The Latin Mass is often called the Tridentine Mass, a reference to the fact that it was made church law by Pope St. Pius V shortly after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
Why is the Mass Offered in Latin?
As it is no longer spoken as the vernacular language in any country today, Latin words do not change in meaning. The English language we speak may be easier to understand, but because of slang, colloquialisms and other influences, the words we use can vary in their meanings from place to place and year to year. As Pope Pius XII explained, "The use of the Latin language...is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth" (Mediator Dei). As for the difficulty of not understanding Latin, most Mass missals display the English translation side-by-side with the Latin text. Even children learn to use them with ease and soon know by heart even many of the Latin prayers. If you do not have a missal, click here for a complete Latin-English Missal (side-by-side). You can print this missal from your computer. It is about 16 pages.
Pope John Paul II has recommended wider use of Latin in the Roman liturgy and in seminary training. The Holy Father has emphasized that Latin remains the official language of the Catholic Church, and expressed his desire that "the love of that language would grow ever strong among candidates for the priesthood."
He also has said that "the use of Latin" is an indispensable condition for a proper relationship between modernity and antiquity, for dialogue among different cultures, and for reaffirming the identity of the Catholic priesthood." The Pope also has encouraged the Congregation for Divine Worship to ensure that the prayers of the liturgy reflect the depth of the Christian traditions of piety. He cited as examples the "magnificent prayers" found in the rites of the Eastern churches, and in the old Roman Missal of St. Pius V.
History of the Latin Mass.
Mass was originally said in Aramaic or Hebrew. The words amen, alleluia, hosanna and sabbaoth are Aramaic words which were retained and are still found in the Latin Mass of today.
By the year 250 AD, the Mass was being said in Latin throughout most of the Roman world. The Church in the western empire adopted Latin for the Mass by 380 AD. The Latin Canon as we know it, was finished by 399 AD. Latin ceased to be a vernacular language between the 7th and 9th centuries; however, the Mass continued to be offered in Latin because much of the liturgy had been established and considered unchangeable.
Although 'dead', Latin served as a common means of communication throughout the Church, down through the ages, and Latin remains the official language of the Catholic Church to this day.
Where has the Latin Mass been for the last 36 years?
Although the Latin Mass dates back to 150 AD, the advent of the New Mass (Novus Ordo Missae) in 1970, by Pope Paul VI, has caused it to be offered by fewer priests. However, in 1988, Pope John Paul II approved and encouraged the celebration of Latin Mass in dioceses where the people requested it (Ecclesia Dei). Latin Mass has been offered in Kansas City at Our Lady of Sorrows on a regular basis since that time and now will continue at Old St. Patrick Oratory beginning early 2007.
Isn't the Latin Mass unsuitable for modern man and his needs?
Some people object that they don't get much out of the traditional Latin Mass, that it is "boring" because they don't understand the Latin, that the priest doesn't make the service interesting by getting the people involved - that he even has his back turned to them most of the time, or they would prefer more "upbeat," modern music. But, people sometimes forget that the Mass is not just for them but for God. It is an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty and His infinite perfections, and an expression of our submission to Him as creatures to their Creator and Lord. The Mass is, moreover, the public worship offered by the entire Church to God through Jesus Christ Who, as the Eternal High Priest, offers Himself anew to His Eternal Father as He did on the cross.
Shouldn't the liturgy reflect the times and cultures of people?
The Mass is the supreme act of worship of God, Who is above time, language, and culture. The focus and end of the Latin Mass is to give to God the honor and reverence due to Him.