Thoughts on Francis’ claim that non-vernacular readings are “laughing at the Word of God”

Fr. John Hunwicke’s blog is a constant source of fascinating details, amusing invective, and inverting insight. Those first two may be obvious, but what do I mean by “inverting insight”? I mean that Fr. H has a keen ability to “turn the sock inside out”. Okay, so what does that mean? He can flip perspectives and see an issue from another angle.

He did that on his blog today when he tackles the absurd notion about Latin that Francis apparently holds – though it’s often hard to tell what he really thinks. In an interview, Francis said that having the readings in a language not understood by every one (i.e., Latin) during Mass “would be like laughing at the Word of God”. I think he means, “treating the Word of God with disdain”, but who really knows?

What did Francis say?

For example, that the proclamation of the Word be in a language that everyone understands; otherwise it would be like laughing at the Word of God. Little things.

He didn’t say “Latin” but it was in the context of his cruel attack on the traditional Roman Rite (and… therefore on the people who want it).

We can make several points here.

Firstly, what is the level of understanding of the people of the biblical readings at Mass. If they hear the words in some arrangement from the vocabulary and grammar of their mother tongue (some have bigger vocabularies than others and better command of grammar), so what?  Do they get what they are hearing?   And then ask them on the way out the door (having just received Communion) what the Gospel was a few minutes before.

You will object that the priest has to “break open the bread of the Word” like Jesus at Emmaus.  Okay, fine.  But a priest can do that if the readings are in Latin, too.   On the road to Emmaus, Christ quoted and interpreted Scripture concerning Himself. His explanations surely would have been in Aramaic or… were these two disciples of Greek Hellenic background?  Did Christ bypass quoting the Hebrew Scriptures and merely paraphrase them?  That doesn’t seem like His style.   No, surely He quoted them in the sacred language they were recorded in: Hebrew.

Next, what Francis doesn’t seem to get is that the readings themselves are sacrificial in nature.  Part of the problem with the modern view of Mass is that the readings are didactic in nature and also that they are paranetic, useful for moral teaching.   While readings are certainly both instructive and hortatory, their main function in liturgical worship, just as the offerings of bread and wine, incense, the candles being burned, etc., is sacrificial.  They are raised to the Father as part of the sacrificial action of the Mass.   Hence, it is most fitting that they a) be read at the altar and b) by the priest and c) in a sacred language.   Thereafter, if they are repeated at the ambo – the locus of proclamation and explication – in the vernacular, that is entirely appropriate, though secondary.  By “secondary” I don’t mean “unimportant”.

Consider how in wreckovated and new “municipal airport terminal” churches there was even a fad of placing the ambo and the altar on equal footing in the sanctuary (if there was a sanctuary at all).  This was to symbolize the belief of the designer that the altar and ambo were on equal footing, of equal importance.  No wonder so many today don’t believe in the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist: it’s in the architecture itself in some places.  Ironically, the desire to escalate the reading of the Word of God at Mass by stressing it so strongly and making it readily understandable, in practice diminished the Word by stripping it of mystery, sacrality, and sacrificial character.

Back to Fr. H’s post.   Before checking it out, you should know what he means by “John Henry Newman on the Suspense of the function of the Ecclesia docens”, that is, the “teaching Church”.   We hold that the Church is Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher, right?  What if that teaching function goes haywire for a while?

In “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine”, Newman wrote:

On the one hand, then, I say, that there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the “Ecclesia docens.” The body of Bishops failed in the confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicæa, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly sixty years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithfu1 were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.

I think we have seen examples of the “suspension” of the teaching activity of the Church in modern times, as in from Paul VI onward and the Church’s feeble adherence to what was affirmed in Humanae vitae.  We have seen total lack of focus concerning Catholic higher education… speaking of Ecclesia docens.  There is Amoris laetitia and adultery.   The attack on traditional liturgy is also a suspension of teaching because liturgy is doctrine.

So we come full circle.   Here’s Hunwicke…. my emphases and comments:

Pope Francis attacks the Holy English Martyrs

Reading the Scriptures at Mass in a non-vernacular language is, according to our Holy Father, “like laughing at the Word of God”.

I find this a remarkable insult to hurl at our English Martyrs.

