Vatican II fathers OK’d languages people use daily

The first session of the Second Vatican Council ended Dec. 8, 1962, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, with a closing Mass and speech by Pope John XXIII. You read the speech and the CNS report on the closing congregation of the first session at our council daybook blog, Vatican II: 50 Years Ago Today.

What may surprise you is that one of the very first actions of the council fathers was to approve the use of the vernacular in Latin-rite liturgies. This surprised many Catholic around the world, too, because of the speed with which the fathers made this change. It seemed like overnight, the exclusive use of Latin in the Western rites had been supplanted with the languages people actually used in their daily lives.

Two of the entries in the blog discuss this change. One is the article explaining the approval; the other is a very good analysis by one of the council periti or experts in sacred liturgy, Benedictine Father Cipriano Vagaggini, who died in 1999.

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

As Father Vagaggini noted in his article, the approval did not spring like Athena from the head of Zeus, from the minds of the council father or Pope John. Liturgical reform had been well under way for almost 50 years by the time the council had begun. Missionaries had been pressing for the use of the vernacular for many years, especially in Asia and Africa, since Latin had almost no resonance with people on those continents.

The Benedictines were among the most prominent of the liturgical reformers of the first part of the 20th century. Nowhere was liturgical reform more studied in North America than St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., with its renowned School of Theology and Seminary. Today St. John’s is home to Liturgical Press, a pioneering publisher of liturgical resources since 1926.

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