Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam

Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam

Some churchgoing Catholics in the Anglosphere will remain largely untouched by the new translation of the Roman Missal. The Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholic churches, which claim about half a million members in the United States alone, is unaffected. So is the traditional Latin Mass, aka the Mass of Bl. John XXIII—Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

The Mass of Paul VI, or Mass in the ordinary form of the Roman rite, is what most Catholics understand the eucharistic liturgy to be. They have never prayed Mass or the Divine Liturgy in a different rite or even in the extraordinary form of the one rite they do have experience with.

Note that the traditional Latin Mass and the Mass of Paul VI both belong to the Roman rite. Both share the same language, Latin. The most famous difference between them is that Mass in the ordinary form is usually celebrated according to official translations into various vernacular languages, whereas in the extraordinary form it’s always said in Latin.

Proposals for judicious introduction of the vernacular often figured into discussions of liturgical reform before the Mass of Paul VI was finally promulgated in 1969. Meanwhile, the assumption that Latin would remain the primary language of the Roman rite ran deep.

John XXIII championed Latin and in his apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia (1962) hailed its virtues, calling on the Church to promote the knowledge and use of it. In Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), which the Second Vatican Council offered as the framework for liturgical reform, we read that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” In the paragraphs that immediately follow, the Council fathers went on to permit use of the vernacular. By the early 1970s, retention of Latin in the Roman liturgy was reduced to a technicality, as the primary text, rarely consulted by the laity, did remain in the ancient tongue.

Now the new translation of the missal narrows that gap between English-speaking Catholics and the Latin of the Mass. “And with your spirit” may sound enigmatic, but it has the virtue of being an accurate representation, in English, of what the missal, in Latin, actually prescribes that we say: “Et cum spiritu tuo.”

Latin is the official language of the Church, but few of us bother to learn it.

If you do, it’s probably because you love it. Do you love it because you’ve gotten to know it? Or do you take the trouble to learn it because you start out with a love for it and do what you have to do to get to know it better?

In any case, why isn’t instruction in Latin at the core of our Catholic education, much as Jewish students intent on learning their faith attend Hebrew school, where they study that other lingua sacra, the language of Moses, David, and the prophets? Someday. Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei, et Deus meus.

Photo: Courtesy of Robert Lucero, O.F.M.



About the Author

Nick Frankovich is an editor for Servant Books, an imprint of Franciscan Media. His favorite book in the Hebrew Bible is Genesis; in the New Testament, the Gospel of John. His favorite novel is The Great Gatsby. His favorite team is the Cleveland Indians.