Catholic History


THIS title is used for want of a better to denote the Church's practice of celebrating Mass, administering the sacraments, and generally of performing her more solemn services in dead languages. For the Church cannot be said to use, or even to prefer, any one language. She requires some of her clergy to use Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Slavonic, in Mass, just as strictly, as she requires others to employ Latin. Latin no doubt is far more widely used than other ancient languages in the offices of the Church, but this has arisen chiefly from the fact that those who would naturally use Greek, etc. in their offices have fallen away from Catholic communion. We will begin with an historical account of the discipline observed, and then give the principal reasons adduced to justify it.

Benedict XIV. ("De Missa," lib. ii. cap. 2) mentions the opinion of those who held that the Apostles said Mass in Hebrew, or that originally Mass was said only in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the three languages on the title of the cross; and he continues, "Those who are skilled in ecclesiastical history have shown sufficiently that the Apostles and their successors did not only preach but also celebrate the divine offices in the vulgar tongue of the people in whose land they preached the Gospel." He quotes Bona, Le Brun, and Martene in support of his own statement, which surely does not need support. Mass, then, and the other offices, were said originally in the vernacular, because it was the vernacular; but the Church, so far as we know, has never once allowed a change in the language of the liturgy, when the language in which it had been originally written had become unintelligible to the people. Nor at present is Mass ever said in a tongue still generally spoken and understood. Latin, Coptic, and Ethiopic, are, and have long been, dead languages, while the ancient Greek. Syriac, Armenian, and Slavonic, used in the liturgies, are distinct from the modern languages which bear the same names. Even schismatical and heretical bodies which have preserved the true priesthood, and therefore the true Mass, have not ventured to substitute translations into the vulgar tongue for the ancient language of their liturgies. Indeed, Mass said in such a language as Coptic is much less understood than Mass in Latin, not only because Coptic has no affinity with the Arabic spoken by the people, but also because many of the Coptic priests can hardly read the Coptic words of their church books, and do not understand the meaning of a single sentence. One exception may here be mentioned, the only one with which we are acquainted, to the general rule, that all schismatical and heretical bodies preserve the ancient language of their liturgies, and clearly it is an exception which proves the rule. Le Brun, (Tom. III. diss. vi. a. 6) notices that the Melchites i.e. schismatic Greeks in the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, who are in communion with the "orthodox" Greek Church of Constantinople sometimes say Mass in Arabic, because it is often hard to find deacons and other assistants who can even read Greek. A friend versed in liturgical science and in the Oriental languages informs us that this exceptional usage still occurs, e. g. at Jerusalem.

On the other hand, the Church has not pursued the same uniform policy in dealing with nations newly converted to the Christian religion, and therefore destitute of a liturgy. In the middle of the ninth century the Oriental monks St. Cyril and St. Methodius introduced, not a Latin or Greek, but a Slavonic or vernacular liturgy among their Moravian converts. This measure of theirs was approved by Pope Hadrian II., and tolerated by John VIII. on condition that the translation was faithful, and the Gospel, read first in Latin, then in Slavonic. But in 1061 the legate of Alexander II. in a council of Croatian and Dalmatian bishops prohibited the use of the Slavonic liturgy which must not be confounded with the Slavonic versions of the Greek liturgies still used and the prohibition was repeated by Gregory VII. in a letter of the year 1080 to Ladislaus, King of Bohemia. However, even as late as 1248 Innocent IV. allowed a Slav bishop to use it by special dispensation. In 1615 Paul V. gave the Jesuit missionaries leave to celebrate Mass and the divine offices in Chinese, but the brief never reached those to whom it was addressed. The Jesuits renewed their petition, and a Chinese version of the Missal was presented to Innocent XI.,1 but nothing came of the negotiation. In the "Propylæum" of the Bollandist Lives for May a summary is given of the reasons urged for a vernacular Chinese liturgy by Father Couplet, ProcuratorGeneral of the Jesuit missions.

Such, then, is the rule of the Church. She never allows an ancient liturgy to be altered because the language in which it is written, has been altered or displaced by a modern one, and she is unwilling, though she does not always absolutely refuse, to allow the use of vernacular liturgies among nations newly converted. The Council of Trent declares (Sess. xxii. cap. 8, De Sacrific. Missæ) that the Fathers of the council thought it inexpedient to have Mass "celebrated everywhere in the vulgar tongue," and condemns those who affirm "that Mass ought only to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue" (ib. can. 9). We must beware, however, of pressing these statements too far. Benedict XIV. defends Colbert, bishop of Rouen, who taught in a pastoral that the ancient mode of celebrating Mass in the language of the people was the fittest means to prepare the minds of the congregation for participation in the sacrifice; or at least argues that this conviction is not condemned by the Council of Trent. The Church may have had good and weighty grounds for foregoing a usage which in itself would tend to the greatest spiritual edification.

