Why latin?

I am a member of a parish that practices the Extraordinary Rite. And I love it! I enjoy the old calendar, the words like vespers and candelmas, and more deeply, I enjoy the deep orthodoxy I find from the worship, and the connection with Christianity in older times. It is a place where Christ feeds me.

My wife does not find the Extraordinary Rite at all fulfilling, so we go to an Ordinary Rite together, and I go to the Extraordinary Rite early in the morning. As these are both Roman, I feel well connected.

But my wife did ask why so much in the Extraordinary Rite has to be in latin. I can answer because it sounds better and looks better that way, but I cannot find any deeper reason. I feel as though one exists, and should exist, to justify the use of latin.

Could someone help me out in this?

It was originally changed from Greek to Latin because Latin was the vernacular. It remained in Latin as that language was common in all parts of the world where the Church was (in addition to a diversity of tongues in those places). It is also seen as good to have a sacred language set aside for worship–like Jews do with Hebrew and Muslims do with Arabic. Likewise, a common language was a way to display unity–and using a “dead” language meant no one culture would be favored over any other.

Of course, there are also arguments for the vernacular, but those are the one’s for the Latin I am aware of.

For more reading, I suggest this encyclical by Bl. John XXIII:

Veterum Sapientia (On the Promotion of the Study of Latin) Apostolic Constitution, February 22, 1962

I very much like this point.

Why should it be seen as a good?

Because it takes it out of the “profane” world. It draws a distinction between everyday life in the world and the Liturgy–which is not of this world. It therefore lifts the mind to the sacred more easily–we realize that something here should be treated with more reverence than other things.

Ideally, we should be able to see the sacred in the liturgy regardless of the language, but most of us need help. A sacred language can help put some us in the right frame of mind.

Because it’s timeless, and its use is restricted to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and other Church business), thus it is unchanging and not subject to vulgar additions that reflect any given time period.

I can see that.

It might even be able to be articulated as a part of the importance of division between the sacred and the profane.

Thank you.

Not to mention the changing nature of words. Just look at the change in meanings of the words “pray” and “worship” in English of the past couple hundred years or so (and which cause a considerable amount of headaches when Catholics and Protestants converse). Latin is not subject to changes in word meaning.

Count me among those in favor of having such a language set aside for worship.

First of all, we have to stop looking at the use of Latin from a purely aesthetic perspective. A good resource for the use of Latin is the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia by Blessed John XXIII.

Me too. And now I know better how to defend why.

Some advantages of Latin:

  1. The liturgy can’t be subverted by inaccurate or banal translations such as the English translation we’ve suffered with for the past 40+ years.

  2. Priests can’t ad-lib the prayers of the Mass in Latin. Or, if they do, nobody notices, which denys the priests the ego boost they get from being different, cutting-edge, etc.

  3. Parishes would not segregate themselves into separate Masses according to language. I think such segregation is a very divisive aspect of parish life today.

  4. Vatican II calls Catholic sacred music “a treasure of inestimable value”. The vast bulk of Catholic sacred music, written over more than 1500 years, is in Latin. And that includes all of the truly great Catholic sacred music. It does not matter if a piece in Latin was written in France or Italy or England or Mexico. But with the rise of multiple vernacular communities, each one has had to invent a new sacred music tradition and they cannot for the most part “borrow” music from each other. Which is more likely to give praise to God and sanctify the people, 1500 years of Catholic music which is universal, vs. 40 years of music which is regional, disposable and a child of this age? Furthermore, with every new generation and every new vernacular translation, much of the vernacular music must be re-written or simply thrown out, so there can never again arise a great tradition of sacred music like the Latin tradition.

There’s a nun in our community that would notice, and it wouldn’t be an ego-boost.

She always knows exactly where the Preist is, without a missal, and is always following along perfectly, with supreme devotion. Saintly. And with the ears of a bat.

Oh yes they would - just ask our venerable CAFer brotherhrolf. He can tell you about two churches in his area, pre-Vatican 2, built (if I remember rightly) across the street from each other. One church ‘belonged’ to one ethnic group and the other to a different one and seldom if ever the twain did meet.

Remember readings and homily have to be in the vernacular. For that alone there would have to be masses in the US (well at least in certain areas) catering to Spanish speakers and so on.

I agree. The language of the Liturgy aside, what about confessions, homilies, popular devotions and such? Latin does not prevent ethnic parishes.

Why prevent ethnic parishes? The Archdiocese of Chicago was (and is) founded on many of them.


You are describing two separate parishes, not one.

As to the readings, it takes little time to do the readings (and homilies) in multiple languages (I have seen it done many times).

And as for confessions, those are private sacraments, not public worship.

My comment had nothing to do with preventing ethnic parishes. It was about helping to prevent (not preventing, but helping to prevent) a single parish from separating into ethnic enclaves.

If the ideal is unity in the worldwide Latin Rite of the Church, then ethnic parishes are just as divisive as ethnic enclaves within the one parish.

This is getting way off topic now, people.

I disagree.

That’s just the “if we can’t fix everything we shouldn’t fix anything” argument. And it’s always a very poor argument.

But I won’t derail the thread with further comments on this topic.

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