Skip to comments.Restore Latin to the Mass [Lutheran / LCMS Mass, that is]
Posted on 06/26/2014 2:47:24 AM PDT by markomalley
Its been roughly 500 years since Martin Luther introduced the language of the people to the Mass the Divine Liturgy of the Church. 500 years since the historic language of the Western Church was purged from the worship of Gods people. As a student of history, I understand why Luther thought this was necessary. Indeed, there is goodness in hearing and understanding the Liturgy in ones native tongue. But Luthers experiment with language should end. Its time to restore Latin to the Mass of the Western Church. Its time to reintroduce the language of the Church to her people.
For those bristling at such a suggestion, I offer the following observations:
1) The Lutheran Reformers did not seek to abolish the Mass. Our confessions, contained in the Book of Concord, make this abundantly clear. These are the same confessions that every ordained Lutheran pastor swear to uphold and affirm. In other words, the Lutheran Church is a Liturgical Church and our worship is properly called the Mass.
2) Concerning matters of the faith, there was widespread ignorance among laity AND clergy during the time of the Reformation (Cf. Luther penning his Small and Large Catechisms). This, coupled with a literacy rate of ~20% (which radically changed with the introduction of the printing press), meant that the vast majority of those attending Mass had little knowledge of what was being said (by priest or people). Again, its no wonder Luther thought the vernacular was important.
3) While the Lutheran Church affirms sola scriptura, it does not reject Tradition or the importance of ritual. Catholicity is not adiaphara (optional/indifferent), especially with respect to worship. And nothing affirms our catholicity like the Mass. It is, I believe, THE defining characteristic of what Lutherans confess.
But why ditch the vernacular in our worship and relearn reintroduce and re-embrace Latin in the Mass? What possible benefits can come from such a change? Im glad youre curious
1) Despite that the fact that the Lutheran Confessions affirm the Mass, many Lutheran churches today reject it altogether and embrace a worship style that is more akin to what one would find in a non-denominational church. Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) is absolutely true and those who reject the Mass or think they should arrogantly rewrite it based on what they think their congregation wants/needs, I believe, reject the very substance of Lutheranism. Can you imagine a contemporary Latin Mass? Neither can I. They are mutually exclusive, which is why the use of Latin in our Mass will help restore our catholicity in matters of worship, and affirm what our Confessions already do.
2) Our clergy and our people are very educated on matters of faith these days, much more than those prior to the Reformation. The Holy Scriptures, the Book of Concord, the writings of the church fathers, etc., are almost all in our native tongue. But with the expulsion of Latin, there is no longer a common language of the Church catholic. I know, very few clergy and even less laymen know Latin. But what a powerful educational tool the Church could be if it took it upon herself to educate her people in this language. As we relearn this language, some of our hymns, the assigned readings, and the sermon, could remain in the vernacular, along with a translation of the Latin in the hymnal or worship folder. But once again Christians could have a language that unites every congregation around the world regardless of time or location.
3) Finally, re-embracing Latin in our Mass will further solidify the Lutheran Church as a communion that embraces the catholicity of the Christian faith. This embrace, I believe, will allow us to refocus our efforts on ending our schism with Rome. Sadly, most Lutherans have no desire for reconciliation with those in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. However, this runs contrary to the intent of the Reformation and to the spirit of the Augsburg Confession. But how can our communions be reunited if our worship is so radically different? Lets embrace the language from whence we came and in it, find a new platform for dialogue and reconciliation.
Its time. For the sake of the church and our faith restore Latin to the Mass.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rev. Chaplain (CPT) Graham Glover is an LCMS Active Duty US Army Chaplain currently stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In his spare time he is a PhD student in the University of Floridas Department of Political Science. He is interested in the relationship between religious and political thought, especially as it relates to how we understand our role in a democratic/capitalist society that extols individual rights. He isnt afraid to stir the pot and even kick it over when properly motivated.
Honestly, I have never, ever heard anything in this line of thinking before and have posted it to get some reaction primarily from Lutheran FReepers.
Very curious to get some reaction to this...
If one wants to be backward, why stop at a recently dead language? Why not require ancient Greek, Aramaic, or ancient Hebrew?
I put this in the same context as those who consider the King James Bible to be the original Bible, as written by the Hebrews and Apostles.
"Put the hurdle" of a foreign language in the Mass is looking at it exactly the wrong way. You make it sound like the natural state of the Mass has always been the vernacular, and we'd be imposing some weird artificial language on top of it.
No. The Christian Mass was in Latin as a *conservative principle*. It's not a novelty we are imposing, it's a tradition we are retaining.
By the way, some parts of the Latin Mass are in Greek, and many Eastern Christians do in fact say the Mass in Aramaic (Syriac), even though their spoken language may be quite different.
