Vatican II Reform: Mass in English
Probably the largest change in the celebration of the Mass was the change from use of Latin for every prayer and reading of the Mass to the use of the vernacular or spoken language. Indeed, in many parish churches in the United States it seemed that, on November 22, 1964, Mass was celebrated as it had been their entire lives and on the next Sunday, November 29, 1964, the Mass had changed dramatically. The readings and many of the prayers were said in English and the people were encouraged to recite some of the prayers with him. By the end of 1969 the Church discontinued all use of Latin in the Mass. The problem was, this wasn’t what the Second Vatican Council called for or what Pope St. Paul VI envisioned.
This is what the Council said about it, “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…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” (SC, 54). The Council called for the use of the mother tongue in the Mass, and the specifics were to be left to the bishops with the approval of the Pope, so that people could better understand the Mass and enter into it more fully. However, they also called for Latin to be retained in the Mass, especially for the Nicene Creed and the Our Father, along with many of the Eucharistic Prayers which are said only by the priest.
Why Latin? The first time I ever experienced a Mass in Latin was at St. Benilde Church in Metairie which had a Latin Mass every first Saturday. That’s why we celebrate a Latin Mass here at Lourdes every first Saturday, because I’m following that example. I was a seminarian at the time, and the experience actually opened up a new understanding of the Mass for me. Even though I couldn’t understand the language (I hadn’t started Latin classes yet), I was given a new understanding of the deep holiness and mystery of what is celebrated in the Mass. When we only celebrate Mass in a language that we understand, we can start to think that we know what’s going on, but the Mystery celebrated in the Mass, the Mystery of the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, is infinitely huge. Every time we participate in Mass we participate in something bigger than ourselves; we participate in something eternal.
I believe the Council Fathers were wise to insist on a mix of Latin and the mother tongue. If we don’t understand anything that’s going on, then we’re tempted to mentally check out, or to think that the Mass is for the priest and we just happen to be there. The use of our own language in the Mass helps us see that the Lord is speaking to each one of us personally and inviting us to enter into the life of Christ. The use of Latin, on the other hand, connects us to centuries of Christian tradition, thousands of saints, and the Mysteries that are being celebrated right in front of us.
We use Greek (Kyrie Elieson) and Hebrew (Amen and Alleluia), and we sing some of the parts in Latin during Christmas and Easter, but if you’d like to experience a Mass celebrated with a mix of Latin (most of the prayers) and English (readings, homily, and prayers of the faithful), then come join us on any first Saturday at 8 AM.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.