The language of the liturgy


In the Novus Ordo Mass, why do some parishes seem to randomly choose which parts are said in Latin and others in the vernacular? For example, at my parish, one Sunday we will sing the Agnus Dei in Latin, and the next week it will be in English. Why the lack of uniformity? Why the arbitrary change in format?


Short answer, because they can.

Latin is the language of the Roman Rite, but the vernacular is allowed.
However the Church has encouraged the use of the Latin Propers (i.e Agnus Dei, Sanctus) as a noble practice.

Ultimately, it is up to the Priest, who may delegate the duties of choice to the music director, who may make decisions based on the experience of the rest of the musicians.


At my college’s Newman Center, for instance, we normally use English, but switch to Latin chant for Lent.


Vatican II - Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

    1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
  1. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

The normative for the Church, but parts (or even the entirety may be said in the vernacular)

  1. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

That said, there should be sufficient practice of the common parts of the Mass that the faithful are familiar with them.


In April 1974 Pope Paul VI sent to every bishop in the world a booklet of some of the simplest selections of Gregorian Chant, much of it drawn from the Graduale Romanum. This booklet, called Jubilate Deo, was intended as a “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant”. It is, in other words, an official Latin “core repertoire” for the Roman Rite. It was prepared, the Pope said, in order “to make it easier for Christians to achieve unity and spiritual harmony with their brothers and with the living tradition of the past. Hence it is that those who are trying to improve the quality of congregational singing cannot refuse Gregorian chant the place which is due to it” (Voluntati Obsequens).

Pope Paul VI gave permission for the selections in Jubilate Deo to be freely reprinted. The booklet was accompanied by a letter in which the Holy Father made this request of the bishops:

“Would you therefore, in collaboration with the competent diocesan and national agencies for the liturgy, sacred music and catechetics, decide on the best ways of teaching the faithful the Latin chants of Jubilate Deo and of having them sing them…. You will thus be performing a new service for the Church in the domain of liturgical renewal” (Voluntati Obsequens).

Jubilate Deo contains simple chant settings in Latin of the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Agnus Dei. It also provides musical settings for the dialogues between priest and people, such as before the Preface, and the Ite Missa est, the response to the Prayer of the Faithful, and others.



I would personally be in favor of a relatively fixed ratio of Latin to vernacular for OF Masses. Ie, I think it is generally disingenuous and defeats one of the Conciliar themes–“participation” properly understood–to switch languages a lot. I have no problem whatsoever with Latin–obviously–but I think that in OF Masses, it should be used for the same parts over and over again, and the vernacular for the same parts over and over again.

That is not to say that different parishes can’t have different proportions of languages. I just mean that if a parish wants to do the ordinary in Latin… then do the ordinary in Latin! Or if they want to sing the Pater noster, then sing the Pater noster. Or whatever. Don’t do the Pater noster one week, the whole ordinary one week next month, and then only the Agnus Dei on Ordinary Sundays 4, 25 and 30, except in odd numbered years not divisible by 3.


At my parish, we switch from English to Latin at Advent, and Lent. Last Advent, the Gloria was added to the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus.

This was a compromise between Father and some parishioners, who want no Latin at all, and were quite vocal about their objection.


Just a corrective notation; the Propers of the Mass are NOT the Agnus Dei, Kyrie., etc. Those are known as the Ordinary of the Mass. The Propers are those parts that change daily and/or for the season.(Introit, Gradual., etc.)

" " :slight_smile:


I know I seem to be in the minority here but I love it when we mix things up --including the language of the Ordinary-- at my parish for no apparent reason other than that we can. What can I say? Some days I feel bored and want some variety. :o

I would agree that it probably makes the most sense make changes when the liturgical seasons change. That gives the pariah some time to learn/remember the setting.

But there are some days that I think people need to be shaken out of their complacency just because. Language can be one of those ways.


Thanks, corsair!

I realized too late to edit that I used the wrong term. :o


=christus_vincit;11703392]In the Novus Ordo Mass, why do some parishes seem to randomly choose which parts are said in Latin and others in the vernacular? For example, at my parish, one Sunday we will sing the Agnus Dei in Latin, and the next week it will be in English. Why the lack of uniformity? Why the arbitrary change in format?

Its a legitimate OPTION:)

Normally a parish has members of who LOVE Latin and those who dislike it. It;s a balancing act; trying to please everyone:D


Just for Lent? Apparently it’s a penitential practice!:stuck_out_tongue:


Even without the Latin, it’s a tough balancing act. It’s not uncommon for a few Anglophones to respond in English at a Polish Mass, for example. As my pastor keeps saying this vernacular thing is certain to irritate a lot of people, especially in bilingual and trilingual parishes.


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