Moderator’s note: This is the second in a series of occasional posts translated from the blog Populo Congregato of Fr. Markus Tymister, faculty member at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome.
Already long before the announcement of the Council (on January 25, 1959 by Pope John XXIII), the Sacred Congregation of Rites made a series of concessions for use of the vernacular in 1947. For German-speaking regions, one should name above all the Collectio Rituum, a first common ritual book for all German-speaking dioceses, which was gradually adopted in all dioceses in Austria and Germany. In this book, vernacular is foreseen for most verbal elements of celebrations.
In the same time period, on April 14, 1949, the Sacred Congregation of Rites gave an essentially more significant permission: for the creation of a missal in Mandarin Chinese. It was to provide for the use of vernacular from the beginning of the Mass until the beginning of the canon, and from the prayer after communion until the end of the Mass. The canon was to remain in Latin (it was prayed entirely silently at that time), but the parts spoken out loud (Our Father, The peace of the Lord…, Lamb of God) were also to be in Chinese:
“[…] a principio missae usque ad initium canonis et a postcommunione usque in finem missae; dum Canon manet in lingua latina, tamen partes quae alta voce recitantur (Pater noster, Pax Domini et Agnus Dei) iterum sunt in lingua sinensi” (Documenta ad instaurationem liturgicam spectatia, [1903 – 1963], ed. C. Braga – A. Bugnini, Roma 2000, 663).
Above and beyond this, it is generally known that Pope John VIII (d. 882) granted permission to St. Methodius to celebrate the liturgy in the Slavic language rather than Latin, for “God created all languages for his praise and honor.”
In 1957 C. Vagaggini (d. 1999) commented on the action of the Holy See:
“If the Holy See holds fast as a rule to Latin as the language of the Roman liturgy, it is yet not rigidly so.” The Holy See recognized “[…] on the one hand the participation-promoting element of the vernacular, on the other hand the unity-promoting aspect of Latin” (C. Vagaggini, Il senso teologico della liturgia, Roma 1957).
Against the main arguments opposed to the introduction of the vernacular language in the liturgy, Vagaggini stated the following:
“The argument that a stereotyped, time-honored, not generally understood language underlines the mystery character of the sacred action has, to be sure, something for it, but it is not the deciding factor. What is time-honored and mysterious in the liturgy rests upon a more solid and deeper foundation, namely, the mystery of Christ which is actuated here and now under the veil of perceptible signs. It is essential that the believer be touched by this mystery, which is much more the case when he or she understands its liturgical expression. Did the first Christians see no mystery in the liturgy? Do priests and classically educated people today not see any? (On this see also A. Lameri, “Un ‘perito’ a servizio del concilio e della riforma liturgica promossa dal Vaticano II,” Rivista Liturgica 96 (2009) 348-361, here 355-357.)
Participatio actuosa, active participation of all, means participation, mediated through the liturgy, in the great mystery of our faith and our redemption: Christ’s passing over from death to resurrection. It is not about a “mysterious rite,” but rather a mystery of faith which is to be grasped at ever deeper levels, to be lived and proclaimed.
Translated and reprinted with permission. Original: “Latein als Liturgiesprache: Zur Diskussion vor dem 2. Vatikanischen Konzil“