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.
As an LCMS Lutheran who posts here on a fairly regular basis, I probably should say something about this. But I have sat here for a long time, trying to think of something to say, and there is nothing to say.
God doesn’t listen to our language; God listens to our hearts, and to Himself the Holy Spirit who prays alongside our prayers (Romans 8:26-27). If liturgizing in Latin opens your heart to God, then do it in Latin; if liturgizing in Greek or Aramaic or Russian or English or Japanese or Hindi or Spanish or Yoruba or Afrikaans or Quechua opens your heart to God, then do it in that language.
Jesus praises the scribe who brings forth out of his storehouse treasures both new and old (Matt. 15:32). It is the liturgy that ties us to the great cloud of witnesses, from St. Francis to Pope Francis, from St. Clement to Kim Clement, so that we practice, every time we engage in it, the song that is, and will forever be sung before the Throne. But we are also told more than once in the Bible to sing, not just the old songs, but new songs as well, because it is Christ who makes all things new.
Prefacing my observation with the fact that many English only speaking people are not fluent in their own language, the bilingual people that I have ever met that truly understood English learned it as children at the same time as their other language.
The fact that Latin is a dead language makes learning its nuances much harder, as there is no human context to frame it in. Your example of understanding “OK” is wrong. OK can mean many things ranging from “I'm good with that.” to “Shut up!” depending on how it is used. What you are talking about is simplistic understanding, which leads to confusion, which was supposed to be solved by using this magical dead language.
That is true from the eggs to the apples, and if you don't understand what I mean, then translate it back into Latin, and then find a vernacular definition of what that Latin phrase means.
The Introits, Collects, and Graduals of the SBH are virtually the same as those of the 1962 Missal so beloved by Latin Mass trad Catholics.
And if I ask your wife what it means, will she be able to tell me? If so, what language will she be using to tell me?
Would you say that she is better or worse at making that translation than someone who has studied Latin for 40 years and has read hundreds of Latin texts to help understand the true meaning?
Listening to the Mass in Latin over and over again for years is not immersion in Latin, it is rote memorization. No different than learning a song in German, and thinking that you really understand what the song means.
How did your wife learn what the Latin meant without using English equivalents, and once she had used those English equivalents, how was the Latin still sterile?
The author is incorrect when he states:
“Sadly, most Lutherans have no desire for reconciliation with those in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome.”
The largest Lutheran Church body in the US, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the church of Rome signed a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” some years back.
My reaction (I'm Missouri Synod) is that the good reverend academic who wrote the essay has been nibbling too much on those little wafers....the one that the heroine partook of deep down in the rabbit hole in "Alice in Wonderland.
No problem in positing the idea of a Lutheran Latin Mass, or discussing and debating it. But this is one proposal that has zero chance of being fulfilled for many excellent reasons.
The writer obviously has a lot of time on his hands to explore barren, dead-end labyrinths in which no one else cares a whit to join him.
I believe it was still in Greek in Byzantium well after 400AD. That said, Latin was not a mysterious language at the time, and like I said before, was well understood by all educated people. It was also the imperial language that bridged the gap between a very diverse number of languages. The continuity of that purpose no longer exists, as Latin is no longer a recognized common language.
Mystery. What happens at the Christian altar is mysterious and sacred, isnt 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.
What happens shouldn't be a mystery. How it happens is the mystery. But if you want it to be a total mystery, then I would agree, no better way than to use a language that no one is going to understand. As for exalting what is being said, I've never found anything inherently vulgar about English. Word choice and structure is the key. When Christ spoke, it was in the vernacular.
Universality. Go to a Christian Church in another country. Do you understand whats going on? Can you participate? I can. Latin forms a bridge over vastly different cultures and draws Christian communities closer together.
