Browsing Amen Corner

Amen Corner - September 12, 2021

Written by Kathy Kuczka

The Tokyo Summer Olympics are now history as the Paralympic Games ended last weekend. When Barron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, founded the modern Olympic Games at the turn of the 20th century, he chose French as the Games’ first official language. But as the century progressed, English became the dominant common global language and the use of French at the Olympics waned. That’s why the Games now employ an official whose primary role is to monitor the use of French throughout the Olympics. 

We are passionate about language. It is, after all, our primary means of communication, and it helps to form our identity.

The Church too is passionate about language. Latin has been the official language of the Church since the year 384 and for centuries, it was the primary liturgical language of the Roman Rite. Debates over the use of Latin in the liturgy have been ignited with passion, so much so that the Council of Trent (1545-1563) called anathema anyone who said that Mass should only be celebrated in the vernacular. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), while advocating the use of Latin, opened the door to allow the People of God to celebrate and to express their faith in their own language:

 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 admin
 istration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, 
 frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the 
 limits of its use may be extended. 
 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #36.

The vernacular quickly caught on, replacing Latin as the primary language of the liturgy. Even though today we pray in our own languages, the issues surrounding the language of the liturgy are not likely to go away anytime soon. The debate regarding Latin in the liturgy was reignited recently after Pope Francis wrote Traditionis custodes in July, restricting the use of the Tridentine Mass, sometimes called the “Latin Mass,” because it is celebrated in Latin.

 As communities in the United States become more diverse, there are likely to be more bilingual, trilingual and multilingual celebrations. All of this is to say that we are challenged to remember what Pope Francis calls the primary language of the Gospel, the language of mercy. 


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