Tue 21st Oct 2014 | Last updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 at 14:48pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

Every time I spend any time abroad, I wonder why, in a ‘global world’, we abandoned a global liturgy

Mass in Latin unified the world Church: the vernacular has Balkanised it

By on Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Torreciudad, the Marian shrine rebuilt by St Josemaría Escrivá in Aragon, Spain

Torreciudad, the Marian shrine rebuilt by St Josemaría Escrivá in Aragon, Spain

I have just returned from Spain (this is why I have not been writing in my usual space over the last few weeks), where my wife and I spent two weeks in the province of Aragon, in the wine and olive oil producing region of Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and close to the Marian shrine of Torreciudad, which was rebuilt massively by St Josemaría Escrivá near the ruins of the ancient shrine (of which only the tower – and the very beautiful medieval statue of Our Lady – survive). Aragon is depopulated and very beautiful, and we soon abandoned our original plan, which was to spend the first week in Spain, and then cross the Pyrenees into France. We were only 45 minutes from the French border and about one and a half hours from Lourdes: but the tunnel was closed on the most direct road. So we stayed where we were.

My only regret about my absence from England was that I missed the reception at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, organised for the Ordinariate. I don’t need by now to convince my usual readers of my support for the Ordinariate and especially of the way in which it is repatriating into the Catholic Church a patrimony much of which is of Catholic origin, but with which the mainstream Church has lost touch. As I wrote a month or two ago, after a celebration of Evensong and Benediction at Blackfriars, Oxford: “What the Pope, God bless him, has actually done is to re-appropriate a liturgy whose origins were in the first place entirely Catholic. As the Anglo-Catholic liturgist and divine Percy Dearmer (a friend of G K Chesterton) pointed out, the first Anglican Prayer Book ‘was not created in a vacuum, but derives from several sources. First and foremost was the Sarum Rite, or the Latin liturgy developed in Salisbury in the 13th century, and widely used in England. Two other influences were a reformed Roman Breviary of the Spanish Cardinal Quiñones, and a book on doctrine and liturgy by Hermann von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne’.”

Cardinal Quiñones’s attempt at streamlining the Breviary was adopted virtually in its totality. The Morning Office – a conflation of Lauds and Matins, and the Evening Office, Evensong – a conflation of Vespers and Compline (thus containing both the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, both of course in wonderful Tudor English) – were thus irreproachably Catholic in their origins and content.” And except of course from the Eucharistic liturgy, which was written expressly to exclude a Catholic interpretation of its meaning, it was all perfectly consistent with a Catholic understanding of what was taking place.

The difference, of course, was that unlike its sources, the Anglican liturgical tradition was a vernacular one. And though I have been calling for nearly a decade for something like what has now emerged in the Ordinariate (sometimes bringing down on my head the extreme displeasure of the powers that be for doing so) that is ultimately why, though I shall continue enthusiastically supporting the Ordinariate, I shall continue to attend the liturgy wherever possible in Latin, either in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form, and calling for the Mass in Latin to be much more widely available.

My Spanish journey has redoubled my feeling that a Church which is global and not national in its character should celebrate the Mass in Latin as a customary and habitual, rather than in an exceptional, way. We attended Mass regularly, of course, at the nearby shrine of Torreciudad, which is run by Opus Dei priests. I remember, when there was much more hostility to Opus Dei here than there is now, that one attack on it alleged that it always celebrated Mass in Latin: this showed how utterly reactionary the organisation was. If only! Mass at Torreciudad tended to be mumbled as well as being in Spanish. Mumbled but in Latin would have been fine. Maybe I ought to have learned enough Spanish at least to follow the Mass more closely. All the same, it does occur to me that just at the time when we were, in the 1970s, more and more moving towards what is now illiterately described as a “globalised world”, it is very odd that the Catholic Church – by its precipitate lunge into the vernacular (a move which was in English-speaking countries made considerably more problematic by the incompetence and mediocrity of the lunge’s original execution) – should have liturgically abandoned its transnational character.

