Monday, 26 September 2011

Why in Latin?

Fr Clement Tigar SJ was a great priest and a great writer on all matters theological. For many years he was Rector at the seminary for late vocations, Campion House at Osterley, West London and, as a very young man, I often passed him in the street but he was distant and aloof; his mind was ever on a higher plane (certainly higher than mine).

One of his lighter (but no less interesting) books is called Papist Pie, a collection of questions and answers about the faith published in 1945.

Here is the chapter on "Why in Latin?"

"Why are all your services in a language no one can understand?

They are not. The evening service always contains prayers in English.
The Mass, which is the central act of worship, is in Latin, for many reasons. The Catholic Church is not just the church of this or that country, it is world-wide. Its members feel at home, because they can take part in the same service, in the same language, all over the world.

Again, Latin being a dead language, is free from those changes in the meaning of words, inevitable to a modern language, and is therefore more suitable for expressing with exactitude those doctrines which never change, because eternally true.

Catholics attending Mass do not need to follow every word of the Mass. They understand that it is the official act of sacrifice, instituted by Christ, which the priest offers up in the name of Christ, for the people. They can either follow English translations in their prayer books, or join their own private prayers, in their own private way, to the official prayers of the priest.

The Mass is an act rather than a prayer.

It is both reassuring and good to see the clarity of Fr Tigar's reasoning and, though basic, the teaching is as true today as it was then.


  1. 'The Mass is an act rather than a prayer.'(!!!??)

    hmmm...I don't know. Attending mass and not having the slightest idea about what is going on usually led me to impromptu visits to the land of Nod

  2. RSF - Yes, the act is the repeat of the sacrifice of Calvary, in an unbloody fashion. It is enshrined in prayer but the Mass itself is an act of sacrifice.
    I don't think that Fr Tigar meant that attending a Mass and not knowing what was going on was a good thing. What he meant was that you do not have to follow the Mass as it takes place; you may use that period for your own prayer or meditation.

  3. Interesting post, and good answer ... much better than mine, which was: Quidni?

  4. I once found a book where it had a description of the Holy Mass like this:
    If you gathered all the prayers of every Holy person, Angels, Saints including Our Lady, from the beginning until the end of Time it would not be a fraction of the worth of ONE Holy Mass as it is the very same sacrifice of God's own Son appealing for our salvation on Calvary. Helped me to focus the attention a bit better after running across that.

    By the way, had to look up Quidni. Meet such intelligent people on this blog. Learning all the time.

  5. Momangelica - I had to look it up too but did not understand the answer! In fact, it's given me a headache.
    That Tony Layne is one cool dude!