Martin Luther on Latin in Worship (1526)

Note: Throughout the month of October, leading up to the 500th anniversary of the legendary date of the outbreak of the Reformation on October 31, 1517, Pray Tell will publish writings of Martin Luther reflecting his beliefs on liturgy and sacraments at various points in his life.

Luther’s Introduction to the Deutsche Messe (1526):

“I do not … wish to eliminate or change it [the Latin language], but rather, as we have preserevd it among us until now, so should it remain free to employ it, where and when it pleases us or reasons compel us. I do not wish to give them any means to allow the Latin language to leave the worship service entirely, for I must do everything for the sake of youth.”



  1. What is the meaning of that final sentence?

    “I do not wish to give them any means to allow the Latin language to leave the worship service entirely, for I must do everything for the sake of youth.”

    Who is the “them” referred to here? And what does it mean to say that Latin should be retained for the sake of the youth?

    1. Hi Jim,
      Luther battled mightily with other Protestant (evangelisch) reformers who went further than he did in changing Catholic practice. I presume he’s referring to other zealous Protestants who wanted to eliminate Latin. He strongly disagreed with such enthusiasm.
      Luther thought it important that youth be educated in foreign languages, so he wanted foreign languages (Latin, really, but he also dreamt of using Hebrew and Greek) be used in worship for their edification and education.

  2. The S. Andrew’s University in Scotland had a project on Latin bibles from the reformation period. Details may be found on the net.

    Although the reformers like Luther encouraged the use of the vernacular for ordinary parishes they did not utterly reject Latin. Indeed Latin was essential to the spread of the reformed ideas. I even recall reading about a Lutheran Cistercian monastery that continued the use of Latin for many years. On the net can be found a manual of Lutheran prayers entirely in Latin. Some clergy person once had a blog extolling the use of Latin amongst Lutherans.

    It is well known that certain Episcopalians have issued a Latin version of the 1979 BCP and use it in SF and sponsor Latin Evensong at Stamford University a few times per annum.

    I once found a Unitarian order of service in Latin for some advanced congregation in Canada. Moravians have a section of their guide book devoted to their Latin motto and their official title.

    Perhaps the Protestants could institute a Sunday recognizing Latin as the founding language of International Protestantism.

    PS: Recently I ran across a video clip of an Orthodox Diuina Liturgia held in a church in Bologna. Very odd to hear Latin kontakia sung according to Russian tones. This liturgy was served by a Moscow seminary teacher of Latin. Moscow may be creating a Latin speaking chapel next, eh?

  3. I don’t know how to ask a question, so I will post it in this comment, hoping to get a reply. Question: Would a poor Lutheran farmer in 19th century America be familiar with the Hail Mary prayer in Latin? Thank you.

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