Sure, I'll give you universality, which isn't surprising given that it was the original reason for using Latin. However, its mainly universally unknown now and English would serve the same purpose better (as its the common language of today). That said, if you follow the order of the Mass, and understand it, you will follow it in any language. Attending Mass in Spanish, French, or Polish isn't confusing for someone who can tell you the order of Mass off the top of their head.
I dont think its 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.
I don't think using the vernacular is causal to the fact that a deteriorating society has infected the church. Societal evils infected the church many times while Latin was the only language in use.
Since Hebrew is the language of G-d given to Jews I say if you want to talk to G-d do it in Hebrew.
Read Chapter VII "Parish Practice"
3. Baptize with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and in no other name and with no other words.
4. Preside at the Holy Communion using bread and wine, leading the faithful in worship according to the orders and texts of the Church, as provided in her historic liturgy.
There is no mystery to it...Nothing magical...What is it, is 'Show Time'...
And God says, 'do not do it'...You flat out reject the instruction from the Apostle and pretend you are using a 'sacred' language...
HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Oh, that's funny!!!
At the same time, Latin is never going to replace the vernacular in the Lutheran church. Nor should it. I think the author of this article is not dealing in reality.
So English becoming universally understood by the educated class throughout Christiandom is a "negative" development?
I do not agree.
Within the LCMS, liturgy - the work of worship - and (especially) reverance should be primary, not language.
That said, I do inject Latin, Greek and even some Aramaic when discussing the history of the church catholic. Being able to understand the language of the apostles and the Church fathers provides real insight into the on-going dissemination of the Gospel.
Those who do not learn from history...yada, yada, yada.
It certainly does no harm to teach (and occasionally use) the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus) in Latin.
Those texts should be part of folk’s liturgical vocabulary.
Right now I’m working on learning the Sanctus in Greek.
Don we now our gay apparel.
A well regulated militia being necessary ...
Oh, I agree. Knowledge of Latin is very helpful for any Christian--indeed, for any educated person who wants to understand the history of Western civilization. I am a big advocate for leaning Latin.
I'm glad our hymnal (LSB) still uses the Latin titles for parts of the Divine Service: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Sanctus, Pax Domini, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis, Benedicamus. It lets people know our connectedness to the history of the church.
I often use Latin and Greek terms in Bible class (sometimes Hebrew and German, too), when it is relevant to what we are discussing. Of course, I always explain these things.
When I was a kid attending Lutheran school, and we would do Matins in chapel every week, sometimes I would look at the psalm titles in Latin in the old hymnal (TLH)--e.g., Beatus vir for Psalm 1--and I was fascinated by those words.
The altar was a very traditional Catholic one, in dark wood, against the east wall of the church, with a considerable baldacchino over it and large Crucifix veiled for Passiontide. Wow! I thought. This is more traditional than 90% of the Catholic churches in America.
Then I noticed the most interesting thing. Juxtaposed to this traditionalism was the celebrant at the altar. As with the traditional, pre-Second Vatican Council mass, he stood facing east with his back to the faithful. He was not standing in the center of the altar but on the "Gospel side" with his arms raised in the 'orans' posture. (The people were standing so it may have been the Gospel he was reading--the long one appointed for Passion Sunday.)
Interestingly, despite all this "traditionalism", he was not vested in chasuble and stole, he wasn't even wearing a cassock and surplice. He was dressed in a dark suit. I don't think he was wearing a clerical collar but a dark shirt and necktie.
I wondered if he was the pastor. In the absence of the pastor, would a layman have led worship in this manner? To my eye, it was very curious mix of "old and new."
Also, to the point of this post, bring back Latin. Begin with the Agnus Dei. It's short and to the point. Restore Greek at the Kyrie as well.
Then why Latin? Koine Greek is a dead language too, and it was the original language of the New Testament. Same with Ancient Hebrew, just that it was the original language of the Old Testament.
Note that the two statements I made, that you combined, were in separate paragraphs. Paragraphs denoting changes in subject.
