Bring on the Clowns
Stating the Case for a Sacred Language

Solange Strong Hertz

With the great out-pouring of the Spirit of Vatican II we were promised a deluge of creative reforms unto the quickening of our lazy, outdated spiritual lives. That we have been shaken out of our shoes is simple fact, and if replacing benign lethargy with disgusted consternation is an improvement, large segments of the Catholic laity have made unprecedented progress.  Until these latter days, when had they ever been privileged to see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by a priest vested as a clown, as happened in certain avant-garde quarters soon after the Council?

Many may have been surprised, but not some with a good working knowledge of Latin, who knew what to expect. What sent the clowns tumbling through the liturgy was the Council’s Decree on the Sacred Liturgy. In Chapter III, Article 36, paragraph 3 begins, “It is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used.” No explicit mention of clowns, of course, but they are there nonetheless, solidly packed into the word vernacular, set to jump out on cue as they are wont to do from the tiny car in the well known circus act.

Ironically enough the English word for our everyday tongue is directly derived from a Latin one: vernaculus.  And as you may have guessed, it means “clown.”  It is a diminutive of verna, which designated a slave born in the house, a familiar, and by transference, a native. He was not actually one of the family, but he had grown up in its midst and enjoyed some special privileges not shared by slaves acquired from the outside. Presumably he could make little jokes about family members which would not have been otherwise tolerated. Thus a vernaculus, literally “a little ole slave born in the house” came to mean a jester or a buffoon, low born but funny.  (It is interesting to note that the Romans never referred to their mother tongue as a vernacular, but as their sermo patrius, an august distinction more like a patricular.)

Ergo, we might say that a priest celebrating Mass in the vernacular is not incongruous if nicely got up as a clown. Let loose in the liturgy, the vernacular by its very nature clowns. With one eye always on its audience, it can’t help playing the buffoon around sacred things. Running and jumping as it does through city streets, it has picked up lots of connotations. After all, having the run of TV, brothels, x-rated movies, spicy novels, rock lyrics and tabloids as well as private homes, ball parks, legislatures and other presumably respectable places, it can bring most anything into the sanctuary with it. No worshiper acquainted with the world can ignore its parodies and innuendoes. Solemn liturgical prayer thus infected by the vernacular becomes the “incense of another composition” typified in the Old Law, whose use on the altar was strictly forbidden (Ex.30:9).

But, we have been told ad nauseam, we must have a liturgy the people can understand!  Precisely. Words must mean what they are meant to men and not something else, or they are just so many lies. The most beautiful Christian hymns take on all the allure of soap opera when translated into the language of soap operas. Take, for instance, the two basic Christian words “love” and “mystery.” What overtones haven’t they acquired? What is love in popular parlance but cheap emotion, if not worse, bringing into the imagination a host of low connotations? Where is the magnificent caritas of the Fathers in all this? And mystery? Must we have detectives, occultists, aliens from outer space and mangled TV victims upstaging the Victim of the Altar?

One of the sillier ditties in the English language is the singsong, “Sticks and stones can break my bones. But words can never hurt me.”

The truth is that sticks and stones break only bones, whereas words can break hearts and spirits. They can sadden unto death. Was it Socrates who said that using the wrong word harms the soul? Words have power to destroy souls for the very reason that they also have power to mend hearts, rejoice souls and impart life. Common experience teaches what words can do in conveying love or terminating a lifelong friendship. Even if repented, a bad word can produce effects which are ineradicable. In the order of grace and the sacraments, the effects of the simplest words are beyond measuring.


The power of speech was conferred on man as an attribute of his creation in the divine image. God did not give Adam so awesome a faculty for his own amusement or convenience, to communicate with Eve and his descendants, for even before these came to be Adam at God’s behest had named the animals, who could make sounds, but not words whereby to “name” or understand themselves. Preceding Eve and all her progeny, speech was given through Adam initially and principally to glorify God and converse with Him, and to exercise vicarious dominion over His material works. The Holy Ghost therefore begins St. John’s sublime Gospel by telling us that long before Adam, “In the beginning was the Word,” the divine Logos.

