Why did the Catholic Church wait 500 years?

I remember when some of the changes to the liturgy occurred after Vatican II and was thinking about how Catholics must have felt when the Mass was said in the vernacular instead of Latin in the 1960’s. What I am not clear about is why did it take so long for worship to be in the language understood by the people? What was the rationale for using Latin well after that language was no longer even spoken by 99.9% of the world?

Martin Luther retained the Latin Mass but quickly translated the Mass and Bible into the native language of the people of Germany so that everyone could understand. I believe all the other Reformers followed Luther and vernacular became the norm in Protestantism. But it was approximately 500 years later that the Catholic Church joined the rest of Christendom in praying the liturgy in the language that was understood by the laity.

Any thoughts?

You might be surprised to learn that the decision to allow a vernacular Mass in the 1960s was not universally popular. Many people were upset by the change and some left the Church altogether.

I suspect doing it doing the upheaval of the Protestant revolt would have been unwise.

I’ll bet you can find the Church’s own answer by reading some of the documents of the Council of Trent. Check the Vatican website: www.vatican.va

OK, I told myself if I could spare a minute to look for it, and amazing I found it that quickly!

From the 22nd Session of the Council of Trent

On not celebrating the Mass every where in the vulgar tongue; the mysteries of the Mass to be explained to the people.
Although the mass contains great instruction for the faithful people, nevertheless, it has not seemed expedient to the Fathers, that it should be every where celebrated in the vulgar tongue. Wherefore, the ancient usage of each church, and the rite approved of by the holy Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all churches, being in each place retained; [Page 158] and, that the sheep of Christ may not suffer hunger, nor the little ones ask for bread, and there be none to break it unto them, the holy Synod charges pastors, and all who have the cure of souls, that they frequently, during the celebration of mass, expound either by themselves, or others, some portion of those things which are read at mass, and that, amongst the rest, they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice, especially on the Lord’s days and festivals.

Full Text

If I had the option, I’d attend Latin Mass 9 times out of 10. Don’t get me wrong: I like the Mass in any language, but Latin is beautiful. People from any culture can appreciate beauty, which is one of the Divine Names. I’m far from an authority, but I think that is part of the reason that the Church was hesitant to have Mass in the vernacular.

That, I can tell you in one word: TRADITION!


“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Those are my casual thoughts on the subject, without getting deep into theology… which I’m sure I could do.

Timeless tradition? People who would quickly toss away tradition will readily change anything to suit their whims. Like transubstantiation= consubstantiation= bread as a symbol= no bread at all! No bread, no Jesus. It all starts with throwing away tradition. :twocents:

That doesn’t seem like much of an explanation… “It didn’t seem expedient…thus, explain it to the people.” Why didn’t the fathers find it expedient? Why not simply translate it into the vernacular?

Actually, Latin was the vernacular in ancient times. Latin is still the official language for Latin Rite Catholics, that is the Western Church. Vatican II did not toss it out and replace it with the vernacular for our liturgies, rather it said that vernacular could be used but Latin was to be retained as the primary language.

Latin, now that it is a dead language, does not change meaning like living languages do. Therefore the documents and liturgies of the Latin Rite are in Latin.

Besides this, Catholics had missals with the vernacular translation side-by-side with the Latin. And the Church had a German language Bible before Luther was born.

So, your premise that the Church “waited” 500 years to bring the vernacular to the people is simply incorrect. :slight_smile:

I was there before and after Vatican II. I did not love God less after. I had no problem with the Latin Mass since that was the way the Church said the Mass.You could get a missal with the Latin words and the English right next to each other. I knew what I was saying. I loved the Latin Mass.

Pope Benedict:

"This fear is unfounded. In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The last version of the Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgical celebration. It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

“As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted. At the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal. Probably it was thought that it would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved, case by case, on the local level. Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood. This was especially the case in countries where the liturgical movement had provided many people with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical celebration. We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”


You are also missing entirely the idea of a sacred language that both sets off worship from the workaday world and that, as Della pointed out, allows for worship to remain unchanged.

