Why Latin?

Hmmm…the same was said for using Latin for the naming of animals and plants. It is a universal language. I’m sure this was said already because it is the easiest and most obvious of answers. There is no room for argument here. Just like English has become somehwat of a universal language. You could go to any Catholic Church in the world and uderstand the Mass if spoken in Latin (if that is your need and desire). My desire for Latin expresses God and the beauty of the Church on a much higher level spiritually to me personally. My profession embodies agronomy, plant taxonomy and physiology. We use Latin for the sole purpose of unification on a world-wide level. I can go to any country in the world and mention a plant’s name using Latin, and it will be recognized.

Trent suppressed many Western Rites and also removed many things that had been heaped onto the Liturgy in the late Middle Ages.

Latin is the official language of the Latin Church, which is only one of the 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church.

One common complaint from “traditionalists” against the OF is that everything is said aloud and how in the EF, particularly the Low Mass, there is quite a lot that is silent. So, if that be the case then it doesn’t really matter the language since you won’t audibly hear it for it to make a difference.

Good point. But if you raise the volume a little, no doubt you’ll have some screaming “IN ENGLISH (or whatever of 7000 vernaculars) PLEASE!”

True for anatomical parts of the body, many of the chemical symbols, and has been the basis for law in Western civilization as well. Not to mention the Latin alphabet is used for a lot of Western languages and Roman numerals still are used widely.

And try as they will, they’re not going to kill all Latin overnight. :slight_smile:

Heh! “Padre, ripete per favore in italiano!”

“We have begun this homily in Latin, because, as is well known,** it is the official language of** **the Church **and in an evident and effective way expresses its universality and unity.”



St. Peter’s Square
Sunday, 3 September 1978


  1. How long has Latin been used?

The Mass was originally said in Aramaic or Hebrew since these were the languages which Christ and the Apostles spoke, the words amen, alleluia, hosanna and sabbaoth are Aramaic words which were retained and are still found in the Latin Mass of today.

“When the Church had spread to the Gentile world, about the year 100 AD it adopted the Greek tongue for the liturgy because it was the common language of the Roman Empire. Use of the Greek language continued throughout the second and into part of the third centuries. The Kyrie eleison is a remnant of Greek which survives in the Latin Mass. The liturgical symbol IHS is a derivative of the Greek word for Jesus.

“The beginnings of the Roman Mass are found in the writings of St. Justin (150 AD) and St. Hippolytus (215 AD). Latin finally replaced Greek as the official language of the Empire. By the year 250 AD, the Mass was being said in Latin throughout most of the Roman world. This included the cities in North Africa and northern Italy such as Milan. The Church in the western empire adopted Latin for the Mass by 380 AD. The Latin Canon as we know it was finished by 399 AD. Latin ceased to be a vernacular language between the 7th and 9th centuries; however, the Mass continued to be offered in Latin because much of the liturgy had already been established in that language. The Fathers of the Church at that time, saw no reason to adopt new vernacular languages which were developing throughout the known world. This was a fortunate situation, since a language, although ‘dead’, served as a common means of communication throughout the Church, down through the ages. Was this part of God’s plan to preserve His Church until the end of time as He promised?” 1



two conflicting sources, either way the latin mass was good at attracting people for at least five centuries

“When the Church had spread to the Gentile world, about the year 100 AD it adopted the Greek tongue for the liturgy because it was the common language of the Roman Empire. Use of the Greek language continued throughout the second and into part of the third centuries. The Kyrie eleison is a remnant of Greek which survives in the Latin Mass. The liturgical symbol IHS is a derivative of the Greek word for Jesus."

Actually, this is not bad, but it gives the impression that there was a formal church GIRM or something like that which meant a formal decision was made to switch languages from Aramaic to Greek. That is hardly the case.

Hebrew had already gone out of everyday speech in Palestine, and the natives were using Aramaic and Greek. We know that Greek was used even in the synagogs of Galilee (at least intermittently) because many of them had copies of the Septuagint and the Apostles were familiar with it. In spite of it’s relative closeness to Jerusalem, Galilee was in some ways a part of the diaspora for Jews.

Mass seems to have erupted out of the local synagog service with the addition of the Table Blessing used by Jesus at the Last Supper (this point was made by Bouyer and seems to work) and whatever language the local synagog was using would have been what the local Christians would use in their divine worship/Mass.

So in parts of Palestine (and Syria), like Jerusalem, Damascus and Galilee, Aramaic would have been used, elsewhere in those same locales and further afield (like Alexandria, Ephesus and Rome) the language of the synagogs and Christianized Jews was more than likely Greek from the start, there was no decision to change to Greek, just as there was no decision to ‘change’ to the Septuagint.

no, Latin is the official language of the Latin Church

the Byzantine, Chaldean, Alexandrian, Armenian, Syrac and Maronite Churches have never used Latin

Then write the Vatican and complain.

St Louis, Missouri (U.S.A.)
Saturday, 11 November 2006

…The Church in Rome used Greek from the beginning. Only gradually was Latin introduced until the fourth century when the Church in Rome was definitely latinized (cf. A.G. Martimort: The Dialogue between God and his People, in A.G. Martimort, ed.: The Church at Prayer, Collegeville, 1992, I, p. 161-165).

The Roman Rite has spread in most of what was known as Western Europe and the continents evangelized largely by European missionaries in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania. Today, with an easier movement of peoples, there are Catholics of the other rites (roughly identified as the Oriental Churches) in all these continents.

Most rites have an original language which also gives each rite its historical identity. The Roman Rite has Latin as its official language. The typical editions of its liturgical books are to this day issued in Latin.

