“Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular, 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” (Sacred Congregation of Rites, Musicam sacram , no. 47).
“The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself” (Pope St. John Paul II, Dominicae cenae , no. 10).
“I ask that…priests…use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant” (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis , no. 62).
“…the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium , no. 36).
“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” (Pope St. John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, ).
These five abovementioned quotes—two by saints and one from the latest Council of the Catholic Church—attest to the honor that is due to the Latin language in the Church. Latin possesses a certain unique character to it precisely because it is no longer often spoken colloquially. Latin also has a certain permanence in what it conveys without having any contemporary, informal jargon and expressions entering into the language. In addition, Latin holds a certain poetic quality to it, especially in its arrangement in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Above all, the use of Latin in the Mass brings the priest and faithful in touch with the true mystery being celebrated at the altar. Vernacular languages, by definition, are familiar because we speak them every day. By having a language reserved, however, and used especially for the greatest act of mankind before his God—the Sacrifice of the Mass—Latin helps to elevate us to the mystery of God Himself. This language is something out-of-the-ordinary precisely because our worship of God is something that ought to be unique among all the other ways that we give honor to God throughout our week.
Admittedly, Mass celebrated in the vernacular throughout the West since the implementation of the Second Vatican Council has yielded not a sense of mystery, but rather, a sense of common ordinariness. When Mass is celebrated in the common language, there is nothing particular that sets it apart from the other activities that we “do” during the week. Consequently, we see the majority of Catholics in the West who choose other activities instead of attending Sunday Mass. If there is no transcendent quality in one’s life as reflected in how or what a person worships, then why wouldn’t one spend every day on temporal activities instead of attending to the nature of his soul every once and awhile? Latin in the Mass aids us to attain that sense of “other-worldliness,”—the supernatural aspect of our life—within our soul because the language we express is out-of-the-ordinary and specially reserved for God’s worship.
The Council Fathers’ wishes in many respects have been ignored in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, and the liturgical life of the Church is ground zero. The loss of faith among the faithful and even among the clergy who go through the liturgical motions but have little to no supernatural faith have shipwrecked many souls. Even a five-year-old can see honestly that the situation in the Church today is not what it was decades ago because her liturgical life is very confused based on which priest happens to be celebrating Mass and whether he has any faith, weak faith, or no faith, or whether he has any respect for the rubrics or any tangible love for God beyond a preening narcissism that needs constant affirmation among the faithful.
The loss of Latin is also due in no small measure to a vocal group among clergy and laity alike who have a personal and unreasonable aversion to Latin. The Mass, however, belongs to the Church and not to any one person. People who base their worship of God on personal preferences are called Protestants. Instead, Catholicism has a patrimony in the Roman Church that goes back to the catacombs with Greek and Latin. In her wisdom and through the ages, the Church decided that her worship of God is best expressed in its highest form using the Latin language with the Greek retained for the Kyrie and Hebrew maintained for Amen, Alleluia, and Hosanna.
Consequently, on the first Sunday in Lent, we will begin singing together the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) in Latin. This is one of the standard Mass parts that every Catholic should know in Latin. In our missalette, the Agnus Dei is found as #845. The English translation follows the Latin in a one-to-one translation, and therefore, the Latin will be easy for us to learn. The translation is as follows:
Agnus (Lamb) Dei (of God) qui (who) tollis (takes away) peccata (the sins) mundi (of the world): miserere (have mercy) nobis (on us)…dona (grant) nobis (us) pacem (peace).
There are many Catholics today, unfortunately, who have a visceral reaction to anything Latin. They fail to grasp their true patrimony and concentrate instead on their personal feelings, which are as changeable as the wind. Our heart, mind, and will are meant to soar to the heights of heaven in our divine worship of God, and our prayer is that this re-introduction into the Mass—which should have been there all along—will help unite our heart and soul to the one, true Sacrifice of the Cross made for you and for me each time we come to the holy altar of God!
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler