Latin has been (and still
remains) the official language of the Church. "Latin is the
official language of the Catholic Church in so far as it is the one
whose use is hallowed by tradition and confirmed by experience in
the headquarters work of the Church in the city of Rome. It is the
language in which doctrine is defined and anything affecting the
Church at large is recorded: all official acts of the Church are in
that tongue and normally it is used in all correspondence and
business with the Holy See and Curia. That a universal church must
have a universal language is obvious..." (Catholic Dictionary)
is not the same as Spanish!
Latin used by the Church is called "Ecclesial Latin"
languages (e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) were developed
from Latin. Nearly 60% of commonly used English words and as many as
80% of scholarly English words were derived from Latin. Latin
appears on U.S. currency and various Latin terms are used daily
by many English speaking people (e.g. administrator, aroma, honor,
gymnasium, superior, A.M., P.M., P.S., R.I.P., per capita, et
cetera, quasi, inter, etc.). Note: Click
here for more on this topic.
Latin language is frequently used in science, medicine, and law.
State and university mottos are also written in Latin on
is called an "inflected language" since words have
different endings depending on how they are used (somewhat like the German language).
The word order may differ from English and there is no word for
"a", "an", or "the" in Latin.
uses diphthongs ("double vowels which form one sound"), such as
ae, oe, etc.
Latin is considered a
"dead language", and is therefore not subject to the frequent
change that "living languages" experience (consider the
sorry fate of the word "gay"). Note that with "living languages"
the meaning of words is not only subject to manipulation,
distortion, and change, but the language itself can become almost
unrecognizable in just a short time - for example, an English
speaking person might have great difficulty reading something
written just a few hundred years ago in English. Also, word changes
can cause division. The unchangeableness of the Latin language is especially
beneficial as it helps to assure that the Latin liturgy remains
immutable, even over the course of many centuries. This fact that
Latin is so resistant to change brings many other benefits to the universal
Church. As Pope John XIII has said, "Furthermore, the Church's language must be not only
universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change,
and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority.
Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an
unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as
they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient
clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which
could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the
exact meaning of other renderings. But Latin is indeed such a
language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be
affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the
normal result of daily, popular use." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum
Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)
The Church enjoys many
benefits from using the Latin language, including: the ability of
the faithful to pray "in one voice", providing of the faithful
worldwide with a universal bond, uniting the faithful with one
another and with those who have gone before us, assists the hierarchy
in retaining control, etc. Further, the use of the Latin language is efficient and economical, promotes unity, saves
time, is inclusive of all peoples, protects Church dogma, etc.
more on the benefits of Latin, click here.
previous ages, thanks to the Church, the Latin language was in very
wide use (and was the "vernacular" for various persons).
Latin alphabet is now "the most widely used alphabet in the
world". English uses the Latin alphabet (A, B, C... Z)
Individuals can benefit
greatly from learning Latin. Some benefits may include: ability to
read original Church documents; ability to read classic literature available
only in Latin; provides a tie to the past; helps one
appreciate our rich Catholic heritage; allows one to pray in the
same language as the saints, one's ancestors, and with Catholics
throughout the world; improves test scores; allows one to
directly communicate with the worldwide Church (including the Vatican); etc.
Note: For more on
the benefits of Latin, click here.
Latin is necessary for knowing church documents." Without a
personal knowledge of Latin, one must rely on others' translations,
if they exist.
The Church has used Latin from
the earliest days. "Of these three languages the Latin at an early date
gained the precedence; for, being the language of the Roman world,
it became throughout the West with the spread of Christianity also the
language of the liturgy. Divine Providence selected Rome as the
center of the Catholic Church; from Rome the messengers of the faith
were sent forth in all directions to spread the light of the
Gospel." (Gihr) As Crocker states, "With the election of Pope
Victor in 189, the Roman Church gained its first Latin-speaking,
rather than Greek-speaking bishop, marking the ascendancy of the
language that would define the universal rite of the Catholic
Church, with few exceptions, for nearly 1,800 years."
