Mass being said in Latin

In what year was Latin made the “Standard” language for Mass?

From Wikipedia:

It is unclear when the language of the celebration changed from Greek to Latin. Pope Victor I (190–202), may have been the first to use Latin in the liturgy in Rome. Others think Latin was finally adopted nearly a century later.[7] The change was probably gradual, with both languages being used for a while.[8]


I’m a relatively new Catholic (3 years or so) and it’s always troubled me a little bit that certain people act as though Latin is the only language Mass should ever be delivered-in, as though it’s been in Latin since the time of Jesus. I mean, clearly it was in the vernacular (Greek, etc) for the first few hundred years. I don’t object to Latin Mass, but when people act as though it’s quasi-heretical to give the mass in anything but Latin seems misinformed at best.


When there was nobody left in western Europe who could understand Greek, is my guess. What year was that? I don’t know, I’ll try and find out.

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People have all sort of reasons for loving Latin.
Often it’s not so much Latin they love, but the Tridentine Mass, which didn’t come along till 1570.
You may or may not know this already if you’ve just been in the Church 3 years, but the changing of the Mass to the vernacular in the 1960s was a Vatican II issue, and a lot of people just don’t like Vatican II, which (having grown up a Catholic during the post-VII era) I can understand.

If they actually do like the Latin, some points in its favor are

  • it’s a “dead language” so doesn’t need to be constantly updated, revised, etc, as with vernacular languages, and the prayers and the meaning of words stay the same. For example you complained in your other thread about the Douay having archaic English. That wouldn’t be an issue if you just read the Bible in Latin. It would never be archaic or modern or anything else, it would never change.
  • it is likely more suitable for purposes of chant
  • it actually is the language in which most Masses were said during the last 2000 years, if you remove the last 50 years and (generously) the first 300 or 400 years
  • Church documents tend to be written in Latin and it became over time a sort of “language of the Church”
  • it makes it much easier for a bunch of people who all speak different languages to have a common Mass, or for a person traveling to some other country with a different language to understand and follow Mass.

Some people also have the opinion that the Devil hates Latin and it’s somehow a specially holy language. That seems a little far-fetched to me.


Probably quite late into the first millennium. Many southern Italian cities and states, such as Naples, originated as Greek colonial settlements, and their Greek character endured for quite a long time. The Duke of Naples in the early 9th century was still named Theoctistos!


Some people also have the opinion that the Devil hates Latin and it’s somehow a specially holy language. That seems a little far-fetched to me.
That seems like folks glomming onto anything that validates their opinion, no matter how ridiculous and foolish.

You make valid points and I agree that the Latin Mass certainly has very valid reasons for existing and for persisting, but when people constantly disparage V2 and Mass in the vernacular because “Latin is the best” it seems silly (at best) and quite “Holier than thou” and judgey (at worst). Thanks for your insight and thoughts!


According to the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who was the chief exorcist in Rome for many years before his death, the devil does hate Latin:


Please do not caricature the argument.

Some of the real points are:

  • tradition develops organically . It isn’t static but it should not either be subjected to sudden breaks. The practice of using Latin spread organically, whereas the introduction of the modern vernacular was abrupt.
  • the 1960s introduced not one new vernacular (such as English or Italian) but myriad vernaculars, disrupting unity among the faithful. Just when international travel was exploding, it was no longer possible to travel from place to place and be sure of knowing or even understanding the liturgy.
  • The fact that Latin is a dead language is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Its meaning is fixed and does not need revision.
  • Latin works. Its use coincided with the greatest and most successful missionary expansion of the Church. its abandonment coincides with a corresponding contraction.

There are many people who do not see Fr. Amorth as a reliable source for various reasons, such as his claim to have performed an inordinately high number of exorcisms which would have been physically difficult/ impossible for him to accomplish in the time he was an exorcist and would probably not have comported with normal exorcism procedure (mental health screening etc) .


I agree. The arguments for Latin are very strong, but that’s not one of them.

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Language is a practical matter. Human beings need language, God does not. A language is sacred as it is used and appreciated as such by the Church.
Latin was the language of the world and it was practical to use it universally, it’s just that simple. The language is beautiful and lends itself well for singing, and the Church appreciates it’s use as the normative sacred language. But as a practical matter at Mass, it’s just that. A practical matter. English is more practical than Latin. Communication is important for the gospel. English currently lends itself well to that.


Not really. Ordinary, unschooled Catholics, which was the vast majority of them, never went around conversing or communicating in Latin. They spoke the vernacular of where they lived. Only educated people knew Latin.

Jesus himself probably didn’t go around speaking Latin, and with the possible exception of Matthew who would have interacted with the Romans for his work, the Apostles didn’t either.


That’s true. And Latin was still the language of the world, if you could do language.

Rome itself became Greek speaking again from about 650 to 750, in particular the clergy. There was a huge influx of Greek-speaking clergy fleeing the Slavic invasion of the Balkans and the Muslim invasion of the Middle East, and they swamped the local clergy. There was even 75 year stretch during which all of the Popes but one were Greek speaking, either from Greece, Syria, or the Greek colonies in southern Italy or Sicily. It was at about this time that Latin ceased to be a living language, surviving a little longer in old Roman colonies in Spain and the Balkans than in Rome itself.

However, even the Greek popes continued saying the Mass in Latin in Rome.


I’m not “caricaturing” anything: I’ve tried to broach this subject in other Catholic groups and that Latin is somehow a more holy or worthy language for the mass is something that’s been thrown back at people who advocate the NO or who at least are not hostile to it.

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Mine is Gregorian chant. It only really works properly in Latin, and it is a huge patrimony well worth preserving. It’s why I even use it daily for the Liturgy of the Hours.


What Latin is, in the LATIN (I.e. Roman rite) Church, is a sacred language.

Contrary to the opinion of some, worship is not necessarily meant to be conducted with everything crystal clear, cut-and-dried, and fully explained, because God Himself is a mystery.

Does that mean that we may not ever use ‘vernacular’? No.
But using the vernacular will, by its nature, limit the mystery. If worship is only about, “I must know everything clearly in my own language and nothing else” then Latin would be some ‘old language’. But if worship includes, along with ‘knowing in my own language’ (ahem, Missals do have vernacular translations), a worship of the mysterious and unknowable, then Latin as the Church’s sacred language has indeed a preeminent place.


I don’t know where you got that from, but the Church has never taught that any language, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew or otherwise, was a “sacred language”. The concept is foreign to Catholicism (and Orthodoxy).


The transition from Greek to the vernacular in the Diocese of Rome occurred over the third and forth centuries.

It seems that some use was made earlier.

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