Latin. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Fr. John Hunwicke, priest, gentleman and Latinist, has a spiffing post at his blog Mutual Enrichment (which title is a reference to Summorum Pontificum).

He writes about Latin.  Here is a taste of the first part with my oft-imitated emphases and comments:

Since Papa Bergoglio does not believe in making a fetish of Law, I suppose I am Out of Fashion in referring to the questionable training of our Catholic clergy. I refer to the scandal that for more than a generation those being formed for the priesthood were – in flagrant disregard of CIC 249 – not made fluent in Latin (are things any better now?).  [can. 249, requires – it doesn’t suggest or recommend or propose – that seminarians be very well trained in Latin:  “lingua latina bene calleant“. Not just calleant, says can. 249, but bene calleantCalleo is “to be practised, to be wise by experience, to be skillful, versed in” or “to know by experience or practice, to know, have the knowledge of, understand”. We get the word “callused” from this verb. We develop calluses when we do something repeatedly. So, bene calleant is “let them be very well versed”.  Review also Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and Optatam totius 13, just to point to documents of Vatican II.]

As long ago as 1933, C S (‘Patrimony’) Lewis advanced the suggestion that the attacks – even then – upon the position of Latin and Greek as the basis of education, might be part of a plot devised in Hell to subvert the Faith. In The Pilgrim’s Regress he reminds the reader that “till recently” members of our society “had been made to learn” these languages “and that meant that at least they started no further from the light than the old Pagans themselves and had therefore the chance to come at last” to saving Faith. “But now they are cutting themselves off even from that roundabout route … and suppressing every kind of knowledge except mechanical knowledge”. He believed that this shift had much to do with the need of the educated classes to cope with the increasing disinclination of the lower orders to work in domestic service, and added “No doubt the great landowners in the background [scilicet devils] have their own reasons for encouraging this movement”.

You will not be surprised to be reminded that one such ‘landowner’, His Abysmal Sublimity Under Secretary Screwtape, strongly advocated the policy of preventing each generation from learning from its predecessors: “Since we [devils] cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.” [NB] That is why the demise of sacred languages among the clergy and the clerisy is such a triumph for our Enemy. As we have seen recently, [indeed] the problem becomes worse when Cardinals, Bishops, and/or their liturgical advisers, cannot parse accurately a simple piece of Latin.


Read the rest there and do NOT miss his last line!

On this theme, I’ll ask a few questions.

What does it mean for our identity as Catholics in the LATIN Church if we never hear our Latin language in our sacred liturgical worship?

The loss of Latin in our sacred worship has been devastating for our identity as Catholics and, therefore, our influence in the world.

In some places seminaries confer masters degrees or other sort of pontifical degrees.  Imagine a department at a major university conferring a higher degree without the candidate demonstrating proficiency in the languages necessary for his field and research.  Imagine someone is given a degree in, say, French literature but she doesn’t know any French.  Can you imagine that?  Try to get a degree in French literature by reading is solely in translation without the ability to read the original.

And another thing.  Circling back to can. 249, which requires Latin, at every ordination someone must stand up and attest that the ordinand was properly trained, etc.  But if the ordinand wasn’t given any Latin, as per can 249., can that public statement be true?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Geoffrey says:

    “What does it mean for our identity as Catholics in the LATIN Church if we never hear our Latin language in our sacred liturgical worship? The loss of Latin in our sacred worship has been devastating for our identity as Catholics and, therefore, our influence in the world”.

    Agreed. We begin to forget that we are of the Roman / Latin rite.

    I believe it also affects our “catholic”, i.e., “universal” identity. We possess a “universal” language and rarely use it. I don’t know how many bilingual or trilingual liturgies I’ve been to or heard about here in California, where Mass is said in English, Spanish, and perhaps Vietnamese… and no Latin! Such liturgies should be in Latin, with the readings, homily, and universal prayer being the appropriate place for the vernacular. Papal Masses should be our model here.

  2. Imrahil says:

    On an unrelated note which is, however, triggered by the expression

    the demise of sacred languages among the clergy and the clerisy

    I had been thinking that “clerisy”, or the German “Klerisei”, was merely a somewhat more old-fashioned, or also more colloquial, word for clergy (Klerus). What’s the difference between the two of them?

  3. kekeak2008 says:

    I’m sure this has been shared before, but I wanted to make it available again for those new to this discussion: This is a Youtube video created by Fr. Barone which explains the paramount importance of Latin in the Church and what every pope since St. John XXIII has said regarding its importance. “Scandal” is the appropriate word.

