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The Vatican Rag

Latin Mass: It's Back!

by William P. Meyers

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Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to publish a document allowing for conducting Mass in Latin. Which is a relief here at the Vatican Rag; we were worried he was going to make German the international language of the Mass.

It is unclear when the early Latin Mass evolved out of earlier rights of communion and prayer. There is no doubt that the Mass was said in Latin when I was a child, and was changed to the local language (in my case, English) when I was in Catholic School. But the reformers of that era did more than that: they changed what was said in the mass. Apparently the Mass of my childhood is known as the Tridentine Mass and was formulated in the 1500's. Apparently it had some anti-Semitic elements, which is probably why it is a happy memory for Benedict XVI.

The Latin Mass has not actually been banned all this time. You could get special permission to say it, but a lot of bishops were against it. Since the Church hierarchy has been largely purged of the reformers in the last 30 years, this new Latin Mass is probably part of a larger game plan (secret code name: Pontiff Uber Alles).

But seriously, saying that God prefers Latin is kind of weird. Is the Catholic Church really trying to say that the Roman Emperors, who claimed to be Gods and Sons of Gods, were right? It seems to me that Jesus spoke Aramaic and maybe a little Hebrew if he went to Rabbi school, which he probably did. The New Testament itself was written in Greek, bad Greek according to those who could actually write Greek.

Why not the Greek Mass? That is what they celebrate in the Orthodox Church, which predates the Latin Church. Peter is claimed to have established the Church in Rome (See my Was Peter the First Pope?). Maybe Peter went to Rome late in life; maybe he picked up a few words of Latin.

What Latin amounts to is tradition for tradition's sake.

There are so many things wrong with the Catholic faith, I see no reason to oppose Latin Masses. People were leaving the Church as fast as they could back in the 1960's. That was the real reason we got to hear the Mass in English after Vatican II. Hearing it in English made it relatively easy to understand. Which made it easy for me to leave, and for people with a different mentality to stay.

There is a lot of value in some of the old Latin writers, but there was even more in Greek. Just a century ago knowledge of Latin was considered to be essential to a scholar. It was, indeed, the language of the educated European. However, the Mass is not one of the great works in Latin. Given that you can get good translations of Cicero and Virgil in English and just about every other language, only a language or history specialist has much business learning Latin these days.