Want to attract people to Mass? Get rid of Latin! (NOT!)

My friend Fr. Finelli has some good advice.

If you want to attract people to Mass, get rid of Latin!  [Don’t worry.  Keep reading.]

Almost every Catholic parish you enter in the US, it would be a slight miracle to hear the least bit of Latin. [Which is exactly contrary to what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council desired.] During Lent and Advent, you might hear a Sanctus or Agnus Dei, but that is a far as it goes. Any pastor will tell you that Latin will chase people away. If you want people to come to Mass, you have to give them what they want. [Because Mass… sorry, “liturgy” is all about affirming them as they are.] Young people want music that sounds like their music. Guitars, drums, keyboards and a good base will create the atmosphere that everyone wants. Besides, if you have Latin, people don’t understand it and they will go elsewhere. The kids and young people want their culture.

We all know this has been a big success. [He’s being ironical.] Our churches are much fuller than they ever where.  [Ditto.] This is not the case at all. Contemporary “Christian” music doesn’t hold a candle to what our young people listen to. It is a poor imitation of the “real” thing. [Who thinks that young people really want the rubbish played in churches?  Only the grey-haired people who have been playing it for the last 40+ years.]

Besides, who says that our young people hate Latin?  [Not I!] It’s only the older people who for the past 50 years have been told that Latin is outdated, impractical, and not with the times who reject it. [Remember my explanation for why older Americans freak out at Latin?  HERE] Priests, and Liturgists have told [lied to] the Catholic faithful that our young people can’t relate to Latin chant and sacred song. But I want to tell you, they are dead wrong. Every Sunday, the voices that I hear belt out the Latin Mass parts the loudest are those who are the closest to me, my altar boys. Below is a clip of Tommy singing a solo. He only had a small sheet of paper with words written on it and no music notation. Tommy also serves most of my funerals. He sings the Requiem, In Paradisum, all the Mass parts, and many of the Sacred humans and chants from memory. Tommy is 10 years old and has been doing this for years. Everyone that sees and hears him sing is moved and inspired. Meet Tommy.

I say if you want to attract young people to Mass, challenge them and give them something that will help them enter into the sacred and not what they have in the world.

Go over there to see the video!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ghp95134 says:

    Father, I hit your link 5 times and received the same error message:

    Not Found
    Apologies, but the page you requested could not be found. Perhaps searching will help.

    Dunno if it’s just me or not. [Try it now.]


  2. gervase crouchback says:

    Thanks Fr
    At the two parishes i go to here in Australia seem to get a number of young people and young families. I support a Latin Mass Society in a town in the North east of our state of Victoria (the Wangaratta Latin Mass Society) and I have been told that they are made up of a lot of young families.
    Contemporary Christian music seems to be all about us and not about HIM

  3. Grateful to be Catholic says:
  4. Rob22 says:

    No doubt there are young folks at TLM’s but, to make an observation, it seems the FSSP parishes remain small. The FSSP parish in Denver was rebuilt a couple of years ago. Mainly for structural reasons. The new church was expanded only slightly. As I recall from 350/400 seating to 400/450.

    So while the TLM has a draw, it is not creating large parishes even in dioceses which are fairly orthodox as is Denver.

  5. Baritone says:

    I would like to make an observation about sacred music. As a schola director and amateur composer, I am somewhat qualified. The more familiar I become with chant and polyphony, the more I arrive at the conclusion that English was simply not designed for sacred music, especially when singing psalms. Surely, we can understand the English words, but can we understand the music when the meter and rhyme seem…contrived? (As a side note, I remember thinking when I was a youth that the words to The Church’s One Foundation were, “The Church is one foundation. Is Jesus Christ her Lord?” so even with the words in our native tongue, we can still miss the meaning.)

    Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of translation. Culturally within the Church, we have absorbed the world instead of salting the world, and that is certainly evident in the current state of sacred music.

    Rob22, the Dallas FSSP parish community is larger (around 900 people), enough that there are three priests. (!) There are many, many young and growing families. The parish has actually doubled in size in the last five years and is looking to expand. The all-volunteer parish choir recently recorded a CD of sacred music for Holy Week to help with that effort.

