Why Latin is the official Language of the Church and what the Popes have said about it

By Raymond Taouk

 

What are the principle reasons in favor of Latin as the official language of Catholic Church?

While the principles are but few, simple and profound, yet the benefits of the Latin as the official language of the Church as a rule are far to enormous and obvious to lay down in detail and so I shall simply set forth the principles and leave the reader to draw the conclusions: 

First reason: The concern for dogmatic unity.
 

The Catholic Church is a depository of the truths of faith without which "It is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6) The use of Latin in the liturgy is a most efficacious way of avoiding heresy; translations of the liturgical texts, which are being constantly updated, increase the risk of error in the transmission of divine teaching. That is why the Church has held to Latin for such a long time as a protective rampart for the integrity of her dogmas. This is because an unchangeable dogmas require an unchangeable language. Commenting on this point St. Alphonsus Liguori states: "The use of the Latin tongue was necessary in the west, in order to preserve the communication among the churches: had not this custom existed, a German could not celebrate in France. Besides, it frequently happens that the words of one language cannot express the full force of certain phrases in another tongue: hence, if in different countries, mass were celebrated in different languages, it would be difficult to preserve the identity of sense. The use of the common language was also necessary for the constant uniformity in the rite prescribed by the Church in the administration of the sacraments, and as a preventive of schisms in the Church: great confusion would arise from the translation of the Roman missal into the language of various countries." - (Exposition and Defense of all the points of Faith discussed and defined by the Sacred Council of Trent, Dublin 1846, Pg. 302-303).

Second reason: The concern for stability.

 
Living, spoken languages, English or Spanish for example, are always changing, perpetually and profoundly; it is certain that if our great-grandparents came back to life today, they would have difficulty in understanding the speech of their great-grandchildren. Now to celebrate the Mass in a living language is to condemn the liturgical text to these continual alterations and variations without end. That is what is established undeniably in the multiple editions of the New Mass edited in 1969. That is why it is preferable to preserve the Latin language which is dead i.e. no longer changing. In Fact it well known that the meaning of words is changed in the course of time by every -day usage. Words, which once had a good meaning, are now used in a vulgar or ludicrous sense. The Church, enlightened by the Holy Ghost, has chosen a language that is not liable to such changes.

Third reason: The concern for Tradition.


 

The Catholic Church venerates Tradition. Utilizing a dead language in the liturgy brings us something of the eternal and immutable God. That is why Pope Pius X said that "the true friends of the people (Catholics) are neither revolutionaries nor innovators, but traditionalists" (Letter on the Sillon; 25 VIII 1910). For this reason Dom Prosper Gueranger, founder of the Benedictine Congregation of France and first abbot of Solesmes after the French revolution,  wrote in 1840 his Liturgical Institutions in a work entitled "the anti-liturgical heresy" that:

"Hatred for the Latin language is inborn in the hearts of all the enemies of Rome. They recognize it as the bond among Catholics throughout the universe, as the arsenal of orthodoxy against all the subtleties of the sectarian spirit. . . . The spirit of rebellion which drives them to confide the universal prayer to the idiom of each people, of each province, of each century, has for the rest produced its fruits, and the reformed themselves constantly perceive that the Catholic people, in spite of their Latin prayers, relish better and accomplish with more zeal the duties of the cult than most do the Protestant people. At every hour of the day, divine worship takes place in Catholic churches. The faithful Catholic, who assists, leaves his mother tongue at the door. Apart form the sermons, he hears nothing but mysterious words which, even so, are not heard in the most solemn moment of the Canon of the Mass. Nevertheless, this mystery charms him in such a way that he is not jealous of the lot of the Protestant, even though the ear of the latter doesn't hear a single sound without perceiving its meaning . . . . We must admit it is a master blow of Protestantism to have declared war on the sacred language. If it should ever succeed in ever destroying it, it would be well on the way to victory. Exposed to profane gaze, like a virgin who has been violated, from that moment on the Liturgy has lost much of its sacred character, and very soon people find that it is not worthwhile putting aside one's work or pleasure in order to go and listen to what is being said in the way one speaks on the marketplace. . . ."

