Liturgical Language

I believe I have spoken of this before on this blog but maybe not. There is a very heated discussion going on on the Catholic Blogs about the possible use of the Tridentine Mass for the Catholic Church. Most of us might know this as the “old mass” or the “pre-Vatican II Mass” either way some people would like this restored and it seems the Pope is one of those people. So this has given me cause to think about liturgy and language.

The Orthodox Liturgy has not changed much in the last thousand years or so. Yes some of us priests like to cut parts out to shorten the liturgy so our parishioners don’t complain. When I arrived here in the village almost three years ago, that does not seem possible and I will blog on that another time, the liturgy was short and sweet. As the new guy on the block with new vestments and a newly printed degree from seminary I was going to serve the Liturgy cover to cover. So I did. Boy did I hear about it. But now three years hence Liturgy runs about and hour and fifteen minutes to and hour and half depending on how much I have to say.

Here in the village we use English as the liturgical language. That switch was made years before I arrived. You see you are in the third generation, and the fourth generation is about to graduate from high school. The sad part is that most of the people only have a passing knowledge of the language of their ancestors. For me language is culture, and although we are in America we should be proud of where we have all come from and language is part of that. So we use English with a smattering of Romanian and this seems to work.

There is the argument that if the language is not English then converts wont come to the church. So I have been here almost three years, and the language has been English, and I have not seen any converts that were not already here. But the argument still goes on. I guess people could argue that the younger generation does not speak their native language so they feel left out. That could be, but Fr. Greg at St. Spyridon’s in Worcester will tell you about the full church on Sunday and the language goes back and forth between Greek and English. While here I average 35 out of 75 members on Sunday and the language is English!

So will the Latin Mass bring more Catholics back to the fold? If I was to switch to Romanian in the Liturgy would people stop coming? Not sure. However, we do live in an English Language society and we need to get our people to speak the language of the people around them. No this applies to us Orthodox as we still have immigrants coming from some other place. Not many Latin immigrants coming to America, unless the Roman Legions are re-forming somewhere. So Latin for the Catholics is like Church Slavonic for the Russians. It is a liturgical language used in Church.

I think we have lost some of the mystery of liturgy. Liturgy is not entertainment it is worship. We as priests need to set an atmosphere of worship and prayer not a concert where people hold up lighters at the end. Although now I understand concert goers hold up their cell phones and not lighters.

This draws the point to preaching. I have written about this before and received lots of responses both here and in the email. Preaching is not about being PC or saying what people want to hear. As a Priest my job is to teach and correct. We are called father, and that is the roll of the father in a family to teach and correct his children. Sometimes the topic is uncomfortable but we need to discuss it none the less. Christianity is not a habit it is a life style. Not a piece of clothing we put on on Sunday and then take off on Monday. It is something we wear all the time.

So what are the thoughts on Liturgical Language? Let us try and stay away from name calling and such other things let us just have a discussion. I reserve the right to remove comments I find distasteful. If you want to write those comments get your own blog its free and easy. Also no anonymous comments. Put your name on them and take a stand.


  1. Father Peter, bless !
    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece.

    At Liturgy this morning, we used English and Welsh; when we have Greeks, we use some Greek and some Slavonic when we have Russian visitors. Our services are mostly English language, though.

    I rather like my young ones (9 and 5) to be confidently able to sing responses in Greek and Russian and Welsh, as well as English 🙂

  2. While I do believe, after having experienced worship “both ways,” that the vernacular is the best choice for the bulk of the Liturgy on any regular basis, I am very supportive of learning and periodically using some of the non-changing hymns of the Liturgy in languages such as Greek or Arabic or Slavonic (or, for Western Rite, Latin). I would note that even the “Latin” Liturgy retained the Kyrie eleison in Greek, along with one of the repetitions of the Trisagion in the Good Friday Liturgy. I still sometimes say Grace or the Lord’s Prayer in Latin as a touch-point with my younger years and heritage.

    In my current parish we use English, Arabic, Greek, and Spanish. Sometimes, I confess, I would like to hear or sing certain things in English that are always done in Arabic, but I am quite sure that those who are here from the Middle Eastern countries — and we have many immigrants — would like to hear certain things in Arabic, that are always in English. So, we “give and take” and hope that in doing so, we are giving glory to God, who knows not only our languages, but the secrets of our hearts!

  3. “Ah Fr. Peter,” she drolls with an Irish lilt, “ye’ve gon an raised a ruckus now haf ya!” :o)

    In all seriousness, this is a tough one. I grew up experiencing the Latin Mass till I was 10. I still remember its beauty but didn’t understand a word of it.

    I was received into the Church through the GOA. Orthos and Divine Liturgy was 75% Greek. The good thing was the Divine Liturgy book had English translations, so I wasn’t totally clueless.

    The church I am in now (OCA) is all in English, but there is the occasional Slavonic tossed in (during a Panihida or during Lent).

    Growing up my Dad told me stories of how my Italian Grandmother told him, “We in Ameriga now. We speaka da English.”

    I believe the Liturgy and all services should be served in English. It is the language of the country in which we reside. If I were in France, I would not expect the church to change it’s language to suit me and my kind. Same for any country I am in. It has nothing to do with ethnicity or anything like that. It is the common language of the culture and community of the country in which I live.

    Just like I believe, anyone who comes to the US/Canada for residency should learn/know the language.

  4. You did it again, my friend – I’m not conserving energy in this heat because I’m thinking!! 🙂

    Seriously, it is interesting to worship in places where your primary language is not THE primary language. A number of years ago I was on a business trip in Finland, of all places, and I went to mass at St. Henrik’s Cathedral, the Archdiocesan seat in Helsinki. What blew me away was that there were NO masses celebrated in Finnish! The pick of the language depended on the celebrant, as it is a “missionary” Catholic archdiocese – at least, it was at that time (I was there last in 1999). The celebrant’s primary language was Spanish, so you can probably guess which language Mass was celebrated in.

    It wasn’t hard to follow, and I speak enough Spanish that I was able to stumble along. It was, as I recall, quite beautiful. And it helped me to realize, even back then, that our faith in God transcends the languages we speak.

  5. English as the mother tongue and the universal language makes sense. However I do think Latin should not be lost. Interesting that at the Papal audience in St Peter’s square many people did not know Pater Noster and Credo III! That is a shame. I’m not in fvaour of a return to the “old” mass but not because of language!

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