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    Tommy’s singing is amazing. I don’t know how he is singing that with no notation, but he’s marvelous. It is very inspiring to hear him. He could jump right into St. Paul’s choir at Harvard Square!

  7. Clemens Romanus says:

    I love Mater Dei in Irving. I plan on attending Mass there tomorrow morning.

  8. Patti Day says:

    The only Latin heard in our parish is reserved for weekdays when the attendees are mostly over sixty. Occasionally we even get to sing a Latin hymn.

  9. moconnor says:

    While I appreciate the message of the post, there is a long road ahead. Locally here in S Florida, the parishes with “contemporary” music are pretty darn full. The few EF Masses offered are growing (praise God) but still quite small. Of course this doesn’t prove much other than folks are used to the current state of affairs and seem to prefer the lack of challenge these parishes present. American Catholics have been so thoroughly protestantized, that the also believe (by their actions) in “once saved, always saved.” Until the Church decides to teach what it says it believes, too many souls are in danger. I don’t blame it all on Vatican II. The rot preceded it. The good news is that the renewal of TLM and traditional Catholicism is the light in the darkness. I sense that this time in the desert was needed in order to truly renew the Church. In Him there is always Hope.

  10. gramma10 says:

    Hi! Well I have a different experience. I was a Catholic teen in the ’60’s and was in my Catholic girls high school when they had the first English, not Latin, mass in our gym. I went to a Catholic grade school from K-8 taught by sisters. Our music classes were all learning of the Latin responses for mass.
    When the vernacular mass arrived I was content. As years went on I grew to like it because I am a deep pray-er and thinker and was able to know what I was saying in English, in mind and in my heart. I was not a hippy rebel, just a good Catholic girl.
    Years passed and we all went through questionable teaching that came later. I was busy raising my kids and that was the focus.
    Later I actually began to enjoy praise and worship not as a replacement but as another form of worship. I have been in the Charismatic Movement and found that it was another way to get closer to the Lord.
    Time passed…..Latin was a rarity.
    I learned the info of my Catholic faith very well growing up. I taught what I knew in CCD for many years.
    I then got into bible study, and began listening to Protestant pastors on radio teaching me. I knew exactly where I differed as a Catholic. I learned so much. There was no Catholic bible study anywhere then. I knew my faith.

    But then, one day, Scott Hahn entered the scene with his conversion story.
    I was craving to understand why I believed what I was taught. He taught me! I soon became on fire like him once I began to understand why I believed what I was taught.
    I never left the Catholic Church but enhanced it by reading and studying scripture.
    To wrap up, I absolutely love my awesome true Catholic orthodox faith.
    Now that I finally ‘get it’. I have many friends who love the Latin mass. Plus those who do not. Since I know what the mass is all about I can go and understand. I can be at the Eucharist in whatever form and participate and love His presence.
    However I still prefer to deeply know what I am praying (in English) to my Lord and it flows much easier in my native tongue.
    I have gone to masses in other languages and have been fine.
    The Latin is beautiful and mysterious and traditional.
    Most Catholics do not know the whys and wherefores of it at all. People prefer what they are familiar with. So let’s teach them!

    Sadly Catholics including me are great at telling everyone what to do but not explaining…..the wonderful deep truths which got it to the point it is now and why we do or do not specific things.
    Few understand.
    I am a big evangelizer and like to share my faith in a way that people can understand. I love learning it more! Then I share!
    My kids and grandkids like the praise and worship and bible. They do not get what they should of the Catholic faith well.

    You know from these comments that their own parents were also poorly catechised!
    We are doing our best. They go to mass and involve themselves in church.

    Of course since the whole church is confused this has led me to spend loads of time at daily mass and adoration chapels!
    I love the beauty of the Latin mass and I love fine liturgy. But I also need not to be so headstrong. I know people who are extreme to a point of anger if things aren’t what they want.

    If people do not like beautiful music at mass perhaps they need to start being exposed to it elsewhere. Our culture’s “arts” are often awful.
    I love listening to Andre Rieu and his orchestra.
    Once we are raised higher by God’s beauty in music, archecture, and literature, it may get us comfortable and loving it and help it be accepted more in the church.
    We should be teaching Aquinas, Augustine, Greek philosophers, Early Church Fathers etc.
    People have been dummed down.