It is a remarkable phenomenon that many religions of the world, or major branches of them, hold on to a language as dear to them. We cannot think of the Jewish religion without Hebrew. Islam holds Arabic as sacred to the Qur’an. Classical Hinduism considers Sanskrit its official language. Buddhism has its sacred texts in Pali.

It would be superficial to dismiss this tendency as esoteric, or strange, or outmoded, old or medieval. That would be to ignore a fine element of human psychology. In religious matters, people tend to hold on to what they received from the beginning, how their earliest predecessors articulated their religion and prayed. Words and formulae used by earlier generations are dear to those who today inherit from them. While a religion is of course not identified with a language, how it understands itself can have an affective link with a particular linguistic expression in its classical period of growth.

  1. Advantages of Latin in the Roman Liturgy

As was mentioned above, by the fourth century, Latin had replaced Greek as the official language of the Church of Rome. Prominent among the Latin Fathers of the Church who wrote extensively and beautifully in Latin were St Ambrose (339-397), St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), St Leo the Great († 461) and Pope Gregory the Great (540-604). Pope Gregory, in particular, brought Latin to a great height in the sacred liturgy, in his sermons and in general Church use.

The Roman Rite Church showed extraordinary missionary dynamism. This explains why a greater part of the world has been evangelized by heralds of the Latin Rite. Many European languages which we regard as modern today have roots in Latin, some more than others. Examples are Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese and French. But even English and German do borrow from Latin.
The Popes and the Roman Church have found Latin very suitable for many reasons. It fits a Church which is universal, a Church in which all peoples, languages and cultures should feel at home and no one is regarded as a stranger.

Moreover, the Latin language has a certain stability which daily spoken languages, where words change often in shades of meaning, cannot have. An example is the translation of the Latin “propagare”. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples when it was founded in 1627 was called “Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide”. But at the time of the Second Vatican Council many modern languages use the word “propaganda” in the sense in which we say “political propaganda”. Therefore, there is a preference in the Church today to avoid the expression “de propaganda Fide”, in favour of “the Evangelization of Peoples”.

Latin has the characteristic of words and expressions retaining their meaning generation after generation. This is an advantage when it comes to the articulation of our Catholic faith and the preparation of Papal and other Church Documents. Even the modern universities appreciate this point and have some of their solemn titles in Latin.

Blessed Pope John XXIII in his Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, issued on 22 February 1962, gives these two reasons and adds a third. The Latin language has a nobility and dignity which are not negligible (cf. Veterum Sapientia, nn. 5, 6, 7). We can add that Latin is concise, precise and poetically measured.

Is it not admirable that people, especially well-trained clerics, can meet in international gatherings and be able to communicate at least in Latin? More importantly, is it a small matter that 1 million young people could meet in the World Youth Day Convention in Rome in 2000, in Toronto in 2002 and in Cologne in 2005, and be able to sing parts of the Mass, and especially the Credo, in Latin? Theologians can study the original writings of the early Latin Fathers and of the Scholastics without tears because these were written in Latin.

It is true that there is a tendency, both in the Church and in the world at large, to give more attention today to modern languages, like English, French and Spanish, which can help one secure a job quicker in the modern employment market or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their country.

But the exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI to the students of the Faculty of Christian and Classical Letters of the Pontifical Salesian University of Rome, at the end of the Wednesday General Audience of 22 February 2006, retains its validity and relevance. And he pronounced it in Latin! Here is my free English translation: “Quite rightly our Predecessors have urged the study of the great Latin language so that one may learn better the saving doctrine that is found in ecclesiastical and humanistic disciplines. In the same way we urge you to cultivate this activity so that as many as possible may have access to this treasure and appreciate its importance” (in L’Osservatore Romano, 45, 23 February 2006, p. 5).

Latin BECAME the official language of the ROMAN Rite. Eventually. It was not always so. It was NEVER the official language of the CATHOLIC Church. Check your history.

Yes, I see what you mean. Valid points. On the other hand, Catholic liturgy has NEVER been celebrated uniformly in ONE and only one language. That’s another valid consideration.

Any country? I’m curious, never having been to the Far East…would such be recognizable as you claim in China, Japan, Korea, etc.? And even if it would, the language of science is not determinative for the language of faith and liturgy.

We have no way of knowing if it was good at attracting people, that’s just your opinion. The fact that it was used for the Roman Rite is completely independent of whether or not such usage was good at attracting people. Especially when most people didn’t know or understand Latin, which was the case for a large part of history when Latin was the predominant language used in the western Rites.

Interestingly, a major part of central Europe was evangelized in Slavonic, which was commonly understood in the region at the time (9th - 10th centuries).

The missions of Ss Cyril and Methodios were conducted in Slavonic, and that was the language of the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom which they used. Later many of these places (such as southern Poland, Slovakia, Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia) were gradually transferred into the Latin Catholic church and the Latin Mass was introduced, but these were already Christian peoples. Today that would be many millions of Catholics whose pagan ancestors were evangelized in the vernacular of the day into a Mass that was not in Latin.

The process of transferring rites was apparently not fully completed, there were still many Catholics in Croatia who worshiped in the Traditional Latin rite/Tridentine Mass in the language of Slavonic (by now archaic) up until Vatican Council II. So I guess that would have been the TSM :smiley:

You are correct sir in that the language of science is not a determinative for the language of faith and liturgy. I have worked with representatives from each of the countries you spoke of however, and all use Latin when it comes to plants and animals. My point was only that it is an accepted universal language.

So fact confusing. Please reread Veterum Sapientia and what Cardinal Arinze said back in 2006.

In the West there were some exceptions, yes. Vernacular has its advantages (for missionary work, as an example.) But Latin is still the official language of the Church. Please reread Cardinal Arinze’s address.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.