Latin language has been used in the Mass for many hundreds of years
prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. It is still used
today in the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass (and in some Novus Ordo
Masses). When attending a Latin 'Tridentine' Mass anywhere in the
world, you can easily participate with fellow Catholics, regardless
of their native tongue. Note: Click here
for more information on
the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass.
have correctly seen the use of Latin as a unifying tie which binds the
Church. They hated the use of Latin and discarded its use as one of
their first changes during the so-called 'Reformation'. As Dom Gueranger
has said, "Hatred for the Latin language is inborn in
the heart of all the enemies of Rome. They recognize it as the bond
of Catholics throughout the universe, as the arsenal of orthodoxy
against the subtleties of the sectarian spirit. They consider it the
most efficient weapon of the papacy." And, "We must admit it is
a master-blow of Protestantism to have declared war on the sacred
language. If it should ever succeed in destroying it, it would be well
on the way to victory. Exposed to profane gaze, like a virgin who has
been violated, from that moment on, the Liturgy has lost much of its
sacred character, and very soon people find that it is not worthwhile
putting aside one's work or pleasure in order to go and listen to what
is being said in the way one speaks in the marketplace..." [Note:
Of course one must remember that to miss Mass without sufficient
cause is a grave sin.]
The Second Vatican Council never
called for the elimination of Latin [which - as the popes
warned - has been accompanied by many negative outcomes -
"...introducing of the use of popular language into the
liturgical prayers, (is condemned as) false, rash, disturbing to the
order prescribed for the celebration of the mysteries, easily
productive of many evils." (Errors of the Synod of Pistoia,
Condemned in the Constitution "Auctorem fidei," Aug. 28,
1794 A.D.)]. In fact, the Second Vatican Council stated that the Latin
to be preserved:
use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be
preserved in the Latin rites." (Second Vatican Council)
must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or
sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which
pertain to them." (Second Vatican Council)
The pope who called the Second
Vatican Council never desired the elimination of the Latin language.
In fact, quite the contrary. Consider these quotes from Pope John XXIII, the very pope who called the Second Vatican Council:
the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely
human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether
fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic,
and non-vernacular." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia",
will be quite clear from these considerations why the Roman Pontiffs
have so often extolled the excellence and importance of Latin, and why
they have prescribed its study and use by the secular and regular
clergy, forecasting the dangers that would result from its
neglect." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962
the exercise of their paternal care they shall be on their guard lest
anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes
against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or
in the liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See's will
in this regard or interprets it falsely." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum
Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)
We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons - the same as those which
prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods - are fully determined
to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can
to promote its study and use. The employment of Latin has recently been
contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the
Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the
timely directives contained in this document, so as to ensure that the
ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where
necessary, restored." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum
these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve
Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching
authority 'as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred
laws.' She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so
doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint
themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate
the more easily with Rome and with one another. Thus the 'knowledge and
use of this language,' so intimately bound up with the Church's life,
'is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for
religious reasons.' These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who
conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated
three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable
degree with the Church's nature. 'For the Church, precisely because it
embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time...of
its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and
non vernacular.'" (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)
"Who dreamed on that day that within a few years, far less
than a decade, the Latin past of the Church would be all but
expunged, that it would be a memory fading into the middle
distance? The thought of it would have horrified us but it seemed
so far beyond the realm of the possible as to be ridiculous. So we
laughed it off." (Davies,
quoting an American prelate)
"The [Council] Fathers voted for the
retention of Latin as the norm but permitted limited concessions
for the use of the vernacular. It was presumed that this would be
principally in the missions... [T]here was a considerable difference
between what the Bishops who approved the Constitution thought they
were voting for, and the manner in which the experts who had
drafted it intended that it should be interpreted." (Davies)
"If the Church is to
remain truly the Catholic Church (that is, universal) it is essential to
keep a universal tongue." (Cardinal Heenan)
Latin language was used for many years by the Church in the
administration of Sacraments, including at Mass (click
here for reasons for using Latin). It is still used in places
where the traditional Mass is said (and where sacraments are
administered according to traditional rites).