    I see a new springtime arising and the beginnings of a resurgence of AWE of God happening, slowly but surely.

    We are so focused on what it should be …that we are not doing well staying in the Present Moment and bringing it higher here and now with understanding and explanation.

    That is why I love Fr. Z’s blog. Fr. Z you have a joy in your heart and speak truth with humor. You are clever and are a great priest to be taught by.
    You appreciate AWE and beauty. I love your attitude!
    I was taught by my mom, the Awe in nature and Creation. The more I absorb it and meditate on it then the greater God becomes and I crave Him more!

    Thank you. Tried to explain in a nutshell.

    Everyone is in process of being refined and we are often confused sheep and desperately need to KNOW our Shepherd’s voice.

    This blog is one place to get truth and joy.
    God bless you.

  11. q7swallows says:

    I have to disagree. I was born & raised in Denver. I would NOT characterize it as orthodox. It is a place 2nd only in liberalaties (of all kinds) to CA where I have lived for the past 20 years.

    When I returned last summer for a several months visit there, our liturgical HQs was the FSSP church in Littleton, CO, EVERY Sunday Mass that was offered in that church was standing room only–with kids everywhere–and with long confession lines. It became apparent that if we didn’t come a little early for Mass, we might have to split up the family or stand. And yet, for all those people, there was blessed silence before and after Mass and the majority of the congregation stayed to make a thanksgiving. Voluntary participation was fantastic in a procession on the street (NOT in the parking lot). I saw a most beautiful springtime of the Church spilling right out of that parish there and all I could think of was: Fr. J—— already needs a bigger church! May God grant him many years. He’s certainly doing something right.

  12. jameeka says:

    I must agree with Baritone.
    We have had monthly Eucharistic adoration on First Thursday evenings for several years now. When the younger Vietnamese priest leads by singing in Latin, it is much better. When the 60 year old(Monsignor!) pastor sings the Exposition and the Benediction in English (since the original Sister who started this has been too sick to continue to be involved) the English version is just banal. Same tune, same idea, but blah. I don’t know why, the syllables, the connecting the dots..? The acclamation of the Divine Praises in English is fine at the end, but the sung portion in the midst of the Eucharist is much better in Latin.

  13. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I agree that chanting English just doesn’t work. You might as well try to sing Italian opera in English. It is a very different language from Latin with different cadences and sentence structure. Gregorian chant and the hymn melodies were made for Latin and that’s where they should stay. And you can’t roll Rs in English. ;-)

  14. Kerry says:

    In 1910, the population of our South Dakota town of was 1500, and had 11 churches. Settled mostly by Czechs and German speaking Russians, the Catholic presence was small. Recently the Baptist, Methodist and Catholic churches closed their doors. (Parishes were merged.) We used to drive 22 miles both for the building and the wonderful priest. Because of the merger, he was moved to a different parish. Now we drive 44 miles, one way, unless there is serious snow and wind. (In this part of SD, the winds are always serious; just the other day, gusts of 45 MPH.) We are then forced by road conditions, into the more available choices of chattering pews, dreadful musical entertainment, and trying architecture, 11 miles away, or just the first two, 24 miles away. (For the 44 miles, one way, Mass is at 7AM. We get up at 4:45. However, it is at a small monastery of cloistered, Discalced Carmelites. Latin masses, at the Sister’s request, were begun on the Feast of Christ the King. Glory, glory Hallelujah!) At any rate, wherever we attend, we carry our Latin responses and prayers along with us. At the end of Mass, when the theme music ended, we began our Leonine prayers. I felt a hand touch my shoulder, and looking up the woman said, “I loved hearing your Latin”.

  15. JBS says:

    Why did the bishops at VCII vote to keep liturgical Latin, and then return to their dioceses to get rid of it? What changed for them between the council and their return home?

  16. Andrew says:


    By your own account you are a person who loves learning. May I point out to you that Latin can also be learned and understood. It doesn’t have to be incomprehensible. And in fact, it should be learned. And mind you, for a vast portion of humanity English is also incomprehensible. Learning opens up our horizons and breaks down walls of separation. It is good not to isolate the ecclesiastical community into separate groups.

  17. vandalia says:

    post hoc ergo propter hoc

    The sentiment may be correct, however the argument is not.