Well, there you have my usual returning-from-foreign-parts pro-Latin-Mass gripe. At least most of those attending Mass at the shrine were Spanish. I once attended a sung Mass at St Mark’s, Venice, at which at least 90 per cent of the congregation were not Italian-speaking, but which was nevertheless celebrated sloppily in Italian: a clear case of the usual vernacularist obduracy. Of course, one knows what’s going on in the liturgy whatever the language; and the Mass is the Mass. But that’s not quite the point, is it. To pray the Mass together with those attending it, it is a huge help to be praying the same words. So why, in such circumstances, don’t we?

  • Jane Mossendew

    Welcome home Doctor William. I concur in all you say. Sorry you couldn’t drop in on us in Poitou-Charentes on the way home. Maybe next year!

  • Pat & Bill Chapman

    I have no objection to the use for Latin as the language of a global liturgy, because fulfilled that role for centuries, of course.

    However, for contacts and dialogue between ordinary peoiple, nothing beats Esperanto, of course.

  • Anonymous

    Well said, Dr William Oddie.  Latin was the language of universality through which the Church expressed her doctrine, teachings and worship and united Catholics of all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds across the world each Sunday.  One could say that Latin is the linguistic heritage of the Catholic Church with a capital “C” as distinct from the vernacular which has more of the lower-case “c” ring to it.  When one hears the ethereal, soaring sounds of the Gregorian Chant, one is transported back to a time when this timeless treasure of Latin Church music was standard in Catholic churches across the world.  Now our churches have been left bereft of this chant which parallels Shakespeare’s words in his Sonnet 73:
    “Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang”.

  • Anonymous

    I remember attending an ‘international’ Mass at Notre Dame in Paris where they used three different languages; some prayers were in one language, others in another and very often prayers were repeated three times. I thought at the time that surely a truly international Mass would have been celebrated in Latin as the Church had done for centuries previously.

  • Anonymous

    I certainly have some sympathy for the Latin Mass. Here in Chicago, some parishes need to have three separate Masses: English, Spanish, and Polish. Like you said, it breaks up the community, as well as straining the priests.

    On the other hand, the Roman Church has traditionally acknowledged other rites, such as in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Moreover, as the Church expands globally, I think it might be interpreted (whether rightly or wrongly) as a bit chauvinistic to require Latin in, say, South Korea (where the Church has grown 70% over the past decade). It makes sense for Western Europeans to share a Latin Mass. In my opinion, it would be an imposition (or at least felt as such, thus pushing people away) to require it in countries which have no historical connection to Latin.

  • Pavel

    The answer to your question: for the same reason we always “come home.” Nobody lives globally, we always live somewhere specific.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but the English of Shakespeare is quite beautiful, too, isn’t it? ;)

  • Anonymous

    You make a profound point, Aearon.  I was pondering on your earlier comments concerning the suitability of Latin for certain countries of the world vis-a-vis it’s more natural hinterland, Europe. There was a controversial case in China during the 18th century when the Jesuits who were making great strides in terms of conversions in China applied to the pope for the inculturation of the Liturgy of the Mass into Chinese Mandarin.  Rome refused their requests and historically a great opportunity was lost to make Catholicism a major force within that great empire in both a religio-cultural and numerical sense.   Pope Benedict XV1 expressly forbade this in his Encyclical Ex Quo Singulari(1740).  This led to the expulsion of all Catholic missionaries from China by the authorities and this prohibition of the nativization of the Liturgy was in sharp contrast to the amazing progress made by that great Jesuit scholar Matteo Ricci in the 16th century who adopted the Chinese traditions in order to make Catholic Christianity more amenable to the thought processes of the local people.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Latin is not a universal language today. It is a language that no-one speaks. The Church could decide to have all Masses celebrated in Greek. You’d get the same words wherever you were. Would that be truly universal? Well, despite the small difference that Latin is closer to European languages than Greek (but remember that the Church is present and strong in many countries that do not speak European languages), it would be the same thing.

