In 1962, the fathers of the newly opened Vatican II Council heatedly debated on the language to be used in the celebration of the liturgy of the Roman rite, mainly revolving around two provisions contained in the Schema on the Liturgy:
24. [Liturgical language]. The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Western liturgy. However, when “in not a few rites, the use of words in the vernacular can appear to be greatly advantageous to the people,” a greater place may be granted to it in the liturgy. The Episcopal Conferences in each region—having consulted with the bishops of the neighboring regions of the same language, if this be the case—may propose to the Holy See the limits and manner for the vernacular to be admitted into the liturgy.
41. [Language]. A more suitable place may be assigned to the vernacular in Masses with a congregation, primarily however in the readings, communal prayers, and some songs according to the norm of article 24 of this Constitution.
Using this conciliar debate on liturgical language as a point of departure, this article demonstrates how the eventual decision of Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and 54 to allow a greater use of the vernacular in the Latin rites indicates and constitutes a certain shift away from the position of the French ultramontanist and polemicist Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805–1875) and his operative ecclesiological context. The founder of the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes is widely recognized as the main catalyst for the total Romanization of the liturgy in France during the nineteenth century. With the publication in 1841 of the second of his three-volume Institutions Liturgiques, he further intensified his ongoing campaign against the various French diocesan rites, sometimes also called the “neo-Gallican rites,” consequently implicating himself in a public controversy with some French bishops who in turn defended the legitimacy of their own local liturgies. Despite this level of opposition, Guéranger was nevertheless able to ultimately realize in 1875, the year of his death, the goal of his lifelong project—the uniform implementation of the Roman liturgical books across the whole diocesan landscape of France. This article deals with one particular aspect of Guéranger’s liturgical theology, namely his liturgical essentialization of Latin which, to this day, is considered as the language proper to the celebration of the Mass in its Tridentine form. Guéranger’s views on liturgical language, as will be shown later, were later carried into the discussions during Vatican II by some Council fathers aligned with or sympathetic to his liturgical school of thought.