Manifesto of the Catholic Laity

The below Manifesto of the Catholic Laity was drafted by English Catholics twenty years before the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Dated Pentecost 1943, the long forgotten letter was discovered in the Archives of the Archbishop of Westminster, and appears as a footnote in Dom Alcuin Reid’s excellent work The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2005, pp. 103-104).  

This articulate and heartfelt plea of English Catholics for the preservation of something as venerable as the liturgical language of the Roman Rite is still inspiring to read over seventy years later.  It also serves as an important reminder that the “reformers” of the twentieth century Liturgical Movement were very busy in the decades leading up to the Council.  Knowing as we do now that the words of this manifesto would have little impact, and that the liturgical revolution would commence in twenty short years, makes this an even more compelling read today.

Manifesto of the Catholic Laity

“We, the undersigned Catholic Layfolk, desire…to make known our true feelings with regard to the present controversy concerning the language used by the Church in her public worship.  

“We utterly repudiate the subversive efforts that are being made to discredit the use of the Latin Liturgy, a precious heritage brought to the English people by Saint Augustine of Canterbury from our glorious Apostle, Saint Gregory the Great, and which we are proud to have preserved intact these fourteen hundred years, even throughout the hardships and dangers of the penal times.  

“We therefore protest that we are opposed to all attempts to tamper with this venerable Liturgy, or to substitute for it a copy of any non-Catholic rite, however beautiful or impressive.  

“We strongly resent the implication that we and our children are not sufficiently intelligent to understand the simple Latin of the Mass, and we declare our readiness to do all we can to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge so as to be able to take a more active and intelligent part in our parochial Mass.  

“We also respectfully petition our bishops to use their authority to make the teaching of simple liturgical Latin obligatory in all our Catholic schools, since we are convinced that such instruction would be of immense spiritual and intellectual value to our children and would help them to realise more vividly the supra-national character of our faith.  

“Finally we very humbly beg our Clergy to help our efforts by a distinct and deliberate enunciation of all the words of the Liturgy, so as to make it possible for every one of us to become more at home with the spiritual language of our Holy Mother Church, and thus to assist at her public worship with greater understanding and devotion.”

These words are as relevant today as when they were first penned in 1943.  Pray that many priests and bishops may read them now and take them to heart.  

Posted on June 13, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Raymond F. Rice

    What a backward, unrealistic and subversive opinion

    • Please be more specific Raymond. What about the post, or the manifesto of these English Catholics, do you object to? Do you simply have an aversion to Latin, the liturgical language of the Latin Rite?

      • Raymond F. Rice

        On the contrary, I read Latin like an ancient Roman. Vatican II, inspired by the Holy Spirit, moved us to the vernacular. Many Catholics are following Latin in a retro movement. How can you lead a congregation in prayer if they do not know what the celebrant is saying.If you were following the retrp mentality, you should be promoting the liturgy in Greek or even Aramaic!!

      • So much to reply to in that statement, one that reads like a stereotype of the “spirit of Vatican II” Catholic. Instead of searching for my own words I’ll simply use those of Pope St. John XXIII who convoked the Second Vatican Council:

        “We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons — the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods — are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use. The employment of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the timely directives contained in this document, so as to ensure that the ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored.


        “In the exercise of their [the Bishops] paternal care they shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See’s will in this regard or interprets it falsely.”

        John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962

      • More from Pope St. John XXIII:

        “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 favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.


        “Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,” and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful” of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.”

      • Raymond F. Rice

        with all the problems in the world, do we really have the time to quibble over such a minor matter??

      • More recently, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship Cardinal Ranjith nearly perfectly addressed the sentiment that you appear to hold Raymond when he said:

        “With regard to the use of Latin in the liturgy it must be stressed that what the Council decreed was that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36). It allowed the use of the vernacular in the following areas: the readings and directives and some of the prayers and chants…With regard to Gregorian chant too the Council was circumspect in that while opening up to “other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony” it stated that the Church “acknowledged” Gregorian chant as being proper to the Roman liturgy and “should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (n. 116). This limited concession of the Council allowing the use of the vernacular in the liturgy was rather adventurously extended by the reformers in that Latin almost totally vanished from the scene and became the best-loved orphan in the Church.

