Questions Regarding the Use of Latin in Celebrating the Mass

St. Thomas Aquinas, by Fra Bartolomeo (before 1517).

When things go bad in a family, organization, religion, or society, the tendency is to look for a change that occurred before things started to crumble. It is difficult to deny the tumultuous situation within the Church at the present time, and one suggestion is that the present situation is linked to the change from the Traditional Latin Mass to the “Novus Ordo” Mass. An increasing number of Catholics are recognizing that the Traditional Latin Mass can be celebrated reverently while the same Catholics are recognizing that the Novus Ordo is often celebrated irreverently and, in some cases, profanely.

An apparent link has also been identified between priests and prelates who promote the Latin Mass and their staunch defense of authentic Catholic morality, a stark contrast to some lukewarm priests and prelates who solely celebrate the Novus Ordo. The assumption is made that the Traditional Latin Mass leads to reverence at Mass and promotion of authentic Catholic morality, while the Novus Ordo does not.

Some of the differences between the two Masses are the direction the priest faces while celebrating the Mass, the music, the prayers, and the languages used during the celebrations. The Traditional Latin Mass is, of course, celebrated in Latin, while the Novus Ordo is typically celebrated in the language familiar to the local congregation (the “mother tongue” or “vernacular”).

Some questions arise regarding the use of Latin, and its possible relation to reverent and authentic Catholicism. First, is it specifically the Latin language that sometimes translates into reverence and devotion? (“Sometimes” is used here because this author has witnessed irreverence at a Traditional Latin Mass.) Is Latin a condition necessary for the possibility of reverence and orthodoxy? Or, is the English language sometimes the cause of irreverence at Mass? (“Sometimes” is used again because this author has been to many reverently celebrated Novus Ordo Masses.)

Those questions will be set aside to look into a related question; as Catholics, we believe that the Mass is the most powerful prayer on earth. If the Mass is said in an unfamiliar or entirely unknown language, though, can it properly be labeled as a “prayer”? Or, are the words uttered merely beautiful-sounding syllables without willed meaning? Let me elaborate on the question with an exercise. Read the following text:

Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium.

Now, without performing an internet search or using an online translation, pray the words of that text:

Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium.

The question is, did you really pray those words, or did you simply reread them? To lovingly communicate with someone—whether that person is your spouse, sibling, or, in this case, one of the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity—do you not need to know the meaning of the words that you utter?

Try this: pray the words of this text:

Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay,
our wounds and bruises heal.

Those words are the English translation of the above Latin text; it seems reasonable to claim that a majority of readers were able to pray, rather than merely read, the English text.

A second example may shed more light on the subject. Read the following text:

Ad sacram, Domine, mensam admíssi, háusimus aquas in gáudio de fóntibus Salvatóris: sanguis ejus fiat nobis, quæsumus, fons aqua in vitam ætérnam saliéntis: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spíritus Sancti, Deus, Per omnia saecula saeculorum.

If you were to hear those words read aloud, would you be able to respond with a genuine “Amen”? Could you affirmatively say that you agree with those words, and could you interiorize the above words and make them a prayer?

What about this text:

Admitted to the sacred table, O Lord, we have drawn water in gladness from the fountain of the Saviour; may His blood, we beseech Thee, become unto us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God,
For ever and ever.

Can you genuinely respond “yes I agree with” those words? If you were to hear that text read aloud, would you be able to interiorize it and make it a prayer?

The outcome of the previous exercises depends on whether one has education in Latin. Many (or all?) priests have had some education in Latin, while it seems reasonable to say that most of the laity will lack education in Latin. The point is that there is a major difference between reading words (both reading aloud or silently to oneself) and praying words. It seems that praying requires knowledge of the meaning of the words communicated to God. The praying individual then needs to also intend the meaning of the words spoken aloud or interiorly communicated to God. In other words, unless one is fluent and competent in Latin (which seems to require the ability to think and mentally intend in Latin), then it seems that one (the laity as well as priests without extensive training in Latin) will have a difficult time defending the stance that one prays the Latin Mass—or at least that one intends the meaning of the words uttered at the Latin Mass. The vocal prayer in Mass takes the form of words—combined sounds with meaning—and to communicate with God, one must have knowledge of the meaning of the uttered, combined sounds. For one to willfully pray the prayers at Mass, one must know the meanings of the sounds uttered together in the form of words and sentences. The Latin Mass may feel more reverent or persons may feel like they pray better during the Latin Mass, but that may not match reality.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul discusses a related topic:

Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but, in thinking, be mature.