  4. jselson says:

    Yes, there’s an app for that.

    SPQR Latin Dictionary and Reader

  5. vetusta ecclesia says:

    In his massive tome about himself and the reform of the liturgy Bug-ninny states in passing that there was particular resistance to the loss of Latin in countries that had experienced the Reformation and in those they culturally influenced. But he fails to draw the obvious conclusions and therefore, we assume, feels they have no weight or merit in his grand scheme for the liturgical nirvana towards which he is dragging the Church.

  6. Matt Robare says:

    According to Evelyn Waugh, Msgr Ronald Knox refused to conduct baptisms in the vernacular. He’d say “The baby doesn’t understand English, but the Devil knows Latin.”

    I think that gets at the heart of the problem: we think the liturgy is for us when it’s for God. We think baptisms and weddings are for family get-togethers, so we want them in the vernacular. We think Mass celebrtates the “community”, so we insist it be in the vernacular and done in such a way that we can see and hear it. We can’t make Confirmation or Holy Orders about us, so we ignore the one and want to undermine the other with womyn priests. The only Sacraments that are for us are Unction and Confession, but they remind us of our mortality and sinfulness, so we avoid them.

  7. thomas777 says:

    I loved that last line. I remember when Hesse gave a rousing talk assuring us that blessed is a title that could be mistaken but the canonization process was protected by the Holy Spirit. Now that SAINT John the XXIII is so they are wondering if perhaps they were mistaken. It seems to me, a professed ignorant fool, to resemble that same protestant ball of confusion which attempts to move to personal taste. Even once truth has been admitted they attempt to move contrary.

    This man did such great things even if he presided as we hit the iceberg. That is why he’s a saint.

  8. Prayerful says:

    Fr Bugini got rid of Latin at the urging of his brother Masons. Recall that in 1975 when Vatican staff searched a suitcase left outside the Vatican Secretariat it included such items as letters from the Grand Master of Italian Freemasons address to Fr Bugini as a Brother Mason. Paul VI rightly dismissed him in a instant, or rather deported him to a really junior diplomatic post in Iran.

    A priest has seven to eight years of training. Surely the rudiments of Latin learnt in school, or even no Latin, can be turned into sufficient to be able to parse a Latin sentence correctly.

  9. Kerry says:

    This 10:30 AM in the small town of Tabor, SD, population 431, our priest
    at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, urged by the visiting seminarian, (against little resistance),
    celebrated a High Latin Mass. This writer, urged by his wife’s gentle persuasion,
    (against some anxiety), raised his arm and agreed several weeks ago to “Organize the schola”
    for the chants. The neumes were printed out from St. John Cantius’ wonderful Sancta
    Missa site. Emails were sent out with web links to propers and ordinaries to the existing
    choir members…those with the internet. (Quoth the seminarian, “I didn’t think anyone
    wouldn’t have the internet…). Difficulties in listening to the chants on other people’s
    computers kept me up til zero dark thirty burning CD’s for everyone; said CD’s delivered
    last Friday. Yesterday at our first rehearsal, our hope that the CD could be played for
    all to follow, but the CD not be heard in the pews seemed like it would work. (At the
    ‘rehearsal’, scare quotes intentional, the only other male voice had to work. Just this
    humble, and nervous writer, and four women choir members.) The seminarian suggested,
    and we agreed that “Because male and female voices do not blend well, the latter
    overcoming the former”, I agreed to chant the propers, “If need be, alone”, and the four
    women the ordinaries. (Several weeks ago I had said out loud, “Well, if I have to do this
    alone, I will”. A prayer answered…?) Before heading home Saturday, talking with the
    seminarian about possible reinforcements, we agreed we’d best plan on no one else coming.
    (Key Chopin’s piano sonata #2, lento movement). I discovered in
    the 35 mile drive home a previously unknown ability to chant, follow the neumes, and
    stay on my side of the road. (Much easier in this rural place, but nevertheless…)
    In my 20’s as a competitive distance runner I’d had pre-race jitters often; they always
    vanished at the starting pistol. This morning they vanished to the emergency brake
    clicking in front of the church when my wife said, “It’s Martha”. (Trained singer and
    music teacher whom we met at St. Mary’s in Salem, also TLM, 65 miles from our home,
    and rumored to ‘might maybe be coming to Tabor on Sunday’ from having been in the
    Black Hills vacationing, with four daughters.) “Can I help you in the choir loft?” “YES!”
    Once inside, FSSP seminarian John asked me, “Can I help, join you? I was the schola music
    director at the Seminary”. (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Denton, NE). “More YES!” (I heard his Latin in Salem and it is terrific.)
    Two strong voices, one male, one female. I unplugged the CD player. Seminarian and I
    chanted the propers, and joined in with Martha and the choir for the ordinaries. Another
    seminarian from St. Paul and our visiting seminarian assisted Father, three local boys
    were altar boys, and an older man and former altar boy carried the processional crucifix.
    It was a miracle, yet one that might not have been had we not all stepped in it and said,
    “Yea, Lord, he we are. Send us”.