    The closest we have to a truly universal language today is English. And yet, it would be a foolish move to institute English as the universal language of liturgy.

    When Latin was introduced in worship, it made all sense, as it was a vernacular. The people of Rome would not understand Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek. Why insist on a language that very few would understand, and even these only with the help of a huge Missal with translations on their laps?

    Look the at the Orthodox Church. It has immense unity of worship; yet many languages (Greek, Russian, etc.). The Catholic Church, being universal, has many rites, and it is absolutely right that it should have many languages within each rite; particularly the Latin rite, being the most widespread on the whole world.

    Give more space to the Latin, similarly to what we do with the Greek and the Hebrew, in our liturgies, as a reminder of the Church’s history and tradition? That we have more easily available celebrations of the Tridentine Mass in Latin? Sure, that would be excellent (it would also be excellent to have the Tridentine in the vernacular…). But to revert to a language that no-one would understand??

    I live in Brazil, and English speakers might suppose that, for people with a romance language it would be easy to catch on to the Latin. Believe me, no-one does. I’ve attended Latin masses, and no-one understands a single word (and these Masses are generally attended by people who consciously desire the Latin; imagine the throngs of common folks who just regularly go to church without reading books and websites about the liturgy). I talk to older people, old enough to remember the liturgy before the reform, and they say the same thing: understood nothing, prayed the rosary, sat there waiting time pass.There is nothing mystical or spiritual about not understanding what the priest says. Latin is not a special language. It used to be the vernacular, and until not so long ago it could reasonably be expected that the educated classes would know it (not the common people, though). Not anymore. It has prize of place in the history of the Western Church, and for that reason it ought never to be completely forgotten. But it must also not be the normal language of liturgy anymore. Our new sense of the faithful’s active presence in the celebration of Mass demands that it be celebrated in the local vernacular.

    Sure, going abroad and not understanding the Mass is bad. I’ve had that experience in Germany. But reverting the Mass to Latin would be to condemn people to not understand the Mass in their own homelands. Much, much worse.Sorry for the rant, Mr. Oddie. I’m a constant reader and like your articles very much; but this bit of nostalgia for Latin and the illusion that it is any more universal today than Greek or Swedish strikes me as very wrongheaded.

  • irishsmile

    Latin hasn’t been ‘spoken’ since Rome ruled its empire.  However, more to the point, it was used liturgically and understood until the last generation when unfortunately Catholics were dumbed down.  My husband & I both attended Catholic schools in the 50′s.  Our educations included liturgical Latin which greatly expanded our English vocabularies.  We understood the liturgy.  I pity those Catholics who have been deprived both spiritually and intellectually.  It was the global church language.  If you can’t understand, it’s because you were deprived.

  • Anonymous

    Many religions use ancient languages, such as Islam and Judaism, with no problem. Also, I think in the Russian Orthodox Church they use Church Slavonic and not modern Russian. Latin is part of the tradition of the Church, what more powerful symbol of the unity of the Church is there throughout history than its universal use? You’re also completely wrong to suggest that people who attend Latin Masses don’t know what’s happening, from my experience the faithful at these Masses participate much more actively than at the modern Mass. Remember, as many popes have said, that inner participation, uniting yourself to the sacrifice taking place on the altar, is the most important thing. Also, the introduction of the new Mass has led to an unprecedented loss of faith even among practising Catholics. Many is the time that I’ve met Catholics who are unaware of the sacrificial nature of the Mass. So much for active participation.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up knowing the Mass exclusively in the vernacular. I was first introduced to Latin singing in the choir at Stonyhurst College where the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei were often, though not exclusively, sung in Latin. I now love Latin although didn’t appreciate that I was being indoctrinated (not in a perjorative way) in it from age 13. I think that even in vernacular liturgies, Latin should be used on occasion in the people’s parts of the Mass to educate them in their heritage and to experience prayer in the language of so many of the saints. As they experience it more, I think they’ll grow to want it more. However, I don’t actually think it would be productive for a parish priest to suddenly abandon the vernacular, I think people would be discomforted by this and would rebel against it. I think the brick by brick approach is best.

