Do all Roman priests know Latin well?


Are all Roman/Latin (i.e. not Eastern Catholic) priests expected to be proficient in the Latin language outside of being able to pronounce the words of the Mass and other rituals? For example, if I write a casual, secular letter in the Latin language and mail it to a priest in Tokyo, Boston, Montreal, or Oslo, is it safe to assume that he would know enough of the language to respond?


No. I believe that many Latin rite priests ordained in recent decades have received no training in Latin.




No they wouldn’t. Several recent casual conversations with priests I know indicated that they don’t even have enough Latin to say the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.


I am surprised to read that priests nowadays are ordained without knowledge of Latin - can this be confirmed? Latin has been central to theological communication. The Second Vatican Council for example, was conducted through the medium of Latin. All of the presentations were written and presented in Latin by the various Bishops present.


What do you need to have this "confirmed’.

The majority of priests ordained today do not know much Latin.

My last school, Washington Theological Union, required about 102 (maybe a bit more can’t recall off hand) credits for the Masters of Divinity program for ordination with no Latin included.

My current school, Catholic University of America, requires 90 credits for the Masters of Divinity program for ordination and has one first semester Theological Latin course which is for no credits.

How much Latin is necessary to be a priest today? What should be dropped from the existing programs to facilitate more language?

The Masters of Divinity program is already a 4 year professional masters degree program, add in what is necessary for ordination it is a jam packed 4 years.

To enter an M.Div. one must have 30 credits of (Catholic approved) philosophy and 12 credits of (Catholic approved) theology. That is a bachelors degree in philosophy with the theology added on.


Thanks for your response - I wanted to know more about it [have the issue confirmed by a valid source] because the thread so far just read like hearsay. Now you have provided data to that so thanks.


Just read this article from one of the minority of priests that know Latin.

Latin in the Ordinary Form, seminary. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Check this CAF thread too:

Are all priests required to learn Latin in seminary?


All Latin priests used to be at least moderately proficient in language, but it’s rare today. Sad, in my opinion.


Because of the Church’s success in building native clergies between Vatican I and the mid-20th. century, most of the bishops attending Vatican II were natives of those lands and products of those cultures. Among the eligible bishops, 1,089 were from Europe, 489 from South America, 404 from North America, 374 from Asia, 296 from Africa, 84 from Central America, and 75 from Oceania. All speeches and discussions were in Latin, however, prompting Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston to offer to pay for simultaneous translation similar the the one used by the United Nations. The Vatican declined his offer.


The seminar in my area her in Germany requires that you had Latin in school or that you made a test proving that you can translate Cicero, but after this test you can just forget Latin without problems.


All priests are supposed to be “very well trained” in latin, but sadly, most aren’t at the time. It’s coming around though.


Yes, Pope John XXIII was a strong believer in keeping everything in Latin and non-vernacular.


Let us pretend for a moment that there is no such thing as breaking the rules.

Yes; according to canon law, all priests of the Latin Church must be “very well trained” in Latin.

Back to reality. Many seminaries have very little in the area of Latin, if anything.

So, they’re supposed to but don’t always.


Here is the actual Canon.

[indnet]Can. 249 The Charter of Priestly Formation is to provide that the students are not only taught their native language accurately, but are also well versed in latin, and have a suitable knowledge of other languages which would appear to be necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of their pastoral ministry.[/indent]

“Well versed” in Latin and “suitable knowledge” of other languages necessary.

So what is “well versed”?

My one semester class will give me the very basics of Latin and equip me with the tools (such as Latin to English dictionaries) so that if necessary I can trouble out a meaning from a Latin text.

No where have I read where it says that priests “very well trained”. How ever that is defined.


This is consistent with what I discovered when I looked into a similar question in this thread:
Our Altar Servers want to do a Novus Ordo Mass for the parish, the Pastor has concerns?

*Edit: I see Friar David already posted the canon, although the Vatican’s Intratext English translation uses slightly different wording…

Latin text: sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant necnon congruam habeant cognitionem alienarum linguarum*]

The relevant canon (#249) stipulates that a program of priestly formation should ensure that students “understand Latin well.” However, there is no requirement that seminarians learn to celebrate the mass in Latin, nor that they take any Latin classes at all while at seminary.


Can. 249 — Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam **linguam latinam bene calleant **necnon congruam habeant cognitionem alienarum linguarum, quarum scientia ad eorum formationem aut ad ministerium pastorale exercendum necessaria vel utilis videatur.

(“The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also ___________ the Latin language well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.”)

There are no quantitative measures here but

calleo, callere, callui - to be thick-skinned, (1) to be hard, insensible; (2) to be practised, experienced, (3) to know by experience, understand


I had two semesters of Classical Latin, not hardly enough to be proficient or conversational, and certainly not fluent. I did fine grade wise, but personally, I didn't really like studying the language. I don't have anything against it, just didn't like it very much.

On the other hand, I took five semesters of Greek because I really enjoyed it (only three were required).

But, I'll reiterate what Fr. David said. Even if it were needed that every priest be fluent in Latin (it's not, but let's just say that it is), where would one fit it in a seminary schedule?

Just off the top of my head, a seminarian is expected to study, in four years: ecclesiology, Christology, Theological Anthropology, eschatology, homiletics, all seven sacraments and adequate practica courses for each sacrament, marriage counseling, Canon Law, sacred art and music, a little bit of psychology, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish (in most U.S. dioceses anyway), and all of your Biblical theology.

Speaking personally, in four years, I never studied most of the minor prophets, the Catholic letters, the Second Temple Judaic period (think Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Maccabees), or even Acts (granted, Acts was supposed to be coved in Synoptic Gospels, but we just ran out of time). It wasn't that the seminary didn't want to offer courses in these parts of Scripture. It was just that there wasn't enough time.

Now, that's just the academic side of things, which, according to Pastores Dabo Vobis, is only one of four "pillars" of seminary formation. Spiritually, men are expected to pray a daily holy hour, attend Mass daily, pray their Office, the Rosary, Chaplet, have some other spiritual reading, etc. we meet regularly with a spiritual director and a formator. Under the pillar of pastoral formation, the average seminarian spends over four hours a week in a parish, or nursing home, or jail, or a school, or something, ministering to people in need.

Finally, priests must be able to relate with their parishioners. We have to be, in a word, "normal." That means we need to spend time doing normal "guy" things. So, I would play a lot of basketball in the seminary, and I skied most weekends (a great benefit to going to seminary in Colorado). I liked going to the orchestra and enjoying a nice meal with my brothers at a local restaurant. If given the choice between playing basketball and breaking open my Latin textbook, I'm choosing basketball every single time.

FWIW, I think that has served me well. In my first pastoral assignment, I'm in a Catholic high school. I've already joined my students for two pick-up basketball games, which led to conversations about the faith, and I wouldn't be surprised if a vocation or two comes out of it. I can't say I've had any students come up to me and ask me to tutor them in Latin.

Now, I don't mean that as a knock on the Latin language at all. I love Latin, and I love the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite celebrated beautifully in both Latin and the vernacular (I'm not trained in the Extraordinary Form, but I wouldn't be opposed to learning it). But, I really see no need to read the documents of Vatican II in Latin when the Church and Austin Flannery have already provided a perfectly good translation.


very well said!! :clapping::tiphat:
God be with you on your journey! :smiley:


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