Why is Pope Benedict emphasizing Latin?

Damian Thompson’s wonderful blog notes that the Holy Father will celebrate John Henry Newman’s Beatification Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo) in order to emphasize the universality of Christ’s Church.

This follows news that the Holy Father and his personal assistant celebrate the Holy Mass according to the 1962 Missal in private as a private devotion. What does all this mean?

By using Latin the Holy Father stresses three things:

  1. First, the use of Latin emphasizes the continuity of the Catholic Church over time – the Catholic Church did not become a “new Church” in the 1960s, nor did it imbibe a “new spirit.” It’s the same old Church – our Mother.
  2. Second, the use of Latin emphasizes that the Church is truly universal. Latin is a “dead language” – but not really. It is used by the Church, but not in common discourse. This means that Latin belongs to no nation, and yet to every nation. When we use Latin, we place everyone on an even playing field. Latin discourages nationalism at the expense of our highest identity as Christians.
  3. Third, Latin emphasizes the Roman-ness of Catholicism – it proclaims the universal jurisdiction of the Pope as Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ on earth. The Bishop of Rome is not merely “first among equals.” Rather, the Bishop of Rome holds a unique and divinely instituted office. Rome (not Constantinople, not Canterbury, not Moscow, not even Jerusalem) is the divinely appointed earthly capital of the Church.*

Personally, I think this is all very positive. There has been a general tendency to undermine the role and place of the Pope in an attempt to defend the sacramental and juridical role of the diocesan bishop. Moreover, as everyone knows, liturgical abuse is everywhere. Benedict seems to be making slight and subtle correctives in this regard.

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto. 
Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, 
et beatum faciat eum in terra, 
et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius. 

*My third book (due in 2011) in the “Origins of Catholicism” trilogy, entitled The Eternal City: Rome and Origins of Catholic Christianity explores the divinely instituted role of the city of Rome in the Old Testament and in the New Testament up until Constantine. It seeks to show the biblical and theological arguments for Roman supremacy.

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  • David Pell

    Christine: where did you hear that Christ used Hebrew when he instituted the Eucharist?   
    Taylor: do you have any concern that to talk about Latin as the universal language of the Church, rather than the language of the Latin Rite, marginalizes the ancient traditions of the many Eastern Catholic churches which never used Latin as their liturgical language?  It surprises me to hear people talk about the Latin Rite as if the Latin Rite is itself the Catholic Church, but I guess there’s not much awareness in the West of non-Latin Catholicism.

  • Taylor Marshall

    Latin is currently the universal language of the Church. It’s not a
    slight against anyone or any culture. It’s also not a slight against
    the Apostles who celebrated the Holy Eucharist in Aramaic and Greek.
    Three languages were posted the the holy cross of the Most Holy
    Redeemer: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. My mother tongue is English and I
    find no offense in the fact that English was not present on the wood
    of cross.
    ad Jesum per Mariam