something of what their sex is by nature by placing it “on its own.” Gay men invent….. operas, costume balls, ballets, films, and all sorts of elaborate fantasy worlds, replete with fussy details. Lesbians on their own turn into schlubs.

    And God uses our anthropology, just like he uses all sorts of other physical and earthly things. He is not gnostic.

  30. chironomo says:

    Aside from the obvious Roman heritage aspect, it would seem that the fixed meanings of Latin vocabulary make it an ideal language in which to express eternal ideas. I think it is used in Law Studies for much the same reason…fixed and determinate meanings. Thee is also something attractive about the idea of NOT being able to express ideas which originate in modernity….

  31. SimonDodd says:

    If asked why the Church uses latin, I’d give answers similar to the above. If asked why I like to use it, my answer’s similar to TNCath’s. I see the Church’s catholicity as being not only horizontal (universal throughout the world) but vertical (universal throughout time). I usually pray vespers in latin because it gives me a sense of continuity with and connection to the “Church vertical,” so to speak. I know what the prayers mean, so it doesn’t detract from my own understanding, and feels like a broadening of community and indeed communion with the whole Church through time, which prayed these prayers in this language for centuries before I was born, and which will continue to do so long after I’m dust. For the same reason, at Mass, I sometimes give the responses quietly in latin, so long as I don’t think anyone around me is going to hear it and be disturbed. (I think that this is licit; please correct me if not.)

  32. Christopher Milton says:

    John Wiedner:

    Please tell me which homosexual man invented opera? film? ballet? I think you might have had a valid point, but the ludacris claim you used to support it actually undermined it.

  33. John Weidner says:

    Christopher,
    Sorry, I did not write clearly. I didn’t mean that gay men invented the genres. But in our time they commonly create the productions, as directors or producers. (I know a bit about this, living in SF and having a son who is a vocal musician.) And are very frequently the writers or choreographers of operas or ballets. Or anything involving splendid pageantry.

  34. Andy Milam says:

    The way I would answer it is thusly:

    First, it is the language of the Holy See. Not simply a liturgical language, but rather a juridical one as well. As a an entity, The Holy See has as it’s offical languages, Latin. To preserve it for use abroad is no different than speaking French or Spanish or English or any other language abroad. The Vatican City State has Italian as it’s official langugage, but the two should not be confused. Vatican City came to existence in 1929, while the Holy See has existed for nearly the entire life of the Church herself.

    Secondly, it is the liturgical language of the Church. It is a binding agent that unites the faithful regardless of nationality or native language. If the Mass is in Latin, then we who are English speakers can attend Mass in Nigeria or Italy or China and understand the Mass and vice versa. Despite what the liberals think, it is not divisive at all.

    Thirdly, as a matter of obedience to the Church, we are commanded to use Latin in the Liturgy via Vatican Council II. This can be seen in articles 36, 54, and 63. Also, one cannot simply look to the translation, but must look to the Latin itself to explain the meaning. The word ‘servetur’ is used, which constitutes a command and not merely a recommendation.

    So clearly, the intention is multifaceted, but it isn’t complicated. That is how I do explain it, not simply how I would in a hyptothetical situation.

  35. robtbrown says:

    And are very frequently the writers or choreographers of operas or ballets. Or anything involving splendid pageantry.
    Comment by John Weidner

    Don’t you think that living in SF (a beautiful city) might give you a incomplete look at who puts on operas?

  36. Henry Edwards says:

    Let me suggest a reason for liturgical Latin that may be a bit different and more fundamental than the reasons usually given in this and similar threads.

    The reason I have in mind is akin to a common remark by specialists in comparative literature – that the true greatness of Shakespeare cannot be appreciated in translations of his work into other languages. His modes of thought and expression are so closely allied with the nature English language and mind as to inevitably lose much in translation. Shakespeare in German or (even worse) French is just not the real Shakespeare, they say.

    Similarly, I recall a claim by a Spanish professor that there were at least four Spanish playwrights the equal of Shakespeare, but that one must learn Spanish to comprehend this alleged fact, because their real greatness does not survive translation into English.

