Why the reverence for Latin?


Wow, Roguish. You expressed more of what I was trying to say. Thank you.

1 Like


Good thoughts. It depends on the situation. Depends on the country, the parish, the needs of the locals.
There is also a good case to be made for effective and simple communication, and this need for effective communication is intensified by the huge array of information we are bombarded with. In a time when people are deluged with words and images, the Church is wise to communicate the liturgy to it’s people, with language that is straightforward.



:thinking: Another good point, goout. One thing I know about Latin is that it’s a straightforward practical language. Here’s a paraphrased example:

Benedictus Dominus, Deus meus.

In English, it’s usually rendered as Blessed be the Lord, my God. But if you translate it literally, it’s Blessed Lord, my God.

1 Like


Latin in the Church started out as a common vernacular. So indeed there is nothing inherently “special” about it.

IMHO, what makes it special now is that because of the above, the Church has accumulated a large corpus of sacred music in Latin, as well as having redacted a huge number of official documents in Latin. Ya gotta start somewhere, and Latin as a base language for Church documents, edicts, etc., makes sense because it is a language that is largely unchanging. It’s the starting point from which all official translations flow. If we didn’t have it as a base language, translations would wind up being a huge mess and a Mass in French might take on a different meaning than one in, say, German. We’d end up with translations of translations of translations as the Church spread out around the globe. Realistically though, Italian is now the working language of the Vatican.

For me, as a Gregorian chorister and student of Gregorian chant, the sacred music patrimony of the Church is, for better or for worse, in Latin. That seals the deal for me. However I also recognize that few today know now to read or understand it, and that’s why I like the approach of the abbey I’m affiliated with: Latin is used for the propers and ordinary of the Mass (along with a tiny bit of Greek), and French plainchant (the local vernacular) for the rest.

For my own recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, I chant it in Latin, but silently re-read the psalm in French (my mother tongue) after having chanted it. It makes my liturgy very beautiful, slow-paced enough to be meditative, and yet still understandable. It takes me about 25 minutes to chant Lauds and Vespers in this manner.



Cool. That’s another reason I like to pray in Latin and memorize Bible verses in Latin. It makes me slow down and meditate and what I’m saying and studying. God bless you, OraLabora for your consecrated life in the Church.



By my understanding, @OraLabora is a Benedictine Oblate: while he’s a part of the Benedictine family and associated with one of their monasteries, he is still a layman and not a consecrated religious.

@OraLabora, I’ve just started using the 1962 breviary, and I can tell that a lot of this was meant to be chanted. But I don’t know the chants and my sheet reading is poor, Gregorian chant or otherwise. Would you have any advice for strengthening one’s Gregorian muscles?

1 Like


Oops; my bad

1 Like


Good conversation and good insight. My concern was definitely that some appear to worship the language as an idol, that the language itself is somehow more holy than English or other local language. I find this with my Jewish friends and family with Hebrew as well, and our local Rabbi has warned against it at Friday night Shabbat services.

1 Like


Do most priests understand latin these days? Is it still part of their seminary training? Can you ‘get by’ in hte priesthood without a deep knowledge of latin? Just curious.



All I know is I took four years of Latin in high school and wish I’d spent that time doing something useful. :grin:

Although we did get to see a lot of cool movies.

1 Like


It is my understanding that for a long time Latin was widespread among Europeans, even common people. If people in the next county spoke a dialect you could not understand, Latin was the only means of communication. It was the “English” of its day. Nowadays almost everybody in Europe (and plenty of other places) can converse in English.

As to the Mass, anybody who pays attention can come to understand it in Latin. I sometimes attend a Spanish Mass and if it had not been for my exposure to Latin years ago, I wouldn’t understand it.



Not as well or as many as there ought to be. I remember hearing a story about the late Bishop Morlino. The night before priests become bishops, they recite basically an oath of office. He apparently didn’t understand a single word if it, since it was all in Latin, and wasn’t taught that in seminary. What sense does it make that priests of the Latin rite do not understand the language of the Church?



When Jerusalem was destroyed on Hadrian’s orders at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135, whatever Jewish Christians may still have been living there were dispersed and Jewish Christianity effectively died out within a period of a generation or so. After that, there was no longer a Hebrew- or Aramaic-speaking church, only the Latin-speaking church in the western half of the Roman Empire and the Greek-speaking church in the eastern half.

As @Dovekin points out, Latin and Greek were the vernacular languages spoken in the early Church.



Correct, not consecrated!

If you can pick up a Liber Usualis, usually there’s a section on the basics in front.