St. Paul was referring to the speaking in tongues, which is distinct from using the Latin language at Mass, but the principle used in his reasoning is applicable to the preceding discussion. One can only willfully agree with something uttered—respond “Amen”—if one has understanding and knowledge of what is uttered; St. Paul preferred to utter words in Church that the congregation could understand.

Latin, Intention, and Prayer of Institution
Another question arises regarding the resurgence of the use of Latin to celebrate Mass. The prayer that is the summit of the celebration of the Eucharist is the prayer of institution or consecration. During the prayer of institution, it is required that the priest intend to do “what the Church does.” The words of consecration are the “form” of the sacrament; when the priest utters the words of institution, it is required that the priest intend for those words to have the effect signified by their meaning. The power comes from the Holy Spirit, and the words come from Jesus, but the priest’s intention is required to institute the Eucharist. When the priest speaks the words of consecration, how competent must he be in the language he uses so that he can intend to do “what the Church does”? When Latin is used, how competent in Latin must the priest be to intend the meaning of the words of institution? Or, a different question is, what if the priest intends to do what the Church does at consecration, but accidently mispronounces the words of consecration?

There are different fluency and competency levels of languages. One may be able to correctly read and recite words from a language, but lack knowledge of the meaning of those words. One may also know that a block quote from a non-native language translates into a block quote of the native language, but that same individual may not be able to intend the meaning of each specific word or may not know how the words and syllables grammatically fit together to have their intended meaning.

If a priest is shaky in Latin, is it possible that his incompetence could result in incorrect pronunciation or altered intention of the proper form required for consecration, ultimately resulting in not consecrating the bread and wine into the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus? If a certain level of Latin competency is required for the prayer of institution, then priests should be formed to (and maintain) that competency level; as far as this writer is aware, some formation programs require only two semesters of Latin, which may or may not be sufficient. Maybe expert-level competency in Latin is unnecessary, but it seems that more-than-beginner knowledge is necessary.

Furthermore, what about priests who have not used or studied Latin for a significant amount of time? Many people lose abilities (including language abilities) if they are not used or practiced regularly. If a priest is not confident in his Latin abilities, should he refuse to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass? Or, is it okay for such a priest to celebrate the Latin Mass? Should bishops require proof of Latin competency prior to allowing a priest to celebrate the Latin Mass?

It is possible that this topic has been discussed elsewhere, but this writer is unable to locate such a discussion. Canon law briefly touches on the subject of Latin; Canon 249 discusses priestly formation in Latin, noting that

The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.

Future priests are to “understand Latin well,” but the canon does not elaborate. Canon 928 notes that “The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in the Latin language or in another language provided that the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved,” but does not elaborate there either.

Because St. Thomas Aquinas provides principles applicable to this discussion, a short review of pertinent parts of the Summa Theologica (S.T.) may shed some light on the subject. St. Thomas Aquinas proposed that in order to be valid, each sacrament requires the minister “intend to do that which Christ and the Church do” (S.T. III, q. 64, a. 8, ad. 1), and the priest’s intention “is expressed by the words which are pronounced in the sacraments” (S.T. III, q. 64, a. 8). Specific words are required (as opposed to different sounds arbitrarily combined) because Jesus used specific words; during consecration, the priest “has no other act save the pronouncing of the words,” which are “pronounced as if Christ were speaking in person, so that it is given to be understood that the minister does nothing in perfecting this sacrament, except to pronounce the words of Christ” (S.T. III, q. 78, a. 1). Furthermore, “words are the principle signs used by men” (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 6) and

because words can be formed in various ways for the purpose of signifying various mental concepts, so that we are able to express our thoughts with greater distinctness by means of words. And, therefore, in order to insure the perfection of sacramental signification, it was necessary to determine the signification of the sensible things by means of certain words. For water may signify both a cleansing by reason of its humidity, and refreshment by reason of its being cool: but when we say, “I baptize thee,” it is clear that we use water in baptism in order to signify a spiritual cleansing. (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 6)

According to St. Thomas, then, one physical thing can be used to bring about many different effects, so the specific words are used to express what specifically is being done to, or with, that physical thing at that moment. When used in sacraments, the sacramental action done to, or with, the physical matter is signified by the words uttered.

