Latin is a Dead Language


Q.What is the point of saying mass in Latin? It is a dead language.

A.Yes, Latin is a dead language and that is precisely why it is so useful. The meaning of the words do not change as they do in living languages. Because of this, what the Church teaches and prays remains constant and unchanging, just as it should. The essential doctrines of Christianity must not change, and the safest way to preserve them intact is to keep them in an unchangeable, “dead” language.

Latin is the liturgical language of the Western Catholic Church, just as Hebrew is the official liturgical language still used in the Synagogue.

In the Latin Mass, that Pope Benedict, recently liberalized in his motu proprio (personal intitiative), Summorum Pontificum, when the Priest is speaking not to men, but to God in the name of men, during communal prayers and the liturgy of the Eucharist he will speak in the language of the Church-in Latin. When on the other, hand he speaks to the people, he will speak in the local language. The homily/sermon is never in Latin.

If the faithful do not know Latin they can use a missal that has both the English and the Latin translations side by side. I am very pleased. I have only been Catholic for eight years but I had a weird experience shortly after coming into the Church.

As a convert I was especially excited about the fact that the Catholic Church was THE ORIGINAL CHURCH founded by Jesus Christ Himself. This was evidenced to me by the unchanging aspect of Her doctrine, especially how the beliefs of the Church today could be found in the first centuries of the writings of the Church Fathers. I had also learned how the Latin Language had been instrumental in preserving the Faith because Latin was a DEAD LANGUAGE. In a class that was training catechists someone asked a question about Latin. I began to explain how useful the Latin was for the Church…when I was immediately cut off as soon as it became apparent that my comments were positive about Latin. The instructor countered what I said and pooh poohed any use for the Latin. I was dumbstruck. I did not get it because I did not know about the politics of Latin in the Church. Later, I found out that there are many who think the doctrines of the Catholic Church should change. Therefore, getting rid of Latin would make it much easier to change and shift the doctrines to conform with the Spirit of the Age.

So, this reaffirmation of the Latin will bind us ever closer to authentic Christian doctrine as taught by Jesus Christ.

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9 Responses to Latin is a Dead Language

  1. Joel says:

    I wish Latin were used more extensively also. I understand that the Pope is calling for more Latin to be used in every liturgy now. Another good thing about Latin is That it was the language of scholarship all the way up to the 19th Century and in some places even into the beginning of the 20th. One of the few exceptions was with the philosophers who began to write in the local languages around the 18th Century. All of the primary sources of Western history is written in Latin, which is quite significant. Because of the stucture of the language it would also encourge a higher order of thought organization. I am not sure if The Dark Night was originally written in Latin or Spanish, but I do know the Spiritual Exercizes of St. Ignasious were originally in Latin along with countless other good Catholic literature. All really good stuff.

  2. Michael says:

    Latin should be restored (in the Latin Church, that is): there are numerous reasons for it, but I resent the claim that it is “the liturgical language of the Catholic Church”, because it is implicitly hostile toward the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as false historically: during the first millennium one half of the Catholic Church used Greek language. And if, God willing, a reunion takes place one day, the latter will be the case again.

    Off the subject, but as a link with the post about Contradistinction and Orthodox, Fr. Gregory’s comments and mine; the above quoted statement would be unsubstantial were it not illustrative of the way how the mind of an ordinary Westerner operates subconsciously. There are hundred of similar examples.

  3. bfhu says:

    Michael,
    I have made the changes. I honestly didn’t know that Greek is the language of the Eastern Catholic Churches…or does each have it’s own ethnic liturgical language?–I am a California convert…can’t get more western than that except Alaska, I guess, oops Hawaii. Is Australia a Western Catholic Church in the East?

    I did know about the Eastern Catholics, of course, and some of the differences but I have no day to day experience of them. My apologies to Eastern Catholics for my western chauvinism.

  4. aboriente says:

    Let us not forget the Aramaic speaking part too. ;)

    On a serious note, that Latin should always be available to the Church is correct and one thing, but let us also remember that not everybody has the capacity to learn or memorize Latin parts. It will not do to keep a Latin-only mentality. The spoken language is what the populace uses.

    Striking a balance and translating are not new problems. Before Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and before St. Jerome’s work on the Latin Vulgate, there was the Vetus Latina. The transition from a Semitic Liturgy to the Greek needed to take place. From Greek to a Latin Liturgy the same.

    I don’t have the answers. I love the OLD language Liturgy of our Church now. Since I have learned to read and understand it more, I love it even more, because it sounds awesome and reverential and gives a sense of an unchanging quality to the worship.

    Yet, I love to hear our youth, and other people born in the US who do not even know our spoken language very well, when they are telling me, after an English version of our Liturgy, how much they were touched and awed by what was being proclaimed in it.

    How to handle things? I don’t know! I don’t envy Pope Benedict or the other patriarchs… nor the bishops and priests… nor the Liturgists and historians. They have a hard task. We have to pray that the Holy Spirit leads them in ways that are pleasing to God. One thing for sure, one has to to treat it as a prayer to please God, bringing their best to Him… not dumb it down and conform to the lowest common denominator, putting in dashes and flashes to trick people into coming. The focus must always be on Christ… our God, our Lord, our King, our Savior.

  5. Michael says:

    Dear BFHU, you are a good boy.

    Do not take offence, please, because none is meant; but what you write now is yet another of those hundreds of similar examples….

    An average Western Catholic has no clue who our Eastern Catholics brethren are; nor is he interested. And you, as a convert, were not instructed, because the priest who received you in the Church did not know himself, and wasn’t interested to learn. What the Eastern Catholics have in common is that, for them, the Latin is not the language of the Catholic Church, but only of one of the languages. They use their modern vernaculars or their ancient liturgical languages (Church Slavonic, Gheez, Coptic, Syriac). Only a small number of them are ethnical Greeks, and use their Greek, vernacular or liturgical.

    By saying that “during the first millennium one half of the Catholic Church used Greek language”, I meant the time before the 1054 break when the Eastern four ancient Patriarchates (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria) – all linguistically Greek, were in communion with the Western, Roman, Latin Patriarchate but not a part of it; and so, together with the latter, constituted the Catholic Church. In other words, the eastern part of, then, Catholic Church used Greek language in liturgy and theology. (For the sake of simplicity I have deliberately skipped the Eastern, precalcedonic Churches.)

    But here again, a typical Western Catholic; I mean Latin; geographically: all (including Eastern USA, and Australia, Hawaii etc) – but the Eastern Europe, Siberia, north-east Africa and Near East), finds it difficult to take on board, that prior to 1050 (I am using this year conventionally), only the Western part of the Catholic Church was Latin. He still thinks in terms: Latin, Western Church = Catholic Church in an exclusive sense.

  6. Michael, honestly I am a bona fide Greek Catholic and I don’t see a problem here.

    Most of the stuff she writes is first and foremost intended to address concerns of Evangelicals – which is her background before becoming Catholic. Nuancing every single post with “East/West/non-Chalcedonian” and the like is not only a bit of a mouthful, but could be rather distracting.

    - Peccator Simplex

  7. Michael says:

    BHFU, I am sincerely sorry.

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