Also, worship is not, ultimately, about “the people” and whether they understand the words or not, but is all about God, who certainly understands the prayers, even in Latin :wink:

I would now prefer Latin. I learned Latin in high school, back when they took the teaching of languages more seriously. Vatican documents are published in several languages, including Latin. I tend to think of the Latin version as the “original” version, closest in meaning to what was intended . . . even if it’s not. :slight_smile:

There is, I think, a misapprehension that because the Mass was in Latin therefore believers who were not Latin speakers did not understand it. Liturgy and Catechesis are inseparable. Every baptised and confirmed Catholic was catechised into not only the faith but also the liturgy. Arguably many medieval or pre-Conciliar lay Catholics understood it rather better than some of their modern counterparts.

In any event the Council did not introduce Mass in the vernacular. Its intention was to continue to have it in Latin but out loud and with the priest facing the people, it was only subsequently that the vernacular Mass, which the Council permitted if it did not encourage, became the norm. In a sense it didn’t really matter what language the Tridentine Mass was celebrated in since much of it was said silently or in a low voice inaudible to the congregation.

It is a difficult balance trying to hold the tension between God as present everywhere and in everything on the one hand and a Sacred Space where we can approach or apprehend Him as an Awesome God of power and Majesty. The Old Mass was a celebration of the Almighty One and when done well created a space where Christians in silence and reverence could Adore Him in His Greatness. The Novus Ordo Mass goes for a more intimate inclusive approach. Something has been gained and something has been lost.

Just curious; did the first Japanese and Chinese converts to Catholicism in their respective countries have to learn Latin prior to the 60’s?

Latin used to be part of school curricula. Some Catholic schools still teach Latin and the students that study Latin (and Greek) tend to get higher verbal scores on their SAT exams because the understand the origins of words and even when they are faced with a word they’ve never seen before they can still figure out its meaning.

The Bible has been translated to many languages over the years so more people can read it in their native language. However, translations are never perfect and it’s best to read the original texts when possible.

The idea that the Catholic Church didn’t want people to read the Bible is silly. The Catholic Church put together the Bible so why would they be afraid that its own people would read its own book? Bibles were chained because they were extremely expensive to make and they didn’t want them to get stolen.

The Latin Mass was used because it was traditional (people had done so for many centuries) and so that it would be the same everywhere in the world. One could go to a Catholic Church in any country and hear the same readings. Today the readings are the same around the world but the languages are different. And many areas do still offer the traditional Latin Mass.

I also don’t believe that nobody understood the Latin Mass. After attending mass for years and years from childhood, Latin was the language spoken at Mass and people would understand what it meant. And just because it was no longer spoken as a native language doesn’t mean that students didn’t study Latin in school. Especially in Europe (where students study multiple languages from elementary school) and in centuries past.

They did learn the Latin but I believe, if memory serves, they were given an indult to use their vernaculars because the Oriental languages are so different from Western languages, which have Latin or Greek for their base, making Latin quite a hurdle for them. I’m sure someone has more details about it. :slight_smile:

I am a convert who never saw Latin Mass before converting, but love it and would prefer it.

One thing about the Mass verywhere in Latin…if you had your specific language translation Missal with you, or if you knew Latin, as many did…at least as it pertained to mass, you could go to Mass anywhere in the world and understand it. Added to the “universal” Church

There can be a lot of reasons for this.
But your main question seems to be why did it not change as fewer and fewer people spoke Latin. As I understand it, the fact that it was no longer in common usage actually made it more desirable to the Church since the language no longer “evolved”. In our common languages, words can change meaning over time. This does not happen in Latin. The Church STILL produces it’s documents in Latin for this reason.
Of course missals were produced with both the Latin and the English in them so there really wasn’t a problem following along.

Another advantage of the Latin was that one could go into any Catholic mass anywhere and hear the same prayers said the same way.
I remember my dad commenting on this idea back when they changed to English…He had been in WW II and attended masses in France, Belgium, and Germany. Never a question of what was going on. There is an appeal and a comfort in that.

I also think that, as the other Churches dropped Latin, it might have become something of a “badge” - an identifier - though that’s just my opinion.

Those are my thoughts on the matter.


Hebrew continued to be used as the liturgical language of the Jews even though it ceased to be used as the verbacular before Christ’s time. If non-vernacular language in the liturgy was good enough for Jesus. It’s good enough for me.

The Latin, even when not the original, is the official version. All other languages are merely translations.


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