A human word reflects the most intimate activity of the Blessed Trinity, where God the Father, through the Holy Ghost, speaks everything that is or can be in his one co-eternal Word. He produces His idea of himself so perfectly by It that It issues as a consubstantial second Person, his only-begotten Son. The power of speech, of producing words conveying thought, therefore glorifies God in a way similar to the way God glorifies himself. Furthermore, because every human word effects a mysterious union of the material and the spiritual – invisible ideas being thereby clothed and made apprehensible to the senses – it effects an allegory of the Incarnation, foreshadowed by human speech in Eden. It is because God’s Word is truth itself that we were forbidden at Sinai to bear false witness, camouflaging thought by deceptive words, and in due time the Word made Flesh warned us that eventually we must answer for uttering even idle ones.

For the perfectly pure and integrated, if there are such people, perhaps the vernacular is safe to use in liturgical worship, but surely not for the laity plunged daily in the filth of this world. When the layman comes to church to pray he of all people needs a sacred language which is a step removed from his everyday living, one he can use for the same reason that he wears his best clothes on Sunday and the priest dons special vestments, out of reverence for his Eucharistic Lord and the supernatural exercise in which he is engaged.   And it must be a language which other Christians like himself can employ, without subjective adulterations, so all can worship together with one mind and heart, in spirit and in truth, speaking the truth in prayer.


Original sin did not deprive us of our God-given speech. For a long time after the Fall “the earth was of one tongue and of the same speech” (Gen.11:1). It was the sin of Babel which destroyed this priceless legacy of Eden, abandoning mankind to verbal confusion. I remember once confiding my difficulties in mastering Spanish to a Spanish friar having trouble with English. “But child,” he consoled me, raising eyes and arms to heaven, “languages are a ponishment from God!”  Like any other affliction, they must be endured in a spirit of humble atonement.

Not until after the promised Redeemer arrived on earth was the punishment of Babel mitigated. It came with the institution of the Church, the perfect new human society which issued from the side of Christ on the Cross much as Eve had issued from the side of Adam in Eden. Because it would exist in the world as one supernatural communion of persons whose purpose transcended the world, this society had to be given a means of communication for the here and now, but which would not be limited by the here and now. This was necessary to insure the unity of its members, to safeguard its changeless doctrine and to preserve its unique relationship to its Trinitarian God. To the world at large it might speak any language it pleased!

By divine decree, therefore, three languages were specially designated for this purpose, beginning their mission by proclaiming from a sign affixed to the redeeming Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of Judeans” in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In the fourth century St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote, “It’s mainly in these three languages that the mystery of God’s will was made manifest; and Pilate’s ministry it was to write in advance that the Lord Jesus Christ is the King of the Jews.” Commenting on these lines the great Abbot of Solesmes, Dom Guéranger, favorite target of modernist liturgists, wrote: “Thus God guided the hand of the Roman governor in the choice of the languages appearing on the inscription, as well as the terms in which this was conceived; and His Holy Spirit, speaking to men in the Sacred Scriptures, would also consecrate three languages, those which the Jewish people, gathered from the four winds of heaven for the Passover, could read on the title set above the head of the Redeemer. . . . Christ having come down to redeem us, and His testament in our favor having been opened by His death, according to the mind of the Apostle, the Holy Spirit, inspirer of the Scriptures, gave the books of the New Testament in the three languages of the Cross’ title.” [1]  St. Matthew’s Gospel was written in Hebrew. St. Luke’s, St. John’s, Acts and the Epistles (except perhaps Hebrews) were rendered in Greek, and St. Mark’s in Latin.


