Learning “The Language of the Land”

Learning “The Language of the Land”


In a recent article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, some odd questions are raised about the use of liturgical Latin:

Is it possible that the Traditional Latin Mass, though beautiful sounding Latin, merely makes one feel good, but lacks the intent necessary for the words to be properly labeled as communication of love of God? Or do all of the congregants have sufficient knowledge of Latin to intend the meaning of the words agreed to or spoken? Can the words uttered in the Latin Mass, although uttered in an angelic tongue, merely be a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal”? What about the potential invalidation of a sacrament (no Eucharist) resulting from mispronunciation of an unfamiliar language? Undoubtedly the questions may cause some heated reactions, but they are only intended to safeguard and ensure the sacraments have their intended effect, especially since there is an increasing use of an unfamiliar language for the sacrament that is the source, center, and summit of the Catholic Faith—the Most Holy Eucharist.

At Liturgy Guy, 1P5 contributor Brian Williams responds:

The obvious response is that for over a millennium, the Roman Mass has been offered in Latin, long after it ceased to be the language of the people. Did this question never occur to anyone before now? Or before the 20th century?

The main thrust of the article seems to be that it is difficult, if not impossible, to pray in a language that is not one’s own. Therefore, the individual worshipper cannot actually intend the meaning of the words, and the Mass cannot be a communication of love of God.

However, this objection misses two very important realities. When the Catechism says that the Mass is the preeminent prayer of the Church, it doesn’t mean “prayer” as a purely individual, subjective, devotional experience, but WORSHIP, that is offered publicly, corporately, and objectively, the ideal worship that is pleasing to God. This is worship as has been established by the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, taking into account both the human experience of religion, as well being faithful to the new reality that has now entered and embraced the human condition, that is the wedding of the human and divine in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, His Incarnation, his life, and His saving Death, Resurrection and Ascension.

Secondly: the Mass is preeminently the prayer of Christ, the offering of the Son to the Father, in which we worship and adore the Son, and join in his offering to the Father. It is not, first and foremost, our prayer. It is Christ’s prayer. It is the heavenly liturgy, into which we are privileged to take part.

A friend of mine posted her own take on the issue on Facebook. I found her thoughts to be unique and compelling, inasmuch as they should be obvious to all of us when considering this issue:

Latin? But I don’t know Latin? That makes no sense. I like knowing what’s being said and what I am saying.

Both my mom and sister are ESL teachers. My mom specifically works with the immigrant population. These are people who come here from all over the world and come to her classes to learn English (the language of our land). It’s hard. Really hard. Some of these folks have little formal education in their own native tongue. But they persevere. Why? Because they want to be citizens of this great country. I find that very ennobling.

I’ve had the great privilege to meet and speak with some of my mom’s students. She’d invite them to our home for dinners or for holidays to celebrate with us. On these occasions they would sit there at our table and do their best to talk with us. They’d struggle to find the right words or to pronounce things just right. But we’d help them out. I was very aware that they must have felt a little awkward and out of sorts. But this just endeared them to me all the more! I couldn’t help being in awe of how they willingly struggled so that they could become a part of a new country. Such dignity and strength!

And so enter Latin. The ancient universal language of the Church. Do I speak, read, or understand Latin? No. Very few do. But it has always been the Church’s “language of the land”. So I too am a poor immigrant pilgrim. I am welcomed and wanted, but there are demands put on me. It’s difficult. It can make me feel awkward or out of place if I let my insecurities get the best of me. But mostly it bestows a great dignity and nobility upon me. I am sacrificing certain familiar comforts for the sake of becoming a part of something higher, something greater. I want to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. So for those of you who might find yourself a little frustrated by the newer American “press one for English” practice. You think to yourself “hey it used to be that immigrants wanted to and submitted themselves to the learning of English. If you love the United States then just learn the language please!” Consider as Catholics part of the Church Universal we are called to the same heroic struggle. And it’s a beautiful thing. A struggle that ennobles and exalts while it unifies.


The writer [of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review article]finally uses the spousal relationship to illustrate how important using a common familiar language is for communicating love effectively.

Stunning – his blindness to the certainty that the most intimate and profound communications of love and dedication between spouses come without the use of any words at all! It is in the secret language spoken in silence known only to husband and wife that the mysteries of their love are communicated one to another. Words? Words seem cheap in comparison to this mystery.

This reality is precisely why the Latin Mass effects those who open themselves up to its beauty and demands so profoundly. It’s why they can’t stop talking about it or sharing it. They’re in love! And hearing words in their common tongue has nothing to do with it. Being able to speak words familiar and routine, ordinary and everyday, might make one feel more at ease but it unintentionally cheapens their meaning at the same time.

