Why is Latin the language of the Church? How can the congregation understand the Mass whenever it is said in Latin?
The Catholic Church began in the days of the Roman Empire, and the language spoken throughout that Empire was Latin. St. Peter moved the seat of Church government from Antioch to Rome, and the Catholic Church government remains centered there to this very day. It was only natural that Latin became the language of the Church. As the centuries elapsed, for example, Latin still remained the language of the educated classes – even into the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Latin should still be the official language of the Catholic Church. It simply always has been. Furthermore, a universal language greatly facilitates the unity of the Church. Ecumenical Councils, for example, have always been held in Latin, enabling bishops from all over the world to communicate with each other easily.
Moreover, unlike English, French, German and the other languages of the Western world, Latin does not change over the centuries – it is not affected by national idioms, slang and the like – therefore, in Western countries Latin is the official language of the Mass because it helps to preserve the original purity of the Mass liturgy – although today, the Mass is usually said in the language of the people. Catholics have always had a complete translation of the Mass Latin in their missal, or Mass handbook, so they have always been able to understand and follow everything the priest says and does at the altar, even when the Mass is in Latin. It should also be borne in mind that the Mass is never exclusively in Latin. All sermons, Gospel and Epistle readings, parish announcements and closing prayers are in the language of the congregation.
Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961