    One excellent development is that the CTS version of the new missal (I don’t know about the other publishers’ editions) will have the Latin next to the English. I think this will gradually introduce the people to Latin and those with curious minds will start to teach themselves a little by identifying the obvious translations such as “Sanctus”, “Agnus”, “Credo”. If I were a priest I would try and make a big push to my congregation to use a Missal at Mass for the help it gives people in praying the Mass, following the rubrics, and the education in Latin.

    PS Good to have you back Dr William

  • Paul Spilsbury

    I attended Mass in Barcelona recently, armed with my multi-lingual Mass-book (including Spanish). Alas. the Mass was in Catalan, so I still could not join in!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Joel Pinheiro. A brilliant, measured and well-informed riposte to Dr Oddie’s article. Can anyone disagree with a single word you have written?

  • James Crawford

    . The Church already has a global liturgy, providing its clergy stick to the Novus Ordo as laid down in the Missal. I have often attended Mass celebrated in languages I do not understand but I have always been able to follow the procedings as, fortunately on every occasion, there was no no departure from the Missal. One of the main concerns at the revival of the “Tridentine Mass” is that it will replace this global liturgy with two liturgies. As a consequence the Church will become more like the Anglican Church where one never knows what one is likely to encounter. 

  • Dawn Hardison

    It seems the problem is sloppiness and mumbling, not a language.  Why it would be better to mumble in one language than another escapes me.  We know the order of the mass, what comes where.  If I hear it in another language I still know what is going on and am able to pray along.  But if I had not learned it first in English, I would never have been able to form an understanding of what I am hearing.  I came into the Church 4 years ago at age 60, and began to learn the culture, theology and practices of this faith.  Another language added to the mix would have made that a jump too far. Further, it seems that the factions that insist on Latin are just that, factions.  They go so far as to separate themselves from Rome, and even if they remain in the Church, complain endlessly about the poor translation of the mass from Latin.  Would the Church not be better served if better translations were provided, rather than grumbling.  I thank God every day for this marvelous Church, and that I am finally able to worship in this Mass.  I wonder if the original congregations who worshiped in Latin did not have loud complaining at the loss of the “perfection” of the Greek mass, or the Aramaic mass. 
         I think it is simplistic to state that the vernacular mass has led to a loss of faith.  It is much more complicated than that – there is the dumbing down of the instruction, at the same time that the culture has stepped up its attack on faith.  The factors that have led to this decline are numerous.  It is wishful thinking to pin it on one feature.

  • Woody

    I discovered the EF mass months ago.  The first time I went, I had no idea what was being said by the priest.  However, I knew what was going on.  I went home, found a book on the EF mass, and went back again, this time with my EF book, not a missal.  It was better.  Then I found missals, old and new.  I still do not know latin but my missals, both in english and latin, now take me through the EF mass and I know what the priest is saying, in english, because I can read.  And now, having attended EF masses, I am beginning to understand latin.  How about that!  You can teach an old dog new tricks!

  • Woody

    I discovered the EF mass months ago.  The first time I went, I had no idea what was being said by the priest.  However, I knew what was going on.  I went home, found a book on the EF mass, and went back again, this time with my EF book, not a missal.  It was better.  Then I found missals, old and new.  I still do not know latin but my missals, both in english and latin, now take me through the EF mass and I know what the priest is saying, in english, because I can read.  And now, having attended EF masses, I am beginning to understand latin.  How about that!  You can teach an old dog new tricks!

