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…