Latin, one of the Venerable languages chose by Our Lord for his Cross, INRI: Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum. Latin, Greek, and Hebrew are part of every Mass. It was the language of the great lights of the Church such as Ambrose and Augustine. It was the language of Medieval Europe and greats such as Fortunatus and Aquinas. It is the language of the tender Stabat Mater Dolorosa and the stern Dies Irae that have moved Christians for nearly a millennium.
19 And Pilate wrote a title also, and he put it upon the cross.And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin. John 19:19-20
“The Latin language ‘can be called truly catholic.’ It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed ‘a treasure … of incomparable worth.‘ … It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.”Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962
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 until the end of time… of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”Pope Pius XI, Officiorum Omnium, 1922
Preservation of Latin by the Holy See
Some people think that Vatican II did away with latin but far from the truth, the documents of Vatican II say the exact opposite, Pope John XXIII, the pope who actually convened Vatican II forever canonized Latin in his Apostolic Constitution, the highest and most solemn form of papal decree, Veterum Sapientia, published during the council in 1962 and through this page, we show how the Popes have talked about it.
36 “The use of Latin, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin Rites.” #54 “Nevertheless care 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, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963
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.
“The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety… we must not hold in low esteem these traditions of your fathers which were your glory for centuries.”Pope Paul VI, Sacrificium Laudis, 1966
“We address especially the young people: In an epoch when in some areas, as you know, the Latin language and the human values are less appreciated, you must joyfully accept the patrimony of the language which the Church holds in high esteem and must, with energy, make it fruitful. The well-known words of Cicero, “It is not so much excellent to know Latin, as it is a shame not to know it” in a certain sense are directed to you. … We exhort you all to lift up high the torch of Latin which is even today a bond of unity among peoples of all nations.”Pope John Paul II Allocutio Libenter vos salutamus, 1978
Then why are most Masses in the vernacular today if Vatican II mandated retention of Latin?!
In the text of Vatican II, there was an exception clause that said that some vernacular could be used. The dropping of Latin entirely is contrary to what the Church Teaches: to both the Council documents, Veterum Sapitentia and many others, like many other things that occurred after the council is considered in a sense to be another form of liturgical abuse. As to recent times the official version of the Catechism are all in Latin.
In Trent, the Church even goes as far as to excommunicate those who declare the vernacular to be the necessary or only permissible language for the liturgy (Council of Trent, Ss XXII, Ch IX, Can IX). It 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.
Code of Canon Law
Can. 249 – The program for priestly formation is to make provision that the students are not only carefully taught their native language but also that they are well skilled in the Latin language; they are also to have a suitable familiarity with those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their own formation or for the exercise of their pastoral ministry.
Can. 928 – The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.
Universal & Non Vernacular
“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all. Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin for mal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity” makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.”Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962
Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,” and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful” of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.
“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, 1962
One of the most all encompassing means of ”sacred veiling” is through the language we use to address Almighty God. As a holy language, unspoken today by common man and reserved for the sacred, Latin in a way improves and elevates the very means through which we approach the Almighty, in a language sanctified by the holy Church, used almost exclusively for holy things, like Christ Himself prayed in non-vernacular ancient Hebrew, used almost exclusively in rabbinical temple worship.
“Precisely in the multiplicity of languages and cultures, Latin, for so many centuries the vehicle and instrument of Christian culture, not only guarantees continuity with our roots but continues to be as relevant as ever for strengthening the bonds of unity of the faith in the communion of the Church”.Pope Benedict XVI, Presentation of the Compendium, 2005
The Latin language unifies all under one tongue thereby countering the havoc from the tower of Babel, and in a practical way it continues the gift of Pentecost by enabling people from all nations to understand and pray together in una voce (one voice) universally. It creates a spiritual home of prayer anywhere in the world.
Immutable & Precise
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 would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings
“The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine.”Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei
“Latin is a precise, essential language. It will be abandoned, not because it is unsuitable for the new requirements of progress, but because the new men will not be suitable for it. When the age of demagogues and charlatans begins, a language like Latin will no longer be useful, and any oaf will be able to give a speech in public and talk in such a way that he will not be kicked off the stage. The secret to this will consist in the fact that, by making use of words that are general, elusive, and sound good, he will be able to speak for an hour without saying anything. With Latin, this is impossible.”Giovanni Guareschi (1908 – 1968), an Italian journalist.
Latin, unlike the vernaculars, has been a very stable language over the millennia. While new words and expressions have been added to Latin over the course of time in order to express new ideas and inventions, the language itself has not greatly altered. A good example of the evolution of the vernacular versus the stability of Latin is the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster). The Latin words to the Pater Noster have not changed in nearly two millennia, but the English words to the prayer from even as little as several centuries ago are nearly unintelligible to the average English speaker. Here are some samples from the last 800 years, from Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, William Maskell, M. A., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1882.
From a 13th century MS in the library of Caius college, Cambridge:
Fader oure that art in heve, i-halgeed be thi nome, i-cume thi kinereiche, y-worthe thi wylle also is in hevene so be an erthe, oure iche-dayes-bred 3if us today, and for3if us our gultes, also we for3ifet oure gultare, and ne led ows nowth into fondingge, auth ales ows of harme. So be it.