Some have asked whether a sacrament is valid if a priest loses his attention while he utters the form; often times, the mind accidentally wanders while speaking aloud, so the question arose whether a sacrament is valid if the priest’s mind wanders while uttering the words necessary for the sacramental effect. In such a case, some might propose that the lack of attention indicates that the priest does not intend to do “that which Christ and the Church do” at the words of consecration; the priest’s intention is necessary for the validity of the consecration, so one might argue that inattentiveness results in no consecration. St. Thomas answers that:

the minister of a sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church, whose minister he is; while, in the words uttered by him, the intention of the Church is expressed; and that this suffices for the validity of the sacrament, except the contrary be expressed on the part either of the minister or of the recipient of the sacrament. (S.T. III, q. 64, a. 8, ad. 2)

So, for St. Thomas, if a priest loses attention during the prayer of institution, the consecration still occurs. Elsewhere, he suggests that loss of attentiveness during prayer (as opposed to loss of attentiveness during uttering of the form of a sacrament) retains its merit due to “original intent”; in order to remain meritorious,

it is not necessary that prayer should be attentive throughout; because the force of the original intention with which one sets about praying renders the whole prayer meritorious, as is the case with other meritorious acts. (S.T. II-II, q. 83, a. 13)

Yet, “attention” and “intention” are different from the previous discussion of knowledge of different languages and the effect of lack of knowledge on one’s intent; does “intention” require knowledge of the words uttered? St. Thomas wrote that “intention is an act of the will in regard to the end” (S.T. I-II, q. 12, a. 1, ad. 4); intention “presupposes knowledge, which proposes to the will the end to which the latter moves” (S.T. I-II, q. 12, a. 1, ad. 1); and “‘intention’ indicates an act of the will, presupposing the act whereby the reason orders something to the end” (S.T. I-II, q. 12, a. 1, ad. 3). So, yes, for St. Thomas, knowledge of the meaning of words is necessary to intend the meaning signified by the words. Hence, for St. Thomas, intending to do what the Church does would not only require knowledge of what the Church does, but also the knowledge of the meaning of the words uttered.

Now, St. Thomas also discusses the validity of a sacrament if the words are mispronounced. He wrote:

If he who corrupts the pronunciation of the sacramental words—does so on purpose, he does not seem to intend to do what the Church intends: and thus the sacrament seems to be defective. But if he does this through error or a slip of the tongue, and if he so far mispronounces the words as to deprive them of sense, the sacrament seems to be defective. This would be the case especially if the mispronunciation be in the beginning of a word, for instance, if one were to say “in nomine matris” instead of “in nomine Patris.” If, however, the sense of the words be not entirely lost by this mispronunciation, the sacrament is complete. This would be the case principally if the end of a word be mispronounced; for instance, if one were to say “patrias et filias.” For although the words thus mispronounced have no appointed meaning, yet we allow them in accommodated meaning corresponding to the usual forms of speech. And so, although the sensible sound is changed, yet the sense remains the same. … Nevertheless the principle point to observe is the extent of the corruption entailed by mispronunciation: for in either case it may be so little that it does not alter the sense of the words; or so great that it destroys it. (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 7, ad. 3)

Slight unintentional errors that do not change the meaning of the words do not invalidate the sacrament, but intentional alterations do invalidate the sacrament. At the same time, St. Thomas implies that even an unintentional error in pronunciation can invalidate the sacrament—when the words are mispronounced badly enough to change the meaning of the words, “the sacrament seems to be defective.” “Through error or a slip of the tongue” implies that the priest still intends to do what the Church does; but even with right intentions, a mispronunciation that alters the meaning of the words would seem to invalidate the sacrament, according to St. Thomas. In plain and simple terms, mispronunciation of English or Latin words of consecration could seemingly result in the Eucharist not becoming present, even if the priest’s intentions are “to do what the Church does.” So, if a priest intends to consecrate the host, but says words with a different meaning (one could think of many possibilities, but an English error could be something like “This ice my boaty”), St. Thomas would hold that consecration does not occur. It seems reasonable to assume that a corruption of the pronunciation of the words of institution is much more likely for a person using a non-native language (Latin is, for the most part extinct, and therefore a non-native language for most, if not all, people).