  • Woody

    I discovered the EF mass months ago.  The first time I went, I had no idea what was being said by the priest.  However, I knew what was going on.  I went home, found a book on the EF mass, and went back again, this time with my EF book, not a missal.  It was better.  Then I found missals, old and new.  I still do not know latin but my missals, both in english and latin, now take me through the EF mass and I know what the priest is saying, in english, because I can read.  And now, having attended EF masses, I am beginning to understand latin.  How about that!  You can teach an old dog new tricks!

  • Anonymous

    I can. Every single word. I even posted a reply but disqus put it above for some reason.

  • Amdg

    As someone who knows classical antiquity, classical languages, and the Catholic cultures of Mexico, the US, France, Germany, and Italy pretty well, I disagree completely with what Mr. Pinheiro stated with dogmatic certitude, especially from experience with Brasileros in an international seminary … in France, with the Latin Mass!
    I’ll make only one refutation: the idea that Latin was used b/c it was the vernacular, or that the Latin of the Liturgy was “vernacula/vulgata/vulgaris” is simply ridiculous and shows a complete ignorance of both Latin and the sources (that’s the “fontes” for the scholar who knows no Latin).  The Latin of the liturgy is not Ciceronian – it is more refined and poetic than that; it is more “exculta” than even the Anglican Liturgy’s English.  This is in contradistinction to the Bible and it’s translations.
    One more thing: Latin – especially the Latin of the Liturgy – is timeless and PLACELESS, if you will, unlike Greek, or even OLD Slavonic, which were spoken in pockets.  Latin was “used” in the Roman Empire and after; it was used in Universities and seminaries until a little over 40 years ago (even fewer years, if we’re speaking of Canon Law instruction in Rome.)
    The point: Mr. Pinheiro is way off base, and he is making many assumptions about people who attend the Latin Mass, people he doesn’t seem to have taken the time to talk with or get to know.

  • Anonymous

    “the idea that Latin was used b/c it was the vernacular”

    The Latin Vulgate was produced because the Roman Christians of the late 4th century did not know Latin ? On the contrary – it was produced so that those Latin-speaking Christians would be able to understand it. It was a vernacular translation. If Pope Damasus had wanted them to be ignorant of what the Bible meant, he would not have asked Jerome to translate the NT into Latin. Nor would Damasus have changed the language of the Liturgy in Rome from Greek to Latin.

    But other vernaculars have arisen, so the faithful should have the worship they render to Almighty God put into tongues they can understand, so that they can worship God intelligently. And if they cannot understand what the texts of the Liturgy or the Bible are saying, they will not be able to worship intelligently. 

    If a language gets in the way of intelligrent understanding of the texts, it is an obstacle to intelligent worship, not a help.  No matter how venerable it may be. 

  • Amdg

    Someone read too quickly and carelessly – [Latin] was used b/c it was the vernacular … of the Liturgy.  The Latin Mass, remember, is what the article was originally about.  The orations, the Canon, all of the other parts of the Liturgy are in an hieratic Latin which no one, I’d argue not the best “Latinists” of ancient Rome, would have “understood” immediately.  The Vulgate, as I wrote but perhaps you missed, was the exception: the Bible, obviously was written to immediately and easily convey the thoughts of the sacred writers (of Hebrew and Greek).  The Latin Liturgy, for most of its parts, has no (yet-to-be-found) underlying, original text.  The Vulgate (Bible) and the vernacular liturgy are two distinct points!

  • Anonymous

    No-one is pinning the loss of faith on one feature, you’re right to say there are many factors, but it it clear that a fundamental factor was the liturgical reform of the sixties and seventies that caused confusion and scandal among many of the faithful.

  • Amdg

    Sure: because one always knows which penitential rite, or Eucharistic Prayer, or acclamation after the Consecration, etc. almost ad infinitum, a priest will chose in any particular Novus Ordo Mass.  Plus, he could offer the entire Mass in Latin, most of it in Latin (as the II Vatican Council stipulated in Sacrosanctum Concilium … but who has read that?), or entirely in the vernacular – whatever that may be – as is most often the case.  If that’s a “global liturgy”, I, too, pine for the days of the Tridentine (with over 80% of its contents dating to the time of St. Gregory the Great, not Trent) Mass throughout the world, even in Japan and China, where they – once upon a time – gladly had the Old Latin Mass.

