Magazine article U.S. Catholic

When Did We Start Celebrating Mass in Latin?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

When Did We Start Celebrating Mass in Latin?

Article excerpt

The instinct of Christianity has always been that people should worship in a language they understand. The first language of Christian liturgy was Aramaic, the common language of the first Christians, who were Palestinian Jews. While Hebrew was the language of scripture and formal worship, Christian worship occurred in the home where Aramaic was spoken. The words Abba and maranatha are Aramaic.

Christianity quickly spread from Palestine to the rest of the world, and the Eucharist came to be celebrated in many languages, including Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian. In most of the Mediterranean world, the common language was Greek, which became the language of liturgy in that region and remained so until the early third century.

Eucharist itself is a Greek word, meaning thanksgiving. The phrase Kyrie eleison and the words liturgy, baptism, evangelize, martyr, and catechumen, among other familiar church words, are also Greek in origin.

From around the third century B.C., what we call "classical" Latin was the language of the Roman aristocracy and the educated classes. Around the time Jesus was born, during the reign of Augustus Caesar, the language began to change. The Roman aristocracy was destroyed by war and political infighting; when they disappeared, their language went with them. Classical Latin was replaced by a less refined version of the language.


In the third and fourth centuries A.D. this form of Latin began to replace Greek as the common language of the Roman world and soon became the language of the liturgy. …

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