Later in the Summa, St. Thomas elaborates somewhat on the previous passage. The specific article asks whether adding words to the form of the sacrament is lawful, and St. Thomas answers in part that:

With regard to all the variations that may occur in the sacramental forms, two points seem to call for our attention. One is on the part of the person who says the words, and whose intention is essential to the sacrament. … The other point to be considered is the meaning of the words. For since, in the sacraments, the words produce an effect according to the sense which they convey, as stated above (7, ad 1), we must see whether the change of words destroys the essential sense of the words: because then the sacrament is clearly rendered invalid. Now it is clear, if any substantial part of the sacramental form be suppressed, that the essential sense of the words is destroyed; and, consequently, the sacrament is invalid. (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 8)

Again, he focuses on the meaning of the words being essential to the form, and, there, he further distinguishes the meaning (or “sense”) of the words from the intention of the minister. Again, St. Thomas is proposing that even if the priest intends to do what the Church does but uses words that result in a different meaning than the original form, then the sacrament “is clearly rendered invalid.” The Eucharist is the source, center, and summit of our Faith, and it is good to ensure that it is made present in time and space; hence, it seems to be a good idea to be cautious in allowing the use of non-native languages. (Of course, this assumes that St. Thomas’s reasoning is accepted by the Church.)

Finally, here, it may be useful to briefly touch on St. Thomas Aquinas’s thoughts on the many different languages used in the sacraments. Some have proposed, or at least implied, that the Latin language is necessary for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but St. Thomas would disagree. St. Thomas formulates a related question by writing:

It seems that determinate words are not required in the sacraments. For as the Philosopher says (Peri Herm. i), “words are not the same for all.” But salvation, which is sought through the sacraments, is the same for all. Therefore, determinate words are not required in the sacraments. (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 7, arg. 1)

Different societies use different words, and, hence, “words are not the same for all,” but salvation is the same for all and is sought through the sacraments. St. Thomas explicitly states that words with specific meanings are necessary, but the language or tongue used can change:

As Augustine says (Tract. lxxx super Joan.), the word operates in the sacraments “not because it is spoken,” i.e., not by the outward sound of the voice, “but because it is believed” in accordance with the sense of the words which is held by faith. And this sense is, indeed, the same for all, though the same words as to their sound be not used by all. Consequently, no matter in what language this sense is expressed, the sacrament is complete. (S.T. III, q. 60, a. 7, ad. 1)

As I mentioned previously, sounds are combined to form words, and those words are given meaning (defined) by human beings. Different societies communicate differently by way of different sounds that express their language, but the sense of the words signified in the sacrament is the same for all, even though the words sound different; as a result, “no matter in what language this sense is expressed, the sacrament is complete.” For St. Thomas, then, the vernacular would be permitted to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It could be added that the vernacular is also a way to ensure that the sacrament has its intended effect (in this case, the vernacular ensures that the Eucharist is made present in time and space through consecration) because the use of a foreign language is more likely to result in an invalid form through mispronunciation.

Potential Responses
One might respond that priests can provide the laity in the congregation with a Latin-to-English translation pamphlet to use during the Latin Mass; one can then translate the Latin prayers into English, while the priest is reciting the words, in an attempt to understand the meaning, consent to the meaning, and, therefore, intend to pray the words or intend the “Amen” response to the Latin prayers. The writer of this article would assume that the priest, however, would not be able to use a Latin to English translation while he is reciting Latin prayers. Thus, the potential problem of a priest’s rusty Latin would not be solved. Translating during Mass also puts a strain on the mind that distracts from prayer.

Secondly, it is possible that when one attends Mass in an unfamiliar language, one may not know the translation of each individual prayer or word, but one may still intend that the overall actions and words in the Mass be a prayer (St. Thomas Aquinas called a similar concept “original intention,” which was mentioned previously). For example, one may simply will the following prayer before or after Mass: “God, although I do not know the meaning of many of the words uttered at this Latin Mass, I intend that it be a prayer and an act of love.”

However, it would seem to be a different act of love when one does not know the meanings of the words communicated to the beloved; when a husband recites a love poem to his wife, there is a difference between knowingly and intentionally willing each individual word as opposed to reciting a love poem but only having faint knowledge (or no knowledge) of the meaning of each word. Does an English-speaking husband recite a Spanish love poem to his English-speaking wife? The wife might exclaim, “Wow, that’s beautiful! What does it say?” The husband may respond, “Well, it says some things about love, somewhere in there, forgiveness is mentioned, and, from what I can understand, I believe in you and thank you is in there too.” The Spanish poem may sound beautiful, but aren’t the words supposed to have meaning, rather than simply sound nice?

