Random Musings on Catholicism and Liturgical Languages (x-posted to Tumblr and Medium)

I can understand the historical reasons for the Catholic Church’s use of Latin as a liturgical language, of course. In Western Europe, at least, it was simultaneously “everyone’s and no-one’s” (as I recall one historian putting it, though I don’t remember his name). It was the only common language at a time when, following the decline of the Roman Empire, every wandering band of Germanic tribesmen (Franks, Saxons, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Black Metal Goths, etc.) had its own tongue, and was one of the few things they, or at least their more educated members, could claim tied them together. There were good reasons for using Latin back then.

Of course, these days such considerations don’t apply. If there’s any one language that’s a “lingua franca,” it’s English. Now, for some time–since Vatican II, as I recall–religious ceremonies are held in the vernacular. Some still prefer Masses to be carried out in Latin, though. The reasoning for this, from what I’ve heard, is that Latin is “immutable” and thus universal, and that it’s supposedly noble, majestic, and “other-worldly” enough to make it more fitting than any vernacular for Mass.

All this may be true. At least in its own way. Yet the choice of Latin as a liturgical language still strikes me as somewhat arbitrary–at least more arbitrary than an “eternal” institution would like to claim. If you want words that are immutable, noble, majestic, and ‘other-worldly,’ there are certainly other things to choose from. Hebrew comes to mind–it’s a very beautiful language, and not ‘vernacular’ anywhere except Israel, I suppose. If one country is still too much, though, then how about Aramaic? It’s undoubtedly noble, majestic, and redolent of divinity; check out this chant of the Lord’s Prayer:


As for immutable, it seems there’s a “Modern Aramaic” language spoken by small communities in the Middle East and West Asia, but the classical Aramaic that Christ likely spoke should be sufficiently frozen for “universal liturgical” purposes. Of course, I’m well aware that there are also historical reasons for using Latin rather than Aramaic as the language of the Mass–but it seems to me those reasons have as much to do with matters of the world as they do with the divine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: