Lutherans call for Latin Liturgy as an aid to identity and unity

I saw a post at a Lutheran blog calling for  – wait for it – more Latin in their liturgy.

As a convert to Holy Mother Church from Lutheranism, I found this pretty interesting.  I am aware that there exists a Lutheran liturgical service of some sort which is more like Mass and which involves Latin.  If memory serves it was used at least once a year at the large Luther Northwestern Seminary in my native place in Minnesota.  That said: when we think of Lutheran services, Latin doesn’t leap to mind.

Here are a couple excerpts from the post at the blog The Jagged Word.  As a former Lutheran, I could add more of my usual red intertextual comments than I often do, but I shall restrain myself.  Read the whole thing THERE.

It’s been roughly 500 years since Martin Luther introduced the language of the people to the Mass – the Divine Liturgy of the Church. 500 years since the historic language of the Western Church was purged from the worship of God’s people. As a student of history, I understand why Luther thought this was necessary. Indeed, there is goodness in hearing and understanding the Liturgy in one’s native tongue. But Luther’s experiment with language should end. It’s time to restore Latin to the Mass of the Western Church. [The true Mass of the Western Church is the Mass of the Catholic Church…. but let’s go on…] It’s time to reintroduce the language of the Church to her people. [Bruthuhs n Sistuhs do I hear an “Amen!”?]

For those bristling at such a suggestion, I offer the following observations:

1) The Lutheran Reformers did not seek to abolish the Mass. Our confessions, contained in the Book of Concord, make this abundantly clear. These are the same confessions that every ordained Lutheran pastor swear to uphold and affirm. In other words, the Lutheran Church is a Liturgical Church and our worship is properly called the Mass.  [Mass is a Sacrifice… but let that pass.]


3) While the Lutheran Church affirms sola scriptura, it does not reject Tradition or the importance of ritual. Catholicity is not adiaphara (optional/indifferent), [Nice phrase, though I would write adiaphora.] especially with respect to worship. And nothing affirms our catholicity like the Mass. It is, I believe, THE defining characteristic of what Lutherans confess.  [That’s not quite what I remember hearing… but let’s move on.]

But why ditch the vernacular in our worship and relearn – reintroduce – and re-embrace Latin in the Mass? What possible benefits can come from such a change? I’m glad you’re curious…  [Amen!]

[As an exercise, swap in the word “Catholic” here and there.] 1) Despite that the fact that the Lutheran Confessions affirm the Mass, many Lutheran [Catholic] churches today reject it altogether and embrace a worship style that is more akin to what one would find in a non-denominational church. Lex orandi, lex credendi [!]


(the law of prayer is the law of belief) is absolutely true and those who reject the Mass or think they should arrogantly rewrite it based on what they think their congregation wants/needs, [Tell it!] I believe, reject the very substance of Lutheranism. [Catholicism.] Can you imagine a contemporary Latin Mass? Neither can I. They are mutually exclusive, which is why the use of Latin in our Mass will help restore our catholicity in matters of worship, and affirm what our Confessions already do.

2) Our clergy and our people are very educated on matters of faith these days, much more than those prior to the Reformation. The Holy Scriptures, the Book of Concord, the writings of the church fathers, etc., are almost all in our native tongue. But with the expulsion of Latin, there is no longer a common language of the Church catholic. I know, very few clergy and even less laymen know Latin. But what a powerful educational tool the Church could be if it took it upon herself to educate her people in this language. As we relearn this language, some of our hymns, the assigned readings, and the sermon, could remain in the vernacular, along with a translation of the Latin in the hymnal or worship folder. But once again Christians could have a language that unites every congregation around the world – regardless of time or location.

3) Finally, re-embracing Latin in our Mass will further solidify the Lutheran Church as a communion that embraces the catholicity of the Christian faith. This embrace, I believe, will allow us to refocus our efforts on ending our schism with Rome. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] Sadly, most Lutherans have no desire for reconciliation with those in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. However, this runs contrary to the intent of the Reformation and to the spirit of the Augsburg Confession. But how can our communions be reunited if our worship is so radically different? Let’s embrace the language from whence we came and in it, find a new platform for dialogue and reconciliation.

It’s time. For the sake of the church and our faith – restore Latin to the Mass.

And this from a Lutheran blog.

Fr. Z kudos.

