7 Reasons for the Use of Latin in the Mass


There have been few topics of discussion as contentious in the post-Conciliar years as the use of Latin within the Mass. The near universal disappearance of Latin from the liturgical life of the Church has been one of the great casualties of the “spirit of Vatican II”. It is my hope that these reasons will lead some to reassess their bias against the use of Latin in the Mass. Much of what is written below comes directly from The Catechism Explained: An Exhaustive Explanation of the Catholic Religion by Father Francis Spirago.

7 Reasons for the Use of Latin in the Mass

1. The Latin language is venerable on account of its origin and its antiquity; indeed, it dates back to the earliest centuries of the Church and to the very masses offered in the obscurity of the Catacombs.

2. There is an element of mystery about Latin. It is a dead language, not spoken by the faithful. The use of Latin conveys to the mind of the people that something is going on upon the altar which is beyond their comprehension; that a mystery is being enacted.

3. Latin is a liturgical language for Catholics. It is a striking fact that both Jews and pagans made use, in their worship of the Deity, of a language with which the multitude were not conversant. The Jews in fact made use of Hebrew, the language of the patriarchs; we do not see Our Lord or the apostles censuring this practice.

4. The use of Latin in the Mass is a means of maintaining unity in the Catholic Church, for the use of one and the same language in Latin Rite churches all over the world is a connecting link to Rome, as well as between nations separated by their cultures and native tongues.

5. Latin is a safeguard against error because of its immutability. The near exclusive use of the vernacular inevitably leads to heresies and errors creeping into the Church. Likewise, the use of Latin helps to define and defend orthodoxy. As noted by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at Sacra Liturgia (2013):

“The liturgical use of Latin in the Church…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…”

6. It is unnecessary for the faithful to hear, or understand, every ceremonial of the Mass. History has clearly shown, and experience teaches, that the fact of the prayers being in Latin does not at all hamper or interfere with the devotion of the faithful, or lead them to absent themselves from Holy Mass. As Saint Augustine instructed:

“If there are some present who do not understand what is being said or sung, they know at least that all is said and sung to the glory of God, and that is sufficient for them to join in it devoutly.”

7. The primary reason why the whole of the Mass was historically offered in Latin is because it is a sacrifice, not an instruction for the people. The celebration of Mass consists more in action than in words. This final reason cannot be overstated. A Protestant gathering which commemorates the Lord’s Supper is simply a service of prayers and instruction. For this reason the vernacular is a necessity. The Catholic Mass, however, is a holy sacrifice offered to God the Father by an ordained priest, in persona Christi. The action of the Mass, and the mystery of it, is reinforced by the use of Latin.

In his 1962 apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia, Pope St. John XXIII observed that:

“The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”

May more priests and bishops in the coming years recognize that the use of Latin should not simply be limited to masses offered in the Extraordinary Form. Indeed, both forms of the Roman Rite have every reason to be celebrated in a language that is “noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”

Posted on December 7, 2015, in liturgy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. No bias here…other than all in for Latin 🙂

  2. I attend Mass in Latin but detect some errors in the above. 1. Mass in the Catacombs was said in Greek. When the Roman vernacular changed to Latin the Mass changed to Latin but things like the Kyrie and some Good Friday antiphons remained. The Church has proposed that all Western Catholics should know certain parts of the Mass in Latin but this remains unenforced.
    4. The Creed, not the language of the Mass, is the means of unity. That unity is embodied with an individual Catolic being in communion (receiving communion) with the local bishop who himself is in communion with the Pope and therefore with all other bishops in communion with the Pope, and not just in the present but throughout history ( the one holy Catholic and apostolic church)
    7. The Mass Is a sacrifice but the parts before the sacrifice are a confession of sin, the proclamation of the Word of God, instruction or homily, the credal proclamation of the unity of the major dogmas of the faith, a collection for the support of the church and the poor. These may all be inLatin in e.g. a 1962 Mass but it is the responsibility of pastors to ensure that the faithful hear these words within the context of the celebration and not just read privately, which is where the written word receives its public validation.

    • Sounds like you’re saying the Roman vernacular used to be Greek.

      “The creed… is THE means of unity” is a huge oversimplification.

      It is true that the Mass is not SOLELY a sacrifice – but it’s PRIMARILY a sacrifice. The prayers are mostly about the sacrifice. The use of Latin emphasises that those prayers are mostly offered by the celebrant on our behalf.

  3. What about the Eastern Rites that dont use Latin? Especially the Byzantine Rites that use the vernacular?

    • St. John XXIII and Fr. Francis Spirago, both quoted in this post, are liturgically referencing the Roman Rite of the Church, as well as the official language of Rome itself, utilized historically for encyclical, Canon Law, etc. In the Roman Rite, that which has been most widely celebrated in the west for over fifteen centuries, there has been significant reasons for maintaining the use of Latin, which was the point of this particular post.

    • Byzantine Rites don’t use the vernacular. Greeks use Old Greek and Slavs use Church Slavonik for Divine Liturgy, not vernacular Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian etc. At least, it is their tradition. Now they have some parishes which use vernacular, especially in Ukraine.

      • For the Orthodox, Romanians and Albanians use their vernacular languages, as do Arabs and Americans. This has been true since the 19th century. Use of liturgical language is at least closely related to the modern language when it comes to liturgical Greek and Slavonic liturgies, which can’t be said for Latin outside of Romance-speaking countries.

  4. Interesting to read – I am a Catholic with the Latin rite – I accept what other people use – change happens – people used to ride horses – now they drive cars – much is the as with living – however I love the Latin Rite, was raised with it and always try to find a Mass where it is used. I also read my prayers, the same as when I was a child – I am almost 90 and changes happens, Faith does not! In my own opinion!

