The logical question raised when hearing or seeing our Mass for the first time is: WHY THE OLD LATIN MASS? Truly a threefold question calling for a threefold answer.
1. Why the MASS?
The only "raison d'être" and justification of the Church's activities is the eternal salvation of human beings created to some day live happily forever in Heaven. That eternal salvation became available to all the day Jesus Christ, true God and true man, sacrificed His life on the cross of Calvary. It is through the sacrifice of the Mass that the graces and merits of the Cross reach us, otherwise separated from that first Good Friday by nineteen centuries of time and space. The sacrifice of the Mass, THE UNBLOODY RENEWAL OF THE SACRIFICE OF THE CROSS, is therefore not only the central point of Roman Catholic worship, but, even more so, the Church's very heart without which the Church simply cannot survive. The current situation in the Church proves only too tragically how right the late Cardinal Newman was when he wrote: "Tolle Missam, tolle Ecclasiam! - Destroy the Mass, and you destroy the Church!"
2. Why the Mass IN LATIN?
On top of the cross on which our Savior died, the cause of his death - "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" - was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In tribute to this historical fact, the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, while always preserving certain Greek and Hebrew expressions, has from the very first century been conducted in Latin, the language of old Rome, the see of St. Peter and the popes who would succeed him. To preserve the Latin in the Church's public worship is to preserve the link between the Church of today and the Church of the past.
Besides thus being a sign of historical CONTINUITY, the Latin language is also a sign of UNIVERSALITY. No one insisted more strongly on this point than Pope John XXIII, the most abused and disobeyed pope in modern times, who made his own the words of Pius XI: "A universal Church must have a universal language." Just as Roman Catholics have a right to expect the same beliefs among members of their Church anywhere in the world, so do they have a right to find themselves "at home" in every one of their churches the world over. This they always did and do when properly trained to use the bilingual missals containing on one side their own language translation, while on the other side those familiar Latin sounds they heard since childhood as a second mother tongue, that of their Mother the Church.
3. Why the TRADITIONAL Mass in Latin?
The Mass uninterruptedly kept alive by the Catholic Traditionalist Movement, founded in 1964, is truly "traditional," dating back some nineteen centuries. To refer to this Mass as "Tridentine Mass" or "Mass of St. Pius V" is historically incorrect and tactically unwise. All the sixteenth century Tridentine Council and Pope Pius V did was to eliminate from the Mass of their days certain long and cumbersome prayers of more recent vintage, and thus restore the Catholic Mass to its ORIGINAL PURITY and relative simplicity.
The fact that Pius V, on one of those rare historical occasions when a pope uses his supreme authority to issue a decree "IN PERPETUITY," made that restored old Mass the untouchable Mass "for all times," earned him not only his subsequent canonization as a saint, but also the immense gratitude of today's loyal Roman Catholics who use his decree "Quo Primum" as their justification, before God and men, to say "No!" to anyone attempting to replace the "Ordo Missae" of all past and future centuries with a "New Order" of a fluctuating and passing today.
Father Gommar A. De Pauw, J.C.D.,
Former Major Seminary Academic Dean and
Professor of Theology and Canon Law