From that time forth these three languages shared the paradoxical life of the Christian: Mystically they died to the world, all the while continuing to live in it. Beginning as vernaculars, they retained all their vernacular vitality, with the ability of producing new words as needed, but as befits conveyors of timeless truths, they are vested with the immutability of eternity. As creatures of God they possess “soul,” an active principle which gives them growth and being like all true languages, yet they have been purified, stabilized and raised to special status as vehicles of divine communication. Is it too much to say that like all appurtenances of the Altar, they assume the character and efficacy of sacramentals, that they channel grace in a way denied to vernaculars?

Dom Guéranger believed that God imparted a special efficacy to sacred words entirely independent of the faithful’s understanding of them. He cites a long passage from Origen to this effect: “There are things which seem obscure, which by the mere fact that they penetrate our ears, nonetheless bring great profit to our souls. If the gentiles believed that certain rhymes, which they call incantations, certain names which are not even understood by those invoking them, whispered by practitioners of magic, can put serpents to sleep or draw them out of their deepest pits; if it be said that these words have power to dispel the fevers and ills of the human body, that sometimes they can even throw souls into a kind of ecstasy where faith in Christ does not stop its effects, how much stronger and more powerful must we believe to be the recital of words or names from Holy Writ?

“Just as evil powers among infidels, as soon as they hear these names or formulas, come running to lend a hand to the work to which they feel called in accordance with the words uttered; so much more do the heavenly Virtues and angels of God who are with us – as the Lord taught His Church even in regard to little children – rejoice in hearing from our mouths, like pious incantations, the words and names found in Holy Writ. If we do not understand the words proceeding from our mouths, these Virtues who assist us hear them, and as if invited by a seductive song, hurry to come to our aid.

“It is an incontestable truth that there are a great number of Virtues in our midst, to whom the care of our souls and bodies has been confided. As they are holy, they delight in hearing us read the Scriptures; but their solicitude for us is doubled when we utter words which draw our spirits to prayer, albeit leaving our intellect bereft of light. The holy Apostle said so, and revealed a mystery worthy of man’s admiration when he taught that sometimes it happens that the spirit within us is in prayer while our intellect remains deprived of its function. Thus, by such pious attention, we draw the company and are assured of the help of the divine Virtues, at the same time that by pronouncing these words and name, we repel the attacks of evil powers.” [2]


The vocabularies of dead languages do not shift and change, sliding treacherously into obsolescence or ambiguity with the shifting contemporary scene, as does worldly palaver. Not tied to any particular time or place, they never go out of style. What they said to the Fathers they still say to us without shadow of alteration. For centuries they served not only the universal Church, but all the cultures of Christendom. Artists, philosophers, doctors, jurists, astronomers, merchants and poets communicated freely in them independently of national boundaries. Teaching in the sacred tongues, universities were attended by students of all ethnic varieties, providing a vast international exchange of knowledge from every corner of the Holy Roman Empire and beyond. Most important, until the end of the twentieth century, the Divine Office and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be attended intelligently and familiarly by Catholics anywhere.

Because the sacred languages provide unshakeable ground to orthodoxy, every serious revolution in modern times has labored to replace them with the vernacular on principle. In the name of the common man, who presumably couldn’t understand them, they were first removed from the secular world, thereby provincializing him and trapping him in his native culture. In our post-Conciliar days, what heretics could not accomplish has been put into practice by the false spirit of Vatican II, which has in effect banished the sacred languages from the parishes. Most religious and laity are now irretrievably cut off from the primary sources of their Faith and Church history because Latin, let alone Greek and Hebrew, are no longer taught in schools or seminaries.  Divorced from any firsthand contact with the past, they are chained to the present at the mercy of translations and made prey to all the bias, deficient scholarship, poor taste and outright heresies of partisans.