It is a good thing that, some years ago now, after reading S John Henry Newman on the Suspense of the function of the Ecclesia docens, I concluded that we must now be in precisely just such a period of Suspense. I cannot see how else one can fit PF into any sort of Catholic Ecclesiology[Liberation Theology?]

The earliest of the English Martyrs were attached to the Sarum Rite … not really, Fortescue explains, a ‘Rite’ but a dialect of the Roman Rite. S John Fisher … the Holy Carthusian Martyrs … John Forest … the blessed Benedictine Abbots … Blessed Thomas Plumtree who restored the Sarum Rite to Durham Cathedral … layfolk such as the glorious yokels martyred in the South West and Oxfordshire, and the Lord Chancellor and Cardinal Pole’s martyred mother and Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland. (There is still a sweet little stained-glass window of him in the former, 1820s, Catholic Church in Alnwick, beneath the shadow of his castle. Secularised, the church is now a museum.)

And the readings in the Sarum Rite were not done in the vernacular.

Those martyrs were “laughing at the Word of God”!

Then, in 1576 at Douay, they started to teach the young men the ‘Tridentine’ Rite … young men whom S Philip Neri addressed in the streets of Rome with the words Salvete flores martyrum. The last beatified martyrs were Fr Thomas Thweng and William Howard, Viscount Stafford, condemned for “the Plot” in 1680.

And the readings in the Tridentine Rite were not done in the vernacular.

They, too, were “laughing at the Word of God”.

I wonder if it will ever occur to this obsessed person to apologise for his campaign of hatred against Catholic worship; against so many holy priests who have used the Authentic Form of the Roman Rite, including our Martyrs.

So many heroic lives; so much blood.

And all, we are taught by the Summus Fidei Magister, so that those martyrs could “laugh at the Word of God”.

Thanks, Fr. H.

Fr. Z kudos.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z KUDOS, Francis, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Save The Liturgy - Save The World, Traditionis custodes, What are they REALLY saying? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Dave P. says:

    What would His Holiness say about those who celebrate the Eastern Rites in their original languages? Is it wrong to proclaim the readings in Slavonic, Syriac, Ge’ez and Classical Armenian?

  2. Dave P. What would His Holiness say…

    Because he is always perfectly consistent in everything he says and does, surely he would say that all those Eastern Christians are deriding the Word of God.

  3. JesusFreak84 says:

    Glad someone asked about the Eastern Rites first ;) Part of why I’m following Ukraine so closely is because I spent just about a decade, most of my 20s and early 30s, in a UGCC parish. At least half of that parish is Roman, canonically, because they married Eastern Catholics. So plenty of us not only know three words of Ukrainian at best, but can’t read one letter of Cyrillic. The UGCC got rid of Church Slavonic, (sadly,) after VII, so which languages are or are not laughing at God, in this case? The Holy Father used to be the Ordinary for Eastern Catholics without an Ordinary in Argentina, so surely he’s thought this through…

  4. IaninEngland says:

    I read today that (political) Liberals very frequently accuse their opponents of what they themselves are guilty of. I’m inclined to think that this principle holds here, too. Pray for the Pope’s conversion!

  5. Gaetano says:

    I have been a lector for forty years – including 25 as an Instituted Lector (minor minister).

    Nothing has had more of a positive impact on my reading at Mass than the understanding that it is a sacrificial function. It removes the impulse to be dramatic or didactic, and instead focus on its liturgical function.

    This does not mean that I am somehow not fulfilling my role or am dry & monotonous. Indeed, I have received more positive feedback than ever since I adopted the mindset above.

  6. APX says:

    For example, that the proclamation of the Word be in a language that everyone understands; otherwise it would be like laughing at the Word of God. Little things.

    So when the Pope celebrates Papal Masses that are attended by people who all speak and understand a different language, which universal language that everyone understands does he use to proclaim the Word?

  7. Gaetano says:

    At certain Papal Masses, the Gospel is chanted a second time in Greek. It is doubtful that many apart from the Greek deacon have any understanding of what is said.

    This is not “laughing at God”. It has solid historical and theological foundations, and echoes the interdependence of the lex credendi and the lex orandi.

    Furthermore, the chanting the Gospel in both Latin and Greek echoes of universality of the Catholic Church, even when the Liturgy is celebrated in a particular community. Indeed, it manifests a liturgical ecclesiology that recognizes the Bishop of Rome as the universal pastor.

  8. The Hierarchy of the New Ecclesiology not only insult the old martyrs, they insult present-day Catholics. Like the liberal demagogues who claim that voter ID requirements are “racist” because black people are somehow incapable of getting themselves an ID, the Hierarchy of the New Ecclesiology evidently think that we in the pews are a bunch of morons too stupid to use a hand missal, or to look up the day’s propers on the internet.

  9. robtbrown says:

    Francis sounds like an out of touch, poorly educated, grouchy old man. He has shown, however, that he has learned well how to acquire and hold onto power.

  10. robtbrown says:

    It must also be mentioned that Francis has mastered an Ecclesiastical version of Get off my lawn!

  11. Andrew says:

    I don’t disagree with the explanation about using a sacred language even when it is not understood by everyone, but it is not ideal for the vast majority of Catholics to be ignorant of Latin. Catholics, especially well educated Catholics, and particularly clergy, should be familiar with Latin. If at least twenty percent of Catholics understood Latin, the arguments against its liturgical use would collapse. But Catholics will learn how to ride a unicycle before they might consider learning Latin. The resistance is astounding.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    But Spanish and Latin are reasonably close. It’s bizarre to pretend that he couldn’t get the gist of a Latin reading himself, unless somehow he’s given himself a complex about it.

    I could understand this argument from an English- or German-speaker, or from someone who only speaks Tagalog or an African language. But from someone speaking a Romance language?

    Is this why he wants to change the translations — to make Latin less comprehensible for Spanish-speakers?

    It’s like stuff just comes out of his mouth.

  13. JamesM says:

    If I visit Rome and while there assist at a Mass in St. Peter’s celebrated in Italian, does that mean the celebrant is laughing at the Word of God?

    Pope Francis’s words would suggest this seeing as I don’t speak Italian. Does this mean that in order to avoid this, Churches require someone at the door refusing entry to anyone who doesn’t speak the language being used in the Mass?

  14. hilltop says:

    It’s Francis doing the laughing.
    He’s laughing at us.

  15. Ariseyedead says:

    Accuse your enemy of what you are doing yourself.
    Pretty much every major document and motu proprio from PF is an exercise in claiming to uphold the Faith while simultaneously undermining it in subtle or not so subtle ways. I call that Laughing at the Deposit of the Faith.

  16. Sonshine135 says:

    The Holy Father might be shocked to learn that before the time of Dominic, preaching on the word was itself, a function only of the Bishops. Understanding of the scriptures, even by the Priests that proclaimed them, was often very limited. Does that make the words proclaimed, or the holy sacrifice completed, any less valid? I think not. The Holy Father, it seems to me, is stuck in an eternal present, with little regard for the previous 2000 years of church history.

  17. catholictrad says:

    I both ride unicycle and read Latin.

    I frequently ride unicycle while praying rosary in Latin.

    Clearly I am a Catholic unicorn.

  18. TonyO says:

    It’s like stuff just comes out of his mouth.

    I recall that one of his favorite phrases is “hagan lio”, make a mess. He gives the appearance, indeed, of having “stuff just come out of his mouth”, carelessly, but it is only careless with regard to each individual saying. In the overall, he is in willful pursuit of making a mess, and he (seems to) pursue it with delight by saying nonsense. But his choices in the individual instances are also guided by his deep antipathies to, well, whatever was Catholic before 1965.

  19. LeeGilbert says:

    “robtbrown says:
    3 March 2022 at 8:48 PM
    Francis sounds like an out of touch, poorly educated, grouchy old man. He has shown, however, that he has learned well how to acquire and hold onto power.”

    But you have not learned the scope of the fourth commandment.

    Moreover, comments such as this and much worse from the likes of Taylor Marshall, Prof. Peter K., Michael Matt, One Peter Five and its commenters were doubtless presented to the pope in a very large accordion type folder as evidence that the adherents of the TLM are schismatic in tendency.

