mass in latin

how did people understand mass when it was all in latin. i’m talking about like in the middle ages before printed books were available for people to follow along. and also when a lot of people were illiterate.

My guess is that they may not have understood every word but enough to get the meaning behind it. After all Latin wasn’t (and still shouln’t be) that foreign to Latin-derived language speakers, like Spanish, Fremch, Italian, etc. Besides, where people were illiterate they simply had someone else explain things to them. And there were plenty of symbols and gestures in the Mass to boot. People still today require explanations for things. The Mass text doesn’t tell everything. It’s still remains a mystery.

isn’t that just an occasion for poor catechesis though? we already have issues with that as it is when people do understand the language of the mass. wouldn’t it have just been worse?

I don’t followt how the Mass being in Latin would diminish catechesis and overall I think catechesis was better before the 70s. I have my mom’s Catechism book (in Polish) and it might be simple but it’s straight up Catholic teaching; no fluff.

Also, the low Mass is also pretty simple and if you go to mass weekly or more I would think most people would absorb it over time. I think some people approach the Latin Mass with the wrong attitude, almost like we aren’t supposed to like it or appreciate it. “It’s in a dead language” say some; do they know what a “dead language” is? My mom was even told (years ago) that Latin wasn’t allowed (this, when I told her about the Latin Mass on EWTN). Or some people act like it’s hard to learn or follow. I say, go to a Low Mass; they usually have those red books to follow along and the Mass is simple and easy to follow.

i agree to some extent but that’s not really the question i asked. was just wondering how people did it when most of them couldn’t read. i can relate by the way; am totally blind so any latin-english books would be completely useless. i wouldn’t be able to see any gestures either. if i had never been to an english mass. i would be totally lost at a latin one. and as far as i know, a lot people didn’t go to school or anything like that.

Who said that anything in the Church is easy to understand? The Mass, the greatest of all prayers, is a great mystery, and even today the greatest theologians don’t fully understand the full extent of the mystery behind it.

Yes, it is good for laypeople to learn about the mass and know what it is. But no, that is not **necessary **to still appreciate, enjoy, and *pray *the mass.

Perhaps. People just grew up with the Latin Mass. I would imagine at some point they would learn something about the Mass. If you were to hear a German Mass, you’d probably be able to figure out the Mass after a while too, whether German was your first language or not.

If I were going to take a friend or a child to the Latin Mass I would describe to them what was going on. If they were blind I would read bits and pieces to them so they had an idea what was coming and I could describe the gestures. Each time I would take it a little further. I figure parents had to teach their children about the Mass just like they do now and if the Latin Mass was all there was I think they would become accustomed to it without difficulties. Children don’t know what all the words and gestures mean and they do better at Mass when their parents give them guidance.

I do see some of what you mean but consider that non-Catholics don’t understand the Mass even when it’s in the vernacular because Catholics speak a liturgical language. We do and say things that seem bizarre without the context of 2000 years of worship.

i think it’s important that people understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. or else they’re just blindly following along just because someone told them that’s how it is. i don’t think faith is supposed to work like that. perhaps there were ways of explaining it that i just don’t know about.

i was going to mass for years without understanding or realizing that it’s suposed to be a sacrifice. i probably just missed that somewhere though. but what about back then when there no catholic schools or classes of any kind? or maybe there were and i just don’t know? i just feel like it could be anb occasion for confusion. i’m not saying it was but it’s possible. and if the parents don’t really understand, they can’t really explain it to their children either.

this just gives off the impression that everyone was catholic due to ignorance of what they were doing. the church could have essentially told them anything they wanted. does anyone know if the homilies were in the vernacular at least?