    So the reason for liturgy in Latin is that the Roman rite as we now know it was developed in Latin – as, indeed, did the very mind and mode of thought of the Western church – even if early on some of the rudiments originally were translated from Greek; the whole liturgical edifice of our rite, ordinary and propers and Gregorian chants and our understanding of their meanings, took shape in Latin. It is for this reason, I am convinced that, however accurate and faithful the translation, the richness and fullness of the original cannot be captured completely.

    I sense this as I pray the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin, especially the patristic selections in the Office of Readings. Frequently I compare a Latin reading with one or more English translations of it. I never see a translation that does justice to the Latin original, and have come to believe the explanation is more fundamental than the competence (or lack thereof) of the translator.

  37. John Weidner says:

    robtbrown,

    Possibly, but my bet is that things are not too different even in the heartlands.

    But I didn’t mean to make this a discussion of homosexuality. It was just mentioned as one hint among many I could give that things ceremonial (which would include use of an antique tongue in rituals) are masculine in nature.

    And so one reason to keep the use of Latin is to counter various worldly ideas that downgrade masculinity, and therefore discourage men from going to church.

  38. Mark Pavlak says:

    When the entire universe lies within the Vatican walls, the language should be universal. German is for Germany and Italian fis or Italy, so is the same with Universal is for the Universe. And since Universal means Catholic, dare I say that Latin is Catholic?! I think I dare. Therefore, Latin is the language of a Catholic.

    As an aside, Latin isn’t too hard to get the hang of. While serving at St. Agnes for many years, I learned to teach myself what the words meant. When the Passion is chanted on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the altar boys follow along in their ENGLISH missal – that’s how we learned a lot of our Latin words. And year after year of doing this, we’re able to follow along and think of the English words as we go (of course being familiar with the Passion story helps, too). If young 9-13 year olds can get the hang of it without complaint, surely our fellow Catholic adults could find room not to complain.

  39. Sandy says:

    Those points that have been stated I would agree with – unchanging, beautiful, etc. There is one more that is important to me, and that I sense whenever I have the blessing of attending the EF Mass. That is: the supernatural element of the prayers that have been used for centuries with minimal changes. Something unseen and supernatural takes place with the Latin prayers, a spiritual power that is not present in the banal translations. I can’t really put it into words.

  40. chcrix says:

    dmwallace you need to rearrange your list from

    1) Mystery
    2) Stability
    3) Continuity
    4) Integrity
    5) Universality

    To:
    1) Mystery
    2) Universality
    3) Stability
    4) Integrity
    5) Continuity

    MUSIC

  41. Mike says:

    Vernacular languages are in a swirl of living change, a brew of idiom that is often only locally relevant.

    Latin is the kind of precise, rich, formal language that keeps us from drowning in this brew of interiority, where all languages come from. Its objectivity, paradoxically, preserves the self from the self, and helps it go to God.

  42. Lee says:

    We use Latin as our liturgical language pending the conversion of the Jews who will then resurrect it as a living language. They did it with Hebrew.

    What irony that they who do not believe in the Resurrection were able to bring their long dead (deader much longer than Latin, 2000 vs 200 years)) language back to life, while we who do cannot, and moreover boast of our dead language!

    Why do you go to the Latin Mass? I am seeking the Living One among the dead where He is more easily found, for the dead words throw Him into relief.

    There is something very incongruous about this.

    When an Eliezer Ben-Yehuda rises among us and refuses to speak in anything but Latin, or to allow his children to hear anything but Latin, then we will have some glimmer that there is a serious effort under way to preserve and restore Latin as the vehicle of our Catholic Culture and Liturgy. In the meantime we are in an absurd situation.

  43. From a priest who offers the Mass in Latin almost every day (in either Form):
    –Theological accuracy, depth and tradition;
    –Universality, both throughout the world and throughout the centuries of the Latin Rite; the centuries of Saints who have assisted and offered Mass with these Prayers is just an awesome meditation.
    –Beauty; saying or singing the Latin is just an aesthetic experience in and of itself.
    –The good of the People of God, Christ’s Mystical Body; that the riches of Her Tradition are made manifest throughout time in this precious mediation of the Latin language.