There have been other sad losses: to name but one, Gregorian chant. That song of angels was never destined to be joined with any vernacular, but only for union with one chaste spouse, its original Latin. So far there has arisen no modern poet able to render a translation of propers and hymns worthy of introduction into a third rate anthology, let alone one that fits the music. The adulterous combinations so far attempted have proved so painful to ear and psyche, it’s small wonder that Gregorian has all but been abandoned along with its legitimate consort. This is not a question of mere esthetics, for as the old monastic adage has it, he who sings his prayer prays twice. Singing is a celestial activity shared with the angelic hosts. The sung word takes on an added perfection consummated in the wedding of sound and meaning, whereby one enhances the other. Nor can Gregorian be merely sung. To fulfill its true function it must be prayed. Whether the singer understands the words or not is of secondary importance. St. Teresa, a Doctor of the mystical life, knew very little of the Latin she sang in choir every day.

Not only provincial and impure, the vernacular has proved the perfect tool for promoting man-centered, do-it-yourself sentimental worship. Singing hymns inspired by bar room melodies or even a poor translation of Fortunatus’ incomparable Vexilla Regis is certainly not offering God our best. We are saying in effect, “It’s more important for us to understand what we are saying than to offer an inspired masterpiece, canonized by centuries of tradition, to the divine Majesty!” As if the criterion of good liturgy were our own individual feeble grasp of its meaning rather than its suitability to the end it serves.


Concocting worship to suit ourselves is a typically modernist aberration, ominous preparation for the Antichrist’s liturgy to come.  Manipulating the past to suit their own prejudices, modernists must disregard the fact that God from Adamic times on down has told us exactly how He wishes to be worshipped if we are to be agreeable to Him. Public prayer especially is contrived at our risk. At Sinai, along with the Ten Commandments, Moses was shown in vision every detail of the worship to be offered under the Old Covenant  and warned not to depart in any way from the “pattern on the Mount” (Heb. 8:5). In Apostolic times The Epistle of Barnabas averred that all these ancient prescriptions were in fact an allegory of the perfect Sacrifice which they prefigured. St. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, the earliest known text in which the word liturgy is used, lays down the law to the would-be improvisers of those days: “We are obliged to carry out in fullest detail what the Master has commanded us to do at stated times. He has ordered the sacrifices to be offered and the liturgies accomplished, and this not in a random and irregular fashion. . . . He has, moreover, himself, by His sovereign will determined where and by whom He wants them to be carried out. Thus all things are done religiously, acceptable to His good pleasure, dependent on His will. . . . Each of us, brethren, must in his own place endeavor to please God with a good conscience, reverently taking care not to deviate from the established service. . .”  [3]

The language in which all this is carried out cannot therefore have been left to the whims of the periti of any age.  St. Basil in his work on the Holy Ghost deems it a necessity to surround sacred things with mystery: “In his wisdom Moses knew that familiar things easily uncovered are exposed to contempt; that those which are rare and isolated from contact excite as if naturally admiration and zeal. Imitating him, the Apostles and Fathers established at the very start certain Church rites and preserved the dignity of the mysteries by secrecy and silence; for that which is conveyed to the ears of the vulgar is no longer a mystery.” [4]

Dom Guéranger concluded “boldly from this fact that there are languages which are sacred and separated from others by divine choice, in order to serve as intermediaries between heaven and earth.”  And again, “In the first place we declare it entirely false that, even in the beginnings of Christianity, the liturgy was ever celebrated in the vulgar tongues of all the peoples among whom the Faith was preached. . . . We dare affirm that until the fourth century Hebrew, Greek and Latin were the only ones used at the altar, which gives them a liturgical dignity utterly unique, and marvelously confirms the principle of sacred, and not vulgar, languages in the liturgy.” [5]

He supports his contention by the authority of St. Robert Bellarmine and theologians of the highest repute of the sixteenth century, with particular emphasis on the censure of the Sorbonne in 1526, leveled against the rationalist Erasmus. In his Paraphrases of the New Testament, Erasmus had deplored the fact that the common people were condemned to muttering prayers they couldn’t understand. To which the august university’s Faculty countered a classic statement of more than passing interest: “This proposition, which is of a nature to turn away the simple, the ignorant and women from the vocal prayer prescribed by the rites and customs of the Church, as if such prayer became useless to them the moment they didn’t understand it, is impious, erroneous, and opens the way to the error of the Bohemians, who wanted to celebrate ecclesiastical offices in the vulgar tongue. . . Indeed the intention of the Church in her prayers is not merely to instruct us by the disposition of words, but also by conforming us to her objective, to have us voice the praises of God and plead for our necessities. Seeing this intention in those reciting these prayers, God deigns to kindle their affections, illumine their minds, relieve human weakness and dispense fruits of grace and glory.

