Why does the Church cling to Latin, a dead language?

For one reason, precisely because it is dead!

In modern and living languages, words are constantly changing their meaning whilst in a dead language, such as Latin, they do not. The essential doctrine and significance of Christianity must not change, and the safest way to preserve it intact is to keep it in an unchangeable language.

Universal language

A universal Church must have at least her chief form of worship in a universal language. Christ came to save all men, and wherever a member of the true Church may be in this world he should be able to find himself at home at the central act of Christian worship.

The Mass, being said in Latin, is the same in all countries. If a Frenchman, who could not understand a word of English, were to enter a Catholic Church in New York, he would be at home the moment the Mass began. An English-spoken service would be a mystery to him.


There’s been plenty Latin Masses with as many as 15 different nationalities present, and not all can understand the sermon equally well. But being all Catholics, all are quite at home the moment the priest turns to the altar and goes on with the Mass in Latin. It brings out the wisdom and the universality of the Catholic Church.

The Priest ascends the Altar to intercede with God on behalf of the people. Those present kneel, and in their hearts pour out their prayers for their own necessities. They feel no more need to know just what the priest is saying than the Jews who knelt at the foot of the mountain felt the need of knowing just what Moses was saying to God on their behalf at the top.

If anyone should complain of the use of Latin, it should be those who have to endure it. And I have never yet heard a Catholic attending the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) complain that it caused difficulty, or that he or she would like it changed.

To understand why priest say Mass in Latin, go to our other article: Why do priests say Mass in Latin?

(Source: Radio Replies, Fr. L. Rumble MSC & Fr. C. Carty MSC, 1937)

Semper Excelsius is a website for the defense of the Catholic faith through instruction and informative articles. Its focus is on explaining the rich history and traditions of the holy Roman Catholic Church, while defending her teachings against false assumptions and doctrinal errors.

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