Latin Mass

This entry is part 475 of 484 in the series Inquiring Minds
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Isn’t Latin mass forbidden according to 1st Corinthians 14:19?

Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:19, ESV)

This is an interesting question from our point of view. I must open my answer by telling you that I am a Protestant Christian and have only been to two or three masses. The context of 1 Corinthians 14 is to discuss the spiritual gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is one of the most unusual gifts of the Spirit. It draws a lot of conversation, even in Paul’s time.

Paul is talking about speaking in tongues, speaking in the languages of either man or Angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). As such, Paul would have not considered a Latin mass. Although that was the language of the Romans, everywhere Paul would’ve went in the agent world would concentrate on Greek, the common language most people understood.

Latin was only used in Italy and among Roman citizens with one another. Anytime you wanted another person to understand you, you would’ve used Koine Greek, or common Greek, spread by Alexander the Great when he conquered much of the ancient world.

Alexander the Great is an interesting person in history because he was successful in Hellenisng the known world. Hellenization is when he used Greek culture to conquer other nations. Instead of forcing people into servitude, Alexander taught them the language and culture of Greece.

He was so effective that even the Roman Empire used Greek for conducting business and communicating on a common level. This is why Paul probably was not thinking of Latin or a Latin mass when he wrote these verses.

The goal of the gospel and Christian worship in Paul’s day was to find a common ground. That’s why the New Testament is written in Greek. The gospel needed to be as accessible as possible. And Greek was the best way to accomplish this.

They would’ve used Greek in Paul’s day during services. Now I am not sure about localized services in Rome and Italy. It’s possible they use Latin. The Latin mass probably came out of the fact that Romans spoke Latin. But they would’ve known Greek and used it for those who are not Italian.

Because the Latin mass occurred later than the New Testament writings, it’s most likely Paul is not referring to the Latin mass. He is probably referring to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues whereby a person can be speaking in a human or angelic language.

His concern was that speaking in tongues must be interpreted so that everyone around the speaker can understand the message of the tongues. Paul’s concern in principle was the concern many would have about a Latin mass.

If you don’t know Latin, you cannot participate in the mass. The principle is the same as speaking in tongues without interpretation. People don’t understand what God is doing among them. Paul’s point is that it must be possible for everyone to understand the message. In that sense, the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:19 is sound when we talk about the Latin mass. People cannot worship with you if they don’t understand you.

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