Medieval Liturgy

Hi Catholics,

Quick question. I know that the liturgy up until Vatican II was all in Latin, but the sermons were in the vernacular. Was this the case throughout late antiquity, middle ages, and renaissance or were homilies given in Latin as well? If homilies were given in Latin, how were the lay people suppose to understand the message, given that the vast majority were illiterate and spoke a native tongue?

I am asking, because I was thinking about the beautiful cathedrals/churches, and how the structures exterior and interior told the story of the gospel through art work. This lead me to wonder about the homilies, and whether the people were able to understand them during the time. Bit erratic, but whatever.


Why would a priest ministering to his lay parishioners give a homily in Latin? Unless it was an academic or international environment, a medieval homilist would give the sermon in the vernacular.

I don’t know, because everything else was in latin? It was an honest question.

The homily would have been in the vernacular. Further, this idea the mass was only in Latin pre-Vat II is faulty. There was a pre-tridentine version of the mass, particular to various geographical locations, prior to when Pope Pius V made the Tridentine the ordinary form. See the below link:

Preaching was all but extinct in parish churches in England before the Reformation. Part of the reason that the Prayer Book ordered the Sermon to be preached or read out of the Books of Homilies was that many parish priests at the time of the Reformation had no preaching experience or ability. They would come in, say the Mass in the Latin tongue, and then leave. The people would be occupied the whole time in their own devotions, perhaps only looking up once to gaze at the elevated host.

Saying that there were “pre-Tridentine versions of the mass” is not the same thing as the matter of liturgical language. The so-called “Tridentine Rite” was merely a partIcular edition of the Roman Missal, and the Roman Rite is naturally in Latin. There existed local uses of the Roman Rite (e.g. Sarum), which were also naturally in Latin. Then there were other Western Rites such as the Ambrosian Rite, which is also in Latin.

I wonder if that is a fact or just another fiction of Protestant polemics.

Um, no. Either the homily was in the vernacular, or (more often) it was not done at all.

Try checking the Ormulum for a possible model of medieval English sermons.

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