        “This I state not because I am a fanatic of the Latin language. I come from a mission land where Latin is hardly understood by most of my community. But it is a fallacy to believe that a language needs to be always understood by all. Language as we know is a means of communication of an experience which most of the time is greater than the word itself. Language and words are thus secondary and follow the experience and the person sharing it in importance. Language always carries with it a kenosis –an impoverishment in its expression. The more this experience undergoes trans-communication into other languages it tends to be increasingly less expressive of the originality of what happened. The word “OM” in the Hindu liturgy, for example, is untranslatable. Besides, the oriental religions use a language which is strictly limited to their prayer and worship forms. Hinduism uses Sanskrit, Buddhism uses Pali, and Islam, Koranic Arabic. None of these languages are spoken today. But they are used for worship…

        “The liturgical use of Latin in the Church, even though it starts somewhere in the fourth century A.D., gives rise to a series of expressions which are unique and which constitute the very faith of the Church. The vocabulary of the Credo is quite clearly filled with expressions in Latin which are untranslatable. The role of the lex orandi in determining the lex credendi of the Church is very much valid in the case of its use of Latin in the liturgy. For doctrine often evolves in the faith experience of prayer. For this reason a healthy balance between the use of Latin and that of the vernacular languages should, I believe, be maintained.

        “The re-introduction of the usus antiquior –the older form of the Roman liturgy –by Pope Benedict XVI was thus not a retrograde step as some called it, but a move to bring back to Sacred Liturgy a deeper sense of awe and mysticism and a way in which the Pope sought to prevent a blatant banalization of something so pivotal to the life of the Church. This initiative should be given due value and support. It may also lead to the evolution of a new liturgical movement which could be a step in the direction of the “reform of the reform” which has been an ardent desire of Pope Benedict XVI.”

    • What an ignorant comment.

      • Raymond F. Rice

        thank you for your insights and razor sharp thinking. I will accept it with all the humility i can muster

  2. I find this Manifesto to be unconvincing. Their preference for the Latin rite of that time is not wrong in itself–so long as they recognize and accept the authority of the magisterium to make the decision, but they seem to depend more on attacking the intentions of the people they disagree and denying that any problems may exist with the state of the Mass at that time.

    That you agree with their sentiments is your prerogative of course (provided you accept the authority of the magisterium to have the final say). But it is nothing more than an expressed opinion for a certain form of the Mass–a discipline, not a doctrine.

    • Thank you for your comment David. I think history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Catholics of that era accepted the authority of their bishops and the Holy Father, even when questionable disciplines and liturgical practices were instituted.

      The concerned laity who wrote this letter share in many ways the views of Pope Pius XII who, in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, wrote:

      “The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth.” (MD 60)

      The value in this “manifesto” is (I believe) twofold:

      First, it reminds us that the movement to remove the 1400 year liturgical language of the Roman Rite was in full swing decades before the Second Vatican Council, and even centuries when one considers the Protestant rebellion;

      Second, the letter articulates very well the solution that so many Catholic laity knew then, and have rediscovered today: participation in the liturgy and better understanding of its full meaning and purpose is not reliant upon use of the vernacular, but is rather aided by the use of Latin.

      God bless!

    • Hello David,

      1. What they were communicating more than anything else is their properly Catholic sense that a liturgical rite is something we receive and protect, rather than something we fabricate to suit our own felt needs. or, worse, throw in the dustbin.

      2. Whatever problems there were with the state of the Mass in 1943, they revolved around bad spiritual and liturgical formation, not the rites themselves.

  3. The fact that this document came from British Catholics is particularly significant. One of the first things the Anglican Church did in its efforts to supplant and suppress Catholicism in England was to suppress and supplant the use of Latin in the liturgy and liturgical music and replace it with English. Parliament also passed a series of laws (known as the Penal Laws) that effectively criminalized the practice of the Catholic faith in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The Penal Laws were in force from the late 17th century until the beginning of the 19th. Thus the reference in the document to “preserving the use of Latin even in penal times.” A strong anti-Catholic bias persists in England TO THIS DAY. Latin is a sign of our Catholic identity and should be preserved.