“Such also is the intention of those who recite vocal prayers without understanding the words. They are like an ambassador who might not understand a communication his sovereign gave him to relay, but who, transmitting it according to the given order, nonetheless discharges a duty agreeable both to his sovereign and to him to whom he is sent. Moreover, a great number of passages from the Prophets are sung in the Church which, although not understood by the majority of singers, are nevertheless useful and meritorious for those pronouncing them; for in singing them agreeable service is rendered to divine Truth, who taught and revealed them.

“From whence it follows that the fruit of prayer does not consist only in understanding the words, and that it is a dangerous error to think that vocal prayer has no function beyond supplying knowledge of the Faith, whereas this kind of prayer is engaged in primarily to enkindle the affections, so that the soul, by raising itself to God with piety and devotion, may be revived and not frustrated, may obtain what its intention asks for and the intellect may merit enlightenment. Now, all these effects are rich and precious beyond a simple understanding of the words, which is of little use as long as affections in God are not excited.” [6]

Devout prayer requires very few words, if any. In fact our Lord cautioned us not to use too many. The more interior and elevated the prayer, the fewer words. Contemplative prayer, which is the highest use of the human intellect, requires none. The purpose of prayer, after all, is to pray, to contact God, not primarily to understand. Meditating on the verbal contents of the Mass or its related worship are properly speaking intellectual exercises and can take place outside prayer either alone or with others. Missals and commentaries once abounded for this purpose. During Mass we should pray. Who needs to translate every word of the Gloria, for instance, pondering shades of meaning, in order to pray it with the priest? Isn’t the word Gloria sufficient, with the intention of offering this magnificent praise to God? The Novus Ordo of the Mass has surfeited us with chatter. Not even its Canon is blessed with silence in which to concentrate our deepest faculties on the incomparable action which takes place there.

Are we to believe that Holy Mother Church has prescribed the use of dead languages in order to keep her children in ignorance of her mysteries? That understanding what one prays is of no importance? By no means. The Council of Trent lays down that “every church will retain its ancient rites approved by the Holy Roman Church, mother and mistress of all churches; but, lest Christ’s sheep suffer hunger and the little children beg for bread and there be no one to break it for them, the holy Council orders pastors and all those having charge of souls often to explain during the celebration of Mass by them or others, something of the formulas read at Mass [i.e., during the sermon]; and among others to expound some of the details regarding the mystery of this Most Holy Sacrifice, especially on Sundays and feast days.” [7]


Dom Guéranger admits that after the passing of Cardinal Bona in the seventeenth century, “The Church modified her customs. . . but she could not abandon the principle. . . . The same depth always remains in the mysteries, the same weakness and the same dangers in the heart of man which is ever inclined earthward.” [8]  Indeed the infamous Council of Pistoia, which anticipated the French Revolution by three years, and the Second Vatican Council by a century and three quarters, came close to establishing a new vernacularized religion. Fortunately it was energetically denounced in 1794 by Pius VI in the Bull Auctorem Fidei.