I would also like to remind everyone that Benedict XVI, who promoted Latin liturgical worship in our Holy Catholic Church, is the Pope of Christian Unity.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Papabile says:

    I wonder if he’s Missouri Synod, or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He couldn’t be ELCA

    My next door neighbor of 20 years was the local pastor at the Missouri Synod Church. We always had lots of fun discussions.

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    Yes, I was also wondering about which division of that community would seek this. Not the Lutheran church nearest us which is very liberal, for sure. And having dealt with some branches of this ecclesial community I know they do not even seem to like each other or have all that much in common. I know the Wisconsin synod pastor wants nothing to do with anyone outside of his ‘communion’ or so he said.

    But anyway, if some Lutherans want to embrace some Latin, it surely could not hurt and maybe draw more souls to the One True Church.

  3. acardnal says:

    “Ite, missa est.”

  4. RomeontheRange says:

    Latinitas Christifidelium vinculum perenne!

  5. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Ordinariates for Lutherans!

    In my parts, Lutherans are intensely divided. On one hand there is the Über-Liberal Evangelical [sic] Lutheran Church in America, and on the other the Fundamentalist Missouri Synod, one member of which told me Karl Barth was a liberal. I really don’t know of anything in between. Some of those in the in between may welcome a Lutheran Ordinariate.

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    Oh my gosh, you make me laugh. “Tell it!”.
    This writer’s heart is certainly in the right place and I like his thinking.

  7. William Tighe says:

    “I wonder if he’s Missouri Synod, or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He couldn’t be ELCA.”

    The “master” of thejaggedword blog, who made the suggestion, is a Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor, as one can see from his comments on the comment thread to his article. The comments themselves, some of them posted by Catholics, are well worth reading.

  8. capchoirgirl says:

    I am wondering the same thing–what “part” of Lutheranism is he? 90% of my hometown is Lutheran with about 75% ELCA and 15% MSL. The MS ones liked to tell me I was going to Hell on a daily basis, and the ELCA told them that Hell didn’t exist, so….I can’t *imagine* any sort of reconciliation!

  9. joan ellen says:

    Thanks for this post, Fr. Z. This kind of news always gives me rays of hope for The Body of Christ. The “brick by brick” kind.

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I have always heard that Bach’s four shorter Mass settings, BWV 233-36 (each actually only consisting of Kyrie and Gloria) are presumed to be for Lutheran liturgical use. If so, when did that practice die out (and how widespread was it)? And did it represent a distinction between liturgy for the educated (that is, readers, writers, and even speakers of Latin) and the less educated (exclusively vernacular/modern-language speakers, etc.)? I think of the fact that the Book of Common Prayer was translated into Latin, both the 1559 and later 1662 versions, for use by the educated.

    “But how can our communions be reunited if our worship is so radically different?” Hmm, it did not prove an insuperable problem where various ‘Eastern’ Churches are concerned (or is it a question of what “radically” means?) .

    “Can you imagine a contemporary Latin Mass?” Well, it rather depends what you mean – for example, how many new sets of Propers have been written in the past century? Is it a question of Latin style (prose or verse)?

    None of which is to discourage possible renewed – and expanded – Lutheran Latin liturgical use…

  11. The Cobbler says:

    Anyone else wondering what Calvinists think of these ideas?

  12. I thought this was from Eye of the Tiber at first … But I must say, this chappie is not far from the Kingdom. He’s already thinking like a Catholic in many respects.

    Bring on the Lutheran Ordinariate!

  13. Long-Skirts says:


    The Holy Mass that cannot die
    Was said amidst the oaks
    While pin-oak leaves came floating down
    Around the simple folks

    Who knelt upon the acorn floor
    All dotted nutty brown
    The acorns cracked and old knees snapped
    Yet still there was no sound…

    But the tinkling of the golden bells
    As the White Host Son rose high
    On priestly limbs like mighty oaks
    They branched up to the sky

    And in that wood I laughed with joy
    Amongst the souls bowed down
    For the mighty oak was once a nut
    That merely held its ground.

    So Christian souls like acorn nuts
    Must burrow all around
    And be the seed that sprouts new oaks
    On consecrated ground…

    Where the Holy Mass, that cannot die
    Is said around the oaks
    While pin-oak leaves come floating down
    Amidst the mighty folks!

