The Various Lingos (Roman Missal III)

Sooner or later, we have to tackle the mother of all Roman Missal issues: the diversity of human languages.

Where did the Hebrew language come from? Archaeologists and philologists have their ideas. Hebrew came from God, in the sense that everything comes from God. And God used some Hebrew in His dealings with Moses.

When God became man, He spoke the contemporary version of the ancient Syrian language. Greek was the lingua franca of the world. And the people whose ancestral tongue was Latin held sway.

We can say without hesitation that human language exists so that Christ could speak it. If it existed solely for Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Springsteen, et. al., then human language would constitute nothing more than a glorious and futile tragedy.

As it is, the lips of Christ have made our race’s cluckings and stammerings worthwhile. When the Lord Jesus said, Hoc est enim…, He sealed the whole project with a mighty, definitive breakthrough: Heaven and earth unite at the words.

That said, the Lord Jesus did not of course literally say, Hoc est enim… We figure He spoke Aramaic at the Last Supper, when He wasn’t reciting Hebrew. And I, though I am a somewhat well-educated priest and a semi-devout Christian—I could not, off the top of my little head, supply you with the Aramaic words…

An important sequel followed that pivotal Jerusalem spring. The Apostles fanned-out to the ends of the earth. They established the Church in the great cities, as well as villages and hamlets. The Prince of Apostles ultimately sailed west and watered the soil of Vatican Hill, across the Tiber from Rome, with his blood.

The local churches of Rocky Mount and Martinsville, Va.—coursing with holiness as they may—cannot claim to have begun with a Mass celebrated by one of the Twelve Apostles. Indeed, no English-speaking local church can make this boast; the English language did not exist when the Apostles walked the earth.

The lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and in the now-Arab and Persian domains, and in India—these places saw the Apostles celebrate Mass to begin local churches. The languages of these ancient countries were used in the original rites of the Church of Christ. Pre-eminent among them all: Peter’s church, Rome.

More to come…

One thought on “The Various Lingos (Roman Missal III)

  1. Father Mark,

    Words DO have meaning; and yet, what that meaning was and is, and what the translation is might well be stumbling blocks. The picture of Springsteen is especially intriguing because while Shakespeare might be a word merchant, Bruce is a song merchant, a mixture of words and melody, the power of which was not lost on the Israelites.

    Perhaps the most powerful meanings are those which move us to follow God and Jesus Christ, be it transient or long-lasting. For example from 1 Sm 16: 13 “Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David. Then Samuel set out for Ramah.” That word picture has always inspired me. Another: Ps 139: 5 “Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.” Or, Jb 38: 2 “Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? 3 Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers!”

    With those floating around in the back of your brain, how can you go wrong — BUT you can. So, all the more reason to speak them out, and write them on your heart — and on paper too, to reinforce the lesson. Over and over, until we get it right.



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