Right at the outset let’s clear up a common misconception: the Novus Ordo is not a vernacular only Mass. Of course, considering how most Catholics experience the Holy Mass at their parish on a weekly basis, this might not appear to be the case.
No doubt many people believe the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is only offered in the vernacular; and why shouldn’t they. For decades the liturgy has largely been devoid of Latin. What was once seen as something universal, unifying and transcendent is now perceived by many Catholics to be divisive, limiting and outdated.
Many of the faithful seem to have little or no use for Latin in the Mass. They claim not to oppose availability to the Extraordinary Form for Catholics who prefer the traditional liturgy. What they object to is replacing any of the vernacular in the Ordinary Form with Latin. Many of these Catholics are vehemently opposed to Latin when it comes to the Mass, but this in no way reflects the mind of the Church. For Latin, which is the language of the Church, is also the language of the liturgy.
The last major document issued by Rome regarding the sacred liturgy prior to the Second Vatican Council was the encyclical Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII. Regarding the use of Latin within the Mass, Venerable Pius XII 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)
While the Holy Father recognized that “the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites” may be of advantage to the faithful, nowhere did he advocate for the removal of Latin from the Holy Mass.
In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council reaffirmed two principles which are often viewed today as being at odds with one another:
“In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people…
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.” (SC 54)
So while the Council fathers imagined a much wider use of the “mother tongue” within the Mass, they still stressed the need for the faithful to learn, say and sing in Latin such parts of the Mass as the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI again revisited the place of Latin within the liturgy in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis.
“[P]articularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency…In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church…with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung.
Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.” (SC 62)
Continuity vs. Rupture
Many Catholics today are just beginning to experience the liturgical continuity consistent with Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum Concilium and Sacramentum Caritatis. For some parishes it has become the norm during penitential seasons such as Advent and Lent to incorporate Latin into the Mass, for example at the Sanctus or the Agnus Dei. This gradual reintroduction of Latin into the Ordinary Form of the Mass is beginning to address the rupture experienced by the removal of Latin in the years following the Council.
What is still surprising at times is the level of resistance to a wider use of Latin within the Ordinary Form. Despite the consistent teaching of the Church, from encyclicals to Councils to Synods, many Catholics still wish to have the language of the Church restricted to only one form of the Latin Rite.
The below clip from Catholic News Service further touches upon the Latin renaissance currently underway within the Catholic Church.