History of Latin in the Church:
Why is the Mass said in Latin?
Latin has been the language of the Mass since the time of Pope St. Damasus I (d. 384). Since the Church is universal, it uses a language which is universal. It also does not change in meaning, so it is suitable for preserving doctrine. It is also an elevated language, particularly suited for the lofty nature of the liturgy.
In his Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia, St. John XXIII said that the advantages of Latin are as follows: a) It is universal. It favors no one nation over others. b) It is immutable. Precisely because it is a “dead language,” Latin does not change in meaning. c) It is non-vernacular. It is not an ordinary language. It is elevated for use in the Catholic Church, which “has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society.” An extraordinary amount of music for the liturgy has been composed in Latin. The Church considers this to be a “treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112)
Yes. Byzantine Catholics and Greek Orthodox use ancient Greek in their liturgies. Ruthenian and other slavic Catholic rites use Old Church Slavonic in their liturgies. In fact, some Latin Rite Catholics of Croatia and other areas were allowed to use Church Slavonic in the Roman Rite of the Mass. Churches of the Syriac tradition use Classical Syriac in their liturgies.
Yes, praying in a single language can help promote unity in the Church. Even in post-conciliar legislation, the faithful have been encouraged to learn to sing the Latin parts of the Mass proper to them in order to unite the people in prayer, especially at international gatherings. Being able to pray along at a Mass anywhere in the world is a powerful sign of the universality of the Church.
Yes. As St John XXIII says in the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia, “Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.
But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established.”
As the languages of the different nations changed over the years, why did the Church cling to Latin, which is a dead language?
Do other Christians use a dead language for sacred worship?
Can Latin in the Liturgy help attain unity in the Church?
Can Latin in the Liturgy help preserve the Catholic Faith against heresies?