Why the reverence for Latin?


My wife’s mother was Alsatian. Apparently in Alsace they spoke a form of “low German”, or at least according to her it was so.

But English is also about 1/3 Old French in origin. A quick story. I took French in college and wasn’t too bad at it. My wife and I once took a trip to Ste Barthelemy. I found that I had immense difficulty understanding the French tourists, but not the locals. Turns out the locals were all from Normandy about 300 years ago. They spoke French, and no doubt about it, but there was something about the way they said it that was easier to understand.

I once discussed with a very good certified translator whose first language was not English, what the most difficult part of translation was for her. She said it was at business meetings when people took an informal break. When English speakers speak, we sometimes switch back and forth between the “modes” of English. Business is largely French in origin; science has a lot of Latin, and domestic matters Teutonic. We don’t know we’re “shifting languages” if we switch from talking about finance to talking about football or the kids, but we are.


“Old English” and “Anglo-Saxon” are two names for the same language.


English has many influences but is a West Germanic language in origin. One may believe what they want but a language obviously evolves over years and years. As I said, one should ask a foreign language instructor on some of these matters. I would not water it down and just say, it’s a 3rd Latin, 3rd French and so on.

**English is a West Germanic language** that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca .[4][5] Named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Britain that would later take their name, England, both names ultimately deriving from the Anglia peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is closely related to the Frisian languages, but its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse (a North Germanic language), as well as by Latin and French.[6]



Official business in England was conducted in the French language at least through the 14th Century. As far as a spoken language, English was used.


I think there were diverse dialects in England even in Chaucer’s time. Chaucer’s English was basically a London-area dialect. It became dominant because it became the language of trade. Likely Chaucer and whoever the “Pearl Poet” was had a lot of influence as well.


Not only were there dialects but those dialects apparently grew out of actual linguistic differences, that is, at one time part or all of northern England was a separate country called ‘Danelaw,’ which had been settled by Danish vikings and whose population spoke Danish. To this day all of the words we use in English which begin with an ‘sk’ like skirt have their origins in Danish. ‘Skirt’ meant ‘shirt’ in Danish. The two languages must have melded together with a bunch of words (including the ‘sk-’ words, which are not native to English) coming into standard English.


As BartholomewB pointed out, ‘Old English’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ are the same thing (which I didn’t know). J.R.R. Tolkien was a lecturer in Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.


Although Middle English (and therefore Present Day English) owes a great debt to French and Norman for a large number of loan words, Anglo-Norman was only ever the mother-tongue of a few generations of England’s elite. From the Conquest of 1066 to the early 13th century, Anglo-Norman was the mother-tongue of the upper class. Many historical events, both major and minor, affected French as a mother-tongue in England, from royal marriages and the Hundred Years War to the geographical groupings of Norman immigrants and descendants. After a relatively short time, however, Anglo-Norman was totally replaced by Middle English, a language that easily reveals its close and prolonged exposure to Anglo-Norman.


I’m sure this is all so as well as the rest of the article.


Yes, even more so if we go back to the original neumes, which had no staff!

The other thing with Gregorian chant is that it’s not metered. Gregorian notation is meant to capture this with signs that tell the chorister whether to hold a note for a bit longer, etc.


Latin does it for me. I lived near a Cloistered Poor Clares convent, I was just a kid but I remember the singing in Latin from way back then. I think I’ve heard the same or similar during some masses on EWTN.

I don’t think anything in particular makes it closer to God but it does have tradition. Also, I’d weigh in and say, Latin languages do often sound very lovely to the ear. Again, I admit this is a bit on the subjective side as well.

Having said that, I think most languages can be perceived that way. Music is beautiful, some songs written in English, to me, only come off as well as they do because they are in English.


@Victoria33 pulchritudo in oculis aspicientis = beauty is in the eye of the beholder



As to me, I am 83 years old (we’re in 2018) -I received the sacraments and went to Mass in Latin, because the Tridentine Mass and Offices were the official ones till I was 30. I got married in Latin in a Tridentine Mass in 1965 (and my wife and I have already turned 54 years of happy and fruitful marriage blessed with 4 children and 9 grandchildren). I am a Peruvian living all my life in Lima Peru, so my language is Spanish. Now, Spanish is a Latin language and Spanish, Portuguese, Italian people feel Latin as our own. I pray every day the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin (with the Pius XII Psalter) and feel Latin gets me closer to God. Latin prayers that have been repeated for so many centuries have a certain ineffable beauty! -


I’m not sure if I am missing it here, I always thought too, Latin was used because whether you are in the USA, Ireland, Japan, Italy, anywhere, you can understand the Mass. One can relate to this, say, if one is in the Southwest and Masses, well, now, they are said in both Spanish and English but perhaps in the past, it was only said in Latin. You could go to any RC church and catch the same service.


I too took four years of Latin, and while I was often struggling not to be bored in the class (it didn’t help that it was usually first thing in the morning and I would have preferred to be sleeping in than having to conjugate verbs at that hour), it has been very useful, not only for liturgical purposes but because I better understood all the Latin legal terms I encountered in my work. I imagine that doctors also find it useful for the same terminology reasons.

While I have always been bummed out that nobody speaks Latin conversationally, I find that I like the literal Latin translations of many Catholic prayers much better than the poetic English translations somebody comes up with later. “Ave Maris Stella” is a good example. The English translations tend to take a lot of liberties, something I only realize because I have a middling understanding of the literal Latin.

Also, it just sounds cool to my ears and I get a kick out of speaking a language that people like Pilate and the centurion would have actually used. I’d like to speak Aramaic too, so I could talk like Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the apostles, but haven’t gotten around to learning it yet. I further understand that Galilean Aramaic differed from the regular Aramaic, so you need to study that specially if you want to be very authentic.


I also like the literal Latin translations. It seems more authentic. I wish I took Latin in school. Latin and Greek would have made my philosophical studies easier.


Thanks all, very enlightening and the responses are excellent. I get the tradition, the common language, and the history. As we know, times change…world wide, though, Latin is no longer a common language…if anything, it’s now English (for better or for worse). I’m not suggesting the Mass be in English globally though :slight_smile:


But couldn’t this mindset-switching back and forth between “religious mind” and “secular mind” be a cause of Christians acting differently in religious settings (e.g., church, Bible study, etc.) than they do in secular settings (workplace, home, school, etc.)?

I don’t consider that a good thing. This is the kind of thing that causes many people to reject Christianity. I consider this a very bad thing.

Our behavior and attitude and MINDSET should be the same, regardless of whether we are in church or at home/school/work. Our reverence towards God should not be less or “different” in a secular setting than it is in a church setting. We might use different words/phrases and music, but our HEARTS should be in the same place–heavenly-minded rather than earthly-minded.


There’s a great discussion in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe about language, that when they talked about pigs, they used the Saxon word - swine, but when it was food it was Norman - pork.


A lot of these preferences depend on one’s degree of immersion in Catholic liturgical life.
If I were to bring a non Catholic friend to Mass, chances are Latin would be an impediment. The person might find it beautiful and attractive, but the odds are the language will be a barrier.

Those of us intimately familiar with the Mass understand what is going on.

It’s important to remember that language is a human means of communicating, and the “speech” of God transcends human language. You can say this transcendence itself is the reason that Latin is better, but, that ignores the fact that the eu-vangelion is good news. and news must be communicated and heard.

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