Mass in the Vernacular - 21st June 2015

On 7th March this year, at a special Mass held at the Church of All Saints in Rome, Pope Francis commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first time for many hundreds of years that a pope had celebrated Mass in a language other than Latin.

On 7th March 1965, Paul VI celebrated Mass in the vernacular – in Italian, in Rome – illustrating for all Catholics the implementation of Vatican II liturgical reforms.

One of Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Mass was that it had been removed from the people by the language barrier of Latin and he recommended that the liturgy be prayed and sung in the language of the people.

The Council of Trent, convened in 1545 in response to the Protestant Reformers, called for the continued used of Latin in liturgy, although there was no specific condemnation of the use of vernacular.

While limited provision had been made for the use of the vernacular in certain rites before the Second Vatican Council, the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated on 4 December 1963, allowed for its use at Mass in the readings, the general intercessions, and the parts belonging to the people.

The possibility of using modern languages was enthusiastically embraced.  A vernacular Mass of Pius XII was permitted in 1966. The first time in Australia that the whole liturgy was celebrated in English was as the Episcopal Ordination of Most Rev Francis Carroll on 5th September 1967.

The 1970 Missale Romanum in Latin was quickly translated into numerous languages. The English language translation produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy appeared in 1973.

Pope Paul VI hoped that the vernacular missals would enable one and the same prayer, expressed in so many different languages, to ascend to the heavenly Father through our High Priest Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Today the Mass is celebrated in more than 300 languages around the world, a wonderful sign of unity in diversity.

In his homily at the 50-year commemorative Mass, Pope Francis said that allowing Mass to be celebrated in the language of the local congregation rather than in Latin helped the faithful to understand and be encouraged by the word of God.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord for what he has done in his Church in these 50 years of liturgical reform. It was really a courageous move by the church to get closer to the people of God so that they could understand well what it does, and this is important for us: to follow Mass like this.”

Pope Francis added that people need to be able to connect the liturgy to their own lives.  “The Church calls us to have and promote an authentic liturgical life so that there can be harmony between what the liturgy celebrates and what we live out.”

The pope said he hoped that commemorating the first papal Mass in the vernacular would remind people that the house of God is meant to be a source of spiritual strength, where they can hear his word and feel “not like foreigners but as brothers and sisters” who are united in their love for Christ.


Elizabeth Harrington