    One of the main concerns of any pope is the unity of the Church. And, of course, the real issue is not so much these comments in themselves but the fact that they were and ARE relentlessly being pushed out into the trad world disaffecting many Catholics from the Church and its visible head.

    What was the pope supposed to do? He obviously did the right thing, for it is the only thing he could have done. Often as I read the above cited authors I wondered, “Are you mad? Why do you want to see the TLM suppressed?” Did you think your schismatic and disrespectful opinions were not piling up onthe desk of prelates such as Cardinal Cupich, to his immense satisfaction? No, like Samson you pushed and pushed and finally brought calamity upon your head. What did you expect, a blessing?

    No doubt any response to this criticism will include numerous suggestions for what the pope should have done, just as a five year old might obtrude himself into a discussion between his mom and dad over finances. It is absurd.

    If ever I said a word against this pope, and I have, both here and at One Peter Five, I utterly repudiate, renounce and repent of any such expressions. They were sins against the unity of the Church.

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    I wonder if this still holds:

    Session XXII of the Council of Trent:

    CANON IX.–If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; or, that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice, for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.

    The Chicken

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  22. MaterDeicolumbae says:

    Father Z,
    Re “municipal airport terminal” churches…’ this description is hilarious- it made me laugh!
    The only things missing in these terminals are the ubiquitous widescreen TVs’ CNN newscasts constantly spewing rot – nobody is listening anyways cuz they’re all on their smart phones.
    Then there are the annoying ways real airport terminals arrange the seating areas where you have to face each other- just like the pews in airport churches.

  23. WVC says:

    The Masked Chicken . . . that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time.

  24. PostCatholic says:

    Are you suggesting that Jesus, a carpenter’s son in the hinterland town of Nazareth, was literate in two languages? Where would he have learned Hebrew, who would have taught him, and who would have paid for the tuition? Literacy rates were around 2% in the time of Jesus and only the very elite learned to read, fewer still to write. Most biblical scholars believe he was illiterate and so were his disciples. I would like to learn, sincerely, how traditional Catholics counter that conclusion.

  25. Post: Most biblical scholars believe he was illiterate and so were his disciples.

    He was not the son of just a “carpenter”, but rather a tekton, who also worked in stone. It is not outside of imagining that he also worked on sites near to Nazareth concerning holdings of the Romans. Business would have been done in Greek or Latin.

    He had to be able to speak with people in the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan. He delivered highly crafted, allocutions to large numbers of people. He wrote letters on the ground. He responded to questions from the elders in the Temple. He read from a Hebrew scroll in the Synagogue.

    Moreover, the Eternal Word made flesh was probably good at learning merely human languages.

    It is hardly a stretch to think that the Lord knew the common language for business along with Latin, the language of the occupiers.

  26. PostCatholic says:

    Thank you. I see you cite the pericope adulterae; we probably have different conclusions on that. I suppose much depends on tradition rather than text and you make interesting points from that. [And REASON.] This was helpful to me.

  27. Les Buissonets says:

    PostCatholic: Given that huge numbers of people in all over the world – Africa, the Indian sub-continent, East Asia and so on – are fluent in several languages, whether or not they’re literate, your comment is both ignorant and provincial.

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  29. robtbrown says:

    Lee Gilbert,

    1. This has nothing to do with the 4th commandment
    2. I honor the pope*, but I honor the Truth more. If he says something that seems to be at odds with dogma or devotes public remarks to insulting those present, then it is no violation of the 4th Commandment to reply as I did.

    * or better, the Apostolic See

    2. Francis is poorly educated. He is, as I noticed just after he was elected, a 1970’s Jesuit (a phrase also used by Fr Ian Ker). Although he was ordained in 1969, he would not have finished his Tertianship until the 1970s. That means that his formation was heavily influenced by Rahner’s works, themselves built on Heidegger, from whom Francis has also at times used phrases (Time is greater than Space).

    He also didn’t finish his doctoral program.

    2. I am not a Traditionalist. Rather, I am by inclination, education, and practice a Thomist who understands the importance of Latin liturgy. In fact, I was asked to teach a course on Tradition at the FSSP seminary and declined.

    3. From certain comments of Francis it is obvious I am closer to the Vat II document on liturgy (SC) than he is.

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