Latin went out along with chant, bells, and incense at the Second Vatican Council, right? Well, no. The Council gave bishops permission to have the liturgies of the church translated into vernacular languages, such as English and Spanish. But the root text that all the translations are based upon is Latin, and it is perfectly permissible to use Latin for the entire Mass (don’t worry, we don’t even have a Latin Missal in the sacristy at St Raphael!). Note, this has nothing to do with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the Mass as it was prayed before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council), which is always entirely in Latin. This has led some to incorrectly call the Extraordinary Form the Latin Mass. In actuality, both the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form (the Mass as revised following the council) are Latin Masses, it’s just that it is permissible to pray the Ordinary Form in other languages………..Paragraph 54 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council reads in part, “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.” An honest reading of the Constitution makes clear that, while desiring the words of the Mass to be more accessible by being translated into the “mother tongue” of the people, the Council fathers intended that Latin remain the foundational language, and that all the faithful could unify in prayer at times in this common language. The Church has continued to teach this since the council. I believe their are a couple of principal reasons.
First, being able to pray in one language, even though we may speak different languages, helps promote unity. In a parish such as ours, where Mass is prayed in two languages, and countless others are spoken by our parishioners, being able to pray something simple such as the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) in a common language that doesn’t “belong” to a particular group is helpful. It shows that we are all willing to go out of our comfort zone and be challenged a bit so we can pray the words together. It’s also useful for us as a part of a global church. Imagine, if, as the Church asks, we did all know some basic parts of the Mass in Latin, if we were traveling or moved to a different country where we didn’t know the language, we could still participate verbally in some parts of the Mass together with the rest of the assembly.
Second, it’s important to preserve and keep alive our musical patrimony. The Church teaches, again, in the Second Vatican Council, that, “the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” And, as it so happens, since Latin was the only liturgical language of the Church for about 1500 years, except for a few Greek remnants, all of that musical tradition is in Latin. So, if you get rid of Latin 100%, you eliminate the usage of the greatest artistic treasure of the Church as part of its worship. As someone who knows and loves much of this treasure, I can tell you that would be a big mistake and a terrible tragedy.
So, yes, we still employ Latin at Mass. The degree can vary from parish to parish. At St. Raphael we will use Latin from time to time as a way to promote unity across diverse languages, such as singing the Agnus Dei together, and to be stewards of the beauty of our tradition, such as when the choir sings a setting of Ave Maria. So, Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto!
Submit your liturgical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music