Vernacular Masses Before the Vatican Council…

…I mean the First Vatican Council.

Over on Facebook, somebody was going on about the sadness of not having all the liturgies in the world in a single language. Several people pointed out that the Mass has never been in a single language and that those who celebrate it in Slavonic or any of the many other languages of other rites would be surprised to discover that Latin is the “only” language of the Mass.

At that point, my pal, Traditionalist Reader Pete Vere, chimed in with his customary joie de vivre and cried, “Mark Shea says the liturgy has been in a language other than Latin? Kyrie eleison!”

Nyuk, nyuk!

Anyway, that made me curious about just how many languages the Mass was in before vernacularization of the liturgy. Pete, who has forgotten more about such things than I will ever know went off to find out and instead came back with this tidbit:

Mark, a 1710 letter from the Jesuit superior for New France (modern-day Quebec) describing a specific mission among the Hurons: “All are present in the morning at the sacrifice of the mass, which is celebrated in behalf of the whole village. Nearly all assist at the mass of a second priest, and not a few at another if there be a third celebrant. While the first mass of all, which is called “the Mission Mass,” is being said, they sing sacred Hymns written in the vernacular tongue, and adapted to the feasts which are then being celebrated, — with a harmony truly beautiful, and not at all barbarous.” (page 149)

Pete also writes:

Here’s another article from traditionalist web-journal New Liturgical Movement which I helped fellow traditionalist (faithful to the Church) Shawn Tribe to found several years ago. In it, the author provides actual pages of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic liturgies celebrated in the languages of North American First Nations peoples


In conclusion, here is a hymn in the Huron tongue:

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  • James H, London

    That was special!

    Not to forget how South America had native-language hymns as well. One of the best, and best-known, is hanacpachap cussicuinin, in Quechua (Peru):

    This is a great example of inculturation – just look at the translation!

  • MitchellJ

    The Jesuits had translated the Gospels into Nez Pierce and proclaimed the Gospel during Mass in Nez Pierce. They also had a lot of hymns in the vernacular for the Nez Pierce.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Oh great! Give the radtrads reason to hate us!

    • S. Murphy

      Well, y’all and those dadgum subversive Jesuits!

  • Locally to me, the tribes at Grand Rhonde still say their rosaries in Chinook Wawa.

  • Eve Fisher

    Not to mention that Sts. Cyril and Methodius invented the Cyrillic alphabet in order to bring the liturgy, gospel, etc. to the masses in the vernacular to Eastern Europe. (Yes, they were Byzantine Orthodox, but the two sides were still speaking back then, and the Saints are both recognized in the Roman calendar.)

    • jaybird1951

      The two saints were part of the one united Church at the time. They went to Rome to get the pope’s blessing for their missionary efforts. They were Byzantine in liturgy but Catholic as in “one holy Catholic…”

      • HornOrSilk

        Well, actually the unity was not too strong at this time — there were constant back and forth schisms, such as with St Photius (yes, he is a saint!), and they were connected to St Photius at the time.

  • CJ

    The Huron hymn was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Not to confuse matters, but the readings and the sermon were always in English at my parish. So were most of the hymns, Tantum Ergo and its cousins beings exceptions. That made it hard when circumstances forced us to duck into the Italian chapel on South Side because we were too late for our own mass. There, the readings and sermon were all in Italian. The common and proper were in Latin, though, except for the Kyrie. But Eastern Rite churches used Greek or Slavonic or Malayalam. The local Arab church (Maronite Rite) used Arabic (duh) and Holy Ghost used Ukrainian.

    When I was on the road, I serviced a client in VIenna and attended mass at Stefansdom (“Steffl” as the Wieners called it.) The mass was said in German, but I could get along except for the semon; but there was also a Latin mass said in the catacomb, which I sometimes favored. (Readings and sermon still in German.)

    In Chennai, the late mass was said in English (with a rock band!) but the mass preceding it was sung in either Tamil or Malayalam and followed the Malankarese Rite. It was exceptionally beautiful, but I listened at the door and did not know what was going on.

    Excuse me while I look up “catholic” in my dictionary.

    • IRVCath

      At the Latin Masses I’ve seen, the readings were either a)Latin first, then vernacular, or b) Latin only, on the assumption that the congregation could read their missals for the translation (they had also copies of the readings in English and Spanish).

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        The masses were in the 50s and 60s, before Vatican II

  • Matthew

    I’m a little confused. Much of this post talks about singing hymns and/or doing reading and preaching in the vernacular. This is not exactly “having Mass in the vernacular.” I certainly see and agree with the comments about the various other Eastern Catholic Churches. But I am not sure that some of the examples cited are actually evidence of “Mass in the vernacular”.

  • Jeremiah H

    Wow. The ability of the Catholic Church and her children to help races and peoples the world ’round elevate their musical talents and arts to the glory of God is breath-taking.
    “From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” -Eucharistic Prayer III

    *written while listening to the soundtrack of the movie The Mission*

  • Mark R

    I know of two instances in recent memory when a liturgy was put in vernacular and they are both in the Byzantine rite and in violation of the rules at the time: Magyarized Ruthenians in Hungary (when one achieved middle class status in the old Hungarian crown lands a decade or so before and after 1900, one “became” Hungarian–or if you area was mostly Hungarian speaking) had the liturgy in the vernacular. P. Pius X did not want this, so they were supposed to have liturgy in another authorized liturgical language, Greek. That did not materialize, it would have been like re-inventing the wheel. But they got away with it. The second instance was in, I believe, 1950s America when the Ruthenian hierarch just allowed liturgy in English, with some unfortunate innovations like the Gregorian calendar and a more blah, westernized sacred arts. By then, I think they got away with it because it was probably seen that vernacular was coming anyway.