Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Background on Latin at the Council

Further research on the background of the Latin language question reveals that the question was especially important to the Catholic Melkite rite who wanted permission to use vernacular in its liturgies in the United States in 1960. Maximos IV appealed directly to the Pope and received permission to use vernacular except for the Anaphora (March 31, 1960). Because a debate was taking place regarding the wider use of vernacular, some of the Fathers were nervous about affirming the biblical and legitimate traditional affirmations of the use of the vernacular in the Eastern churches.

The pre-conciliar Commission on the Missions proposed to the Central Prepatory Commission (CPC) in its schema De sacramentis ac de s. liturgica, the following principle; "From Scripture we know that all languages are ordered towards the praise of Christ. Such praise is expressed especially in the liturgy, where the law of intelligibility of liturgical language for all gathered was stated by the Apostle. A diversity of customs and of rites has always existed in the Church, showing most clearly the riches of the Church's unity." (History of Vatican II, Vol. 1, Alberigo and Komonchuck, p. 217).

The pre-conciliar Commission on Liturgy established a subcommission De lingua latina which was to consider three questions:

  1. Whether Latin was to be fully retained
  2. whether the use of the vernacular was to be allowed
  3. and how clerics could be trained in Latin in order that they might understand and use it effectively (History, 1.218)


Their original proposal proved very controversial and the report was withdrawn from the agenda. A compromise text was prepared by Vagaggini which instead proposed vernacular in the didactic parts of the liturgy, but retained Latin in the remainder. Other commissions where then asked to submit proposals. The Secretariat for Christian Unity proposed "the widest possible use of the vernacular" in the Mass and Sacraments. (History, 1.220). Cardinal Bea, the head of the commission responded vigorously to the CPC discussion of the schema, "We must strongly oppose the idea that Latin is a sign of unity. It is more a sign of uniformity than a sign of unity." (History, 1.220)

In December 1961, Pope John XXIII entered the debate by writing an apostolic letter in praise of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and its defense of Latin in solemn liturgies. In February of 1962 the Pope signed the Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia which encouraged the teaching of Latin in clerical studies. While emphasizing the treasure of Latin in the Church VS also affirmed the dignity of Greek and other ancient languages. Clerical students should receive a good knowledge of Latin in their early studies. Bishops are also urged to ensure there is a good knowledge of Greek.

Many thought this settled the question and the schema De sacra liturgica brought to the CPC in its # 24 read, "The use of Latin in western liturgy is absolutely to be preserved" but this was accompanied by continued calls for vernacular in the Mass, in the rituals, and in the Breviary. This especially reopened in relation to the use of the vernacular in the Divine Office, as it was widely recognized that there was a nearly universal decline in the knowledge of Latin among the clergy.

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