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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Latin in today's liturgy

by Catherine Frakas 21 May 2002

Latin in today's liturgy QUESTION from A. Basto on November 2, 2002 Some weeks ago, I went to a Thanksgiving Mass, to celebrate the birthday of a friend. The Mass was prayed in the vernacular until the Prayer over the Gifts. Then, the Priest started the Preface in Latin. The Mass was said in Latin from Dominus Vobiscum until the Sanctus. Then, the Priest resumed the use of the vernacular and started praying the Eucharistic Prayer III. The Mass continued in the vernacular till the Prayer after Communion, but the Final Blessing and the Dismissal were also recited in Latin. Furthermore, the Priest used the latin formula Corpus Christi for the distribution of Holy Communion.
I considered all that spectacular. At last I saw article 36 of the Constitution Sacrossantum Concilium having some practical effect.
However, I would like to know more precisely what are the rules governing decisions on the use of languages.
In the USA, for example, you have an English Language Missal that has been promulgated by the USCCB, after the recognitio of the Apostolic See was obtained. The same thing has happened here in Brazil with regard to our Portuguese language Missal.
Now, is a Priest free to use the original Latin version of the Missal whenever he pleases? What are the rules on that?
What are the norms governing the mixture of Latin and vernacular languages in one Mass?
In the Abbey where I attend Mass regularly, the Mass is said in the vernacular, with Latin gregorian chant for the Introit, Kyrie eleison, Glory, gradual, alleluia or tractus, sequence, offertory antiphon, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and for Communion. But that is a somewhat different situation, because monks of the Order of St. Benedict use the Graduale Romanum.
I find it hard to believe that it is up for each individual Priest to decide whether a Mass will be said in the universal language of the Church or in the vernacular. What are the norms governing the choice of languages?
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on November 22, 2002 Dear Mr. Basto,
I also find all of this spectacular. As article 22:2 states, bishops have the authority to regulate which language. Most bishops have decided to allow priests to make these decisions for themselves, which I think is wise since only a pastor normally is aware when his congregation is ready to use Latin and how much to use. I think it would be disastrous if all parishes would be required to jump entirely back into Latin. These changes need to be slow, and only the priest with his pastoral council knows exactly how fast.
Priests are free to use the Latin Missal whenever they please. Remember though that this is for the current edition of the missal, NOT the Traditional Mass that DOES require specific permission from the bishop.
Another distinction to remember: according to article 36:3, priests need permission to use the VERNACULAR rather than Latin, not the other way around. LATIN is the original.
As for mixtures of languages, no specific instructions exist as far as I know. The documents insist however that the laity know the ordinary and that they are able to pray it well and that Latin is given pride of place in our Liturgy. All of this is in the council documents. As far as I myself am concerned, use of the Graduale Romanum should be available in all areas.
Mr. Slavek
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