True, if the parents didn’t get it then it would be difficult to pass it on. But illiterate doesn’t mean they were idiots. And even if they could read, I’m not sure how accessible books were. But people told stories, the scriptures were read, there were homilies and the homilies were not in Latin (I don’t think the readings were, were they?) so there were still ample opportunities to learn. My grandpa couldn’t read and neither of my Catholic grandparents were biblical scholars…now that I think about it my Danish Lutheran grandparents weren’t either. My mom felt that her in-laws were very similar to her parents when it came to faith. So I don’t think the Mass being in Latin is an issue at all.

yeah true i guess. there are still a lot of people who can’t read in the world. i supposed that it goes for the bible as well. not everyone has to be able to read the bible to have faith. i guess the same thing applies to the mass perhaps? you just have to have faith in whoever is reading the scripture and performing the acts and that they’re not leading you astray.

The first time I went to a Divine Liturgy, I was completely lost. It was mostly in Greek, and I couldn’t understand it. Greek has a different alphabet, so I couldn’t read what the hymnal said. But later on, I began appreciating the Divine Liturgy and its ancient nature, even though I couldn’t understand it.

This was probably like it was in the Middle Ages. People began appreciating the Sacrifice of the Mass, even though they couldn’t understand it.

People who attended Latin Mass and didn’t like them mostly say that they didn’t like it because they couldn’t understand it. They didn’t really seem to be focusing on the Sacrificial nature of the Mass, and its ancientness.

why though? they could have easily made it understandable.

I learned my catechism from the Baltimore Catechism, even though Polish was my first language. It’s in a question and answer format and easily memorizeable. There is where I learned the Mass is a recreation of what happened at Calvary. It also says this about Latin:

Q. 566. 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 for the homilies, they were given in the language of most of the people in attendance, although they could be given in Latin as well.

Probably not actually. Remember that the Catholicism permeated the entire society back then. There was a much greater sense of the transcendence of Mass, how it had an ‘other worldly’ character.

A lot of the problems we have right now with catechesis simply comes from people just not caring, that the Church is not a central part of their lives.

As far as the language, when you hear something day in and day out for your entire life, you tend to pick up on it.

My 13 year old daughter prefers to go to our parish’s EF Mass ( our parish offers both forms).

It’s kind of amazing to hear the amount of Latin she has picked up. She’s not going to sit down and re-translate the Summa, ( :stuck_out_tongue: ) but she can tell you what each line of each of the common prayers mean.

And the readings and Gospel are said in both languages, so it’s not like she is missing out on those either.

Non-sequitur. Stop equating not understanding the mass perfectly to not understanding our faith perfectly.

Do I not understand the faith because it’s impossible for me to understand the Trinity? No.
Do I not understand the faith because it’s impossible for me to understand the Incarnation? No.
Do I not understand the faith because it’s impossible for me to understand the Immaculate Conception? No.
Do I not understand the faith because it’s impossible for me to understand the Redemption? No.

These are mysteries of faith; we can know what they are without understanding them, and there is nothing lost because we can’t wrap our heads around them.


The OP is transmitting a 20th/21st century perspective back on all centuries that preceded. Just because we have greater rates of literacy and more developed means with which we are able to study and understand the Mass, does not mean that those before us could not or did not have proper faith. The Op also mimics a contemporary trend of deeming any such faith as “blind.”

Even though people in the Middle Ages were mostly illiterate, there were other ways of catechesis. For example, the stain glassed windows you see in the old churches. They depicted stories from the Bible, the life of Jesus, and the life of the saints with symbols that were more readily understood in their time than perhaps today (“Pictures tell a thousand words”). People also learned from friars who preached in the streets, like St. Dominic and St. Francis, through oral tradition.

While it’s true that there needs to be some understanding for faith, acceptance and trust are also necessary. When I was little, I didn’t fully understand why some parts of the Mass were in Hebrew (Alleluia!), Greek (Kyrie Eleison), or Latin (Agnus Dei), while the rest was in English, but I learned to appreciate and accept the heritage and tradition of our Faith. I would imagine the same would be true in a different age, as the Truth is ageless. :slight_smile:

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