If we were to have Mass in the original Christian language, it would be in Aramaic. Once Christianity began to spread, Mass was offered in other languages, although Greek was predominantly used. Fast forward to the 500s AD, and Latin makes its way into the liturgy, with several Greek phrases remaining.
The Mass evolved over time, beginning with priests who extemporaneously put together a service for congregants. Through the early centuries AD, a pattern of prayers began to form. In 1570, the Roman Missal was created, establishing a mandatory format for the Mass. The Latin Rite, or Tridentine Mass, would be the primary form until Vatican II in 1962 when Masses began to be said in the vernacular.
If you were born after 1962, the Tridentine Mass typically does not play much significance in your life. Maybe your parents talked about it, or you saw versions of it in old movies. Vatican II brought a sense of freedom to the Catholic Mass, a sense that the service belonged specifically to you because it was in your native tongue.
Not everyone liked having that freedom, however; in fact, some Catholics missed the Latin Mass so much that they longed for the day when they could attend once again. Even some Vatican II-era Catholics found the traditional Mass to be more connected to Catholicism.
Believe it or not, there is a growing interest in the Tridentine Mass. I would not have believed it myself had I not been taken to a Latin Mass one Sunday 13 years ago. Little did I know that I would still be attending on a fairly regular basis to this day.
This has not been easy. I love my Vatican II Masses! I was led kicking and screaming into the Latin Rite (only a slight exaggeration there). I resented not hearing the beautiful hymns and saying the familiar prayers in English. I didn’t like wearing a veil. I was given a book that was supposed to help me follow the service, but it was confusing and in small print and it gave me a headache. I professed to whoever would listen that I “got nothing out of the Latin Mass.”
Here’s the question I ended up asking myself just a year or so ago: What am I supposed to “get out of” going to Mass? (Keep in mind that I said the exact same thing in my 20s when I stopped regularly going to Mass in Engish.) Why do I insist that there has to be something in it for me? Was Mass created so I could feel really good about myself? I don’t think so. My priorities have been kind of mixed up!
While I am still partial to Mass in English, I will say that I’ve gained an appreciation for the Latin Mass. It’s quiet, especially if you attend a Low Mass (no singing). It’s focused. It’s reverent. It’s always the same. And you can be in your own zone without much interaction if that’s your thing. (That’s usually my thing in church.)
There were good reasons for changing to the vernacular. Even by 1962, Latin was not a popularly studied language. The spread of Catholicism to Africa and Asia meant there were Catholics whose native alphabets and languages were completely unrelated to Latin. Still, it wasn’t to everyone’s liking. That’s why we have churches that still offer Mass in Latin, and you will find me in one of those churches on many Sundays. And now, for the most part, it’s minus the kicking and screaming.