  • S.D. Lukac

    While I very often go to our local church to pray, I no longer go to the services.   When, long ago, our about-to-retire parish priest announced that he had “won the fight to keep the Way of the Cross”, (a precious copy of a set of Flemish  paintings), which some committee or other wanted to remove from the church;  and when, during a service, I saw a young woman in what looked like a nightdress, clearly with hardly any underwear, barefoot, with tangled, flowing hair, performing some kind of evolutions, with a trio of musicians providing the background, I wondered what was Vatican II all about.   On asking, I was told that the woman was a nun, who was about to lead some of the local parishioners on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and that was when I decided that I no longer wished to participate in my Church’s  life.   But what really caused my decision, was the effective banning of the traditional Mass.   After each of my Parents died, I asked for a Traditional Requiem, which they loved, but on each occasion, I was told it was forbidden.   To forbid something hallowed by blood and tradition, something formerly obligatory on Sundays and Holy Days, completely repelled me.   After JPII died and after BXVI was elected Pope, I gritted my teeth and went to the two crowded services which followed one another.   Not one was concluded with Te Deum!   Every day I pray that the Pope “extends” the Motu Proprio, to the effect that each parish can celebrate Masses and other services and sacraments in both the old and the new style, so we can participate in the rite we prefer.  

  • Anonymous

    I am puzzled by AMDG’s replies. Why is he confusing the Mass as it was when first celebrated in Latin in the second or third century when it would undoubtedly have been in the vernacular with simple Latin, with the reformed Mass introduced by Pius V in 1570? Surely he is not claiming that the Tridentine Mass bears any resemblance (in its use of language, rubrics, additions and repetitions) with the rite that would have been used in the early centuries of the Church?

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Brian-Barker/1004522862 Brian Barker

    I don’t know if you’re interested but the Esperanto-Asocio de Britio will have an Esperanto stand at the London Language Show at the end of October.
    If you know of any Esperanto beginners there’s a taster course on Saturday afternoon as well.
    Tickets to the show are free, but you need to book using this link http://www.thelanguageshow.co.uk/page.cfm/link=7
    Amike salutas

  • Caroline

    Council of Trent Commons – Pope Pius IV

    “Though the mass contains much instruction for the faithful, it has, nevertheless, NOT been deemed advisable by the Fathers that it should be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular tongue…….”
    Canon 9.”states (among other things) that If anyone says that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only;…. let him be anathema.(meaning – accursed – going to Hell, etc…….)
    So it truly seems rather strange that we are attending Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Vernacular today doesn’t it…… This link is extremely enlightening..


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Johnson/100002117620278 Adrian Johnson


  • K. Smith

    The claim that the introduction of the vernacular led to vast numbers of defections is quite wrong. Many of those defections came about as a result of the ruling against ‘artificial’ birth control.

    These ongoing disputes over the ‘rightness’ of Latin is a bit of a distraction. I think it is rather nice to be spoken to in a language I understand, in my own country. To be spoken at in a foreign, archaic language really is quite rude, if you think about it. This ‘new’ translation, for many, is heading ‘in the right direction’ [ie: it is fully of archaic expressions and occasional lapses into silliness]
    This is a bit peculiar…Jesus himself spoke in a language and in a ‘style’ that was accessible and had immediate, often dramatic, impact. I really don’t want to have to take a course in a foreign language in order to take part in worship in my own country, thank you.

  • Javier de Mora-Figueroa

    At Torreciudad we have Latin Mass every Sunday. It was a pitty you attended other ones in Spanish. I was honored meeting you. Few weeks before I had read your “The Roman Option” and I liked it a lot. My best regards.
    Javier de Mora-Figueroa, Rector of Torreciudad.