If you ask me starting with the '62 breviary will be too much to bite off at once. I use Les Heures Grégoriennes, which is the current 4-week LOTH with Latin on one side, French on the other. Certainly it’s more manageable.

Another good start is Antiphonale Romanum II which is Vespers of Sundays, Feasts and Solemnities for the current LOTH, all in Latin. The Offices are relatively short.

In terms of psalmody, the important thing is learning the mechanics of the modes: incipits, and number of accents and preparation syllables for the median and finale. It really helps to know by heart:

Mode 1: median of two accents, finale of two preparation syllables and 1 accent
Mode 2: median of one accent, finale of one preparation syllable and one accent
Mode 3 (modern): median and finale both with two accents.
Mode IV: median of two preparation syllables and one accent, finale of three preparation syllables and one accent (except mode IVg, finale of no prep. syllables and one accent)
Mode IV*: median like IV, finale of two accents
Mode IVA (sometimes given as 2*), like mode IV
Mode V: median of one accent, finale of two accents
Mode VI: median of one preparation syllable and one accent, finale of two preparation syllables and one accent.
Mode VII: median and finale both with two accents
Mode VIII: median of one accent, finale of two preparation syllables and one accent.

Archaic modes:

C (in directum): median 1 accent, 2 preparation syllables, finale c: maintain recitation cord; finale c2, one accent, two prep. syllables.
D: like IV
E (irregular): median of 1 accent, finale with two accents.
Tonus peregrinus: median of three preparation syllables and one accent, finale of 1 preparation syllable, 1 accent.

A good way to get this is put an antiphon to a psalm and point all the notes in the psalm, where italics are preparation syllables, and bolds are accents. You will need accented psalm texts to do this.

Gregorian notation is on a 4 bar staff. Basically if the notes to up, you go up, and if they go down, you go down :wink:

If two notes are directly superposed on each other, you go up. A bit of solfège helps. There are other nuances in the notes, but to start concentrate on getting the pitch of each note right. Les Heures Grégoriennes also came with a set of CDs where the antiphon and the first verse are chanted, it really helped.

Otherwise Google is your friend, there are tons of resources out there, especially on YouTube.



Ah, not to worry! I’ve prayed the current breviary for a couple years now, and the wonderful people at Baronius press have theirs with the English and Latin side by side. It’s truly a wonderful set of books! But I wish the ribbons weren’t so flimsy. I think I’ll have to buy some clear nail polish.

Sounds like I’ll be consulting YouTube for some time! :stuck_out_tongue: I’ve heard of the eight modes, so that’s a good starting point! Thank you very much!



What I do to my ribbons: I burn candles during Lauds and Vespers of Sundays, feasts and solemnities in my small oratory. When I blow out the candle and there’s still some liquid wax below the wick, I simply dip the end of the ribbon in the wax. It solidifies quickly, and prevents fraying!



I think it might be helpful if chants are transposed into “regular” musical notation, so the average choir member with some piano lessons in their past can read.
I know that takes some of the authenticity away.

We already do this in our choir with a couple of chants. The chant is simply notes on the staff.



Latin was the vernacular language of the western roman empire, and for over a thousand years it continued to be used as a common language throughout western Europe even after the vernaculars drifted apart. The use of Latin is part of an ancient tradition (small T) of the Church, and there’s something to be said of the connection of people all over the world and across centuries praying together in the same language.

It’s not God’s own holy language or anything, but east or west (whether it’s Latin or Greek or Syriac or something else), the participation in millenia old liturgies and traditions is appreciated.



I think for the same reason that, in the East, they have a healthy respect for Syriac and Greek. I think the last supper was probably in Aramaic, not Hebrew, although I do believe it’s possible it was in Hebrew. The apostles were Jewish, they would have understood liturgical Hebrew. I don’t think Latin is necessarily Superior to vernacular languages, because the reason Latin is used, is because in the West for a very long time it was the vernacular, then it became the lingua Franca. I think with some people, it’s just what they’re used to, and some other people they just like drawing themselves to that ancient tradition. I can’t complain about that, because I like Byzantine liturgy for the same reason. The Melkite Greek Catholic church’s official language is Arabic, but in the United States they mainly use English, but when they started putting more Arabic in the liturgy at the local Melkite church, I was ecstatic, I thought that was awesome because that is the Melkite church’s official language. My own preference for the western church, is mainly English with some Latin. Again, there’s nothing wrong with either one though. If you want to go to Mass in Latin, by all means go to Mass in Latin, if you want to go in the vernacular go in the vernacular. I think what matters more, is that you’re going.

1 Like


That is correct. Even today we use “INRI” (Latin acronym) on the top of most crucifixes we pray with.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.