The following guest editorial was published in The Catholic Moment, diocesan paper for the Lafayette diocese, last April.
A couple of years ago, I remember having a conversation with my sister on the telephone. I was telling her about an incident a few days prior, when a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door. They said something that made me think, “That’s not correct. Look in the beginning of the Gospel of John.” The two parts that stood out the most were “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2) and “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). I told my sister that I hear this in Mass every day!
At the time, I was going to the daily traditional Latin Mass at Holy Rosary in Indianapolis. In the 1962 Roman Missal, they have what’s called “The Last Gospel,” or the last Gospel reading before we leave Mass, and it’s the same Gospel reading every day: the beginning of the Gospel of John.
My mind went straight for those passages during the little visit with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I assume it’s because I was hearing them day in and day out at Mass, despite the fact that they were being read in Latin.
My sister had some excellent insight here. She said that she got the same feeling when she went to the bar mitzvah of the child of a friend of hers. Even though what was being read was in Hebrew, she just kind of “got it.”
“The Word of God speaks to your heart, regardless of what language it’s in.”
She really hit the nail on the head there. The Word of God is the Word of God, regardless of what language it’s in. I don’t speak Polish. If someone proclaims the Word of God to me in Polish, does it mean that it’s any less of the Word of God? I certainly wouldn’t think so. I’m sure the same argument was used 40 years ago with the idea of broadening the use of the vernacular, that we shouldn’t be afraid to use the vernacular. Likewise, 40 years later, we can apply the same logic to the use of Latin in the Church. After all, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, it does say that “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36). We need to have that connection with our past through our liturgy. Even the early Church recognized that, deciding to keep the Kyrie from the original Greek when the liturgical language was changed to Latin.
This is not so much an argument against using the vernacular as much as it’s a simple reminder that we shouldn’t be afraid to use Latin. It is, after all, still the official language of our Church.
This guest editorial was written by Chuck Abraham, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carmel and a board member for Una Voce Carmel.