Is it possible that the Traditional Latin Mass, though beautiful sounding Latin, merely makes one feel good, but lacks the intent necessary for the words to be properly labeled as communication of love of God? Or do all of the congregants have sufficient knowledge of Latin to intend the meaning of the words agreed to or spoken? Can the words uttered in the Latin Mass, although uttered in an angelic tongue, merely be a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal”? What about the potential invalidation of a sacrament (no Eucharist) resulting from mispronunciation of an unfamiliar language? Undoubtedly the questions may cause some heated reactions, but they are only intended to safeguard and ensure the sacraments have their intended effect, especially since there is an increasing use of an unfamiliar language for the sacrament that is the source, center, and summit of the Catholic Faith—the Most Holy Eucharist.

Robert L. Kinney III About Robert L. Kinney III

Robert L. Kinney III holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Purdue University and an MA in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Comments and criticism can be sent to rkinneyiii [at]


  1. Avatar Deacon Mark Harden says:

    “Furthermore, what about priests who have not used or studied Latin for a significant amount of time?”

    Any seminary that does not teach Latin is in violation of Canon Law:

    “Can. 249 The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.”

  2. Avatar Sean P. Doyle says:

    It’s traditional to use the vernacular of the people, not latin, greek, slavonic etc. Charlemagne advocated for Latin usage… Pope Victor I (2nd century) may have been the first to use a Latin Translation of the primitive Divine Liturgy from Greek. Those who believe the TLM is superior because it’s in Latin are ignorant, well meaning, but ignorant.

    That being said, the real issue is the content and praxis of the Novus Ordo Mass. Comparing the TLM prayers and structure, (BTW anyone with any familiarity with the TLM has one or missals or booklets with English and Latin side by side), with the NOM it becomes quickly apparent how bare and minimalistic the NOM is. Not only is the text stripped of much of it’s richness, but the rubrics have been diminished greatly.. Priest facing the people; table altars (anyone familiar with the Cranmers altar stripping in the English Reformation will cringe.. he boasts about replacing the altar with a table to visibly undermine the sacrificial nature of the Mass); music…dispensing with a storied and rich tradition of chanting and hymnography for crummy (being generous) contemporary folk music happens IMHOP to be one of the most egregious offenses of the reformers; sloppy and poor translations and at times tendentious prayers, etc. all of these are far more damning.

    As a Eastern Catholic, I traveled through the NO then TLM crowd only to find a home in the East where the rich, Apostolic Tradition is on full display in the venacular which a richness of prayers and reverent praxis, The NO is a terribly deficient liturgy. Yes, it’s valid, and the cleanup of the translations under Benedict helped greatly, but if you compare the text of the TLM and it’s rich prayers and the those in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil against the NO and it will become obvious just how limited it is. Couple it with bad modern music, Christ in the garage in the arena churches, Priest facing the people, kiss of peace distraction (oh how I dislike this), altar tables, and various other common practices and IMHOP its not surprising how few Roman Catholic young people really believe in core tenants like the Real Presence?

    To be fair, I have attended some very reverent NO liturgies using the new translation infused with chant and in rare occasions the old Roman Canon, and the difference was palpable. It was still not as rich or mystical as the TLM or Divine Liturgy, but much improved.

    Dietrich von HIldebrand in “Liturgy and Personality” states roughly 80% of people receive all of their catechesis from just sitting in a pew and stresses how the ritual of good liturgy plays an indispensable psychologically formative role over time. Good, holy, liturgy inspires and forms well, bad liturgy has the opposite effect.

    • I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head in your comment.

      For me the differences that matter most between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form are 1) the disuse of the Roman Cannon (or the changes in the words of consecration if using the Eucharistic Prayer no.1. The traditional Roman Cannon that goes back to at least the 4th century), 2) saying the cannon out loud and 3) facing the people while doing so. These changes start to turn the Mass into a piece of theater. The mass isn’t offered to the people it is offered to God, and even our everyday experience suggests the distinction between the psychology of the two. One faces a performer when one is a audience member, and even if one is singing along to all the turns one is still only there to be entertained. While if one is supporting the singers performance one stands behind the singer. The rubrics of the Mass itself makes me struggles to participate in the Mass of the Novus Ordo.

      One you combine these changes with communion in the hand the whole mass is affront on one’s faith. That is you have to maintain your faith in spite of performing actions that are contrary to it. The Mass should be an aid to one’s faith and not its biggest obstacle. Clearly the NOM has a devastating effect on the faith of Roman Catholics. This can no longer be ignored.

  3. Avatar Pat Cullinan, Jr. says:

    May I be allowed to take note of a typo?

