Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Latin? Part Two


I have been attending a Catholic Church in the diocese in which the priest and congregation sing some of the parts in Latin.  I am curious as to why the Catholic Church is bringing this back and in some parishes even saying the mass entirely in Latin.  It appears that the Church is going back to traditionalism.  How does this (Latin) entice new people to the Catholic faith?  If I were looking for a Christian faith to join and visited a parish with Latin, I would take Catholicism off my list.  I, myself, have considered looking elsewhere for a new faith because of this.  Shouldn’t the church be looking forward and seeking out modern ways to entice newcomers?  To many outsiders, the Catholic Mass is already very dry and boring with all of its prayers through Mass, let alone adding in Latin.  Please advise and help me understand the Latin importance in this modern age.    

Part II (See Part I: Is the use of Latin in the Liturgy a Turnoff?)

Having discussed last week why being upset over an increased use of Latin in the liturgy is not a good reason to look “elsewhere for a new faith,” I want to now turn my attention to the use of Latin in the liturgy.  There are two distinct, yet related, issues here: first, the use of Latin in the Novus Ordo (the new Mass), which is the Mass we are all familiar with; second, the more frequent use of the Latin Mass itself, also known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and all of the recent commotion around it.

Okay, so why Latin?  Why are we seeing more parishes use Latin in parts of the Mass, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), for example?  Well, the biggest reason I can think of is: because the Church tells us to.  At the Second Vatican Council, the Church said, “The use of the Latin to be preserved in the Latin rites,” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36).  Yet, contrary to the very clear words and intent of the Council Fathers, the Latin language was quite often abandoned wholesale in the years immediately following Vatican II.  

Commenting on that situation, Bishop Slattery of Tulsa had this to say,  “ was not a wise decision to do away with Latin in the Mass.  How that happened, I don’t know; but the fathers of the Council never intended us to drop Latin. They wanted us to hold on to it and, at the same time, to make room for the vernacular...”

But, why does the Church tell us to hang on to Latin in the liturgy?  Well, one reason is because Latin is the official language of the Church.  All Church documents are promulgated first and foremost in Latin.  The papal encyclicals - first done in Latin.  The Catechism - first done in Latin.  All documents, liturgical or otherwise - first done in Latin.  Truth be told, it is a bit of a misnomer to call the old Mass the “Latin” Mass, because the Novus Ordo, the new Mass, was first promulgated in Latin.  Which is why we are soon to get a new Mass translation, because the current English translation was not as faithful to the Latin as it could have been.  So, both the old and the new Mass can rightly be called “Latin” masses.

Another reason the Church tells us to hang on to Latin in the liturgy, is because it connects us to the past, to our traditions.  For over a thousand years our forefathers in the faith worshipped in Latin.  To banish Latin to the outer darkness is like banishing grandpa to the outer darkness because he only speaks Italian, or Polish, or whatever. The Latin language is a part of our story, a part of who we are, a part of our heritage, as Catholics.  

I mentioned last week that I am not a “big fan” of the Latin language.  That does not mean, however, that I do not respect the language.  I simply prefer English to Latin.  That is the result of an American nativistic bias more than anything else, though.  I suppose if Latin were used in some prayers on a regular basis, not just once in a blue moon, and if our missalettes had the Latin version of some of the prayers, I could grow more accustomed to the language.  You know, as Christians, I think to harbor bias that is based more on a lack of familiarity with someone or something, rather than anything else, is not really becoming of us.  I think we should try to be more tolerant and open-minded with regard to such things.

Next week...The Resurrection of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

About John Martignoni
John Martignoni is the Director of the Office of Evangelization for the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama and also the President of the Bible Christian Society. John's column, Apologetics 101, appears regularly in the diocesan newspaper, the One Voice.  If you have a question about the Catholic Faith, please send an email to:  And check out John's free audio and written apologetics materials at:

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