Latin and English in the Mass


The use of the term Latin Mass is not specific enough. There is one Mass of the Latin Rite, the Mass published in Latin by Paul VI in 1969 according to the norms of the Second Vatican Council. Any other language is a translation of that "typical edition" of the Roman Mass. So, the official Mass text of the Latin Rite is, and will always be, in Latin.

In this country, where we are used to the Mass in English, "Latin" Mass usually means the Tridentine (Trent) Mass, that is, the Mass according to the Missal of Pius V (1570), last modified in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. This Mass according to the Missal of 1962, or Tridentine Mass, is celebrated by Indult (permission) of the Holy See for those who have a desire for the Mass as it was before Vatican II. It is also celebrated validly but illegally by schismatic groups like the Society of St. Pius X, the Society of St. Pius V and others.

The Mass on EWTN, which is said in the vernacular but includes some Latin, is according to the current norms. The Second Vatican Council desired the retention of Latin as the ritual language of the Roman Rite. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy the Council stated,

36. § 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

§ 2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

§ 3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, § 2, to decide whether and to what extent the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

Following the Council the Roman implementing documents continued on this course.

Instruction on the Liturgy, Congregation of Rites, 16 October 1964

59. Pastors of souls shall carefully see to it that the faithful, more particularly the members of lay religious associations, also know how to say or to sing together in the Latin language those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertains to them, especially with the use of simpler melodies.

47. According to the Constitution on the Liturgy, while particular laws remain in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." However, since "the use of the vernacular may often be of great advantage to the people" "it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to decide whether, and to what extent, one should use the vernacular, their decrees being approved—that is, confirmed—by the Holy See." In observing these norms exactly, one will therefore employ that form of participation which best matches the capabilities of each congregation.

Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy, Sacred Congregation of Rites, 5 March 1967

Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular "the faithful also know how to say or sing, in Latin also, those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

When the bishops asked for the entire Mass in the vernacular, Pope Paul VI granted this, but continued to insist on the people being able to pray the "ordinary parts" (that is, those that remain the same in every Mass, such as the dialogues "Dominus vobiscum" "Et cum spiritu tuo," Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei etc.) in Latin and ALSO according to the simple Gregorian chant modes. Thus,

Iubilate Deo, Preface, Pope Paul VI, 14 April 1974

The Bond of Unity. The Second Vatican Council in the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" added the following reminder to its exhortation that vernacular languages should have a suitable place in liturgical celebration: It should be arranged that the faithful can say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass that belongs to them.

The Supreme Pontiff Paul VI has followed this trend of thought in recent times. he has often expressed two desires: that Gregorian Chant with its pleasing melody might accompany and support the Eucharistic celebrations of the people of God; that the voices of the faithful might resound in both the Gregorian Chant and in the vernacular.

"General Instruction on the Roman Missal," Roman Missal, 1975, 3rd ed. The Roman Missal or Sacramentary is the altar missal of the priest.

19. Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the profession of faith and the Lord's Prayer, set to simple melodies.

The Roman Liturgy and Inculturation, Congregation for Divine Worship, 25 January 1994.

40. Music and singing, which express the soul of people, have pride of place in the liturgy. And so singing must be promoted, in the first place singing the liturgical text, so that the voices of the faithful may be heard in the liturgical actions themselves. . . (84)

Footnote 84: Cf. Vatican Council 11, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 118; also n. 54: While allowing that "a suitable place be allotted to the language of the country" in the chants "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" especially the Pater noster; cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio generalis, n. 19.

Finally, in an address tailored to the needs of the United States, the Holy Father summed up the position of the Church when he spoke to American bishops who were in Rome for their ad limina visit. He stated,

Fidelity to Doctrinal Foundations Must Guide All Liturgical Renewal, Address to US Bishops, 9 October 1998.

The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned.

Thus, from the Council to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has had the consistent intention to preserve the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant (sung Latin melodies) in the Mass of the Roman Rite, even when offered in the vernacular. As has been the practice in the daily Mass aired by EWTN, the common parts, or some portion of them, can easily be said in Latin and the changeable parts and priestly prayers in the vernacular. In this way the patrimony of the Latin Rite is preserved by its use in the unchanging parts, quite few in number and easily memorizable, while the prayers particular to each liturgy are accessible to the faithful in their own language.


Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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