  5. What bothers me, as someone who attends the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in Latin, is that the catholic (as in “universal”) Church is not praying together. The readings of the day for the two forms do not always correlate, and this first came to light for me when our priest, who performs a Beautiful Latin Mass on Sundays, was delivering a homily on a different reading. When I asked about it, he said it was because the readings in the 2 forms are different. That seems to me to go against the whole point of prayer in the Church, especially including the Liturgy of the Hours, which emphasizes the common prayer of the universal Church.

    • This is true of all rites and uses, isn’t it? Even in the West, do the OF, Dominican rite, and divine worship use line up?

  6. Kathy Donohue

    Not everyone will understand mass in Latin. Unless they have, the meaning in a booklet. At one church they had a man doing what the Priest says in sign language. Oh with kids should they be taught Latin also. In my case half my brain was taken out. So like even names I put to music to remember them.

    • Kathy,

      Consider this. The Mass is not primarily addressed to the faithful. We are there to worship, but we are not there to be the recipient of the prayer…Look at the Canon and see who the priest is addressing. It is God the Father.

      Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum Filium tuum Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus, ac petimus.

      Therefore, most merciful Father, we humbly beg of Thee and entreat Thee through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord.

      That being said, it really doesn’t matter what language the Mass is in, because God the Father will understand. However, the Church has determined that Latin is the normative language, therefore, the use is not only justified, but expected.

      And as Vatican Council II clearly states in Sacrosanctum Concilium #54; “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

      So, regardless of our own foibles, and believe you me, I have my own….the use of Latin at Mass is normative and should be treated as such.

  7. People like myself don’t know other languages. Maybe they could have someone define what is said by the priest. On St. Patrick’s Day there’s a man up on the alter doing sign language. Something like that or the word’s next to something we read in English.

  8. I am bilingual English/Spanish. The mystery of what takes place on the altar is apparent to me no matter what language the Mass is being offered in. I was preaching a Mission Appeal at a Parish that has a Vietnamese Mass. I didn’t understand a word that was being said, yet I understood everything. This is the universality of our faith.

  9. Franklin P. Uroda

    Why not in Hebrew or Greek, the Holy Spirit Inspired languages? Latin? The language of the cruel Romans who beat-up,spit upon, and murdered the Best Man Who ever lived? And then they did the same to His Apostles, disciples and followers wherever they could find them-for centuries. IMO, it was a case of expediency: Latin was understood by everyone, centuries ago, and the Church had to get along in a hostile world. Devilish Romans are probably laughing in their graves because their “culture” has endured. In some sort, they have overcome.

  10. Number 1 is incorrect. The earliest liturgical language of the church, even in Rome, was Greek, not Latin. Ironically, Latin only began to be used in Rome when the early Church made the move to using vernacular languages, with Latin being the vernacular at Rome. All the other reasons except number 4 also apply at least as well if not more so to Greek. Further, Greek is acknowledged even by western theologians as superior to Latin for expressing philosophical and theological ideas. Greek is capable of the expression of subtleties and nuances that Latin is not. Some theologians have expressed the opinion that the whole church-dividing Filioque controversy resulted from the inability of Latin to express the difference between two different meanings of “proceeds”. All that being said, the Orthodox Church has always insisted that the liturgy be celebrated in the local vernacular.

  11. Gregory Timothy Smyth

    If you talk with a Latin teacher you would discover that Latin is not “immutable’ (# 5). Latin teachers refer to Latin as being different during different ages. For example they refer to “Middle Ages Latin” as being different from Latin before and after that time period.

  12. In these early days of the church you were not to read the Bible. You were to have the Priest interpret it for you. Latin is a legacy of Roman times the same Romans who persecuted Christians/Catholics. Oh by the way the early church rewrote Latin because Roman Latin was deemed to uncivilized.

  13. Dr. Maria Procaccino

    “There is NO NEED FOR THE FAITHFUL TO UNDERSTAND ALL THE CEREMONIALS?????” said NO ONE EVER!!!!! it’s NOT ABOUT THE PRIEST…. “FULL, CONSCIOUS AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATION”… JEEZE, what is it you don’t get??? COMMUNIO…. it’s NOT a private club of clerics speaking a dead language!!!!

  14. Franklin P. Uroda

    Rather than Latin, IMO, Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic should be used in The Holy Sacrifice and in The Divine Office. I’m biased against Latin because it was the language of the damnable Romans who tortured and killed our Beloved Jesus, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. They should in no way benefit from their murderous behavior.

  15. I am a 1970 Convert to the Catholic faith. I never learned Latin so after attending my first High Latin Mass I was very thankfull Vatican II promulgated having Mass said in the vernacular in each individual language. I still do not enjoy attending a Mass where Latin is used. I don’t understand it, let alone am unable to read or pronounce it, and I loose my concentration and devotion.

    • “Latin was the perfect language for the Mass. It’s the language of the Church, which allows us to pray a verbal prayer without distraction.

      “See, the purpose of the Mass is to pray and to be associated with the crucifixion and with that glorious banquet that we partake of in Holy Communion. He is there. But so much is spoiled in the vernacular.

      “During the Latin Mass you had the missal if you wanted to follow it in English. It was almost mystical. It gave you an awareness of heaven, of the awesome humility of God who manifests Himself in the guise of bread and wine. The love that He had for us, His desire to remain with us is simply awesome. You could concentrate on that love, because you weren’t distracted by your own language.”

      +Mother Angelica

  16. Exorcists report that the devil hates Latin because it is the language of the Church.

  17. Here’s a link re an exorcist’s discussion re using Latin in the Rite of Exorcism:

  1. Pingback: 7 Reasons for the Use of Latin in the Mass – sanctusdominusdeus

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