Our family hears Latin and sings Latin and prays Latin and reads Latin every week. One friend of ours actually taught it it to his toddlers.
Linguistics is my hobby—I’ve dabbled a bit in dead languages. And sure, no one speaks Latin as a first language anymore, but it is nowhere even close to dead.
If your goal is to further the Tower of Babel then, yes, it's best bet to denigrate and avoid Latin.
Every jerk who wants to use a word definition that has changed twenty times in the past century is free to do so as long as they avoid Latin which has well know, unchanging, definitions and syntax.
Basically, avoiding Latin aids in altering the Truth while sticking to Latin is a major force for keeping the Truth unchanging as it's passed down over generations.
People who have changed every major doctrine they claim to believe at least a few times in only five hundred years naturally prefer the mailable nature of whatever language they use when quibbling about price with a hooker, talking to a divorce attorney, or purchasing contraceptives.
Besides nostalgia, you failed to note any positives for conducting the Mass in Latin.
At the time Latin was first used, it was for the sole reason that it was the vernacular in Rome. It continued to be used because it was universally understood by the educated class throughout Christiandom. Neither of those are now the case. English has replaced Latin in that respect.
That's true. The development of Latin as the language of the Church, and the fact that it's now a dead language, seems providential to me. We shouldn't refuse this gift.
Church translations still go back to Latin/Greek which addresses vernacular morphing. However, a nonscholar translating Latin will still have the same issue when they use vernacular definitions to understand it.
Fewer and fewer congregations are even using the traditional Lutheran liturgy. The service has been watered down to fit on the bulletin that gets passed out when you enter the church. For the most part, the Lutheran church should no longer be called “liturgical”.
Most people don't know how to be responsible parents, work for a living, or even utter a complete sentence without an obscenity in it. By your standard there's no reason whatsoever to bother trying to change any of that.
Thanks for making the point that resisting our national slide down the toilet is futile.
No language translates perfectly into another language, so if Latin isn't your primary language, you must translate it, and you must get as close as you can in your language, i.e. the vernacular. You can eith leave that to every individual to do on their own, or you can get a scholar who understands both the Latin and the Greek, which the Latin was likely translated from to begin with.
If you were half as smart as you think you are, you would half-way understand what you don't know on this subject.
Not nostalgia actually. But alright I’ll give you three positives.
Continuity. By St. Augustine’s time around 400 the Mass was already in Latin—it had been in Greek for the first few centuries. Now he was a brilliant theologian, but he was not very well connected to the Greek Scriptures and Fathers, which he himself recognized and lamented. When you lose a liturgical language, you are losing contact with an entire living heritage of exegesis and liturgy.
Mystery. What happens at the Christian altar is mysterious and sacred, isn’t it? When you use ordinary, plain language, what are you are telling the congregation? That what is happening is ordinary and plain. But when you use a designated sacred language, or at least a sacred variation of a vernacular language (like King James English), you are drawing a little bit of a veil over it.
Universality. Go to a Christian Church in another country. Do you understand what’s going on? Can you participate? I can. Latin forms a bridge over vastly different cultures and draws Christian communities closer together.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the widespread abandonment of a sacred language has made Christian congregations more modern and trendy rather than timeless, more vulgar and cheap rather than sacred, and more insulated and provincial rather than unified.
3 years of Latin were required at my high school.
My wife, on the other hand, never studied it. You know what? She reads it and follows along with the prayers without any problem.
People forget the principle of immersion when it comes to the Latin Mass. Anyone exposed to it week after week is going to naturally pick it up.
Where did you get that idea?
My Italian relatives are not native English speakers. But they understand what "OK" means and the exact context of how to use it. And you don't need to be a native Italian speaker to understand "mannaggia!". You just need enough exposure to the language to see the range of contexts in which it is used.
Of course no language translates perfectly into another, but I think you grossly underestimate people's capacity to learn semantic categories that are different from their own.
I have been to an LCMS service in Greek (old Greek) sung to the litany of St John C.
And in German of course. When my grandfather was old, some of his generation got together with an older pastor to have a German Litany sung. That was forceably ended in WWI.
But not Latin. Oh, we have a lot of Latin in some of the liturgy settings, but I don’t remember a full service in Latin.
I attend an LCMS church that uses only traditional liturgy at every service. Our school includes Latin as a subject every student takes.
Reverting to the Latin mass as the norm would be a mistake. There is power in hearing and participating in a service in your native language. It has more personal meaning when one understands what is being said.
As for reconciliation with the Roman church, that’s not going to happen this side of the second coming of Christ!
Be rooted in Christ!
To paraphrase Newton's third law of motion:
Every extreme liturgical action produces and equal and opposite reaction.