Against a vernacular liturgy: The Church should have a sacred language

Against a vernacular liturgy: The Church should have a sacred language by PETER KWASNIEWSKI for Life Site News

‘Pentecost shows that the apostles spoke to everyone in their own language — and it wasn’t Latin.’ This is true, but there’s more to the story.

As we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost — a feast so great in the eyes of the Church that it was celebrated for eight days (i.e., as an octave) in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church going back to the late sixth century, a custom that continues today wherever the ancient form of the Roman rite is used — we would do well to ponder what the gift of tongues signifies and what it does not signify.

A friend once told me he had expressed his love of the traditional Latin Mass to a certain deacon, who countered in a huff: “Pentecost shows that the apostles spoke to everyone in their own language — and it wasn’t Latin.” This liturgical misinterpretation of Pentecost, which one hears now and again in different forms, deserves a rejoinder.

1. What the Acts of the Apostles shows is that the apostles preached to the people in many languages. There is nothing in the Pentecost story about worship in the temple or synagogue, or the Eucharistic liturgy and the Divine Office that developed out of them and supplanted them. And as far as I know, it’s always been the custom to preach in the vernacular at Latin Masses, except in highly specialized academic contexts. The gift of tongues is a gift for the sake of evangelization, apologetics, and catechesis — not specifically for liturgical worship.

2. Pentecost is shown in Scripture as a reversal of the tower of Babel. The original curse of ambitious man was to divide his progeny into a thousand languages. The rich poetic fruits of multiple languages can be counted a blessing willed by God, but the difficulty and often impossibility of a common discourse among rational animals is a curse. This curse is renewed whenever we are confronted with a liturgy in which the use of some vernacular that is foreign to us effectively says: “This is not for you; it’s only for them, for that demographic.”

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