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What do I tell a friend who thinks the reason for Latin was so the people couldn’t understand the Mass?

Full Question

My friend is convinced that the reason the Church used Latin was so the people couldn’t understand what was being said at Mass, especially the Gospel. How do I respond?


Remind your friend that prior to Vatican II, Latin-English missals with side-by-side texts were used at Mass, so the faithful could follow along and not miss a word. Usually the priest read the Gospel first in Latin, then in the vernacular. Sermons were given in the vernacular. If the Church didn’t want anyone to understand what was being said at Mass, then everything, including the homily, would be have been spoken in Latin, and the people would not have had missals to follow during Mass.

Latin was used in the Mass for centuries because it is the official language of the Church. Cardinal Arinze says that Latin “suits a Church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don’t have . . . ”

In Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII calls the use of Latin in the liturgy “an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth.”

The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. In spite of this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people. But the Apostolic See alone is empowered to grant this permission. It is forbidden, therefore, to take any action whatever of this nature without having requested and obtained such consent, since the sacred liturgy, as we have said, is entirely subject to the discretion and approval of the Holy See. (MD 60)



  1. RuariJM Reply

    Tell your friend that Latin was the common language of the Mediterranean, Europe and Britain was Latin. They spoke Greek for fun.

    Latterly, the value of Latin is that it doesn’t change; its meaning is “set in stone”, if you like!

    So, far for seeking to impede understanding, the idea was to spread understanding as far as possible.

  2. Jasper Heath Reply

    It was also favorable to Coucils of bishops wherein no misunderstanding of meaning could be possible. A simple, effective and efficient methodology for making sure there was clear agreement of meaning, at the least, in debates among them throughout history. Try that with the PROTESTant sects who are solely interested in their common language (Greek Orthodox, et al.) or national unity (Russian Orthodox), or mere regional pride filled sects (Southern Baptist, et al.).

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