These reasons seem to consist, first of all, in the jealousy with which the Church guards her ancient rites, and her unwillingness to face the danger of constant change in them to meet the changes in modern languages. Such changes might seriously endanger the purity of doctrine, or at least the reverence of the faithful for the rites of the Church. Let the reader only consider how much of the reverence which Protestants feel for the Book of Common Prayer is due to the fact that its pure and noble language has been preserved unchanged for centuries. A new edition in modern English would certainly be better understood, but how much of its power to soothe the heart and to inspire a sober and rational devotion would be lost in the process? Again, the preservation of the ancient forms enables priests to celebrate and the faithful to follow Mass in all lands, and thus impresses upon us, in a way which no one who has experienced it can forget, the unity of the Church. Lastly, the words of the Missal, admirably fitted as they are for the use of the priest, are by no means fitted for the use of uneducated persons, and this difficulty would not be met by a translation.

Protestant objections arise to some extent from misunderstanding the nature of Catholic worship. The Mass is a great action in which Christ's sacrifice is continued and applied. Those who are present bow their heads at the consecration, and unite themselves in spirit, if they do not actually communicate, with the communion of the priest. Christ crucified is set forth in their midst, and they know that they, on their part, must offer their souls and bodies in constant sacrifice to God by a life of purity, labor, and selfdenial. It is the expressed wish of the Tridentine Fathers that the meaning of the Mass and its rites should be constantly explained to the people by their pastors; and surely the most ignorant person who follows Mass in the way just described, and accompanies the priest's action with prayers which come from his own heart, offers to God a reasonable service. A life of selfsacrifice and devotion that is the great lesson taught by the sacrifice of the Mass, and it is a lesson independent of the language in which Mass is said.

The texts quoted from I Cor. xiv. against the Catholic usage are not to the point. "I would rather," says St. Paul, "speak five words in the church through my intelligence, that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." We believe St. Paul is referring to ecstatic utterances sigh, exclamations, broken sentences, which were unintelligible to others, and in which the tongue of the speaker was not controlled even by his own intelligence. Be this as it may, no parallel can be drawn between "speaking in tongues" and the use of Latin in the Mass. Strangers would not think a priest "mad" (V. 23) if they heard him reading the Latin Missal. The priest prays with "his understanding" (v. 14), for he knows Latin; others are "edified" (v. 17); and no extraordinary gift of interpretation (v. 13) is needed, for our English prayerbooks give translations of the Mass. Moreover, St. Paul was familiar with a custom closely analogous to ours, and with this neither he nor any other Apostle finds fault. The services of the temple and the synagogue, like those of the synagogue at this day, were in a dead language, with the difference only that more pains are taken to diffuse the knowledge of Hebrew among poor Jews than of Latin among poor Catholics.

Churching of Women after Childbirth

A BLESSING which the priest gives to women after childbirth according to a form prescribed in the Roman Ritual. He sprinkles the woman, who kneels at the door of the church holding a lighted candle, with holy water, and having recited the 23d Psalm, be puts the end of his stole into her hand. and leads her into the church, saying, "Come into the temple of God. Adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, has given thee fruitfulness in childbearing." The woman then advances to the altar and kneels before it, while the priest, having said a prayer of thanksgiving, blesses her, and again sprinkles her with holy water in the form of a cross. The rubric in the Ritual reserves this rite for women who have borne children in wedlock. Women are under no strict obligation of presenting themselves to be churched, though it is the "pious and laudable custom," as the Ritual says that they should do so. Properly speaking, the churching of women is not counted among strictly parochial rights; still it ought to be performed by the parish priest, as appears from a decision of the S. Congregation of Rites, December 10, 1703.

This rite was suggested probably by the prescriptions of the old law in Levit. xii. In the Christian Church, the first mention of the rite is said to be found in the socalled Arabic canons of the Nicene council. Among the Greeks, the blessing after childbirth is given on the fortieth day after the birth of the child. and the child must be brought with the mother to the church.


It is certain from Tertullian, "Apol." 42, and from many other early writers down to St. Augustine, that the religious use of incense was unknown in the primitive Church. Le Brun quotes St. Ambrose to prove that incense was used in the churches of his day, but the quotation can scarcely be said to prove the point. On the other hand, Dionysius the Areopagite whose works were first quoted in 532, but may have been written a good deal earlierdistinctly mentions ("Hierarch. Eccles." iii. § 2) the censing of the altar by the chief priest. The use of incense is also mentioned in the first Ordo Romanus, which may belong to the seventh century, and in the liturgies which go by the names of St. James, St. Basil, and St. Chrysostom. Possibly also the fourth (al. third) canon of the Apostles, which forbids anything to be placed on the altar at the oblation except "oil for the lamp and incense," may refer to the incense as liturgically used. If so, we should be justified with Le Brun in supposing that incense was introduced into the Church services when the persecution of the heathen ceased and the splendor of churches and ritual began.

Some authors believe that incense was at first introduced to sweeten the air, and certainly a "Benediction of Incense" used in the time of Charlemagne and given by Martene points in this direction. But the mystical significations of incense are obvious. It symbolizes the zeal with which the faithful should be consumed; the good odor of Christian virtue; the ascent of prayer to God. It is used before the introit, at the gospel, offertory and elevation in High Mass; at the Magnificat in vespers; at funerals; etc.

1 So Benedict XIV. in the edition before us; but he says this was done in 1631, long before Innocent XI. began to reign. Possibly 1631 is a misprint for 1681

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