Why did Mass used to be Latin?

I was just wondering, why did Mass used to be in Latin?That doesnt really make sense because nobody could understand it.Latin is certainly a beautiful language, and its nice to have one every now and then, but what was the point of always having Mass in a language you couldnt speak?Jesus can understand ALL languages easily, but the congregation would understand the venacular better,so why did it used to be only Latin?

Bl. John XXIII’s encyclical Veterum Sapientia outlines some of the advantages of Latin.

“Back then” Latin was THE language of the people of Europe, it is similar to how English basically the “official” world language today.

Why Latin was preserved was for multiple reasons, most importantly the Roman/European heritage. There are good arguments for why Mass should be in Latin or English and that is what Second Vatican Council was looking into, the problem is people mistook this to mean demonizing and throwing out Latin (which is virtually what happened) yet the Council never intended that.


I cut and paste this from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest web site:

Addressing some misconceptions:

The Classical/Traditional Latin Mass is not a product of the 16th-century Council of Trent.

The history of the Traditional Latin Mass, whose latest version dates from 1962, traces back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Mass went through organic, gradual development throughout the centuries. The first written record of the Prayers of the Latin Mass is found in a 6th-century manuscript (Leonine Sacramentary). The Roman Latin Mass was codified and made universal in the 16th century by Pope St. Pius V because of the liturgical confusion then reigning. As this codification was part of the measures taken by the Council of Trent, the Traditional Latin Mass has often been called “Tridentine Mass.” After this, as before, small, incremental changes were made to the Missal (book containing texts and prayer for Mass) in the centuries following, the latest being made by Pope John XXIII in 1962. In 1969 Pope Paul VI promulgated a new Mass (Novus Ordo Missae) designed by an appointed committee, based on the Traditional Mass but with substantial changes to it, particularly in the Offertory prayers.

I grew up in Philadelphia. Lots of 1st generation immigrants. A given parish could have Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Spanish, later even Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese people. So which ‘vernacular’ Mass would you offer?

Think about it. Most of us had missals. . . I still have three myself, one English/Latin, one German/Latin, and one French/Latin. There were Spanish/Latin, Polish/Latin, even Italian/Latin (there isn’t MUCH difference but there is some), etc. missals.

All of those groups above could go into church with their missals, read the ‘Latin’ on the one side and whatever ‘vernacular’ language was their language on the other. . .and understand.

One “Latin” language Mass could be followed by all the above.
How many Italians can follow along at a Vietnamese Mass? How many Germans or Americans at a French or Spanish Mass?

Having a Latin Mass was more universal, catholic and welcoming to ALL groups than the current rather divisive practice of ‘one’ usually ‘majority’ Mass today in many larger and more diverse areas.

The Catholic Church is 2000 years old. Latin and Greek were just about the only languages available in Europe and around the Mediterranean. (Also Hebrew).

If you went further to the east, there were various versions of Persian, and then Hindi. Each tribe had/ has its own language. Urdu, Pasto, Bengali, etc.

English is a recent innovation. Sort of an upstart, language-wise.

And the way things are going, the English language may not last much longer. Looks like Arabic will take over for English in many countries.

One objection I often hear about th use of Latin is that it is a “dead” language. But what’s bad about that? A “dead” language does not evolve. Think of all the dialects of English that exist. Some people in the US have difficulty speaking with other people in the US who are also speaking in English. This goes for most any country you can name. Now look back at English texts from just a few centuries past. How easily can you read Shakespearean English?

Latin does not evolve.

Latin is Latin.

It was great…we each had a book…and in this book was the Mass…on the left side of the page was the English translation…and on the right the Latin. The English one was quite adult and beautful…one could actually glance back and forth and understand both languages…how shocking…also it was shocking to know that no matter what nation one attended Mass…one could always understand what was going on and thus be a good apostle.I always felt I was somehow in harmony with my brothers and sisters in Christ who ,back in the dark days , were praying this very way in a dark cave hiding from the pagan authorities…candles flickering…Latin phrases with their lovely eb and flo…yes like yesterdays vino…the Latin mass was and is a lovely way to worship …Nino

The reasons why the Roman Rite of Mass used to be in Latin were expounded very well by others here. Plainly it was because Latin was the “Vernacular” language of Rome. It is in Rome that the Liturgy of the West developed.

However when the Latin Language ceased to be a “Living Language” the use of Latin was retained by the Church due to the language not subject to the changes living languages naturally go through. This insured that what was said was true.

Take for example the English language. 100 years ago if you asked someone “What’s up?” they would get a totally different meaning of those words than you or I do today. The same with “Hot Dog”. Our English language is always changing, evolving and will be totally unrecognizable in 1000 years, possibly becoming a totally different language then.