  18. Ann Malley says:

    This continued push to convince adolescents that they are dumb and incapable of making intelligent choices or learn like human beings of eras gone by is absurd. But it does go very far in liberating parents (Church hierarchy, too) from the necessary and often thankless task of teaching. Convincing the masses that Latin or even the TLM is ‘too hard’ is such a snow job…. next thing we’ll all be going round in wheel chairs because using one’s legs is just asking too much!

  19. Johanna says:

    The aging hippies are wrong: Secular people think Latin is cool, little creepy too, maybe, but that only adds to the cool factor as far as the world is concerned. I wouldn’t claim to be very in touch with modern culture, but even in my limited experience Latin pops up all over the place. I’ve seen it in best selling books (Rick Riordan,J.K. Roweling) hit TV shows (Lost) and it’s never portrayed as a stuffy dead language.

  20. lelnet says:

    When you try to be two things at once, you do neither of them well. This applies at least at thoroughly to an entity simultaneously trying to be a church and a performance venue as in any other arena of life.

    If young people want entertainment, they have LOTS of options for that. Maximally skilled providers catering to every imaginable taste are overwhelmingly plentiful, and not one of them ever distracts himself from his entertainment duties by trying to confect the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

    By comparison, the quality of entertainment available in church is pretty awful.

    It is a simple deduction, therefore, that whichever young people bother to walk through the doors of a church at all, are not there for entertainment. They must have some other reason. Some unknown factor, drawing them in. Might it be…oh…I dunno…God?

    Just on the crazy off-chance that it is…mightn’t those determining what goes on inside those churches be well-advised to focus on that, and drop the obsession with all the supposedly “entertaining” and “relevant” stuff that they frankly are no good at anyway?

  21. Cody says:

    Yes, young people hate Latin. That is why the TLM parishes that I’ve been to, including the one I currently attend, are all full of grey haired misanthropes. Wait…never mind. That was the Novus Ordo parish I left behind, where people looked at me crazy when I said I wanted to go to a TLM parish where there are a lot of people my age (30 ish) with young children for my kids to be friends with.

    Do you ever get the feeling that liberals live in an alternate universe, and unknowingly get transported back and forth between theirs and ours?

  22. Imrahil says:

    I just stumbled over a remark by the Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, Archbishop em. of Munich and Freising:

    The old form of Mass was more complicated; the new, however, is more demanding: it is more vulnerable and more exposing of our weaknesses. (Sermon for Laetare Sunday, 2013)

    It belongs to the mystery of the generation of our parents that they think (as, from the context, he clearly does) such things to be a compliment.

  23. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Young (and some not-so-young) have grown up in a world where music is ever-present and ever-available. The world of sixty-odd years ago where music was something you went out to is long gone. If young people see their families and friends enjoying older forms of music, they will be more inclined to understand and enjoy it too. Where young people see others struggling with or not engaging with older forms of music, they too will be less inclined.

    Nowadays there is great interest in heritage. Latin is part of the heritage of the Church. Restoring it to our worship does not require mastering a full-blown suite of music fit for a Pontifical Mass; ideals are very often unrealistic. But an emphasis on teaching the basic elements of Mass coupled with an explanation of the meaning and significance of the Latin should certainly be encouraged.

  24. Austin says:

    While I fully embrace Latin in the liturgy and am a regular TLM worshipper, I must take issue with some of what has been said about the unsuitability of English for chant or psalm singing.

    Yes, English is not optimal for Gregorian chant, since the prosody is more pronounced than Latin and can be a bit leaden. Correcting this depends partially on the stylistic approach to singing, partly on using English translations that have good prosodic shape. The Anglican nuns at Wantage (many of whom joined the Ordinariate) spent generations creating plainsong versions of the Roman liturgies in English. They were used internationally in Anglo-Catholic circles and are not bad at all.

    With regard to psalms, Anglican chant has become a supple and fluent medium and is profitably used in many Catholic churches. Unfortunately, most of the texts it is attached to are intrinsically poor — if they do not read well, they will not sing well.

    The idea that English is by nature more obscure (The Church is one Foundation comment) has no merit. Every language has ambiguities, and poetic syntax often makes for less easy interpretation. This is just as true in Latin as in any other tongue.