Among the many propositions condemned was one which voiced “the desire to see the liturgy restored to greater simplicity,” also to see it translated into the vernacular and recited aloud. Another, likewise condemned, affirmed it to be “contrary to the practice of the Apostles and the designs of God, not to supply the people with the easiest means of joining their voice with the voice of the Church,” i.e., by introducing the vernacular. The Council of Trent had already declared anathema “anyone who says that the Mass ought to be said in the vernacular only,” adhering to the principle that, “Although  the Mass contains much instruction for the faithful, it has nevertheless not seemed expedient to the Fathers that it be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular.” [9]

The qualification “celebrated everywhere” was necessary here, for there had already been one notable exception: In the ninth century Pope John VIII had granted a concession to some Slavs to celebrate the liturgy in their native Slavonic. Writing to their great evangelizers Sts. Cyril and Methodius in 879, this pope had declared, “We have also noted that you are celebrating Mass in the barbarian tongue. . . That is why we have already forbidden you to do so in our letters addressed to you through Paul, Bishop of Ancona. You must therefore celebrate in either Latin or Greek, as does the Church of God which is spread throughout the earth and in all the nations.”

A weak pope in the judgment of ecclesiastical historians like Baronius, John eventually yielded to pressure and reversed his stand, granting liturgical status to the Slavic vernacular in Moravia. Dom Guéranger laments, “Such examples of weakness on the Chair of Peter are rare, but history records them, and the children of the Church have no interest in dissimulating them, for they know that He who has guaranteed infallibility to the Roman pontiffs in the teaching of the Faith, has not preserved them from all fault in the exercise of the supreme government.” He allows that the concession to the Slavs may have had some good short term results in speeding their conversion, but believed it to have fed schism in the long run.

After Hildebrand ascended the Chair of Peter as the great Gregory VII, the Duke of Bohemia requested the same concession for his people. He was stoutly refused. Although St. Gregory did not revoke the former permission, in 1080 he seized the occasion to lay down some principles in a letter to the Duke: “For those who have seriously pondered the question, it is obvious that it was not without reason that it was pleasing to Almighty God that Scripture remain hidden in certain places lest, being accessible to the sight of all, it become familiar and exposed to scorn, or furthermore, that being misunderstood by some mediocre minds, it be an occasion of error to them.

“It is no excuse to say that certain religious [i.e., Sts. Cyril and Methodius] have suffered with condescension the desires of a people full of simplicity, or did not think it expedient to remedy the situation; for the primitive Church herself covered over many things which the holy Fathers later corrected after submitting them to serious examination. That is why, by the authority of blessed Peter, we forbid putting into practice what your people imprudently ask of Us, and for the honor of Almighty God, we enjoin you to oppose this vain temerity with all your strength.” These words have a strange ring today.

In the twentieth century Pius XII continued the battle in his encyclical Mediator Dei,  where he warned against exaggerating the external elements of liturgy, given that “the chief element of divine worship must be interior.” He deplored “the temerity and daring of those who introduce novel liturgical practices, or call for the revival of obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics. . . We instance . . . those who make use of the vernacular in the celebration of the august Eucharistic Sacrifice. . . . The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth” (Par. 59-60).

Nonetheless he conceded, “In spite of this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people,” and the breach was made. The Second Vatican Council reiterated the ancient tradition to the extent that, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.[10] It also laid down that seminarians “should acquire a command of Latin which will enable them to understand and use the source material of so many sciences, and the documents of the Church as well.”[11] But wide liberties were accorded to “the use of the mother tongue,” to be determined by “competent territorial ecclesiastical authority,” subject to papal approval. [12]


With that, the flood gates were opened, and today Catholics must cope with the liturgical chaos that prevails throughout their Church today. Bring on the clowns! But God will not be mocked in His desire for sacred languages in His worship.  Incredible as it may seem, the Byzantine Uniates who have been using the old Slavonic vernacular for centuries are prominent among those rushing to vernacularize. Why? Because the Slavonic vernacular which Pope John VIII permitted them a thousand years ago has become a “dead” language! In prolonged intimate contact with the Christian mysteries, it died to the world long ago like the old Greek it supplanted.

To some degree the same fate seems to be overtaking the Elizabethan English used in Anglican rites since the Reformation. It too began dying to the world and today is spoken and heard by the average person only in church services.  Yet all the while modern English was developing, it remained staunchly at its post as the special medium of the  Anglican liturgy and survives intact.  If sufficient time remains for them, it may be interesting to see what happens to the crowd of vernaculi  now clowning and tumbling around the Altar of God throughout the rest of the world.

