Language of the Church?

Did you ever feel inadequate for the task ahead? Or that somehow, you didn’t receive the necessary part of your training. Recently, we had a visit from some family members along with the pastor of their Dutch Reformed parish. During our time together throughout the weekend, we had a lot of time to talk about our experiences in ministry. At one point, his wife told us how he studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and asked if I had done the same. To my complete shame, I responded that I had not. In fact, most of my generation of Roman Catholic clergy have not studied the sacred Languages. Most of today’s clergy were cheated a beautiful part of our Catholic tradition. Latin is the language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. And, no matter what anyone may tell you, it remains, the official language of the Church.

Blessed John XXIII made it clear in “Veterum Sapientia” that Latin is the Sacred Language of the Church and must be preserved and used.

“Thus the “knowledge and use of this language,” so intimately bound up with the Church’s life, “is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.” These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church’s nature. “For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time … of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”

Most people claim that the Second Vatican Council demanded that the Mass and all Sacraments be translated into the vernacular. This is not true! The Church made Her intentions clear in Sacrosanctum Concilum. “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” (36. 1.) It is as if a great wind swept through the Church, and Latin has been all but obliterated. Most seminaries and Religious houses dropped Latin, or only offered one or two semesters as a nostalgic token of days gone by. Seminarians who displayed the slightest interest in Latin were sent off for psychological evaluation and eventually informed that they did not have a vocation.

A big change started with the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was an expert in the Liturgical field. His writings make it clear that not all the innovations following Vatican II were the mind of the Council Fathers and the Church. He first made it clear through his example from the use of Latin in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Eucharistic prayer is often recited in Latin, the Mass propers and Sacred Latin Music once again are heard during Pontifical Liturgies in St. Peters. The Holy Father has also restored the Traditional Latin Mass, now known as the Extraordinary Form, giving all priests of the Latin Rite in good standing the right to celebrate both forms of the Mass without permission from his Ordinary.  In the follow-up document, Universae Ecclesiae, from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, asked that Bishops offer clergy and seminarians the necessary training need to celebrate Mass and the Sacraments in Latin.

“Ordinaries are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin[8] and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.” (UE 21)

As we move into the future, and seminaries generously respond to the Holy Father’s call, clergy will once again be knowledgeable in the sacred language of the Church.

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About Fr. Jay Finelli

Father Jay Finelli is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in the state of Rhode Island. He is a webmaster, podcaster, and blogger. In his free time, Father is an avid Live Steam enthusiast.

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