  44. So I can use the ATM when I’m in Vatican City.

  45. Marcin says:

    The use of “vulgate” refers to the commonly used Latin Bible, not that Latin was the vernacular.

    That’s right. What Roman grammarians called ‘sermo vulgaris’ was a street jargon, constantly in flux and very early showing many features of future Romance languages. They regarded it as uneducated, unbecoming of anyone aspiring to any societal significance, and frankly quite ugly. Nothing like the language of Jerome’s Vulgate.

  46. robtbrown says:

    John Weidner,

    I do agree that the present state of the liturgy is unmasculine.

  47. Andrew says:

    The Catholic Church is not an abstract concept. It is a social body rooted in historical reality. Its foundation rests upon the Holy See in Rome founded by Peter. Its mother tongue is Latin which binds the past, the present and the future together. Just as the Son of God became incarnate from the Blessed Virgin, so the Church became incarnate in Rome. Catholics are not members of the Italian church, or the French Church, but of the Roman Church. Even if they are not of the Latin rite, they are still members of the Church of Rome whose language is Latin (which is not dead – it is just taking a nap these days). And one thing is of major importance, as pointed out above by Henry: Latin can be fully understood only IN LATIN. What does the Latin prayer really say? Id, quod dicit.

  48. graphiya says:

    As to the reasons the Church herself has chosen to maintain Latin as her official language, perhaps Cavaliere’s statement is most to the point. As I reread my post, I realize I have responded to an entirely different question, namely, “Why do I love the Latin mass?” (Not distinguishing the TLM and the Novus Ordo.)

    This is from an aging adult convert (Easter 2004). I heard Latin Masses occasionally as a child. I found it interesting and beautiful, but a mystery, and that not in a sacred sense. Flash past the lost years, and in my late twenties I was converted to protestant Christianity, to faith in and love for our Lord, Jesus Christ. Mystery, true mystery, was introduced to me in my vernacular, English. I understood, albeit imperfectly, the good news, and wanted to draw nearer to Him. Several years after that, I attended an Easter vigil and was delighted to find that the liturgy (which I could understand now in English) was not “empty formulas,” as I had imagined, but the Living Word God.

    Still a long way to go. Looking at the Church from a distance, I could appreciate the usefulness of Latin for administrative efficiency and historical and doctrinal continuity, but not particularly as being helpful for non-Latin speakers, the non-scholars. Eventually, after being drawn into the Church myself and realizing what precious gifts are our priests and bishops, I began to feel the Latin prayers and commentaries to be a special kind of food on which they could feast and then feed us.

    Finally, however, when I heard the funeral Mass of our late, beloved Pope John Paul II, celebrated in Latin and broadcast to the world, I understood that it could not have been in any other language, since it belongs equally to all of us Catholics, providing a visible (audible) witness to our true communion. Further, the communion is in time as well as space. Was not the whole family of God there with us? It is our language, though I have not yet learned it. I understood and rejoiced. As I’m sure the worshipers around me understood when I was a child.

    But I still wonder, if that were the only language in which we were to worship, how the stranger who comes among us would hear and understand and be converted.

  49. graphiya: I can tell you that as a very young child, I had a record of the Christmas Mass at Bethlehem (don’t know how I got it!) with the chants in Latin, the bells, and I was mesmerized…a Protestant kid with a grandfather who was a Protestant minister.
    Latin can somehow draw souls to God. Not like magic. But I KNEW instinctively that this was prayer to Almighty God in a way I had never really heard it before.

  50. Yubbly says:

    “But I still wonder, if that were the only language in which we were to worship, how the stranger who comes among us would hear and understand and be converted.”

