Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
Latin in the Catholic Church

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Oct. 5, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson I have said that I think the ETWN liturgies use far too much Latin (“ Liturgy Reflections: Mysterious Liturgy,” IR 7/6/06). It becomes a needless obstacle to “full and conscious participation.”

Some reflections on Latin:

During Vatican II, in 1962, Pope John XXIII issued an apostolic constitution, the most formal and serious of papal declarations, declaring that seminarians continue to learn Latin and Greek and that their theology courses be taught in the Latin language, as was the case when I was a seminarian. This apostolic constitution was totally ignored, because it was completely out of touch with what was happening in the world.

Even the recent synod of bishops in Rome gave up on using Latin as the common language at their meetings, because hardly any of the bishops present understood Latin. Instead, they used Italian and English. English, by the way, is now the international language. If the Church thinks she needs a “universal language,” then English would seem to be the appropriate one, since Latin is understood by virtually no one, and English is the favored language for most people around the world who are bilingual.

I am fully aware that the Council gave pride of place to Latin, and that Latin should somehow be preserved. The bishops of the Council were struggling to hold on to things of the past, but it appears to be a case of grasping at straws. Latin is dying out, and even chant, as beautiful as it is, can only be done well by people who have serious training in that kind of music – training that is not available in most parishes. In the earliest centuries the liturgy was always in the language of the people, and now we have returned to our most ancient and traditional roots - celebrating the liturgy in the language the assembly can understand. Jesus spoke no unintelligible language at the Last Supper, nor should we be trying to move in that direction.

That’s why today the vernacular is once again available. It is admirable that some people see the beauty in the old Latin language, and in the Latin Mass the way it was celebrated following the Council of Trent. But that form of liturgy does not provide for the “full, conscious and active participation” of the people. “Full and active participation” is the “aim to be considered above all else” in the ongoing renewal of the liturgy. Thus the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy teaches that liturgies are “in the vernacular for the sake of a better comprehension of the mystery being celebrated.” This is what Vatican II taught, and that teaching came from the Church’s solemn magisterium. Like the bishops and popes, I believe what the Council teaches is the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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