FACTBOX: Use of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church

(Reuters) - The Vatican said on Saturday it wants its official language Latin to be used more often in the Roman Catholic mass.

Here are some details on how Latin has been used in the Catholic Church:


Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, a language close to Hebrew, and the evangelists wrote the Gospels in Greek, lingua franca of the Mediterranean area at the time. Christians living in Rome adopted Latin and it became the Church’s language in the fourth century. Saint Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, an edition called the Vulgate, because he used the common (or “vulgar”) Latin language.

With Scripture available in Latin, the Church adopted the Roman tongue for its mass everywhere. This continued even as the use of everyday spoken Latin slowly declined after the Roman Empire fell in 476 and successor languages such as Italian, Spanish and French emerged.


The Council of Trent (1545-1563) codified the Latin mass from earlier liturgies and approved the Roman Missal that was used from 1570 until the mid-1960s. The priest celebrated mass with his back to the congregation, which prayed silently or followed the Latin prayers in books called missals. This is properly called the “Tridentine mass” but often just the “old Latin mass”.


The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) allowed the use of vernacular languages at mass and turned the priest towards the congregation to pray in dialogue with them. Latin was not meant to be fully scrapped, but it was quickly abandoned by local churches. The pontifical universities in Rome, where many future Church leaders are educated, stopped teaching in Latin in 1967. This decision eventually all but dried up the small pool of priests who could actually speak the dead language.


In 1969, Pope Paul VI issued an updated version of the mass that made significant changes such as turning the priest towards the people, simplifying the rituals and using more Scriptural readings. This is the Latin mass the pope uses at the Vatican and it is celebrated in vernacular languages around the world. Traditionalist Catholics reject this mass as less spiritual and aesthetic than the Tridentine mass.


Restoring Latin has become a rallying point for Catholic traditionalists and any move in this direction is seen, both by them and their critics, as a sign the Vatican under Pope Benedict wants to revive this and other aspects of the Church’s centuries-long heritage that fell into disuse after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

One result could be readmission of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), whose leaders were excommunicated in 1988 for appointing bishops without Vatican approval, if they agree to respect Second Vatican Council reforms. The ultra-conservative SSPX is especially strong in France, where the Church hierarchy has openly opposed a return of Latin as a first concession that can lead to reinstating this rebel movement.

Source: Reuters/

Sources: Reuters/ (Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen)