ASK FATHER: Should I pray my Rosary in Latin?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

If one knows the Our Father, Hail Mary & Glory Be in Latin, but one’s mind can’t translate the words directly as one prays them, is it OK to pray the rosary this way or should one stick to English instead where the words are easily understood? I’d like to pray my rosary regularly in Latin now but am worried that it would be much less efficacious if I don’t understand the words as easily as I do in English.

Of course it’s okay to pray in Latin.  And, as one repeats the prayers, slowly but surely, they become more natural.  This is the nature of learning another language.  At first, the words remain “outside” you, as it were, even though intellectually you know their meaning.  Then, after a while, you internalize them until they become part of the warp and weft of your language and symbol woven mind.

This is how children learn to speak and to understand nuances of words.  It’s natural.  It takes time and repetition.

After a while they are second nature to you and their meanings broaden and strengthen concepts within you that you don’t get from the other languages in which you pray.  This is what I mean when, writing about the Latin of the orations of Holy Mass, I mention “tuning your Latin ear” or “hearing latinly”, and so forth.   There are layers and tendrils of meaning in the Latin vocabulary that don’t easily transfer into the English renderings.  Something is always lost.  The old phrase about the loss of meaning in translation is, “Tradutore, traditore… the translator is a traitor”.  Even that limps.  The idea is that the translator has to make choices about which direction to go in following the layers of meaning of a word.

Perhaps for a while, alternate your decades of the Rosary in Latin and English.  Ease in.

 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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21 Responses to ASK FATHER: Should I pray my Rosary in Latin?

  1. Julia_Augusta says:

    I began praying the Rosary in Latin when I came back to the Church in 2017 (after 40 yrs away). I promised Our Lord and Our Lady that I would memorize as many prayers as I could, in Latin. I have been using the Latin prayers in the app called BrevMeumHD. So yes, I encourage everyone to say the Rosary and other prayers in Latin.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    I have been praying the Rosary in Latin for years. I now find myself stumbling when praying it in English! I am no Latinist, but there is something so beautifully poetic about the words of the Ave Maria in Latin. I don’t know what it is…

  3. APX says:

    Nothing against praying one’s rosary in Latin, but when doing it in the vernacular one can more easily meditate on the words of the prayers in the manner St. Teresa of Avila recommended to her nuns, which she also encouraged using the vernacular for those prayers. [Maybe for some people, sure. For others, no. And for yet others, a combination or alternation works well.]

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    All excellent advice from Father Z

    I can only suggest apart from his excellent ideas that the study and practice of one of the Romance languages — especially Spanish, Italian, or French — is quite often helpful for an understanding of Latin nuance ; just as the study and practice of Latin helps towards the understanding of those languages.

    It’s win-win :-)

  5. BrionyB says:

    I often say my Rosary in Latin. To my ear the prayers flow better, plus what Fr Z says about translation. For example, ‘world without end’ hardly does justice to ‘in saecula saeculorum’.

    Other times, though, I like to say it in English; for me, there’s a certain sincerity and humility in steppng back from the grand language of the Church and using the simple old prayers and familiar wording I learned as a little child. Of course, once you’re comfortable with both ways, you can switch between them as the situation or your state of mind requires.

    On the subject of praying in different languages, I tend to say the “Miraculous Medal” prayer in French, it just feels right somehow. (Would quite like to learn the Fatima prayer in Portuguese as Our Lady taught it to the children, though I don’t speak the language so might make a mess of the pronunciation…) I’ve heard some people like to learn the Pater Noster in Aramaic, presumably the actual words Our Lord would have used.

  6. Philmont237 says:

    Portuguese is easy; it’s just Spanish with a Russian accent!

    I jest, but that’s really what it sounds like. But seriously, if you already know Spanish (I don’t know if you do, it wasn’t mentioned in the post) it is easy to learn Portuguese. I speak Spanish, and I learned enough Portuguese in five days to almost ace a DoD proficiency test.
    Just apply yourself, Portuguese is easier than you think.

  7. Credoh says:

    I once was advised to contemplate the mysteries being prayed rather concentrate on the words of the prayers, whilst praying the Rosary, provided that the prayers are properly understood and their meaning consented to. I find that saying the Rosary in Latin makes it easier to do this, given the detachment the lack of familiarity of the language, as a whole, provides; if this is an acceptable way to pray the Rosary.

  8. Shonkin says:

    Does it matter at all that the person praying the Rosary in Latin cannot easily understand or translate the words? In childhood I was taught that, in praying the Rosary, I was not supposed to be thinking the prayers but rather meditating on the various mysteries. I’ve tried to do that, but it isn’t easy or even always possible. (I’ve always had difficulty saying one thing and thinking something else. One-track mind, I suppose.)
    Or is that really what we are supposed to do?

    [It may be that some are over-analyzing this. These prayers are short. They don’t come in random order. And I believe I addressed the question in the post.]

