The Most Eminent P. D. Antonio Cardinal Bacci
The following is the speech Cardinal Bacci gave at the Council in
October 1962 on Latin the use of the vernacular in the Sacred Liturgy of
the Latin Church.
(To the) Venerable Council Fathers,
On the Latin tongue in the sacred Liturgy.
Do not think me, as a lover of the Latin tongue, to be too great and
exaggerated a lover of the Latin language in all the rites of the sacred
Liturgy. Indeed, not at all; for I am open to realizing the necessities
of our times. I shall relate to you my opinion concerning this matter as
briefly as I am able.
1. National languages, in my judgment, ought not to be brought into the
celebration of the Mass, so much because it can produce grave danger and
harm; as because the very thing which we all desire to obtain, that is,
a greater participation of the people in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and
for listeners a greater understanding of those things which are read by
the priest, can be attained in another and more apt manner, I say in
another and more apt way.
Already the distinguished man Antonio Rosmini, in his little book «Le
cinque piaghe della Chiesa» (On the five wounds of the Church) has
asserted that the Latin tongue is an obstacle between the celebrant and
the people; but this book has already been condemned by the Church. And
not only the Council of Trent (sess. 22, cap. 8, can. 9), but also the
Roman Pontiffs have ordained that Mass in the western Church be
celebrated in the Latin language, always preserving the other liturgical
tongues of the oriental Church… It suffices to recall to mind the
Encyclical Letter of Pius XII, on the sacred Liturgy; and also the most
recent Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia of the reigning Pontiff.
2. But it is easily proved that by substituting national languages for
the Latin tongue, either partially, or entirely, we are not able to
obtain the very thing which some strive for; that which is desired is
And indeed, by simple and bare reading made in the national tongue, the
people understands very little or nothing, particularly if it concerns
difficult matters, as e.g. on the epistle to the Hebrews, readings of
the Old Testament, the book of Revelation, etc.; no indeed, in the
meanwhile, doubts and perturbations of the soul can be produced, most of
all in adolescents, for example in the reading of the story of the
lustful old men who wish to consort with the chaste Susanna, and in the
reading «His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall
embrace me» (Canticle of Canticles 2:6; 8:3). These want for right
interpretation, not merely bare translation.
3. How, therefore, are we able to remove this obstacle, which in truth
exists, and to achieve this laudable proposal? Through a homily made in
the vulgar tongue, through catechism to the people, by which all things
might opportunely be explained and accommodated to the understanding of
the people. This the Supreme Pontiffs have already sanctioned and more
and more often have commended. But a bare translation of Sacred
Scripture into the vulgar tongues avails very little for the
understanding of the people and for fostering its piety. For this same
reason, translations of the Sacred Scriptures without suitable
annotations are not approved by the Church, at least not for the people.
Moreover, there is in use today a Missal translated into the national
languages. And likewise, much more laudably, it happens in many places
that while the priest celebrates the Mass in the Latin tongue, a certain
approved speaker recites the words of the sacred rite in the vulgar
tongue, with opportune observations accommodated to the grasp of the
It is therefore not at all necessary to introduce the national languages
into the celebration of the Mass, which otherwise, as I shall soon
indicate, is able rather to cause the gravest harm.
4. As a matter of fact, that which is sought after, that is, greater
understanding on the part of the people, more participation, we not only
cannot achieve in this manner, but also, dangers, divisions, and
contentions in not a few regions of mixed language are easily brought
For in what language, which is not Latin, will the Mass be celebrated,
e.g. in Alto Adige or South Tyrol? In what language in some cities of
Switzerland, where there are three languages in use? In what tongue in
Canada, where the English and French tongues are in use? In what tongue
in parts of the Belgian nation, where likewise two languages are had?
Certainly for this reason one ought to fear lest nationalism and its
contentions be brought to the altar and thrust upon the Eucharistic
sacrifice. That this indeed would be very detrimental, no man does not
see; while on the contrary, the Latin tongue, as the Supreme Pontiffs
have asserted, ought to be a bond of unity; and if, as I have said
above, it is explained correctly and advantageously through homilies and
catechism—which is entirely necessary and… [which] the Supreme Pontiffs
have set down—the sacred rites are able to be understood by the people.
I appeal to you, therefore, venerable Fathers, that you consider a
matter of such great importance with attentive mind, lest harm be
brought to the unity of the church.
5. The matter is had in a different way when it is concerned with
Sacraments and Sacramentals. For indeed, while in the public celebration
of Mass the matter is between the people and the celebrant, on the other
hand, in the administration of some Sacraments it is between the priest
and only one believer, (as in sacramental Confession), or between the
priest and a few faithful, often of the same language, as in Baptism, in
Confirmation, in Extreme Unction, in matrimony and in sacramentals.
As I have said, the national languages also can be introduced into the
rites of some Sacraments, yet with the approval of the Apostolic See.
Pius XII has already written of it, in a general way, in the Encyclical
Letter on the sacred Liturgy (AAS, vol. 39, p. 545).
6. Yet it seems opportune to me that this very grave case be not left to
individual episcopal Conferences of particular regions (cap. 1, n. 24),
but that it be established in a unitary way—a unitary way —for the whole
Church by the Apostolic See.
For if the thing is left to the undertakings and petitions of episcopal
Conferences, great diversity will be had in various regions, with
detriment of unity and perhaps with Babelic confusion; and for that
reason it will be harmful, since today not only Catholic men, but
priests also easily bring themselves from one region to another, from
one nation to another.
These things have I considered, venerable Fathers, which I would propose
to your contemplation and prudence. At this point, there follow the
formulae which, in my judgment, ought to be substituted in this schema…
The speech is available in Volume 1 of the "Acta Synodalia”, bk. 1,
Translation by Timothy Wilson