    Graphiya, have you seen this article? I think it sort of makes that point with you:

    http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com/2010/01/language-barrier-is-issue.html

  51. catholicmidwest says:

    Anyone who works in business has observed how the English language can be perverted, tortured and treated like a tool.
    Latin isn’t a business language anymore, and it stands separate from the kind of sloganeering and havoc that the English language endures.
    Therefore, Latin is different than English in a crucial regard because of its timeless quality and its resistance to being sloganeered into meaninglessness.

    Without her truth claims, the church is just another feel-good society; with truth claims she is most truly herself. Truth claims are what make her different from other pursuits. Truth claims should not undergo sloganeering because sloganeering does nothing for them, and in fact, degrades them. Therefore we need a language that has resistance to sloganeering.

    Latin has resistance to sloganeering. Therefore we should use Latin for truth claims.

  52. Chris C says:

    Any international group (especially one that lays down laws)needs an international language and so if Latin was not it what would you replace it with?

    English, Spanish, Portuguese, French (I think the French bishops would rather be seen kissing the foot of a statue of Archbishop Lefebrve before they allowed English to become the official language of teh Church) …

    What criteria would you use? Most native speakers? Most used as a second language?

    One of the consequences of the use of the vernacular (in the Mass) is that it has further fragmented communities along ethnic and linguistic lines. For example in South Africa we have 11 official languages (English being one of them), significant Portuguese, French, Italian and German speaking communities and in recent years a number of immigrant communities from the rest of Africa who speak a variety of indigenous languages. There have been fist fights in certain places over Mass time-slots because people feel their particular community is slighted.

    What inevitably happens is that English gets preference and a Xhosa or Zulu Mass gets relegated to 2:45 on a Sunday afternoon.

    At an English Mass people are not “praying in their own language” and secondly this adds to the prestige value of English and people slowly loose their own culture. English needs no help in increasing its power as a global language. A priest friend told me recently that in his parish the children (whose home language is Zulu) asked him to only teach catechism and say Mass in English because Zulu is “old fashioned”.

    Also many language groups are too small to justify a translation of theological works into their languages. For example a seminary in South Africa wanting to respect all of the official cultures would as a start need 11 versions of the Summa. OK, this is in the highly unlikely event that the seminary would actually teach from the Summa. Once again English becomes the default. I read recently that Thai seminarians are having to learn English to be able to study theology because the number of theological works in Thai is rather limited. Why not just have them learn Latin. They would be able to read works in the original language and also read those works not translated into English.

    We need an international language preservation movement called the “The International Commission for No-English in the Liturgy” :) the Liturgy

  53. Stephen Hand says:

    It’s not possible for Latin to be changeless in the way that people here say that it is. While it’s true that the Latin language is dead and doesn’t evolve, our language does, and Latin is only intelligible to us because it is mediated through our living, changing languages. Latin needs to be re-translated in order to come into new situations, cultures, idioms, etc. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that we understand the Vulgate in the same way that Aquinas did, or Augustine the way that Anselm did, etc.

    Old Salvonic is the best sacred language, i’m not even being facetious, I never found Latin nearly as touching as Old Slavonic.

    because if our language changes, then our relation to the latin changes, the meaning of those same latin words then needs to be translated into new contexts, new idioms, etc.

    Greek should be more important anyway, a little book called the New Testament was written in it. God ordained that the Greek language should be used to render texts that He divinely inspired. It’s silly to praise the latin translation over the original. Who wants to listen to Greek chant though? Eeew.

  54. basenji says:

    - Tradition
    – Universality
    – Consistency

    – And no need to ever have to vote upon or test market our sacred liturgy!

  55. ikseret says:

    Because John Paul I (N.B. I) said in his homily of September 3, 1978, after beginning his homily by greeting everyone in Latin:

    “We have begun this homily in Latin, because, as is well known, it is the official language of the Church and in an evident and effective way expresses its universality and unity.”

    The Latin language is by Divine Providence a sign of unity. That is why even the Eastern Churches, in the Eastern Code of Canon Law, also use Latin as their base text.

  56. catholicmidwest says:

    Stephen,

    Truths don’t drift. We drift, and then we may fail to understand truths properly, but that doesn’t change them. Why throw up a language to be used, like English, that augments the drift even worse? No reason whatsoever.

  57. Stephen Hand says:

    catholicmidwest,

    I never said that truths drift, though according to the Holy Father their expressions are bound historically and culturally. My point is that Latin, even though it’s a dead language, doesn’t escape that drift, especially if the only access that we have to Latin is through ‘drifty English’. Our understanding of the meaning of Latin words is dependent upon us first understanding English words. If the meaning of the English words shifts, then so does the meaning of the Latin words that they translate. Hence Latin is no more stable than English.

    Latin was never a vehicle for Divine Revelation, unlike Hebrew and Greek(which never ceased to be a liturgical language, those of you who want the mass to be the same everywhere, best avoid the eastern churches in communion with Rome)

  58. catholicmidwest says:

    Stephen Hand, that’s an obfuscation, pure and simple. Latin is not the same as English. If it’s taught young enough and well enough, English depends on IT. Therefore, we need to get off our sloppy butts and do a better job.

  59. Stephen Hand says:

    Catholicmidwest,

    I realize that Latin is not the same as English. My point is that because Latin is taught in English, it succumbs to the same process of drift that English does(though of course, not in the same manner) and can’t be thought of as somehow outside the flow of time, pristine and pure, immune from change, etc.

    For example, some older English translations render the phrase in the creed ‘vivos et mortuos’ as ‘the quick and the dead’, while in contemporary English its ‘the living and the dead’. If an older Latin dictionary had ‘vivos’ translated as ‘quick’, it would be a bad guide for today’s English speaking Latin student, hence the Latin word has to be correlated with a different English word in order to remain intelligible to the student. As English changes, the translation of the Latin needs to be rendered in light of those changes or it ceases to make sense. Latin is no better at preserving meaning across centuries than English.

    Greek and Hebrew were actually vehicles for Divine Revelation, unlike Latin, I don’t see why Latin is privileged over them.

  60. Stephen Hand says:

    Catholicmidwest,

    ps. my butt isn’t sloppy, speak for yourself. :P

  61. robtbrown says:

    It’s not possible for Latin to be changeless in the way that people here say that it is. While it’s true that the Latin language is dead and doesn’t evolve, our language does, and Latin is only intelligible to us because it is mediated through our living, changing languages. Latin needs to be re-translated in order to come into new situations, cultures, idioms, etc. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that we understand the Vulgate in the same way that Aquinas did, or Augustine the way that Anselm did, etc.

    That’s the reason to read St Thomas and St Augustine–to understand the Vulgate as they did. There is no understanding of texts from another age without releasing oneself from contemporary conceptions.

    BTW, in the Blackfriars edition of the Summa, there was a contemporary commentary translating the Latin appetitus as orexis. Although there is a certain frontier shared by the two words, the reference to orexis is irrelevant simply because St Thomas commented on appetitus, not orexis–he was commenting not on Aristotle but on Moerbeke’s translation from the Greek to the Latin.

    because if our language changes, then our relation to the latin changes, the meaning of those same latin words then needs to be translated into new contexts, new idioms, etc.

    Disagree. The study of any language includes the exposure to the culture of that language. Acc to JXXIII that is one reason for the use of latin. And that’s why translating it into new contexts, new idioms, etc., often results in the loss of the concept.

    The reader of Latin must be concerned with how a word was used when it was written. There are Latin words from the Classical era that have different meanings in the Christian era. Obvious examples are Deus, gratia, and verbum. A Latin student, whether today or hundreds of years ago, with no acquaintance with Christian teaching would have little idea of their Christian meaning, especially gratia and verbum. Another example is anima-animus. In the Roman era it referred to spirit/soul. In the Christian era, the meanings are flipped.

    Greek should be more important anyway, a little book called the New Testament was written in it. God ordained that the Greek language should be used to render texts that He divinely inspired. It’s silly to praise the latin translation over the original. Who wants to listen to Greek chant though? Eeew.
    Comment by Stephen Hand

    The sign on the Cross was in three languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. That justifies Latin as a language of worship.