Question 32:

Until 1960 all Catholics had to pray in Latin, just as all Muslims pray in Arabic. The Protestants abandoned this language as early as in the 16th century. If it was wrong, why did the Catholic Church wait so long, if it was right, why was the Latin language, which promoted unity, given up?


Answer: Jesus and his disciples, as well as the early Christian communities in Palestine prayed in Aramaic. The texts in the Bible were written in Hebrew and Greek. The authenticity and unity of the Christian faith does not depend on the use of a certain language. The Holy Spirit, who, according to the faith of the Church is always active in the Church, enables and facilitates the unity of the church, and that through the multitude of languages and cultures in which the Christian faith exists in a multitude of regions and times. In personal prayer, each Christian shall pray in that language which is closest to his heart. The language of the joint liturgical celebrations of the Christian community and the churches has changed and adapted time and time again, as Christian life extended into different cultures and in different times. In the East, for example, the following church languages existed and still exist: Aramaic, Syrian, Coptic, Ge`ez (=Ethiopian); Armenian, Church Slavonic, Romanian, etc.

For sociological reasons, because Christians were largely outsiders, the encumbered and burdened ones, the predominant language, which was also the official language of prayer for the early Christian communities in the Eastern and Western centers of the Roman Empire in the first two centuries, was not Latin, but Koiné Greek. From the end of the 2nd century, this was slowly superseded by Latin. From the middle of the 3rd century, for example, all tombstone engravings for Christians in Rome were written in Latin. In the 4th century, the liturgy for the Mass in the Church of the West Roman empire became Latin. At the end of the same century, Hieronymus created a standard translation of the bible (versio vulgata). Already since the apologetics of Tertullianus (died around 230), there has been a Christian literature Latin, which was used increasingly by the Latin church fathers following the political victory of Christianity. The Latin language survived the collapse of the Roman empire: Although no-one called it a "mother tongue after the beginning of the reign of the Carolingians, it remained a kind of adaptable and therefore lively international "father tongue for culture and administration, for science and educated literature. On a European level, the language is limited to a very small group of those educated in Latin, also called the clerici. However, it can be credited with being the reason for the relative unity and the sense of belonging to an occidental culture.


There are German translations of basic texts and prayers stemming from medieval times (e.g. the Lords Prayer, the Credo [creed], marriage declarations, etc). Through its use of the vernacular, the Reformation questions the Catholic practice of using Latin, although in some protestant regions, Latin remains as the liturgical language. At the same time, Lutheran German and Th. Cranmers English undergo sacralization. The Roman Catholic Church responds to the reformers with the insistence that Latin remains the language used for Holy Mass. In the 18th century, Latin is prescribed as the language to be used by those who preside at liturgy. For other texts, and especially for hymns, the respective vernacular was chosen. In the 20th century, the use of the vernacular becomes more and more important. Since the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the resulting reforms of liturgy, liturgy at Holy Mass, too, becomes the vernacular. The liturgical texts were translated from the Latin templates and the translations were officially certified by the Vatican Liturgical Commission.

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