    For “fons aqua in vitam ætérnam saliéntis,” read “fons AQUAE in vitam ætérnam saliéntis.” “Salientis,” genitive, is thus seen to agree with “aquae,” the two words being an epexegetical genitive construction.

  4. Avatar Mark Tharnish, Pharm D, Pro Life Pharmacist says:

    This article seems to imply that the Mass needs to be either entirely said in the vernacular or entirely said in Latin. Instead of either/or how about a both/and scenario? The following sentence comes to mind. “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

  5. The Mass is the Mass. The Consecration is the Consecration. The Gloria is the Glory to God. Etc. No, we do not need to be conversant in Latin to use Latin, or even to pray in Latin. Nor is the Priest/Celebrant required to be conversant in Latin in order to pray the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin. Pope Benedict XVI made that quite clear in his Sumorum Pontificum. The final words of the prayers, “saecula saeculorum” occur at least five times during each Mass. It is NOT difficult to figure out that an “Amen” is expected. What the Priest is saying in Latin IS printed in the congregation’s worship aid where they can read and therefore confidently respond, “Yes, I agree.” The point was almost made that the Holy Trinity, to Whom all these prayers are being prayed, has no problem with Latin. Therefore neither should we. It is STILL the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, whether Americans like it or not. The Mass (all Liturgies) are about God, not about us.

  6. Avatar Sean Connolly says:

    I think this article presumes upon the traditional rite’s adopting a linear, call-and-response approach to participation like the newer rite. Rather, in the decades of the traditional Mass, even the readings were proclaimed somewhat for their own sake, and the keystone of participation was that of uniting yourself to the act and the Sacrifice generally, and the more and more specifically as your education and resources allowed. It was enough for this mode of participation to know that the prayers to which you were assenting were not evil, and to appreciate their most general sense, believing that the good for which they prayed would be brought about by the goodness of God. This mode of participation was facilitated either by the reflective silence of the Low Mass or the splendid, multi-layered effect of the High Mass, neither of which make you feel as if the liturgy is being addressed _to you_ in a way that you cannot understand, which is what can be most jarring about the New Rite when celebrated in Latin, but rather to God, in a way in which you can participate at various levels, according to your education, familiarity, and/or ability.

  7. Avatar Richard Chonak says:

    The English example given above from the “Veni Creator” is a rhyming translation intended for recitation as verse. Like many rhyming translations, it is artificial and stilted, compared to the simple language of the original hymn. The Latin words say: “wash what is dirty, moisten what is dry, heal what is wounded”.

    In contrast, someone who sings or prays the English version above (“wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal”) is using concepts not in the original text: sin, stains, refresh, heaven, barrenness, clay, bruises. Such a person is not thinking exactly the same thoughts as someone praying the Latin text. Therefore I am not sure that Dr. Kinney’s example is a good one for showing the strengths of the vernacular.

    The requirement for sufficient Latin knowledge to pray the Mass in Latin is not very stringent; otherwise some medieval priests would have been saying Mass invalidly for years. The Church requires (per “Summorum Pontificum”) that the priest be competent (“idoneus”) in Latin; according to the canonist Cdl. Egan, that meant: competent enough to pronounce the words correctly.

  8. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    When all is said and done, the pious and sincere participation in a said mass with its feeling of reverence flows from the serious and reverent participation of the celebrant, those assisting and serving and those in attendance. It is in these that the actions at the Altar and the church in general, are seriously deficient, not the mass itself. Without these both the Latin Mass and the New Mass are profoundly deficient in satisfying the needs of the faithful and giving proper recognition of what is transpiring before us. Stop the smiling, laughing, joking, jostling for position, winking, elbowing, commentary, disrespectful dress (cleavage, short skirts, shorts, dungarees, filthy sneakers, favorite T-shirts advertising most recent trips, visits, or points of interest). Dress, act and move with the reverence due a direct encounter with Christ and your thoughts, impressions and participation will follow appropriately. Recognize that YOU are present at the sacrifice and death of Christ, that YOU are about to receive His Body and Blood to unite with Him, that YOU REALLY believe it, and everyone else will join with you. Be a point of light, don’t hide yourself under the lampstand with all the others in darkness.

  9. Avatar Frank Alberti says:

    The Latin Mass IS more reverent because those of us drawn to it are looking for reverence and respect for Christ when we attend mass. When I go to the latin mass all the men are wearing coat and tie and all the women have dresses below the knees and wear veils. Also most of us read the missal and the readings before the mass to become familiar with the readings and prayers.
    When I go to the Novus Ordo mass, teenage girls looks like hookers, women in their 40s and 50s are wearing spandex pants. Older men are wearing shorts. People are chewing gum, drinking sports drinks and texting during mass.
    It’s not the language and it’s not the form of the mass. It’s just that those Catholics who respect the mass and have reverence for Christ simply cannot find it in most Novus Ordo masses today.
    I am a parishioner at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Littleton, CO.