  4. I am not sure why people are putting commas into this manifesto. There was talk of vernacular being introduced into the liturgy for the many years leading up to the Second Vatican Council. It is why Garrigou Lagrange came up with the name “Nouvelle Theologie”. This term was a repudiation of the modern and liberal ideas creeping into the church–being heralded by clergymen themselves.

    The English, remembering their history during the penal times, occasioned to write a letter to their leaders to hold fast to the tradition of the Latin Mass, remembering that it was little by little that the protestant revolt took hold of England. First, by introduction of vernacular in simple prayers, and then in the mass by decree of Henry. This before Elizabeth and Cromwell sanitized the church of any vestiges of Catholicism.

    In the English revolt, we have a blueprint of what we ought to do lest we be swallowed up whole by the world. Will we hold fast as the saints of penal times did, even against the advice of those princes who capitulated? Mark, Saint John Fisher was in the few, yet he got it right.

  5. Raymond F. Rice

    Benedict is history. He could not do the job!!

  6. Time will tell. Without exception the Novus Ordo Masses I have attended had a greying congregation and few children (in one Mass of > 250 souls there was exactly 1 child). Without exception the Tridentine Masses I have attended had a wide range of ages … and bunches of kids. Bunches. YMMV, but demographics will out.

  7. Get rid of Latin and the Deposit of Faith can be more easily attacked and corrupted insofar as what is given to the people. Heretics and apostates hate Tradition and hate Latin as it holds and protects that Tradition, which they hate and want to destroy. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

  8. 1. @Raymond F. Rice: “with all the problems in the world, do we really have the time to quibble over such a minor matter??”

    One group of Christians cannot so much as quibble with another if they do not speak the same language. The first thing the Holy Spirit did for the Church was obliterate the vernacular, thereby undoing the tragedy of Babel. Yet, you prefer to obliterate unity in favor of division. In this case, I think the proper referent for ‘progress’ is linguistic unity. Even a Philosophy 101 student knows well how cascading errors arise from just one simple disparity of definition between two people. We now have trillions of such errors between billions of people. This is the opposite of a minor matter. To regard total confusion in language as unimportant bespeaks a total lack of awareness as to the importance of unity of meaning in human history and scholarship, even in one language! A progressive institution treasures one language in order to eventually communicate truth ever-more clearly by means of centuries (really, millennia and onward) of centralized refinement. Latin was the sum of refinement for the Church as it emerged out of classical European civilization and spread throughout the world. Furthermore, Latin was a simple, easy to learn alphabetical language, compared to, say, Chinese. Does a programmer combine multiple programming languages into one application? Hardly ever, and if he does, he must choose one preeminent language to govern the whole. Disestablishing Latin and replacing it with *nothing* effectively reset all Church communication. It leveled the city, so to speak, and tasked a multitude of naked mute people with rebuilding it from scratch. Would any modern government support such an absurd measure? Can you imagine if each U.S. representative spoke a different language in congress? Would news be possible in dozens of languages at once? Would school?! If your entire perspective rests on the notion that many vastly different languages are more conducive to cooperation than one refined language, you have entirely suspended rational thought for the duration of your opinion, and you’re asking us to do the same.

    2. @David W: I find this Manifesto to be unconvincing. Their preference for the Latin rite of that time is not wrong in itself–so long as they recognize and accept the authority of the magisterium to make the decision, but they seem to depend more on attacking the intentions of the people they disagree and denying that any problems may exist with the state of the Mass at that time.

    There is no possible positive intention that favors Babel over Pentecost. Also, if you are postjudicially convinced that there were some unspecified problems with the state of the Mass at that time, you ought justify that belief for us. What is the benefit of refusing to teach Latin to the common man? Jews, even very poor Jews, succeed in teaching their children Hebrew. How much more ability does the Church have to effect such a program?

  1. Pingback: Laity to Bishops in 1943: We're Not as Stupid as You Think - OnePeterFive

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