Every so often, one of my Catholic acquaintances will mention that they will be, or have just attended a Latin Mass. I know pretty much nothing about a Latin Mass, other than (obviously) that it's performed in Latin.

Is there a spiritual, ritual, historical, or special significance about a Latin Mass? Or is it more something that people attend simply because they enjoy the uniqueness of it, like it's something that's just "neat" or "interesting" to attend rather than something with a deeper meaning?

If there is a deeper meaning, of course, I'd like to know what it is.

  • 1
    The "texture" is often different. I wouldn't necessarily use the adjectives neat, unique, or interesting. Maybe formal, deliberate, reverent, and ornate. Qualities that help some folks stay receptive, focused, and cognizant of the mystery and miracle in which they're participating. Not that this isn't possible in a "regular" mass, of course. Maybe similar to, but more powerful than, the difference a strict dress code or lack thereof has on a work atmosphere.
    – svidgen
    Dec 21, 2012 at 15:59
  • Latin is and remains the main official language of the Holy See and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Latin is alo the traditional liturgical language of the Roman (Latin) Church i.e. its sacred language, its language of worship. This may be of interest: Facts on Latin in the Roman Catholic Church.
    – user13992
    Jul 26, 2014 at 5:05

2 Answers 2


"Mass in Latin" vs. "Latin Mass"

It's important to understand that the term Latin Mass is almost always a colloquial and somewhat imprecise reference to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

This is the form of the liturgy that, in its essentials, was used by almost all Western Christians from at least the early Middle Ages until the Reformation, was codified for the great majority of Roman-Rite Catholics in 1570, and has remained fairly fixed up to and including the latest edition, which was published in 1962.

The older form of the mass is relatively rare and hard to find these days (though it is enjoying a gradual resurgence) -- most Catholics instead use the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which was first published in 1970 as the initial answer to the Second Vatican Council's call for a reform and revision of the Church's worship.

The official texts of both forms are promulgated in Latin by the Vatican, but the older form must, by law, be celebrated in Latin (with a tiny bit of Greek), whereas the newer form may be celebrated in Latin, but rarely is.

Hence the informal term "Latin Mass", which really signifies the ritual more than the language, but does so by way of the most immediately-obvious distinguishing feature.

Why anyone cares

The two forms are strikingly different. They share the same overall structure and have many elements in common, but also many significant areas of divergence in structural detail, ceremonial rules, vesture, and the particular texts and music prescribed for various parts of the mass and various days of the year. Typically, though not in every single case, these divergences culminate in a strikingly different atmosphere of worship at church on Sunday morning.

This is not perhaps the place to discuss whether one form is better than the other, but it's plain that some people energetically prefer one form to the other.


The Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated in Latin from about the year 400 until the Second Vatican in 1962. With over 1500 years of Catholics celebrating the Mass in Latin, it hold a special place in many people's hearts. There is a uniqueness to it, but for me it is more of knowing that I am celebrating the Mass in the same language as Catholics have for hundreds of years before me.

Recently, the English(language) Roman Catholic Mass was re-written to better reflect the language of the Latin Masses. Many of the changes are more direct translations of the Latin Mass.

Many people felt that the transition away from the Latin Mass in 1962 "corrupted" the Mass and took away from the universality of the Liturgies. In Vatican II, the Church concluded that saying the Mass in the native tongue of the area would be more spiritually fulfilling and revert to when the mass was said in the local language, before the start of the Latin Mass.

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    Though it may be implied in your 2nd paragraph, it may be worth explicitly mentioning that some folks believe the transition away from Latin "corrupted" the mass. Their belief, I think, is that the Latin was much closer in meaning to the original dialects than our English translations.
    – svidgen
    Dec 21, 2012 at 15:42
  • I don't know if it should be mentioned in my answer, but there are other times of prayer in the Catholic Church than the Mass. Vespers(the evening prayer), for one, is, as far as I have experienced, all said in Latin.
    – Andrew
    Dec 21, 2012 at 20:05
  • @Drew Well, where I live it is said in our native language, not in latin.
    – Daniele B
    Dec 27, 2012 at 0:37
  • @DanieleB Are you referring to Vespers?
    – Andrew
    Dec 27, 2012 at 14:01
  • @Drew yes I refer to vspers
    – Daniele B
    Dec 28, 2012 at 20:22

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