    Latin vs. the vernacular: If everything is explicit, nothing is mysterious.

  10. Absit invidia says:

    Can somebody please translate Pope Francis’ titled document “Amorous Laetitia” into Latin for me? . . . oh, wait . . .

  11. jhayes says:

    Imrahil, the OED definition is “A distinct class of learned or literary people”.
    So, not necessarily clergy.

  12. crych says:

    @Imrahil: The OED (1st) has this: ‘[apparently formed after German “clerisei”, late Latin “clericia” …] Introduced by Coleridge to express a notion no longer associated with “clergy”.] Learned men as a body, scholars.” The German word, which you mentioned, seems to carry only the notion of clerical state. I have not found ‘clericia’ in L&S, Latham or Souter; maybe someone at an institution with a licence to the TLL could help there.

    @Father: You wrote: ‘Imagine someone is given a degree in, say, French literature but she doesn’t know any French. … Try to get a degree in French literature by reading [it] solely in translation without the ability to read the original.’ In fact, some time in the 1960s or 1970s, classics departments began to offer a B.A. in ‘classical studies’, which was precisely that: study of Greek and Roman history, literature, philosophy and so on without first acquiring Latin and Greek. I have heard rumours that there are universities also offering advanced degrees in ‘classical studies’, though who would be so foolish as to invest time and money in taking such a degree, I can’t imagine.

  13. mo7 says:

    My Jewish classmates didn’t speak of religious ed. or the equivalent of CCD went to Hebrew school in order to be prepared for bar mitzvah. It never occurred to me as a kid that we Catholics had a language to learn too.

  14. Orlando says:

    Father , what reference sources can you recommend to help us lay folks, improve our Latin skills?

  15. Orlando says:

    Our parish is the largest parish in the USA, over 30,000 members . Every week we here from a new priest and never once have I heard Latin. Yet when I attend my adopted parish weekly , one of the smallest in the Carolinas , the pastor and every visiting priest is fluent in Latin. The reverence and solemnity of this small but mity parish is awe inspiring .

  16. jhayes says:

    Crych, Imrahil, in his “?An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language,” Walter William Skeat says?

    “I do not hesitate to say that the Low Lat. clericia really had two senses, (1) learning, and (2) clergy”

    -see the entry for “Clergy” in “Errata and Addenda”

  17. Sal says:

    I went to Gonzaga Prep and had 2 years of Latin in my Freshman and Sophomore years from 1969-1971. I was an “A” student and it served me well in understanding the English language and later helped me in college when I studied Italian. For about 40 years I had no opportunity to attend a Latin mass. When the opportunity came, it was said by a very capable older Jesuit priest. I found it appealed to my historical interest, but I was overall disappointed as a spiritual exercise.

    It is really hard to follow the language as your eyes flip back and forth between the Latin and English texts in the missal. And I consider myself to have at least a better grasp of Latin than most lay Catholics. It was hard work, and frankly it distracted my ability to have a prayerful experience.

    I might go at some point in the future for the sake of nostalgia, but I would not recommend it to my friends and family unless they just want to see what the mass was like pre-Vatican II for the sake of being historically informed. Latin is rarely taught in high schools anymore, and only a few colleges offer it. Thus, scant lay Catholics can understand it unless they are following with an English translation. There are not many priests who learn it in seminary unless one happens to be chose to attend the Gregorian in Rome or some such place.

    All things considered, I don’t have a problem with letting Latin masses be offered if there is interest in a particular locale, but nobody should fool themselves into thinking that it should replace mass in the vernacular.

  18. Dave N. says:

    We are continually reminded of the ever-declining bar of seminary education in the U.S., ostensibly because of the priest shortage. I can only call to mind one or two academically rigorous ones; the Josephinum maybe? And with all the stuff floating around on the Internet recently I’m also wondering whether there’s any actual studying going on at the Pontifical North American College. This does NOT bode well for the future of the Church.