Alas, Babel casts a long shadow, almost like a second original sin, and we must continue to struggle with the consequences, not only in our relations with God, but  at all levels of existence. About a decade before the Council, I was asked to escort through Manila a Japanese Trappist Abbot en route from Japan to his General Chapter in France. We visited the venerable church of St. Augustine (the only one the war had left standing within the old Spanish Intramuros), and ended up talking with the Spanish Augustinian Superior and two sightseeing Vietnamese seminarians. Everything went swimmingly – in Latin. I didn’t catch all of it, but I was terribly flattered at being included, letting my schoolgirl declensions fall where they would. God, it seems, had mitigated Babel just for us Catholics, religious and lay alike, if we cared to avail ourselves of the dispensation. “Valete,” we all said when we finished, and I drove the Abbot back to his ship, a French liner waiting at the dock.

On board ship to see him off, things were different, and the mystique of Babel closed in. Our final farewells were said in the company of a Spanish lady catechist and a Filipino gentleman. The Abbot spoke French and Japanese. The señora spoke Spanish and a little French. The Filipino spoke English, Spanish and Tagalog.  I spoke French and English. Our conversation was something like musical chairs, with somebody always left out. The UN had nothing on us except simultaneous translators and headphones; we were all Catholics, meeting once in our lives and eager to communicate. After a half hour of gesticulating, however, we had finally come to the consensus that it was a beautiful day and Manila had a lovely harbor.

“Bonita!” said the Spanish lady. “Très beau!” said the Abbot. “Beautiful – très beau!,” said I. “Bonita, beautiful” said the Filipino gentleman. I doubt that I would ever have remembered these memorable words  except for the striking contrast they presented with the previous scene at St. Augustine’s, where conversation flowed unhindered.  When time came to say goodbye, we just waved, smiled and left. We were exhausted. The vernacular movement, which in those days was just making its appearance in the Church,  lost me for good, and when a couple of years later Pope Pius XII issued his directive confirming Latin as the liturgical language, I for one was profoundly grateful.

At the risk of laboring the point, the vernacular is only for people who never mean to stray beyond their national boundaries or their dictionaries. It certainly can’t be for Catholics, whose Church has a divine mandate to “teach all nations.” The vernacular is by nature reactionary. In the past it has proved a ready made tool for heresy and chauvinism in fragmenting the Church and dismantling Christendom. Catholics who traveled extensively before the Council always returned with a strong sense of Church unity. “Everywhere I went,” they would say, “it was always the same Mass!” Now, unless they are master linguists, it has become incomprehensible outside their native countries.

Isn’t it ironic that Mother Church, the single largest international force for world peace,  should be prevailed upon to discard her international languages on the very eve of the engulfing globalization now in progress? When a common means of communication has become absolutely vital to world unity? The Antichrist, who is busily at work building his new global kingdom, is not so foolish. Even now, under pressure of world economics, he is forging his own substitute for Latin, setting everyone to learning modern English, his chosen medium for international communication and the key to success for anyone who wants to get ahead.



[1]  Dom Prosper Guéranger, Institutions Liturgiques 1840-1851,  extracts by Jean Vaquié, Diffusion de la Pensée Française, 1977, p. 241.


[2] Op. cit., pp. 245-6.


[3] Quoted in Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety, Notre Dame Press, 1954, p. 33.


[4] Op. cit., p. 77.


[5] Institutions Liturgiques, p. 240.


[6] Quoted, op. cit., pp. 256-7.


[7] Conc. Trid. Sess. XXII, cap. VIII.


[8] Institutions Liturgiques, p. 240.


[9] Conc. Trid. Sess. XXII, cap. IX;  Council of Trent, Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, VIII, Denzinger 946 (1749),


[10] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, III,36, par. 2,3.


[11]  Decree on Priestly Formation, V, 13.


[12] Sacred Liturgy, III,36, par. 2,3.