  9. Kerry says:

    The Fair Penelope & I also began by learning the Rosary in Latin. And as Father Zed said, it becomes second nature. (I myself especially like the prayer to the Archangel Michael in Latin; it gallops!) At the NO mass we pray all the ordinaries in Latin, Confiteor, Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, Credo, Domine non sum dignus. (I find the Latin holds the wretched hymnody and sing-song music at bay quite nicely.) Persevere.
    P.S. We are not loud.

  10. Once you notice the extra efficacy of the Rosary in Latin, you won’t question “if” again.

    By myself, I pray my Rosary in Latin, except for the Creed which I have lazily put off learning. You can use the Latin Rosary in the iPieta [the best Catholic app EVAH! ] audio to assist you.

  11. I recommend making some prayer cards or a booklet with an interlinear translation.
    In this way, I find it very easy to read the words and phrases in Latin and think them in English. I made a booklet for the whole Mass, much of it interlinear. I’d be happy to email anyone a copy.
    Here is the Our Father. It’s easy to get used to; give it a try.

    Pater noster, qui es in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum.
    Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

    Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra.
    Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

    Panem nostrum quotibianum da nobis hodie.
    Give us this day our daily bread.

    Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
    And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

    Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
    And lead us not into temptation.

    Sed libera nos a malo.
    But deliver us from evil.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    When the first papal nuncio in years came to Ireland during the 1600’s, he came to a tiny hut in a barren area, full of poor people who worked constantly just to live, and who could barely could afford clothing. They had no idea a priest would ever visit, much less one from the Vatican. But they knew their prayers in Latin, pronounced them perfectly understandably, and knew what they meant.

    Yes, we’re ignoramuses about Latin. But no, we don’t have to stay that way. Learning things by heart is one of the few forms of wealth that can’t be stolen. And that’s why those poor people were richer than most of us.

  13. ChesterFrank says:

    A post of (or link to) these prayers in Latin would be helpful. The same for a video of someone reciting them, as proper pronunciation can be difficult. It sounds like a great idea !

  14. JMody says:

    Does a Latin prayer work if I don’t fully understand the words? Was it Fr. Knox who was once asked to perform a baptism in English and replied words to the effect of “The baby understands no language yet, but the devil surely knows Latin”?
    I would consider a poorly pronounced and poorly understood Rosary to be loosely analogous to a poorly aimed warning shot, personally.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, every possible medieval Rosary legend and Marian legend book says that Mary loves people who have trouble pronouncing Latin, or remembering their prayers, but who get right in there and try. Mary likes effort. (And remember, the Rosary itself is the “lazy psalter.” This is not supposed to be abstruse rocket science.)

    And she tends to show up and beat down anybody who messes with such people.

    Of course, if you’re not trying, you can always qualify as a lovable scapegrace scoundrel who still has significant devotion to Mary.

    Mary is not picky. Jesus is not picky. Demons are prepared to be pains in the butt, whatever you do. The point is that trying to get around the rules is maybe not the best spiritual preparation for confronting demons.

  16. Thorfinn says:

    In some languages (e.g. Vietnamese) people chant the rosary which provides a beautiful meditative quality.

    I have never found the equivalent for Latin or English, though I assume a very simple Latin chant version must exist? You can use the simple tone Ave Maria — if you have at least 30 minutes free to complete one set of mysteries.

  17. Funny you should mention that. I’ve been talking to my people about organizing an entirely chanted, from beginning to end, Rosary. There are chant settings of the announcement of each mystery in the Cantus Selecti. After those are assembled, it would go right along. With the repetition of the chants, the whole congregation could sing the Rosary in Gregorian Chant.

  18. jaykay says:

    Thorfinn: on the Chartres pilgrimage it is usual to chant/sing part of the Rosary in Latin, usually just a single mystery. The Pater Noster and Gloria Patri are in standard setting, and the Ave Maria in a distinctive (French, I think?) setting that’s close enough to the chant version, just that the tempo is quicker.

    It works like this: over the course of the (long, hard) day, a full 15-decade Rosary will be said. However, in each Mystery, the decades are usually, depending on how the Chapter operates, spaced well apart. Within each Mystery, the decades can be either said or sung – again, depending on the Chapter. But singing is very usual, and as you say, it does provide a beautiful, meditative quality – as well as encouraging tired feet!

    Singing the mysteries in French is also common. You can hear one of the the settings they use for the “Je vous salue, Marie” in that video of young people singing it outside ND de Paris. There’s another one as well. You get to learn (and use) them all on that Pilgrimage!!

  19. Thorfinn says:

    Thanks both for the responses.

    I had originally envisioned a chanted rosary before Mass but this has me thinking of alternative occasions like a first Friday vigil.

    I would love a good pilgrimage! I am blessed with feet & have no wish to be one who “has feet but walk not”.

  20. mo7 says:

    2 things: I’ve been praying Paters and Aves in English for decades. I know what the words say. Praying in Latin is not only beautiful, but it sort of frees me to meditate on the mysteries, not the words of the prayer.
    If you want to get started there is a YouTube channel called Catholic Devotions and you can pray the rosary in Latin with subtitles for beginners.