  14. RJHighland says:

    It is incredible to hear a Lutheran speak of a return to the Latin Mass, there is probably about as much enthusiasm in your average Luthern church for the Latin Mass as there is in your average Catholic parish. He puts forth very good arguments but his ideas will probably be recieved with about as much enthusiasm in the average Luthern church as they would in a typical post Vatican II Catholic parish. Do Lutherns have interventions like we do for the Friars of the Immaculate, if so he better be careful?! My prayers are with him he is definitely heading in the right direction. Hopefully and by the Grace of God it leads him to the path not often traveled that we all are seeking and trying to follow. Sadly this is proof that there as many theological and litergical differences in the Catholic Church as there are in high Protestant churchs, that can’t be a good sign. My favorite lines, ” But how can our communions be reunited if our worship is so radically different? Let’s embrace the language from whence we came and in it, find a new platform for dialogue and reconciliation. It’s time. For the sake of the church and our faith – restore Latin to the Mass.” This is what we need in the Catholic Church, but spoken clearly by a Lutheran. If that is not the Holy Ghost speaking I don’t know what is.

  15. Iacobus M says:

    Many Lutheran churches (as well as some other liturgy-minded Protestants) still have communion rails, so who knows?

  16. Unwilling says:

    Luc 15:16-17 et cupiebat implere ventrem suum de siliquis quas porci manducabant et nemo illi dabat. in se autem reversus dixit quanti mercennarii patris mei abundant panibus ego autem hic fame pereo! “…but I perish here with hunger!”

  17. Gerard Plourde says:

    I sympathize with the dilemma that the writer is experiencing. The difficulty is that the solution he posits may not solve it. The theological disputes within his confession and its various branches aren’t really addressed by restoring Latin to his church’s liturgy (as desirable as that might be to demonstrate the true universality of the faith that developed it). The difficulty lies in the Reformation mindset – the rejection of the authority of the Vicar of Christ and the Bishops in Council. Heaven knows that we within the Church struggle with these matters and have throughout history (the upheaval we are experiencing in the wake of the Second Vatican Council is a replay of the process that accompanied all of the Councils including Trent). The splintering of Protestantism and the spectrum of beliefs and non-beliefs it now encompasses stand as testimony to the effect of this core rejection. Let’s pray that the beauty of the Latin Liturgy enkindled by the guidance of the Holy Spirit may lead him across the Tiber as it did you, Fr. Z.

  18. Loyolalaw98 says:

    In Prussia, the use of Latin in Lutheran liturgies was outlawed by the King in the 1700s, hundreds of years after Luther’s time. Frederick II also banned other liturgical accouterments he felt overly “papist.”

  19. krrice1 says:

    Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Organizations and people like the SSPX, FSSP, ICKSP and Independent Priests who promote and celebrate the Latin Mass are setting an example. Good trees bear good fruit. This gentleman recognizes the beauty and logic behind using Latin during Mass. Many Catholics have forgotten one of the hallmarks of the Church which is universality. One way to maintain universality is a unifying lingua franca; Latin.

    This is going to ruffle some feathers, but I must say that the SSPX (Archbishop Lefebvre) was probably the most notable promoter the Latin Mass long before Pope Benedict XVI. Part of the suffering and persecution of the SSPX was because they would not break from tradition and celebrate the Mass in the vernacular (understand there are other doctrinal issues, just highlighting). Long opinion short, I say God Bless the SSPX, the FSSP and all of the other priests and diocese who are setting an example and celebrating the Latin Mass codified by Pius V. You are making a difference in the war to save souls.

  20. rtjl says:

    Iacobus M, All of the Lutheran and Anglican churches in my city have communion rails. None of the Catholic churches do. Go figure.

    I know about the Anglican and Lutheran churches because I often attend musical performances in them.

  21. Lee says:

    Wow, I am kind of taken aback to say the least. With so many enemies of any tradition and we have Lutherans crying out for a return to the language of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. I hope our Pope reads this article!

  22. Alice says:

    I serve as organist for a Missouri Synod congregation, so I try to stay on top of liturgical trends in that communion. I can’t say I’m particularly surprised by this blog post. From what I understand, both the churches that merged to form the ELCA and the LCMS have been rediscovering their liturgical tradition over the past 40 or so years. Plus, Classical education (including the teaching of Latin to children) seems to be a big thing among confessional Lutherans these days, especially among the minority who question contraception and have families the size you’d expect to find in a conservative Catholic parish. It would not surprise me in the least if there are enough people in some congregations who understand Latin to make Latin services a possibility, even with the Lutheran emphasis on the laity understanding the service, in the near future.

