Latin music vs vernacular music


My question is simple: how to strike a balance between the wider use of vernacular hymns and Latin hymns as well as Gregorian Chants?

In my parish, the priests simply read out the verses and chants are obsolete. Located in a Chinese community, our parish offers Masses in Chinese. There are some beautiful Chinese vernacular hymns or hymns imitating chants, but as time progresses, there appears to be a lack of rich artistic music in the Mass. Very often the choir only repeats the several hymns (actually not several, but definitely not many) in the thick Chinese Hymn Book.

So the obstacle placed in front of me is the tilted balance to all-vernacular music, which I deem inappropriate in terms of continuity of Latin music traditions within our local church.

How can chants and Latin polyphony be adapted for vernacular use, if the use of real Latin versions in a Mass can hardly be a way out given the scarcity of musicians and cantors with moderate Latin training? Or, does this matter?

I do not want a liturgy show off or music concert where singers do not understand the Latin lyrics they are singing, while the congregation fails to actively participate in the singing of beautiful Latin. Can translations partially solve the aforementioned problem, or is it an issue? I don’t want a Holy Mass to be rendered a museum.

Please understand that unlike English or other European language-speaking nations, Chinese locals are from an entirely different cultural background, which is indeed my concern in regard to the integration of Latin music into the vernacular.

I do not favor sophisticated polyphonic pieces by Mozart, Haydn or other great composers - they are great, but again I cannot predict the effect of removing some well-known vernacular Ordinary music (e.g. Kyrie Gloria Sanctus in Chinese) and replacing it with Latin setting. Any experience as to how to handle the complicated circumstances?

Thanks for any constructive suggestion!


You can always try using Latin Mass parts. That's what my Newman Center does every year during Lent. (Okay, so we still sing the Memorial Acclamation in English, but the sentiment still stands) The Sanctus and Agnus Dei really aren't too difficult to learn.


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