From a 15th century MS, Douce 246, Bodleian library:
Fader oure that art in heuene, halewed be thy name: thy kyngedom come to thee: thy wille be do in erthe as in heuen: oure eche dayes brede 3eue us to daye: and for3eue us oure dettes as we for3eue to oure dettoures: and lede us no3te into temptacion: bot delyver us from yvel. Amen.
From an English and Latin prymer, Paris 1538:
Our father whiche art in heuen, halowed be thy name Let thy kingdome cum unto us. Thy wyll be fulfylled as well in erthe, as it is in heuen. Gyue vs this daye our daylye breade. And forgyue us our trespasses, as we forgyue them that trespas agaynst vs. And lede vs nat in to temtacyon. But delyuer vs from euyll. So be it.
Translation is more of an art than a science in many cases. The problem of rendering one language into another is always fraught with choices, while it is true there are vernacular translations of many Latin works, it is equally true that an even greater number of Latin works have no translation available. Moreover, and more importantly, reading a translation means that one is at the mercy and whim of the translator and not free to read the document as it was written.
Educational value of Latin
Latin is the language of western civilization. For nearly two millennia, Latin was the tongue in which the educated communicated. It was the language of the western Church, governments, scientists, nobles, musicians, and even poets. To know Latin is to have access to some 2,500 years of literature. There are few languages that can make a similar claim. One major reason is that Latin literature had over a 1,000 year head start on any of today’s vernaculars.
The wisdom of the ancient world, enshrined in Greek and Roman literature, and the truly memorable teaching of ancient peoples, served, surely, to herald the dawn of the Gospel which Gods Son, the judge and teacher of grace and truth, the light and guide of the human race, proclaimed on earth.Veterum Sapientia ~ Pope John XXIII
Besides the Spiritual and eclesiestical value, To be ignorant of Latin is to be cut off from a great deal of history and civilization. Latin was the language of such ancient authors as Vergil and Caesar, it was also the language of science. Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia, the foundation of classical Physics and Mathematics is in Latin, not English, his native language. There are studies to prove that there are Tangible Benefits of the Study of Latin.
There can be no doubt as to the formative and educational value either of the language of the Romans or of great literature generally. It is a most effective training for the pliant minds of youth. It exercises, matures and perfects the principal faculties of mind and spirit. It sharpens the wits and gives keenness of judgment. It helps the young mind to grasp things accurately and develop a true sense of values. It is also a means for teaching highly intelligent thought and speech.Veterum Sapientia ~ Pope John XXIII
Reasons to pray in Latin
Latin is both venerable and mysterious, The Latin language was sanctified by the usage of nearly 2000 years, and it was most closely interwoven with the primitive Roman Catholic liturgy. God, no doubt, appreciates the effort to learn to pray in this sacred tongue and rewards it generously. How much more pleasing to God is it then to pray to Him in this most holy sacred language that He has blessed and infused with so much power and grace? By praying in a distinct language directed only to God, it teaches us humility to learn that He is God, and we are not.
“The Latin language…has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic see, the mother and teacher of all Churches.” Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962
“Latin is more efficacious than any profane language because of the fact it is a sacred language, and by virtue of it being sacred it is in the eyes of God more precious and more meritorious” (Fr Chad Ripperger, exorcist).
Latin in a unique way elevates the mind and heart to God. Latin acts as a sacred linguistic veil that covers over, sanctifies, and mystifies our prayers. Latin in a way improves and elevates the very means through which we approach the Almighty, in a language sanctified by the holy Church, used almost exclusively for holy things and a language that deepens meditative prayer, automatically engages the higher faculties, and brings with it great merit and much glory and honor to the Blessed Trinity, qui vivit et regnat per omnia saecula saeculorum, Amen.
“Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.”Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007
Interestingly, there have been numerous reports from exorcists that Latin prayers are more effective in driving away the demonic. The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Fr Gabriel Amorth, who performed well over 70,000 exorcisms, repeatedly testified to this reality of the power invested in this sacred language. “It is most effective at challenging the devil”.
If,” says St. Augustine, “there are some present who do not understand what is being said or sung, they know at least that all is said and sung to the glory of God, and that is sufficient for them to join in it devoutly.”The Catechism Explained, The Language of the Mass, Fr.S
(This quote evidences that even from the time of St Augustine the sacred Latin prayers they used in the liturgy were not understood by everyone present, yet all sufficiently join in through their devotion.)
Latin is the Prayer Language of the Saints. When praying in Latin, you are praying in the same exact words in the same exact language that countless Saints have prayed throughout the ages and are being united with them through entering into this venerable tradition they handed down and preserved faithfully throughout the centuries. Latin has always been a part of private devotions. Because the liturgy is the source and summit of the faith and by its nature far surpasses any private devotion, the Church teaches that “devotions should…accord with the sacred liturgy, be derived from it, and lead people to it.”
How to learn to pray in Latin
For those who are interested on how to start to pray in latin, the best way we can recomend is through chantings with the lycrics of the most basic prayers : Ave Maria, Pater Noster, Gloria etc..
With chants, it will stick into your mind very easily, thus allowing you to pray them easily to be able at least to pray the rosary in latin.