A Purely Visceral Argument for Latin in Liturgical Settings

By Cordelia Fitzgerald (Rated G)

Latin, we hear, is dead—and a fitting statement it is, too, as applied to the tongue that should be the main language of the Church. For the Founder of this Church was also dead, but He “gloriously did rise on the third day,” and is, in fact, still living. You see, the time of Christ, with procurators, coliseums, the Temple, the crucifixions, and the Latin, has passed, but from that “which has been called barren” great fruit has sprung forth.

The Church is inseparably bound to practically every culture in the time since Christ’s Resurrection (measured in years of Our Lord), and many languages are bound together under the name “Romance” due to their common ancestry in the Latin tongue. The influence of Redeemer and language is to be found under so many of the mountains of civilization looming today. Are they to be called dead, or life force?

Yet this is not even the most visceral of the arguments. Here’s one not to be found in any logic textbooks: Latin should be used whenever possible because it feels right. God is less a conscious part of our culture than ever, but even when He featured more prominently in it, churches and religion were things set apart. Different rules applied to them, different architecture was employed, every and all work stopped for the Angelus, and people wore their best to Mass. Even today, with the resurgence (in a greater or lesser degree) of veiling, women have one piece of lace that is set apart with no other purpose than to wear for Our Lord on His day.

Latin fits right in with this theme; in an era in which the Church is accused of being stodgy and irrelevant, why not have a language to match? The Gospel tells us that we “are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” (Mt. 5:13) Latin, like the Church, is salty. It is arcane, unusual, and cryptic. 

There is a truly lovely scene in The Passion of the Christ in which Pilate is interrogating Christ in Aramaic. He asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and Christ replies, “Does this question come from you, or do you ask me this because others have told you that is what I am?” This answer from Christ is not in Aramaic, however, but Latin, Pilate’s own language. The procurator, not knowing that he faces the One who set the Tower of Babel’s doom, is taken aback. In a radical move like the one where Jesus embraces the Gentiles and sets His base (Peter) in their very core (Rome), Christ evangelizes their language.

It would be base presumption to suggest that He nominated another central language as in pre-Babel times, but there’s no denying that, especially given Christ’s message of unification, it just feels right. An archaic language that the Church has used for centuries seems appropriate, and it will always be the same world over—no discrepancies in translations here. And so, it is no intellectual treatise given here, but merely the drawing of one person’s heart and mind to God through the use of that which has, for centuries, been set apart.

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