Fourth reason: The concern for universality.


 

Since Latin was spoken in numerous countries for many centuries, it is impartial and does not arouse jealousies between nations. It is the prerogative of no one and therefore can be accepted by all. That is why it has been maintained by the Catholic Church as a universal language, uniting the faithful in the practice of religion for all times and in all places. This is because a universal Church requires a universal language.

Fifth reason: Latin has many linguistic qualities.


 

Noble and harmonious, Latin protects the sacred mystery from the profane and the vulgar; clear and precise, it makes it possible to avoid haziness and vagueness; concise and diversified, it stops the introduction of garrulity and monotony. That is why it incites, in an inimitable manner, toward solemnity and contemplation of prayer. It also forces (to a greater extent) the speaker to articulate in a grammatical structure his statement, which in general is a sign of real thought behind ones speech.

Sixth reason - Variety of Languages is the result of Sin

 
The Variety of Languages is a punishment (Genesis 11:7) a consequence of sin; it was inflicted by God that the human race might be dispersed over the face of the earth. The Holy Church, the immaculate Spouse of Jesus Christ, has been established for the express purpose of destroying sin and uniting all mankind; consequently she must everywhere speak the same language.

 

What has the Church taught about this?

 

Pope Pius XI, Officiorum Omnium, 1922

"For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time... of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular."

Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei

"The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine."

Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962

"The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic and non-vernacular."

Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963

#36 "The use of Latin, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin Rites."

#54 "Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure 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."

Pope Paul VI, Sacrificium Laudis, 1966

"The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety... we must not hold in low esteem these traditions of your fathers which were your glory for centuries."

John Paul II (27, Nov. AD. 1978, AAS 71 (1979) 45.)

Ad iuvenes ergo imprimis convertimur, qui hac aetate, qua litterae Latinae et humanitatis studia multis locis, ut notum est, iacent, hoc veluti Latinitatis patrimonium, quod Ecclesia maxime aestimat, alacres accipiant oportet et actuosi frugiferum reddant. Noverint ii hoc Ciceronis effatum ad se quodam modo referri: "Non ... tam praeclarum est scire Latine, quam turpe nescire".

Omnes autem vos, qui hic adestis, et socios, qui vobis opitulantur, adhortamur, ut pergatis nobilem laborem et attollatis facem Latinitatis, quae est etiam, licet arctioribus quam antea finibus circumscriptum, vinculum quoddam inter homines sermone diversos.

Scitote beati Petri in summo ministerio apostolico successorem  incepti vestri felices exitus precari, vobis adesse, vos confirmare. Cuius rei auspex sit Apostolica Benedictio, quam vobis singulis universis libentissime in Domino impertimus.

John Paul II (26., Nov. AD. 1979, AAS 71 (1979) 1524.

Macte virtute et ingenio estote! Linguam Latinam, Romana maiestate et breviloquentia insignem, quasi ad sculpendum verum et rectum idoneam, ad acriter et logice cogitandum impellentem, diligenter colite et meditatis consiliis quoquoversus provehite! Contendite, ut, antiquorum praecepta secuti, semper dilucide et plane et, cum res fert, ornate et numerose, apte et congruenter dicatis Latine atque scribatis.

Denique divina auxilia vobis precantes, Benedictionem Apostolicam amantissime impertimus.

 

Code of Canon Law

Can. 249 - Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant necnon congruam habeant cognitionem alienarum linguarum, quarum scientia ad eorum formationem aut ad ministerium pastorale exercendum necessaria vel utilis videatur.

Can. 249 - The program for priestly formation is to make provision that the students are not only carefully taught their native language but also that they are well skilled in the Latin language; they are also to have a suitable familiarity with those foreign languages which seem necessary of useful for their own formation or for the exercise of their pastoral ministry.

 

Can. 928 - Eucharistica celebratio peragatur lingua latina aut alia lingua, dummodo textus liturgici legitime approbati fuerint.

Can. 928 - The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.