    We have a Biblical Hebrew reading group that meets on Tuesday afternoons across the street from the local Catholic seminary and a staff person from the Seminary recently asked to join our group— assuring us that “not another solitary soul in the building has ever even studied Hebrew.” He may be exaggerating, but probably not. I don’t even dare ask about Latin or Greek—likely long supplanted by required courses such as “Bannermaking and You” and six school terms of “Practicum”.

  19. un-ionized says:

    Orlando, I am not talented at learning languages but I have had great success with Scanlon and Scanlon, which is oriented toward reading the breviary. Just for fun I picked up the Cambridge Latin series because of its amusing stories and interesting history and photographs. Those and a good dictionary are sufficient for me.

    I have also made much progress by doing my lectio divina in Latin with English next to it. It also help with the lectio because it slows you down to medieval speed, we read too quickly, for bullet points, and lectio requires deliberation.

  20. APX says:

    Because male and female voices do not blend well

    Your issue is not with male and female voices blending. Your issue is with octave differences not blending. There are women (real biological women) who have no issues blending with men because they can sing down the octave, whereas there are also men who have no issues blending with women because they can sing up the octave. Likewise boys and men would not blend well because they’re singing in different octaves. God doesn’t give women “male voices” and he doesn’t give men “female voices”.

    Also, if you’re in a pinch for Propers, there are the Rosini Propers that are much simpler and in psalm tone.

  21. Fr. Reader says:

    There are many resources on the internet, for instance,

    But from what I have seen, besides reading the Gospel, a very useful way is the daily Mass in Latin. The collect prayer, after the offerings, prayers after communion, etc, they are very simple, and since they follow common patterns, it is easy through them to increase vocabulary and get used to some words and expressions. Fr Z does the homework for you every week with the translation of the collect prayer of the Sunday Mass.

  22. ajf1984 says:

    Is it possible, in cricket, to “hit one out of the park”? Because Fr Hunwicke most certainly has done, yet again! “Purest gold,” indeed!

  23. Matilda P says:

    Dave N., I recently had the blessing of meeting a very young, very orthodox, very much Latin-loving priest in the middle of suburbia. I’d thought he just *liked* Latin, but when we were introduced he tried to speak it to me! (I did some in college and loved it.) I do believe he spent some years at the Pontifical North American College, so at the worst, he’s turned out well despite it, but would that we could hope it was *because* of it! I don’t know any better, though.

    I don’t know what Father might suggest, but I’ve also experienced the Familia Sancti Hieronymi’s approach (“non possit linguam intellegere per oculos, sed per linguas et auras!”) for which they have a CD and book course (mail order). As you might expect it is very heavily auditory and based on the simple modern-language-learning principle of immersion. I learned the traditional way, but… They also have a retreat every year where everyone is encouraged to speak Latin, and ample chances to listen and listen and listen and come up with some modicum of improvement in comprehension are available. I’d had 1.5 years of college Latin by the time I went this summer, and it was such a wonderful experience to be living the reality of the centrality of Latin to the life of the Church. I also improved a lot, in confidence reading Latin and in love for Latin, and I have more confidence in the immersive method too, which one can reproduce at home by CDs. (They are recording the Vulgate book by book.)

  24. JesusFreak84 says:

    Honestly, having attended a Ukrainian Catholic parish for some years now has actually convinced me all the more of the importance of knowing the language of one’s Rite. We’ve actually had a soldier from Ukraine in our parish for a few months now as he underwent treatment in America for spinal cord damage received from a Russian sniper during the beginning of Ukraine’s current troubles, (most Ukrainian *Catholics* are in western Ukraine, away from the worst of it, but that’s not universal obviously.) The fact that the language of the Rite is VERY actively used in the parish meant that this one thing didn’t have to change in a foreign country. Latin USED to have the same effect for Latin Rite Catholics =- And yeah, I do see Ukrainian bridging the gap across generations, too; it’s not EXACTLY what CS Lewis had in mind, naturally, but language transfers more than just academic learning.

  25. albinus1 says:

    @crych: re: “classical studies”: That’s not quite correct. I have degrees in classical studies and did quite a lot of Greek and Latin (and now teach Latin at the university level). What you’re thinking of is what most places that offer it call a degree in “classical civilization,” which, as you observed, is essentially classics without the languages. I can’t imagine what it could be useful for. Our classics graduates know that, if nothing else, they can get a job teaching Latin, for which there is a pretty fair demand here in Texas. So we can honestly say that our students graduate with a marketable skill. What on earth can a classical civ major do? Teach mythology?