  10. Avatar Dion Kendrick says:

    I had my St Joseph’s Missal in grade school and I have the 1962 Missal today. I am not even remotely proficient in Latin and yet I know what is being said/prayed at the Latin Mass and I love the silent prayer of the Low Mass.
    We sold our souls for a pot of message when the Novus Ordo was promulgated; only the Lutherans in the Church were happy. I praise Pope Benedict 16 for his “Moto Prop” and see that the TLM in my area are well attended by young families with many children.

    • Avatar Frank Alberti says:

      Very true. I have noticed at our TLM that at least 70% of the parishioners are young families with many, many children. It’s beautiful to see. Its almost like the 50+ crowd like me are the lost generation and it’s these young parents that are going to renew our Church. Young people are hungering for tradition, beauty and consistency which unfortunately they never got from us…the so-called “spirit of Vatican 2” generation.

  11. Avatar Jim Foley says:

    I think this article misses a major historical reality. In the Middle Ages and indeed to some extent up until recent times, most people attending Mass were illiterate and had no idea what the words meant. The server took the place of the people and responded to the priest’s prayers. The faithful were catechized by the statues and pictures in the church. Sadly many priests probably had only a rudimentary knowledge of Latin. There was even a whole class of poorly trained priests called “mass priests” whose sole purpose was to recite liturgies for the departed faithful. If we get scrupulous and demand perfect pronunciation and understanding of Latin, then many if not most of these masses would be without salvific effect. This, however, would be diametrically opposed to everything Jesus taught. Ours is not a pharisaical religion dependent on a punctilious execution of laws and regulations. We serve a God of love who makes up for our human imperfections as long as our intentions are properly disposed.

  12. Avatar J. E. Sigler says:

    What are the implications of this argument for the thousands of Masses said every day in the United States, in English, by international priests who mispronounce nearly every word?

    • Avatar Paul Goings says:

      Indeed. If Dr Kinney is correct, a vast number of Novus Ordo Masses celebrated across the United States every day are invalid.

  13. Avatar Penny Harkins says:

    I agree with Ted Heywood & Jim Foley. Reverence is the key to this entire discussion. I want, I NEED to understand every word of the mass. That allows me to participate in it more fully. We cannot go the way of the Pharisees who were all about the “rules” & very little about loving God & loving others. Then, there’s this problem of reverence. Why can’t our Church, our priests preach this to our people in the pews? Isn’t it time for the masses to be wakened by the reality of what’s truly happening at the mass? Let’s not even think of the music! Here in Maine we’re lucky to have masses said at all for such a lack of priests!! So many churches have closed, here & everywhere! We’re struggling to find musicians of ANY kind as well!! Again, I truly believe our Lord Jesus knows we are doing our best in those regards but for the reverence part, our people need to be reminded as to what is happening at mass and Who it is before us & Who it is we’re receiving. Appropriate attire and behavior once in the doors of our beloved churches should also be taught, both from the pulpit & literature both physical & digital so that no one can say… “I didn’t know”.

  14. Well I seldom say this but St.Thomas was wrong in this particular point.Of course he might have gone on to later change his mind just like he did with the immaculate conception, but when he said it he was wrong.

    It took me a long second to figure out what “This ice my booty” was a mistake of, but of course God would know right away that you meant to say “this is my body”. In fact even I would have realized right away if I heard it in context. This has convinced me that there is actually no way a mass can become invalidated through poor pronunciation.

    However what if the priest had just finished engaging in some grave sin right before Mass. If we think specifically of examples like homosexuality or child molestation then we know this has actually happened before. Even if that priest was never truly consecrated to begin with–say because he had these proclivities well before his ordination and never intended to repent from them so that the sacrament of Holy Orders was never valid–I bet this happens a lot more than we might want to believe–does this invalidate his Masses?

    Of course not. Even in cases where “priests” who are in fact not really priests and who end up mispronouncing every word God still provides us the sacramental grace he promised us through his Church. Such is his mercy and condescension.

