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Wednesday, December 02, 2009



We are in fact in danger of becoming strangers to our own tradition, for few can read the thoughts of our Catholic tradition in the language in which they were thought.

We will be at the mercy of the few translators and their biases and no independent reader to correct them.

Some time ago I watched on EWTN a documentary on the North American College in Rome and a not so old priest said that when he attended the college all of the lectures were in Latin. Why did the seminaries discontinue this practise? If Catholic Schools and Universities knew that lectures in seminaries were going to be in Latin surely that would have kept Latin in Catholic institutions of learning at least.

charles bolser

I respectfully disagree with this opinion. Languages are living and therefore subject to change - and translations are always subject to the personal and cultural differences of the individual. The Vulgate was an early attempt to translate the Bible into a common language - and it always helpful to hear the Scriiptures and Liturgies spoken and written in the language of the people. Latin becomes a secret arcane language, know only to a select few, and therefore becomes another mode of obfuscation. It reminds me of the child's game of speaking in pig-latin. This becomes another way to hide the discussion from the un-initiated.

David G. Hunter, Cottrill-Rolfes Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Kentucky

"Active Latin," i.e., spoken or conversational Latin, is alive and well at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where there is a graduate program in Classics and a Latin Institute. Each summer the Institute hosts an international conventiculum, during which only Latin is spoken. The program is headed by Professors Milena Minkova and Terrence Tunberg.

Magister Christianus

Consentio cum cogitationibus Doctoris Clark. And I do not think that a recovery of the Latin heritage of the Church must, of necessity, obfuscate anything. No one is suggesting that the Church revert to all Latin and nothing but Latin, so help us God. There will always be those who can communicate in the local language. But there is great value in being able to engage Latin thought in Latin. There is a difference in how one thinks, given the language one is thinking in. This, of course, requires more discussion than a simple comment to a blog post.


Latin is a DEAD language. Leave it lie. The Church's insistence on having liturgy conform to the original Latin is responsible for this "new" Roman Missal and Sacramentary with prayers that are unprayable because not in language that is meaningful to the contemporary worshiper. They are full of obsolete words and bad grammar.

Louise Helder

Magister Christianus, I agree with you. How quickly people of my age
(over 70) have forgotten the Church's Latin. I just can't fathom it at all that it is all but gone. How come I remember? Never studied it in school, but get any Mass prayer started and I can go through it in Latin. I have so much love for this language and miss it terribly. Thank God for EWTN where I can at least via TV participate in this beautiful Mass.


To jettison Latin is to breed Babel. Just look at any parish and all the fragmentation. Gk. Dia-boline = to rend asunder, to tear apart, to fragment. The abandonment of Latin is purely diabolical, exactly what Satan wants. He loves talk of "relevance," of being "up-to-date," of using language "meaningful to the contemporary worshiper."

Ed Peters

There are some infelicities in the revised prayers, but there were some atrocities in the earlier translations. My generation will go down in history as that upon which an almost constant liturgical experiment was performed.

About MC's article, it was fine, of course. But I see these pieces every couple three years, and nothing really changes. Wanna make Latin a part of your life, or your kids' lives? Learn it, and insist they learn it, finding ways to make it happen. Period.


"During the debates of the Second Vatican Council one prelate after another addressed the Fathers of the Council in fluent Latin."

Dr Clark gives the impression that Bishops were debating in Latin just as one might see Members of Parliament in Westminster debating - speaking from skeleton notes, making up points on the hoof to repond others interrupting their speeches with points of information.

I thought the speeches of the Bishops were written in full. Those Bishops at the Council who were not called to speak had their speeches "read in" ie the written speech was accepted as forming part of the debate without actually being read.

I thought the main discussions of the Coucil took place outside the Sistene Chapel in the mono-lingual groups - the German speakers, English-speakers etc.

Also we are told that the teaching at the Gregorian University and other Pontifical Universities was in Latin. But did those Professors not supply their students with fairly full texts of their lectures at the start of the term in a manual?

I am sceptical about the assertion that the Bishops were fluent in Latin in the 1960's - some evidence needed I fear, but I will be happy to be corrected if I am mistaken.


