Why Latin? 

The liturgy at Pluscarden Abbey, in both Mass and Divine Office, is sung in Latin, in full accordance with current liturgical law, as reformed after the Second Vatican Council.  The Mass at Pluscarden is celebrated in the “Ordinary Form”, sung daily, from beginning to end, in Latin, with the exception of the readings, which are spoken in English. 

Such use of Latin certainly gives a distinctive character to our community. Other monasteries in the United Kingdom make some use of Latin, but for most communities worship in the vernacular is more or less the norm.

 Image by Martin Gardner

Image by Martin Gardner

So why Latin at Pluscarden?

Three clear reasons come together to influence this choice.

The first is obedience to the Church. The Second Vatican Council asked that the Latin language, and especially the repertoire of Gregorian Chant, be preserved in the Church’s liturgy. Pope Paul VI strongly underlined that request, especially as directed to Benedictine monasteries. Even though the option now exists of using the vernacular instead of Latin, the Pluscarden community rejoices to pray in the official language of the Church. The Latin language also helps us express the timeless nature and universal scope of our prayer, and our unity with the Universal, not just the particular Church.

The second reason for retaining the Latin language is the living contact this gives us with tradition. The tradition of Latin liturgy, in both texts and music, is ancient, and rich, and outstandingly beautiful. In addition, from around the end of the fourth century up to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, Latin was the principal language of scripture and theology and spirituality throughout the Western Church. The enormous patrimony thus created remains relevant and valuable for all of us. 

The third reason for retaining the Latin liturgy is the experience of prayer. Many people find it helpful to address Almighty God through the medium of a language that is not in common use. Different cultures and religions throughout recorded history bear witness to this phenomenon: an ancient language, long used in worship, becomes over time a special “sacred” language. Latin has a certain weight, and strength, and beauty, which makes it very suitable for worship. People simply like praying in Latin; today, no less than in past centuries.

Familiarity with the Latin language is not an entrance requirement at Pluscarden. Some brethren are even content to accept a general knowledge of the texts being sung, without understanding all the details of grammar and vocabulary.  But for all who have the capacity, the effort spent learning Latin will be more than amply rewarded.