An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A language that is commonly spoken in a locality, the native language of a place. In the early church, the vernacular was used as the language for Christian liturgy. However, language that was once vernacular may in time become archaic or disused as a common language of the people. For example, Latin became the vernacular in the areas of Roman imperial conquest in the west. As the vernacular language, Latin was also used as the language of liturgy. Other languages such as Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese eventually replaced Latin as the vernacular language in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. But Latin remained the language of liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church until the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1963). At times there has been reluctance to change the language of liturgy, even when it has ceased to be vernacular. Some have associated an archaic or dead language with the mystery or transcendence of God. Others have found archaic or commonly disused language to hinder liturgical participation and understanding. Use of liturgical language that was often not understood by the laity tended to foster the clericalization of the liturgy. Vernacular language was used for worship by the churches of the Protestant Reformation. The 1549 BCP used sixteenth-century English. The Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer (1549) recalls that St. Paul urged the use of language in church that would be understandable and profitable for the people. However, “the Service in the Church of England (these many years) hath been read in Latin to the people, which they understood not; so that they have heard with their ears only; and their hearts, spirit, and mind, have not been edified thereby” (BCP, p. 866; See 1 Cor 14:9). The use of vernacular language was a distinguishing feature of the first Prayer Book. This commitment to the use of contemporary and understandable language has also been reflected in the Prayer Book revision process of the twentieth century.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.