Bryan: I don't think that all of the bishops at Vatican II were fluent in Latin, but a good number certainly were--as are many cardinals today, at the very least. If I remember correctly, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger made it a point to preach in Latin prior to the most recent conclave so that all could participate. (I could be mis-remembering that.) I believe he's done that since, as well, when preaching for linguistically mixed clergy. I think that you are in the main right--that debate wasn't necessarily off-the-cuff (as any student of a foreign language can attest, it's much easier to understand than to communicate)--but I do seem to recall learning that there was some discussion in Latin. Too, I might add that much of what we are told today about Latin "then" is somewhat obfuscation or, more charitably, rooted only in personal experience. I too have heard of priests who had no idea of what they were praying (in the Breviary, for example), but they were supposed to have been taught/learned the language. I know FSSP priests today, for example, who really are fluent in the language. I wonder how much we consider the role of "motivation to learn."

One critique on the essay--and I'll admit that I've yet to read the article: one poster commented that the author claims that all bishops spoke in Latin at the Council. Not true. The patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic Church (I...think it was he) spoke in French. He wanted to point out that the Latin Rite was only one right of the Church--the largest, perhaps, but not the only. So he consistently "broke the rules" and used a different tongue. Interesting, me thinks.

Mr Aukema


As long as the Church Fathers' writings exist in their original form, Latin will not die.

As for your comments on the current "unprayable" translations, they are only unprayable to those who choose not to try and comprehend. In addition, we are celebrating a grandiose and magnificent event: the gift of Christ to us. We should mark such an event in elevated, not-common language. The current paraphrases in use actually bring down the Truths of the prayers in many cases.

Charles A. Edinger

I agree with the earlier respondent,who correctly stated,"that Latin is a dead language". I see the movement to restore Latin as the language of the church as another move by conservatives, to overturn the Vatican II.To quote the renown Swiss theologian Fr. Hans Kung " If we cancelled all that,the church would change into a fortified citadel, and trigger the exodus of all those who do not want a return to the past".

P.S. I will be 72 on my next birthday

Ed Peters

Of course Latin is a dead language. Now, assuming the people who use the phrase know what it means linguistically, I must ask, so what?

Decimus Pius

As a 31 year old who discovered the "old" Latin Mass a couple years ago, I'll say I Love Latin!
When I heard folks in my parents generation talk about the old Mass and Latin, I used to think how odd that must have been - I never heard any nostalgia pro or con, they were just telling you the way it was back then.

On my on I found a parish that offered the "old" Latin Mass and had a Damascus Road experience and this was a Low Mass. I went back next week and they were having a Sung Mass after that... I knew I had found a home.

As far as an apologia for Latin and the "old" Latin Mass - Liars figure, but figures don't lie.
If you look at the facts, the years after Vatican II have been devastating for the Church. It is lunacy to argue that the changes foisted upon the faithful after the Council did not contribute to the current condition.

Ed Peters

PS: Doubtless monitoring of comments will be delayed tonight while Carl watches Oregonian football. Go OSU.


I see the movement to restore Latin as the language of the church as another move by conservatives, to overturn the Vatican II

Charles Edinger, you ought to check out SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council, particularly #36.

Or perhaps you meant that this is a move by conservatives to overturn the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" which had very little at all to do with the actual documents of Vatican II or the intentions of the Council.

One thing you would have to admit, when all Churches used Latin it didn't matter what country or province you were in, the Mass was equally intelligible, and consistent in reverence.

When did Latin die by the way? Was it when the doctors stopped using it to write prescriptions? That was in my life-time and I am younger than you.


"To quote the renown Swiss theologian Fr. Hans Kung..."

Charles, are you aware that this man is a heretic?


Latin has value beyond its value to the Church. Where I live Latin is part of the curriculum in ultra expensive, hyper-secular private middle schools but is not at any Catholic middle school in the area. That is a shame. As secular educators recognize, but apparently some Catholics do not, Latin is a very important part of our cultural heritage. Catholics should know this better than anyone, given that much of the cultural heritage of which Latin is a part is Catholic in nature - the Catholic liturgy being a prime example.

In my opinion liturgical Latin should be taught in all Catholic elementary schools. This would be culturally enriching, contribute to the "reform of the reform," and strengthen Catholic identity.

I have long admired the way the Jews have preserved Hebrew. We should to the same with Latin.

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