No logical reading of my post would conclude that English becoming a primary language is a negative. Nor would one conclude that I was stating that reading Mass worldwide in English would be a net positive.
I simply stated that Latin was originally the default, due to its universal nature, but that is no longer the case, and in fact, English more closely fits the bill, IF universal language is what you are looking for.
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 hobbyIve 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.
There's an internet radio station out if (IIRC) Scandinavia that streams news in Latin. Can't dig up a pointer just at the moment...
I missed this little straw-man jewel the first time.
So yes, of course, it totally follows that if I don't have a problem with the use of vernacular language in Mass, that I think everyone should be as ignorant as possible.
I knew I couldn't hide that connection from you. A truly masterful piece of deductive reasoning and causal application you have going on there. I'm just shocked that you couldn't also conclude that I'm a secret Obama supporter and card carrying Marxist.
People who cannot carry on a conversation in English don't get smarter when they attempt it in Latin. Nunc tace.
All Church documents in the last 1500-plus years are in Latin.
Sure she can tell you what it means. If I give her a text she’s never seen before, can she translate it perfectly, no, but she can give you the gist of it.
Do you have a firm grasp of how a liturgy works? There are texts we hear over and over every Mass...but there are variable texts as well (readings, introits etc.) So over the course of a year you are exposed to the language in a variety of different ways. It’s not mere rote memorization of a phrase over and over.
Anyway, why be insistent on some perfect understanding of the text as if the liturgy is eviscerated without it? No *English* speaker has that. Does everyone fully understand what “consubstantial” really means, or “proceeds from the Father and the Son”? Does everyone know what “tares” are or “spelt”?
Every Catholic is (or should be anyway) from a young age catechized with what is going on at every point in the Mass. I could walk into a Chinese Mass, tell you exactly what is going on, and participate in it without understanding a single word. It’s no harder than watching a soccer game with a Spanish announcer.
Would you rather "this is my body, this is my blood" to be all buttoned down and sewn up in a nice rationalistic package that you can fit in your pocket? The central sacramental mystery of Christianity reduced to a dopey little farce of juice and a cracker that we break out once in a while to "memorialize" God incarnate--as if that makes any sense?
Good luck with all that.
If you don't see mystery in the Christian liturgy, you ain't looking hard enough.
My point being that the Latin therefore does not offer her a better understanding of the text than English would.
Do you have a firm grasp of how a liturgy works? There are texts we hear over and over every Mass...but there are variable texts as well (readings, introits etc.) So over the course of a year you are exposed to the language in a variety of different ways. Its not mere rote memorization of a phrase over and over.
I'm a lecter and a Eucharistic minister, so let's say I've dabbled a bit. Much of the liturgy is repetitive, in as much as the nouns and verbs go. I think its wonderful that your wife goes to the effort and enjoys the Latin, I'm just not sharing the benefit.
Anyway, why be insistent on some perfect understanding of the text as if the liturgy is eviscerated without it? No *English* speaker has that. Does everyone fully understand what consubstantial really means, or proceeds from the Father and the Son? Does everyone know what tares are or spelt?
I wasn't being insistent on perfect clarity, I was just pointing out that Latin will not provide more clarity than the vernacular for more than 99% of people.
Every Catholic is (or should be anyway) from a young age catechized with what is going on at every point in the Mass. I could walk into a Chinese Mass, tell you exactly what is going on, and participate in it without understanding a single word. Its no harder than watching a soccer game with a Spanish announcer.
Which is why I don't think Latin (or any other common language) is necessary for you to take part in a foreign language Mass. In any event, I imagine the pronunciation of Latin by Chinese or Welsh natives would be as equally incomprehensible as anything else they said.
The oldest Church document is in Ancient Hebrew, and it’s been around a lot longer than 1500 years.
And post #14 demonstrated that was not the case. Greek was originally the "default" language for the Christian world. Latin was adapted universally centuries later, and only by the western world (eastern Christians continued to use Greek)