Scripture readings throughout the ages

I’m curious. At Traditional Latin Masses, are the scripture readings in Latin or the vernacular? How about before there were Bibles in the vernacular? Did the layman typically know enough spoken church Latin to understand the scriptures as they were read, or would this all have to be explained during the homliy (which I assume would have been in the vernacular… correct me if I’m wrong).

I’d also be curious to hear about how this is done in the Eastern rites.

Thank you.

Latin.

It was encouraged to expound it in the homily. But it was not of necessity that the sermon should be based on the readings of the Mass- it could be on another topic.

The reason I ask is that I’d like more information in light of the argument sometimes made that the Catholic Church “kept the Bible from the common people.” I don’t think that is the case, but I would like to know what efforts the Church put into giving the faithful a deep knowledge of scripture. I’ve read about stained glass windows giving pictures to explain some things to those who can’t read, and that’s cool, but there are a lot more than 1,000 words in the Bible. So I’d like to know more.

The argument that the Church “kept the bible from the common people” is actually of a more recent vintage. Bibles were chained in the churches because of their expense. Printing wasn’t invented until the 15th century so, prior to that, only the rich could afford a bible. The bible was in Latin until Martin Luther did a translation into German and, about the same time, translations were being done into English.

Deacon Ed

Well the Bible is not heard only in the liturgy…and vernacular Bibles were also there. But I think there was always a fear that people would be lead astray by interpreting Scripture as they saw fit rather than according to the guidance of the Church. At the same time there was also the thing of faulty translations: which is why one hand Pope Leo XIII exalted Scripture but also condemned the Bible Societies.

Liturgy-wise, the better educated would have understood Latin but not everyone. For a long time, before the bilingual missals were allowed, there was in popular devotional vernacular manuals either prayers to say while the priest was reading the Epistle, or a reading from Scripture to be read instead (like if you were mediating on the Passion, it would be concerning that, if on the BVM, then concerning that, and so on).

I would have to check, but I think there was some sort of regulation at the first Council of Blatimore for vernacular reading of Scripture in the sermon after Sunday Mass.

Well the Bible is not heard only in the liturgy…and vernacular Bibles were also there. But I think there was always a fear that people would be lead astray by interpreting Scripture as they saw fit rather than according to the guidance of the Church. At the same time there was also the thing of faulty translations: which is why one hand Pope Leo XIII exalted Scripture (see for example, Providentissimus Deus) but also condemned the Bible Societies.But certainly there were quite a few approved vernacular translations.

Liturgy-wise, the better educated would have understood Latin but not everyone. For a long time, before the bilingual missals were allowed, there was in popular devotional vernacular manuals either prayers to say while the priest was reading the Epistle, or a reading from Scripture to be read instead (like if you were mediating on the Passion, it would be concerning that, if on the BVM, then concerning that, and so on).

I would have to check for the exact wording, but I think there was some sort of regulation at the first Council of Baltimore for vernacular reading of Scripture in the sermon after Sunday Mass.

You have to keep in mind that most of the people could not read in the middle ages, and that, before the printing press, all the Bibles in western civilization were hand copied painstainkingly by monks working in candlelight.

You also have to keep in mind that the Church is charged with the responsibility to prevent error, and that the current state of mistranslations and misunderstandings is part of what the Church wanted to prevent by protecting the Sacred Scriptures.

That being said, I think there were times when there was a prejudice that the people were to ignorant and unschooled to grasp the meaning of the scriptures adequately.

Yes, and, seeing where this was going, the Trent council fathers placed a ban of any translations of the Mass, both propers and common, into the vernacular.

But you’re right about the expense. I believe it wasn’t until Gutenberg came along that Scriptures then became available to many.

Well, yeah. I understand that it wouldn’t have been possible for everyone to be literate and be able to afford a bible. But I don’t understand the value of reading the scriptures at mass in Latin. Before there were approved translations in the vernacular, I guess it was unavoidable, though.

That would have been because they were written in Latin.

There were vernacular translations of some parts of the Bible s early as the 8th century. Remember that it took Jerome many decades to translate the Bible into Latin. Translation was not an easy task and would have required an almost total committment.

Most of the books available at the time were written in Latin & Greek, so anyone who had an education knew how to read Latin. Why would they want to write books in the vernacular when people who could read, all read Latin?

Like I said, until there were translations in the vernacular it was unavoidable. But can’t you see the value scripture readings at mass being in the language the laity - especially the illiterate - can understand? Might that value not be enough to give priority to translation, or at least to explination? (And in the terms of explination, maybe great efforts were made to that end, and I’ve heard some examples, but I’d like to hear about more) I don’t know, maybe it’d be nice to think most Christians in history got a better education than I did. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t know the history behind all this, but I don’t think it hurts to hear/read both the Latin Vulgate and the vernacular. In fact, it may reinforce Christ’s message, which is a good thing.

Every Latin Mass I have ever been to the priest re-reads the Scripture passages in English when he goes to the pulpit for the homily. I could only assume this would be the case prior to the 1500s. The people had to hear the Word of God somehow, and 90% of them couldn’t read.

The priest might not of had a direct translation from Latin, but he could paraphrase in his homily. It is probably the case as it is now with most Catholics. They don’t know direct Scripture verses, but they could probably tell you most of the stories out of the Bible.

You can buy a copy of the “Geordie Bible”. It is only bought as a gag gift. No one would think of using it for worship.

Now in the Middle Ages most people had exactly that attitude to the vernacular. The common tongue was the language of the farmyard and nursery. Travel ten miles and the language would be barely comprehensible. If you wanted to write anything serious or dignified, such as a contract, you would do it in Latin.

That changed with the growth of the centralised nation states in the sixteenth century. Nowhere was the extension of state power over the church more obvious than in England. Services in English were a symbol of the State at prayer.

TLM: Latin

Bibles:

The Latin Vulgate that held firm for about 8 centuries. Latin became the accepted tongue of the Roman Catholic Church. The Bible except among the educated , was infrequently identified with laity. The majority who were illiterate, did not, in any great sense, yearn for the Bible and the educated minority were disinclined for great radical change. And so during that period, translation was not effected. The first translation of the Bible into English is often accredited to John Wycliff. But there had been parts of the bible translated into English centuries before Wycliff. Approaching the end of the 7th century, the Venerable Bede began a translation into Old English (Anglo-Saxon). In addition, Aldhelm (AD 640–709), translated the Book of Psalms and parts scriptures into Old English. Also , Aelfric of Wessex (in the 11th century) translated good part of the Old Testament into Old English.

Two replies. First: I’m sure the people who only spoke one non-Latin languge didn’t think of it as silly. Second: was a given common tongues really so differnet from place to place?

But can’t you see the value scripture readings at mass being in the language the laity - especially the illiterate - can understand?

You must not forget that the readings are part of the praise of God in the liturgy. So when the priest reads the readings and the Gospel, he is also praying, as it were, with the proclamation of these words, glorifying Him. They’re not merely a didactic tool.

That’s why the readings are not only for the people, but also (and traditionally even more importantly) directed to God in praise and worship. That’s probably what you wanted to know…

Malcolm didn’t mean “silly”, he meant “not fit for use in more sophisticated contexts” like the liturgy.

As to the differences between common tongues: it certainly depends on the country and the geography, but there certainly are countries (the German-language countries come to mind) where linguistic differences are quite vast, though these are certainly not that different every ten miles or so (except in very mountainous areas like the Tyrol here in Austria, where each valley has its own dialect).

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