  26. IloveJesus says:

    mo7 wrote: “My Jewish classmates didn’t speak of religious ed. or the equivalent of CCD went to Hebrew school in order to be prepared for bar mitzvah. It never occurred to me as a kid that we Catholics had a language to learn too.”

    Yes. I’ve attended the EF for 15 years but was just recently acquainted with this reasoning which makes so much sense.

    Jewish children are required to learn Hebrew to read their sacred texts. Muslim children have to learn Arabic to read theirs. They don’t balk that it’s too hard!

    And who ever heard of a Rabbi who didn’t know Hebrew or an Imam who didn’t know Arabic?!

    Well, I’m only just finally learning my prayers in Latin by saying my rosary each day accompanied by the beautiful chant found here:

    The Chaplet can be found here: (Part 1) (Part 2)

    I bookmarked them on my phone and I’m learning really fast.

    The best part is how the beautiful chant plays over and over in my head all day long! :D

  27. babochka69 says:

    JesusFreak84: I’m happy for the wounded soldier, that he was able to worship in his own rite and language, but it is extremely odd that you would use the Byzantine Rite in your example here, as we have always worshiped in the language of the people and believe strongly in the vernacular. That is why Saints Cyril and Methodius labored to translate the Divine Liturgy of the Greek (Byzantine) Rite into the language of the Slavs, and that is why the Divine Liturgy was translated into English by immigrants in the United States as soon as their communities were largely English-speaking. The original language of the Byzantine Rite is Greek, of course, not Slavonic or Arabic (as used by the Melkites), and certainly not Ukrainian or Slovak or English, etc. Among Greek-Catholics and Orthodox alike, Greeks worship in Greek, Romanians worship in Romanian, Slavs in a variety of languages. This is done according to the needs and desires of each community. As the generations move away from their mother country and the proportion of immigrants to second-generation and third-generation Americans changes, so does the linguistic make-up of the Divine Liturgy. I’m not a Latin Rite Catholic, and I have no strong opinion about the use of Latin in the Mass. I’m also all for the preservation of Slavonic and was thrilled when our priest offered a Slavonic Divine Liturgy a few years ago, but it is a mistake to look to the East for an argument for retaining a liturgical language.

  28. Henry Edwards says:


    As a TLM attender since before Vatican II, I’d suggest that anyone who has difficulty with Latin at Mass might best unite himself with the priest’s Latin prayers to God by following them in English alone, as I’d assume most prayerful worshipers do at a Latin Mass. The exceptions would be the Ordinary of the Mass (the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc), the Pater Noster, and the brief dialogue responses, which most people surely learn with repetition to understand in Latin (whether at OF or EF Mass).

    The reverence and transcendence of traditional Catholic worship is embodied in the entirety of its sacred ambience and atmosphere–much it non-verbal in lifting the soul to heaven in ways for which human language alone does not suffice because purely verbal comprehension is beyond human grasp. So why make a fetish of following every Latin word whether or not it’s understood readily? I suspect that much opposition to traditional Latin liturgy stems at least partly from such a “fetish attitude” towards the Latin itself. And I wonder whether the “thinness” of typical Novus Ordo liturgy doesn’t stem from its attempt (quixotic, in my view) to encompass the whole of divine worship in verbal comprehension and human words (whether Latin or vernacular).

  29. Matilda P says:

    Sal, Henry Edwards makes very good points. Just to chime in, I once spoke to a young lady very involved in promoting the TLM in NYC, at a parish that has a sizeable and active young adult population. Knowing that young Catholics don’t often have much Latin, I asked if it was at all difficult to get them over the ‘language barrier’. She looked at me with little comprehension, explaining that the gulf to be crossed is not that of language but that of the entirely different atmosphere of reverence and transcendence (and human smallness!) of the traditional liturgy. If one does not think that every word must be in itself heard by oneself and comprehended in one’s vernacular, then one is in the sort of place where the transcendence and divinely oriented paradigm of EF worship is something one might try to give oneself over to.

  30. Orlando says:

    Thank you! I’ll have to looks those up.

  31. Orlando says:

    Thank you ! I’ll check out that website. Daily Latin Mass would be a dream, unfortunately not available in my diocese only on Wed and Sundays .

  32. vetusta ecclesia says:

    ajf1984 : in cricket it is called “hitting a six”.

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