Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Does the Catholic Church Use Latin?

Compiled in 1938 by two Catholic priests, the book Radio Replies is a series of questions and answers about the Catholic faith.

Question 1395 of Volume I in the series is: "Why does the Church cling to Latin, a dead language?"

The answer follows; pay attention especially to the last sentence:

For one reason, precisely because it is dead! In modern and living languages, words are constantly changing their meaning whilst in a dead language, such as Latin, they do not. The essential doctrine and significance of Christianity must not change, and the safest way to preserve it intact is to keep it in an unchangeable language. Again, a universal Church must have at least her chief form of worship in a universal language. Christ came to save all men, and wherever a member of the true Church may be in this world he should be able to find himself at home at the central act of Christian worship. The Mass, being said in Latin, is the same in all lands. If a Frenchman, who could not understand a word of English, were to enter a Catholic church in London, he would be at home the moment the Mass began. An English service would be a mystery to him. I myself have said Mass with as many as fifteen different nationalities present, and not all could follow my discourse when I spoke to those present, though I spoke for a few minutes in English, in French, and in Italian. There were still many who could not understand any of these languages, but being all Catholics, they were quite at home the moment I turned to the Altar and went on with the Mass in Latin. It brings out the wisdom and the universality of the Catholic Church. The Priest ascends the Altar to intercede with God on behalf of the people. Those present kneel, and in their hearts pour out their prayers for their own necessities. They feel no more need to know just what the Priest is saying than the Jews who knelt at the foot of the mountain felt a need of knowing just what Moses was saying to God on their behalf at the top. And here once again let me say that if anyone should complain of the use of Latin, it should be those who have to endure it. And I have never yet heard a Catholic soul complain that it caused difficulty, or that he or she would like it changed.

In the 1960s when Catholics were told their central act of worship -- the Mass -- would dispense with Latin and be replaced by a worship service in their native tongue, it was not something the average man or woman in the pews expected, wanted, or even considered to be possible. If good Catholics never complained about the use of Latin or expressed a desire to change it, why was it changed? And when churches emptied, vocations dried up, and countless schools, seminaries, and houses of formation closed after the changes were introduced, why were the changes not reversed? Why indeed.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Great blog! Very straightforward and to the root of our dilemma, or should I say the problem with the novus ordo.