  15. Avatar Peter Kwasniewski says:

    Communication is important, but there are many ways for communication to take place. Language that is immediately graspable is the most familiar yet often the most superficial and routine. I find the arguments used here to be quite weak, in comparison with the thoughts collected here: Also, at this link, there is a good exchange in the comments about intelligibility and understanding:

  16. The comments above do a decent job poking some of the plethora of holes in this line of thinking, as if the Church was praying incorrectly for way over a thousand years, that his line of reasoning would render foreign priests with potentially invalid consecrations, and that Latin is the preferred language of prayer according to even the documents of Vatican 2, and especially the canonized pope who called the Council and wrote Veterum Sapientia, an apostolic constitution, in which he wrote that the Latin language was “consecrated”–actually made Holy like the bread and wine at Mass–by is constant use by the apostolic see and that it must be retained in the sacred liturgy. Another of the host of things this author did not consider in speaking an intimate language with the Lord is whether our Lord actually desires that we pray to Him and approach Him on His terms rather than our own and that our Lord desires and is more greatly pleased by our efforts to reach out to His level and pray to Him in a Sacred–holy language–rather than the vulgar tongue we use every day with which we offend Him and his Sacred Heart so dearly. This article, void of historical context, teaching, and understanding offends Our Lord by discouraging rather than encouraging sacred ministers to reach out to the Almighty on His terms and ascend to higher depths of prayer as the Saints have done throughout the ages by praying in such a sacred and beautiful language that serves so well to elevate he heart and mind to God. Prayer is not speaking words of understanding. It is lifting the heart and mind to the things of God. Our Church’s very own sacred language employed by the Saints throughout history does this in such a way that ordinary language cannot do, and all priests should be encouraged to learn and pray in this beautiful language. The more they practice the more they will understand, and God could not be more pleased with their efforts. (The passage from Corinthians is strictly talking about abuses of speaking in tongues, not praying in the sacred language of the Church; theological distinctions are essential.)

    I am also quite disappointed the little researched passage above tried to raise questions and instill doubts in areas the Church has already clarified. If someone mispronounces the words of consecration by mistake the consecration is still valid, just as a pope clarified in the past that a mistaken pronunciation of the words even for baptism are still valid. On the other hand, Archbishop Lefebvre raised a similar type of doubt of validity but regarding the changes in the Novus Ordo, which were intentionally designed to strip the Sacred Liturgy of its sacrificial nature. In his book, A Letter to Confused Catholics, the archbishop argued that the new Mass can be prayed in such a way that no consecration takes place by intention because the priest could intend to not consecrate and the words themselves based on the words that were changed and removed from the Mass no longer clearly demonstrate the faith in the sacrifice of the Mass and Transubstantiation. For example, the words “Body of Christ” that replaced the longer traditional formula for distributing Holy Communion are now sometimes intended rather than being directed to the Host to instead apply to the person receiving Commuion as being “the body of Christ,” and in some places priests even mention the person’s name after saying this new formula. While there are counter arguments to be made, the point remains that fear tactics can be used on both sides. And while I do not agree with certain things from Lefevbre, in other ways he was quite prophetic regarding the loss of faith that has resulted from attending the new mass with all its liturgical abberations and loss of reverence and ancient traditions such as ad orientem, sacral linguistical worship, kneeling to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and a host of others. I hope and pray that articles like this would cease to be published. The 60’s is over. The time for liturgical change and upheaval has run its course, and we have den the results both in lack of faith and undeniable declines in vocations and especially Mass attendance. A new era is being ushered in with more and more traditionally minded Catholics being born each day. An era focused and centered on Christ rather then people and directed to worshipping Him as our Saints and ancestors have throughout the ages.

  17. Avatar Aaron Sanders says:

    Among the other problems already raised in the above comments we ought also to consider the high bar of intention raised by the author in front of those wishing to pray. Setting aside the fact that the quotation from St. Thomas does not support the conclusion that one must understand each and every word in order to have sufficient knowledge to intend a prayer’s meaning, this line of argument also overlooks the fact that even those whose “knowledge” of the meaning is vitiated by heresy are capable of intending to confer the sacrament of baptism (and thus of validly conferring it). So there are instances in which a minister “knows” that what the sacramental formula attempts to accomplish is a mere outward profession devoid of inner cleansing, indelible mark, or incorporation into the Church but still manages to “pray” well enough to administer a sacrament validly. And yet the author would have us believe that a priest with a deep and orthodox understanding of the Eucharist may be incapable, by defect of knowledge, of forming a proper intention when reciting the five-word phrase “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” Ad absurdum reductum.


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