    The picture of Luther that I got growing up as a Traditionalist Catholic made him out to be someone who hated the Mass and started to destroy it by removing the protective wall of the Latin language. History is actually a little more complex than that, and, even in Bach’s time, university churches had the option of doing the Gottesdienst in Latin since the students and professors were expected to be proficient in that language. Since many of the sacrificial prayers of the traditional Latin Mass are silent, it would not be hard to produce something that looks like a Mass in the Latin tradition but rejects the sacrificial nature of the Mass. Such a Divine Service wouldn’t be Catholic, but at least it would never be mistaken for service from the Calvinist tradition!

  23. Amateur Scholastic says:

    These are the words of someone who will be Catholic within five years (please God).

  24. JBS says:


    What the devil is an “independent priest”? Using unifying liturgical Latin means little if the celebrant is “independent”.

  25. William Tighe says:

    The Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg adopted Lutheranism in 1540, and sponsored what was, liturgically speaking, the most conservative “liturgical reform” of all Lutheran territories. A cousin of that elector, who was Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights of Prussia, turned Lutheran in 1525 and secularized Prussia, making himself Duke of Prussia under Polish overlordship. In 1618 the Elector of Brandenburg inherited Prussia, becoming its duke. However, that elector converted from Lutheranism to Calvinism in 1613, and although he was unable to bring more than a small minority of his subjects with him, he and his successors gradually forced the Lutherans to abandon what they regarded as “popish practices” such as the elevation of the host and chalice at the consecration, a newly-invented ceremony called the Ostensio in which, before communion, the consecrated elements were displayed to the congregation and the latter invited to adore them – these both in the early 17th Century – and later on (in the 18th Century) the use of traditional Catholic eucharistic vestments, the use of Latin in worship and, finally, the abandonment of even the surplice by pastors, replacing it with the plain black “Geneva gown.” The culmination of all this was the forced union, by royal fiat, in 1817 of the “Prussian Union Church,” which amalgamated Lutheran and Calvinist/Reformed churches into one State Church body; cf.:

    The Missouri Synod was founded in 1839 by Lutheran pastors and people from Prussia and neighbouring Saxony who refused to accept this mandated “church union;” cf.:

  26. edm says:

    Well Father, In my Anglocatholic parish we occasionally have a Latin Mass setting sung by the choir. More frequently we will have the choir sing the O salutaris, the Tantum ergo and the Laudate Domtinum in Latin at Benediction. I know for a fact that that does not EVER happen at any of the eleven Roman Catholic parishes in our town of three square miles or any of the parishes that immediately surround us. Go figure.

  27. krrice1 says:

    Independent doesn’t mean he doest whatever he pleases. Here is the shortest version of it. The priest where I have attended Mass most of my life minus military time, was incardinated in the diocese of Oklahoma City and was ordained around 1963. Confusing times for a young priest. He was trained to say the Latin Rite but was told after ordination to conform to the Novus Ordo Mass. He refused to say the Novus Ordo Mass because he saw the fruits of it permeating the seminaries when he was a young priest. The Archbishop at the time, suspended his faculties locally. However, there was a small group of people, that included my mother, who wanted the Latin Mass but had no other alternatives. So, my priest was disobedient, given his last rights from the diocese, was recommended to receive psychiatric treatment from the diocese and was cut off from his small pension all for wanting to say the Latin Mass and nothing else. So, he used what personal funds he had and through the generosity of the small congregation, built a chapel to keep the Latin Mass going. Since he was suspended, he had no other recourse and would not receive a release from the diocese to go elsewhere. Lots of canonical rules and laws that I don’t know about. Anyhow, since he receives no support from the diocese and cannot go elsewhere, he has hunkered down and maintained tradition. It has been a recent occurence that the SSPX and FSSP moved in. Now, that tradition has been maintained and with a new archbishop friendly to tradition, the one condition for receiving his faculties back after 50 years of being a priest, being in exile essentially, is to close the little diamond in OKC that he has built with his bare hands. He is not a sedevacantist. He is independent because he has received nothing from anyone and only maintained tradition. Does that make sense?

  28. robtbrown says:


    That sad story illustrates the Chinese Finger Trap that the hierarchy put itself in after Vat II. They utilized obedience to impose the liberalism that undermined the Church, thus their own authority.

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