Note: For more information
on the status of the traditional Latin Mass, click
here. For reasons to attend the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass, click
The use of a non-vernacular
language for worship is biblical. Like Latin, Hebrew was a
"dead language" when Jesus became Incarnate. Therefore,
when Jesus participated in Jewish worship, he also used a "non vernacular" language.
As Fortescue states,
"[T]he conservative instinct, always
strong in religion, retains for the liturgy an older language no
longer used in common life. The Jews showed this instinct when,
although Hebrew was a dead language after the captivity, they
continued to use it in the Temple and the synagogues in the time of
Christ, and still retain it in their services." And, as Bouyer
states, "Our Lord Himself always worshiped
according to the ritual of the Palestinian synagogue, in which only
the readings, with a few prayers immediately connected with them,
were in the vernacular. The great fixed prayers...were all retained
in Hebrew, a language at least as dead then, so far as common usage
was concerned, as Latin is now. If Our Lord had found such a
practice intolerable, He Who so relentlessly denounced the formalism
of the Pharisee would certainly not have accepted that practice
without a word of criticism, as He did."
use of the Latin language was consecrated at the Passion and is
closely interwoven with the liturgy: "The
Latin language is consecrated by the mystic inscription
attached to the Cross, as well as sanctified by the usage of nearly
two thousand years, and hence it is most closely interwoven with the
primitive Roman Catholic liturgy of the holy Sacrifice [of the Mass]. The
inscription on the Cross: 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews' was
written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (Jn. 19:19-20). These were the
three principal languages of that epoch, and by divine dispensation
they were, so to say, destined and consecrated on the Cross for
liturgical use of the Church. Through the inscription on the Cross
they proclaimed to the whole world the dignity, power and glory of
the Redeemer, the loyalty and dominion of grace which He acquired by
His bloody death; at the altar these languages continue to live
throughout all ages, and to serve to announce and celebrate until
the end of time the death of Christ for our redemption" (Gihr)
Latin is sometimes called the "language of heaven."
is said that "the devil hates Latin" (since Satan
hates all things sacred, since the language was 'canonized' on the
Cross, since it unifies the Church, etc.). As Bishop Gemma,
"one of the Roman Catholic Church's leading experts on exorcism",
has said: "If I speak Latin, the demon responds to me in Latin.
He has a horror of that language." (emphasis
the Catholic faith is not tied to a particular language, nation, or
time, it is fitting that she use a universal, timeless language
which "never exalts one nation to the expense of the
letters in Latin sound the same as they do
in English, however there are
exceptions. The following Latin
pronunciation tips may be helpful:
vowel, even a final e, is pronounced:
a = ah as in "rather"
e = ay as in "day"
i = ee as in "sweet" when long, as in "pit"
when long, as in "fort", nearly as in "not" when
u = oo as in "tool" when long, as in "pull"
Every consonant except h is sounded;
c = k
before a, o, u, au, and h
c = ch
as in "cherry" before e, i, ae, and oe
in "gate" before a, o, u and au
g = j
as in "journey" before e, i and ae
gn = ni
as in "union"
sc = sk
before a, o, u and h
sc = sh
as in "show" before e, i, and ae
ti = tsi
before a and o
xc = ksh
before e, i and y
h in nihil
and mihi becomes k."
"J", when it appears may sound like "y".
best way to pick up correct pronunciation may be to immerse oneself in
the language - e.g. at the Traditional Latin 'Tridentine' Mass. Click
here for more information on this Mass. Fortunately,
Latin/English missals can help you follow along when attending a
'Tridentine' Latin Mass. A Latin dictionary (or various online sources)
may provide additional assistance with
Latin Language (Topic Page)
of the Latin Language
Latin Prayers & Other Prayers in Latin
Rosary in Latin
of Selected Latin Terms
Already Know Some Latin!
the Latin Mass?
of the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass
to Find a Latin 'Tridentine' Mass
Catholic Tradition: Q & A
Traditional Latin Mass vs. the Novus Ordo (New) Mass
to Learn More About the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass
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