Why the Latin Mass?
We are often asked why we insist on using Latin in the liturgies. Theoretically speaking it makes little difference as to which language is used in the Mass. God understands all languages. In practice, however it does make a difference.
People often insist that now that the "Mass" is in the vernacular (the common spoken language) - in this case English - we can understand what is going on. The missals for the people (prior to Vatican II) have both the Latin and the English translation, and have had them for many years. With these missals the people are able to follow along and read exactly what the priest is saying. Even though the priest speaks in Latin, the people have been and are able to read an authentic translation in English. It is not therefore, a valid argument to say that now we can understand the Mass. If one could not understand what was written in plain English before "Vatican II", it is very unlikely that he will be able to understand the "Mass" in English today.
When asked to define the Mass, we often receive responses like the following: It is "A Communion service", It is "A meal", It is "A memorial" or "A remembrance", etc. These responses may all sound good, but they are lacking in something very important. They have lost the entire meaning of the Mass. The Catholic Church has always taught very clearly that the Mass is a sacrifice. In fact it is the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary. It is not a meal or a memorial. It is a sacrifice.
The Mass is not the last supper. Christ instituted the Mass after they had eaten. This is when He took bread and wine and blessed it (consecrated it). He explained clearly that this is His Body and His Blood and that we are to eat it, if we are to have life in us. At every Mass Christ offers Himself to His Heavenly Father in sacrifice. He makes Himself truly present on our altars. The bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a mystery which we cannot understand. We must believe it because God has revealed it to us through the Catholic Church.
This very conflict of what the Mass is, is one of the reasons, the Catholic Church insists that Latin be used. Even if the Mass were correctly translated with nothing added or deleted - which the Vatican II "Mass" is not - it would still lead to confusion. The people hearing the words in their own language without any explanation, become self interpreters; this is nothing more than Protestantism. By this means the "Mass" eventually is reduced to the least common denominator. This freedom of interpretation makes sure that no one is offended. You may believe whatever you want, and your neighbor may believe whatever he wants. The Protestants as well as the "Catholics" will be contented. This is proven by the new "ecumenism". Protestants who would have nothing to do with the Sacrifice of the Mass will gladly participate in a "Communion Service" or a "memorial meal" with "Catholics", and many "Catholics" no longer see anything wrong with the Protestant "Communion Service".
When Latin is used, the people must turn to the authentic authorities to find the true understanding of the Mass, and they cannot rely on their own personal interpretations. Christ promised to be with His Church till the end of time, not with every individual. Therefore only His Church is able to infallibly know the correct interpretation of the mysteries of God.
Since Latin is a dead language we have no fear of ever losing the meaning of the Mass. The words will always mean the same thing throughout the world. The Mass will be the same throughout the world, and the teachings of the Church will always be the same throughout the world. And thus we can be assured of having One Sacrifice, One Faith, and One Teaching. On the other hand if the Mass were said in every living language there would be no Universality in the Church. There would be many different beliefs and many different teachings. Each one would be free to translate and interpret the mysteries of the Mass according to his own personal ideas. Is this not what we experience in the "New Mass"? We have Conservative "Masses", Liberal "Masses", Guitar "Masses", Folk "Masses", Clown "Masses", etc. Each one expresses a different idea - a different interpretation of the "Mass". There is no Unity or Oneness in the liturgy or in the beliefs that are expressed in these "Masses".
Latin is well adapted for the services of the Church, because it is both venerable and mysterious. It is venerable on account of its origin and its antiquity; it is the language in which the praises of God resounded from the lips of Christians during the first centuries. It is a sublime and solemn thought that the holy sacrifice is now offered in the same language, nay, with the very same words as it was offered in times long past in the obscurity of the Catacombs. There is also an element of mystery about the Latin tongue; it is a dead language, not understood by the people. The use of an unknown tongue conveys to the mind of the vulgar that something is going on upon the altar which is past their comprehension, that a mystery is being enacted. In the first centuries of Christianity a curtain used to be drawn during the time from the Sanctus to the communion, to conceal the altar from the sight of the worshippers. This is now no longer done, but the use of an unknown tongue has something of the same effect, by inspiring the awe into the minds of the common people. It is a striking fact that Israelites and pagans made use, in the worship of the Deity, of a language with which the multitude were not conversant. The Israelites made use of the ancient Hebrew, the language of the patriarchs; we do not find Our Lord or the apostles censuring this practice. The Greek Church, both orthodox and schismatic, employs the old form of the Greek language for divine service, not that spoken at present. The same language is in use in the Russian (so-called orthodox) Church, not the vernacular, which is a Slavonic dialect.