The resistance to Latin and the Latin Mass seems to me to stem from a need for comfort and a rejection of mystery. Familiar – comfortable.

Mysterious – uncomfortable.

Why does the familiar make one comfortable? Because it’s ours. It belongs to us. We are in control of it. The familiar answers to us. In contrast the mysterious can be scary. When placed into mystery We must ask it “what do you want from me?” We answer to it and its demands.

Sounds a lot closer to the kingdom Jesus described to Pilate: “my Kingdom is not of this world”

For most people of common sense, it stands to reason that when moving to a foreign country, we need to learn the language. To expect them to master our own tongue and communicate with us directly is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty narcissistic.

Latin is and for many centuries has been the Church’s living, universal language. I’ve covered some of this history here. I’ve also talked about the ease with which even a person who lacks a facility with Latin can get up to speed and follow a Latin Mass.

Why do we reject ecclesiastical Latin? Why do we, at a time when most people are more literate and thus more educated than they’ve ever been, when we have access to the sum total of human knowledge on devices we can fit in our pockets, do we balk at Latin in the liturgy? Is it really so hard?

Questions like those being raised in Homiletic & Pastoral Review should have long-since been put to rest.

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4 comments on “Learning “The Language of the Land”

  1. How childish!

    1. The efficacy of the Mass does not depend one whit on the congregants.

    2. The Council of Trent assured us that the Canon is “perfect.”

    3. If the priest doesn’t know what he is doing, he needs to solve that before attempting to offer the Mass.

  2. Latin is a “dead” language – meaning there are no new words and it is not spoken anywhere as a “national” language or what is termed the “vernacular.” The modernists know this and they also know they can manipulate the “vernacular” however they wish, particularly by inventing new words and changing the meaning of the existing vocabulary. So, it is no mystery why the time-honored language of the Church, Latin, was put on the shelf so-to-speak. Then, there are the melodious tones of the Latin expressed often in hymns and chants which the modernists just cannot stand because they express somewhat the solemnity and sacredness of the mysteries they signify. The modernists claim that Latin is too difficult to understand for the laity so, therefore the vernacular, is used in its place. But, this is hogwash because there have always been Latin-English (or mother tongue) missals where the Latin is on one side and the English, or vernacular, is on the facing page. These devious minds will never cease to foist their iniquities on the Faithful until the Vicar of Christ sends them packing. Or, until Our Lord and Savior sends the existing occupant of the Chair of Peter packing and installs His own Vicar in his place.

  3. Quote:”at a time when most people are more literate and thus more educated than they’ve ever been,”

    More literate? That is very debatable in the U.S. Literacy, at least as far as Catholic matters go, has actually declined since the 1970s and early ’80s when the last vestiges of the pre-Vatican II clergy were still teaching liturgical Latin here and there. Most of them are dead now.

    If you teach medieval and liturgical Latin in Middle School and High School in Catholic institutions (properly and comprehensively) then you do not have the problem of whether or not Catholic seminarians can achieve competency to say Mass in Latin when they are ordained. Now, this is a pseudo-problem because the progressive modernist wreckovators were the ones waging the war against Latin who created the literacy problem to begin with. Restore Latin as a scholarly language in Catholic high schools and colleges and you not only have candidates for the priesthood with the necessary Latin literacy but lay Catholics who can follow Mass with a Missal.

    This reminds me of the modernist fruitcakes in the 1980s who would always claim there was “no demand” or “no interest” in the traditional Latin Mass among laity without ever asking them. Who here was ever asked or polled by a modernist fruitcake from their diocese about whether they would attend a Latin Mass? Have you ever received such a letter from your local bishop? Did they ever send one? I have never seen such a letter from the modernist chancellor from our diocese who proclaimed there was “no interest” when John Paul II issued the first indult in the 1980s. Over a thousand people showed up for the first indult Mass in the diocese then. No interest?

    Restore the study of ecclesiastical Latin in Catholic schools and colleges at least down to fifth or sixth grade and see what happens. You will not only raise the SAT verbal scores of those students, but you will have Catholics with the necessary literacy to roll back the disaster of progressive modernism and the silliness of the Spirit of Vatican II which grows sillier and more absurd every time Pope Bergoglio opens his mouth and secular progressives and Protestants sing praises for him and his neo-Gnostic heresies.

    • “This reminds me of the modernist fruitcakes in the 1980s who would always claim there was “no demand” or “no interest” in the traditional Latin Mass among laity without ever asking them. Who here was ever asked or polled by a modernist fruitcake from their diocese about whether they would attend a Latin Mass?”
      In the late 1980s I asked the Local Ordinary if he would allow the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in the diocese and he replied: “No, not unless my presbyteral council asked me.” So much for the desires of the laity. Modernist fruitcakes is the proper term for these radicals.

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