CNP Logo Home
Online Catalog
Musical Musings
Liturgical Planners
Submit Your Music
Contact Us
Company Description
CanticaNOVA Publications
Bookmark and Share

CNP Feedback - Must We Do Latin?

Q. Dear CNP:

Let me take this opportunity to thank you and all those responsible for this website. It is an excellent contribution to the Church. I don’t share your interest in the use of Latin in our liturgy, but that does not take anything away from my praise for your work.

Felix N. English

A. Dear Felix:

Thank you very much for your kind comments about our website. We're glad you find it useful in your ministry at the parish.

I understand your reluctance in using Latin in liturgy — it's certainly shared by a number of music directors and priests around the country. If it were merely a matter of personal opinion, we could certainly leave things at that — just agreeing to disagree.

However, I don't see this as simply personal preference. There are very strong indications that the Church expects the use of Latin in liturgy — and, of course, I'm not speaking about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which requires Latin. I'm also not at all advocating a return to a full Latin Mass in the Ordinary Form. But the use of some Latin in our parishes is a different issue.

Dating from 50 years ago, the constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, promulgated in 1963 as the first document of the Second Vatican Council, expects that we will have some Latin, even in our vernacular liturgy. Here's article 36:

36. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

Later in the same document, the council fathers wrote in article 54:

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Article 36 of this Constitution.

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.

Further, the new Roman Missal (3rd edition), the most musical Missal ever published in the history of the Church, includes, within the text itself, not only vernacular Mass parts based on Gregorian chant, but also those same chants with their original Latin texts. The idea is that both of these settings be familiar to English-speaking Catholics throughout the world.

Various popes, from Paul VI through John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have spoken about the importance of Catholics knowing their parts of the Mass in Latin, not only for the practical aspect of international liturgical celebrations, but also as a means of our recalling and perpetuating our Catholic identity. This last issue is extremely important in the growing secular, humanist, almost anti-Catholic culture prevalent in the U.S.

And so, Felix, while I respect your opinion about the use of Latin in liturgy, I would invite you to consider whether this is an area open to opinion, like choosing an Organ Prelude for Mass, or whether there is a mandate (over 50 years old) for using at least some Latin.

Thanks for your insightful communication and for the good work you're doing for the Church in America!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written 27 January 2013

Also see: Index of other articles on Latin in liturgy

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
Send website comments or questions to: