The Church’s Universal Language

Some of us are old enough to remember when the primary language of the Mass was Latin. The only parts of the Mass in the language of the country or community were the proclamation of the Gospel and the sermon. Latin was, and continues to be, the universal language of the Church. The Mass was celebrated in Latin in order to emphasize that we are One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Catholics were proud to say that wherever they went to Mass in the world, it was celebrated in the same language. It was an impressive proclamation of the oneness and universality of the Roman Catholic Church.

The challenge of the Mass in Latin was that few people actually understood it. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council called for a huge shift and directed that the language of the country or community be the primary language of the Mass. This was in hopes of helping the faithful to be more attentive at Mass and participate more fully. Over the course of years, the intent of the Council has largely been achieved as most Catholics are more engaged and participate more fully in the Mass. At the same time, an unintended consequence has been that many Catholics have forgotten about Latin’s important and universal place in the Church. Some have never even heard of it.

Christ Cathedral has Mass in 4 languages every Sunday. Our wonderful diversity provides an opportunity for us to grow in unity as the Body of Christ. We express this unity when all of us become familiar with the Church’s universal language. Vatican II states, “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.” During Lent, the Gregorian chant Amen and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is being sung at all the Masses. Honoring ages of universal tradition, the Greek Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) is also being sung. We will gradually learn other Latin acclamations. It is wonderful to think of our parish singing the Church’s universal language with one voice as we prepare to dedicate our new cathedral. This combined with using the beautiful music and acclamations of our diverse languages will make us outstanding examples of how to pray together as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church at Christ Cathedral!

Together in faith,

Very Reverend Christopher Smith, Rector