  25. joan ellen says:

    I’ve recently become very interested in beneficial frequencies for the body especially. Broccoli and essential oils are good examples of having beneficial frequencies.

    Then I found Michael Tyrrell’s wholetones.com website and was so grateful to hear him speak of the gregorians in relation to beneficial frequencies. And just this week, Fr. Perone while on churchmilitant.tv clinched it…for me anyway…by telling us how chant is so much the Mass.

    Those musical frequencies in the Mass, from the notes, tones, and Latin…a Sacred Language, indeed, take us out of this world…straight into God’s…while also helping to counter frequencies that are not beneficial to the body…think cell phones, etc.

  26. bmadamsberry says:

    I’m a convert, and I don’t think I would have pursued Catholicism if Mass were completely or largely in Latin. What is needed are actual studies that look at why people are leaving the Church, and why people are coming/coming back to the Church. Anecdotes aren’t evidence.

  27. Elizium23 says:

    At my parish we have the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei always in Latin. Curiously, during Advent we used an English Sanctus (to the same tune, XVIII). Our Kyrie is always in Greek. I especially love the Gloria setting we use now, Missa de Angelis. I actually injured my vocal folds singing it and took a couple months to recover. How I missed belting it out!

    I want more, more, more Latin. People forget how much damage was done by the vernacular in one particular area, that is musical Mass settings. Classics that were usable for hundreds of years in the Tridentine form were suddenly useless in an English Mass. Composers who gained worldwide fame and renown for settings in Latin became unknown, as now everyone is lord of his own little vernacular fief, like Haugen-Haas in the Anglophone world. It’s a crying shame.

  28. Tamquam says:

    I attend a monthly chanted Vespers (pre Vatican II Divine Office) at the local Catholic Workers (God works in mysterious ways!). We chanted Vespers of the Epiphany this week, and among the guests was a young lady (hardly more than a pup) visiting from out of state. Her question to me was: “This is beautiful music. I’ve been Catholic my whole life, why haven’t I heard about this before?”

    Good question, Missy.

    I gave a brief run down of the post conciliar changes and pointed her to the TLM in the area. I am certain that a seed was planted. Now I pray that it grow and flourish.

  29. Mary Jane says:

    bmadamsberry, my father is a convert, and he would not have converted if it hadn’t been for the Latin Mass. But, as you rightly said, anecdotes aren’t evidence for why people are or aren’t converting or for why people are or aren’t leaving the Church. We can instead look at real evidence of the last 50 years:

    Mass attendance is down; vocation numbers (to the religious life and to the priesthood) are down; modesty is considered outdated; immodesty and impurity is rampant; bad movies, music, and books are poisoning the minds of Catholic youth; large families are becoming more and more uncommon; children – and adults – no longer know the basics of their Catholic Faith; poor catechesis can be found not only among the laity but also it can be heard from priests preaching from the pulpit…and the list goes on.

    Please understand, I am not saying that English caused all of this. English is one facet of the issue, though.

  30. lelnet says:

    Despite the attachment of many here to the Extraordinary Form, I for one don’t hold to the notion that the Mass can’t be reverently celebrated in English. It can be. I see it happen virtually every Sunday. It is sadly not remotely as common as it ought to be, but it does happen, and should happen a lot more.

    I waver on the question of whether the Ordinary Form by its very nature is less likely to be celebrated reverently than the EF is, or whether the commonplace irreverance is an artifact of the decades of liturgical (and catechetical, and architectural, and…) wreckovation that the Church has suffered in the recent past, largely coinciding in time with the rise of the OF, but not caused by it.

    Either way, “bmadamsberry”, we’re glad to have you back in the fold, regardless of what disagreements we might have. May the Peace of the Lord be with you always.

  31. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear bmadamsberry,

    Welcome to the Church.

    “I’m a convert, and I don’t think I would have pursued Catholicism if Mass were completely or largely in Latin. What is needed are actual studies that look at why people are leaving the Church, and why people are coming/coming back to the Church. Anecdotes aren’t evidence.”

    Most social scientists are trained to say that anecdotes aren’t evidence, but, of course they are – they are just a small sample set. That doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes, like Typhoid Mary, there really is only one sample in the set.

    The Chicken

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