The use of Latin is a means of maintaining unity in the Church, as well as uniformity in her services. for the use of one and the same language in Catholic churches all over the surface of the globe, is a connecting link binding them to Rome, and making one nations which are separated by diversity of tongues. Latin, as the language of the Church, unites all nations, making them members of God's family, of Christ's kingdom. The altar on earth is a type of the heavenly Jerusalem where a great multitude of all peoples and tongues stand around the throne, praising God. If Latin were not the official language of the Church, deliberations and discussions among bishops assembled at the councils, the mutual exchange of opinions between theologians would be impossible. Moreover, the use of Latin, the language of ancient Rome, is a constant reminder of our dependence on the Holy Roman Church; it recalls to our minds involuntarily the fact that thence, from the Mother Church, the first missionaries came who brought the faith to our shores. The use of a dead language is a safeguard against many evils; it is not subject to change, but remains the same to all time. Languages in daily use undergo a continual process of change; words drop out, or their meaning is altered as years go on. If a living language were employed in divine worship heresies and errors would inevitably creep into the Church, and sacred words would be employed in an irreverent or mocking manner by the unbeliever. This is prevented by the use of Latin, at any rate as far as the unlearned are concerned. Yet the Church is far from desiring to keep the people in ignorance of the meaning of her religious services; the decrees of the Council of Trent (22, 8), strictly enjoin upon priests to explain frequently the mysteries and ceremonies of the Mass to the children in schools, and to adults from the pulpit. But as a matter of fact, it is by no means necessary for the people to understand every detail of the ceremonial of the Mass. "If," says St. Augustine, "there are some present who do not understand what is being said or sung, they know at least that all is said and sung to the glory of God, and that is sufficient for them to join in it devoutly." Moreover, experience teaches that the fact of the prayers being in Latin does not at all hamper or interfere with the devotion of the faithful, or lead them to absent themselves from the services of the Church. Besides, the sermons are always delivered in the vernacular; it is often used at the opening services and to some extent in administering the sacraments. The reason why the whole of the Mass is in Latin is because it is a sacrifice, not an instruction for the people, The greater part of the prayers are said by the priest secretly, so that were they in the mother tongue, they would be inaudible to the people. Furthermore, the celebration of Mass consists more in action than in words. The actions of the priest, the whole ceremonial, speaks a language intelligible to all. And if, as some would wish, all the services were conducted in the language of the country, persons of another nationality, not conversant with other languages, might be led to drop their religion on leaving their own land. Another evil consequent upon such a change would be a lessening of the respect felt for the holy sacrifice, as was proved at the time of the reformation, when the prayers of the Mass were, to a great extent, translated into German and English.
"'The Book of Common Prayers' published in 1549 and revised by Cranmer in 1552 - substituted a Communion Service in English for the Mass and sanctioned Protestant views of the Eucharist. The new form of ordination by implication denied belief in the sacrament of holy orders; and the authorities in many places destroyed altars and vestments as idolatrous." (AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH Jospeh Mc Sorley 1948 P. 558) Has not much of this taken place again since the "New Mass" of "Vatican Council II", was implemented? Does not the "New Mass" enjoy the sanctions of many different Protestants? Have not our priests been reduced from "Father Smith" to just "Joe"? Have not the altars of sacrifice been replaced by a supper table? Have not our once Catholic churches been stripped of statues and decorations that were once in every Catholic Church?
This was allowed to happen because the people accepted to use the vernacular instead of the venerable Latin language of our Holy Mother the Church.
We reject all the heresies that the vernacular "Mass" has brought upon the people, and for this reason adhere to the changeless truths of God which are expressed in the changeless Latin of the Church.
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