The reason why the Roman Liturgy was in Latin is because it was the vernacular language during the time the Roman Rite of Mass naturally developed under the guidance and fostering of the Holy Spirit.

The reason why the Roman Liturgy remained mostly all in Latin up until 1965 was to protect the Sacred Liturgy from the envasion of any heresy, any confusion and any false doctrine.

And also, the current Novus Ordo Mass Book- comes from Rome entirely in Latin. ICEL translates it into English- supposedly- the last time I looked “Et cum spiritu tuo” still means “And with your spirit” (That is about to change- you will see why in the near future - we will no longer say "And also with you but “And with your spirit”)


Take the word --gay. At one time-- it was used to mean happy. Now–well its taken on a totally different meaning.

when the Mass was first translated from Greek into Latin it was because Latin had become the vernacular in the West, and Greek was no longer used by the common people, or even taught to most people. Everyone did understand it, that is why the Latin translation of the Bible is called the Vulgate, because it was in the vulgar or common language of the day. Latin remained the language of the West until the deveopment of modern European languages, which incidentally paralleled the growth of modern European kingdoms, states and nations. When these languages gradually replaced Latin as the vernacular of the people, vernacular translations of those portions of the bible most necessary for preaching and instruction were made (by the Church before the Reformers got the big idea).

Until the middle of the last century Latin was part of the education of every literate person, so it is less than a hundred years that most liberally educated people could understand enough Latin to follow the Mass. Also one purpose of insisting that Catholic children attend church schools was that they learn enough Latin to assist at Mass (especially to serve) and “learning your prayers” meant learning the common prayers as well as the prayers of the Mass in Latin. The demise of latin Mass also parallels the demise of Catholic education.

Well, it looks like I’ll be the one to say it:

It still is Latin if you want the original stuff, because the modern day Novus Ordo Missae is only based on the Traditional Latin Mass. There were many changes in 1969. Read my post #4

The way I see it, the Latin Mass is the real stuff, because it‘s the expression of God that traces back to the beginning of Christianity. Not the Latin language, because it could be used to communicate just about anything. However, Christ is the revelation of God, the Word of God, and God’s expression and revelation to man. Therefore, a Latin language Bible would be the equivalent of the Latin side of Last Gospel in the 1962 Missal. But again, it’s not the Latin language, it’s God’s expression and revelation to man in Latin.


When Pope St. Gregory the Great ordered Mass to be celebrated in Latin–something taken out of context by Protestant controversialists–Latin had become the vernacular of Rome. There were still conservatives who wanted to preserve the “unchangeable language” of Greek for liturgical purposes.

And apparently, until the time of Pius I or so, large stretches of the Liturgy, if not all of it, were in Aramaic and Hebrew. Remember the original Christian community of Rome was largely Jewish.

For a laugh, go here:


Unknown to many people the Roman Rite (with some local differences) was celebrated in Slavonic before Vatican 2 in some dioceses of Croatia.

I view this as one of the distinct advantages of Latin. Being a “dead” language it is now immutable, and hence a constant reference point. For example, when we’re not sure about something a Church document says in the vernacular, one doesn’t turn to a vernacular dictionary but refers to the edition typica, the Latin. Like you say, “Latin is Latin”. :thumbsup:

I also like the notion, verbalised in Veterum Sapientia, that Latin does not unjustly “favour” a particular modern-day civilisation, unlike, say, the anglo/americo-centricism seen in the use of English.

“The history of the Traditional Latin Mass, whose latest version dates from 1962, traces back to the beginnings of Christianity.”, then…"The first written record of the Prayers of the Latin Mass is found in a 6th-century manuscript "

umm, the beginnings of Christianity are just a bit earlier than the 6th century, so how do you justify the first statement with the second? It is doubtful the earliest language of Christianity was Latin.

I’m jsut a visiting Protestant looking for the real stuff. Here is their Web Page with a “Contact Us” link if you have questions:


While you are at it, I would appreciate finding out how I can get their Propers Sheets for the Traditional Latin Mass? I like to study the Epistle and Gospel before I go to Mass. The sheets have their name and logo on the bottom and the priest brings them out a few minutes before Sunday Mass.


You can buy a Geordie Bible in Newcastle. Geordies have thier own distinctive dialect. However it is a joke present. No Newcastle priest would think of using it for the readings at Mass.

Now until the growth of the centralised nation states in the sixteenth century, most people had exactly that attitude to their native tongue. It was the language of the nursery and the farmyard, not something you would write a legal document, or an academic work, or an official letter to the King in. Similalry, not somethign you would use for worship.


While you are at the Home Page click on the picture of St. Margaret Mary. That’s the church were I’m learning about the Tridentine Mass. It’s a beautiful place, and has a Latin Mass every day.


If you go to angelqueen.org/missal/ you will find links to the propers, which include the Epistle and Gospel, for all Sundays.

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