I call myself the liturgy guy because I love to write about the beauty of our Catholic liturgy. There is nothing we can do in life that is more important than to follow our Lord’s command to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Mt 22:37-39).
This is also why, when you look at the Ten Commandments, the first three are dedicated to our relationship with God. Of course, our love for the Lord is most visibly manifested in the penultimate prayer of the Church, the Holy Mass.
One Mass, Two Forms
In the spirit of full disclosure let me first state that I love the Latin Mass, or what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Latin rite. My parish offers both forms but most often we as a family attend the Latin Mass.
However, most of you reading this do not attend the Latin Mass. The majority of people attend the Novus Ordo Mass, or Ordinary Form of the Latin rite. While most parishes still only offer this form of the Mass it is interesting to note that the number of parishes offering a regular Sunday Latin Mass has increased in the past 20 years from just under 80 to over 400 now.
Are We Rome or Babel?
We read in Genesis chapter 11:
Now the whole earth had one language and few words…Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
History and common sense tell us that a family shares a common language. Effective communication and unity require a common tongue to be spoken.
As Roman Catholics we have a common language: Latin.
This is why when a pope issues an encyclical letter it is released in the language of the Church, such as Lumen Fidei (the Light of Faith) from Pope Francis, which was just released in June. This common language is also found in our sacred liturgy.
What Did the Council Say?
The Second Vatican Council, in it’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) reaffirmed the use of Latin in the liturgy. Noting that the “use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (SC 36) the Council also advised that “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)
The Ordinary of the Mass consists of, but is not limited to, the Gloria, Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy).
What has unfortunately been the case in the decades since the council is an almost outright hostility by many within the Church toward any incorporation of Latin within our liturgy. This was not supposed to happen, and as a result, the communication and unity of the Church has been negatively impacted.
The Continuity of the Liturgy
We know that this “spirit of Vatican II” which has resulted in the widespread loss of any Latin in the liturgy is not the true “fruit” of the Council. It cannot be since Holy Spirit which has guided the Church within all 21 of her ecumenical councils over 17 centuries has not changed.
Pope Benedict XVI often spoke of the hermeneutic of continuity versus rupture. Simply put, our Catholic faith doesn’t reverse course or swing a U-turn mid street. This is also the case with our liturgy. If prior councils and popes recognized the benefit for the use of Latin in the Mass, then the Second Vatican Council (guided by the same Holy Spirit) could not have been advocating for a vernacular only Mass.
The Catholic Church stated at the 22nd Session of the Council of Trent (Canon 9):
If anyone says…that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only…let him be anathema.
Pope Pius XII reaffirmed this teaching in one of the last major documents regarding the sacred liturgy in the years leading up to the Second Vatican Council, his encyclical Mediator Dei (1947).
The Holy Father warned that there were movements within the Church even during his time which incorrectly sought rupture by over emphasizing the use of the vernacular language within the liturgy. (MD 59)
Additionally, Pope Pius XII noted that:
“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)
Finally, with the release of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, we find the Holy Spirit still guiding the Church with regards to her highest form of prayer, the Holy Mass.
A discussion about our common language as Catholics, how we speak to God in the liturgy, is not ultimately a discussion of which Mass you prefer to attend. As Summorum Pontificum states with regards to both the Missal of Paul VI (the Ordinary Form) and the Missal of Blessed John XXIII (the Extraordinary Form):
“These two expressions of the Church’s Lex orandi will in no way lead to division in the Church’s ‘Lex credendi’ (Law of belief). They are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman rite.”
Something to Ponder
I hope you have been given a few things to ponder. Have you been exposed to the language of the Catholic Mass over the years? Do you frequently hear the use of latin within your Sunday liturgy?
I would like to conclude with a Q & A from the Baltimore Catechism which serves nicely to summarize what we have been discussing.
Q: Why does the Church use the Latin language instead of the national language of its children?
A: The Church uses the Latin language instead of the national language of its children:
To avoid the danger of changing any part of its teaching in using different languages;
That all its rulers may be perfectly united and understood in their communications;
To show that the Church is not an institute of any particular nation, but the guide of all nations.
As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.