Latin and You. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Each year – in fact more than once each year – a serious problem for our enervated Catholic identity rises to the surface to demand our attention.

The lack of Latin in the Latin Church.

I am sure that there are those who would just as soon jettison every Latin aspect of our lives as Latin Church Catholics, thus making us into something else.  What, exactly?  Who knows.  We’d be adrift in every shifting currents and shoals of the world’s ways, conformed precisely to what Paul warned the Romans about: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2).

If we are going to call ourselves Roman Catholics, Catholics of the Latin Church, then we need Latin.

The chorus of clerical lament rises now around my toes, moving upward, ever upward in a swirl of complaints and excuses.   “It’s toooo haaard… I have too much to dooooo… People aren’t asking fooooor it…. I’m too ooooold to change… I’d don’t liiiiike it….”

B as in B.  S as in S.

This is important.  If you are without Latin, you are someone else’s puppet when it comes to all the Church’s liturgical texts and the Church’s law and the Church’s doctrine.  For your Cult, Code and Creed, you are enslaved to translations, which do not provide the riches of the original content.

This is particularly important in the realm of our sacred liturgical worship.  Change how we pray and we change what we believe, and, hence, how we live.

Losing Latin was a terrible blow to our identity and we have not recovered from it.  We’ve just learned how to limp and shuffle with our broken limbs and now we think that shuffling is normal.

A couple things strike me around this time of year.

First, there is the matter of ordinations to the priesthood.  During the rite of ordination, someone stands up and attests before God and man that the ordinands are properly formed.  However, 1983 CIC can. 249 requires – it does not suggest – that all those to be ordained be very well skilled in Latin.   But they aren’t.  So, the person making the attestation is not telling the truth, at least on that point.  A small point?  NO!  It’s not a small point.  Language is central to who we are in every sphere of life.  So, language is important in the Church.

What would one think of a doctoral student of, say, French literature who never learned French?  What would one think of a intern of, say, medicine who never learned basic anatomical terminology?  What would one think of a, say, electrician who never mastered the basics of volts, watts, ohms, joules, amps?    Furthermore, what would one say of those schools that gave them diplomas and advanced them?

Must we settle for mediocrity?

Another thing that strikes me at this time of year is the sight and sound of the Easter Urbi et Orbi Blessing.    At Easter, the Roman Pontiff shows up on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, gives a little talk and then imparts, with an indulgence, a blessing on the city and on the world.  Nice.   This is an old custom.  It is intended for the whole world.  So, the Roman Pontiff uses the Church’s official language: Latin.

But the Roman Pontiff, in front of the whole world, blows the Latin, even though he has a book in front of him.   Fr. Hunwicke pointed this out.  He sings:

Benedictio Dei Omnipotentis, Patris, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus, descendat super vos et maneat semper.

To one who has a bit of a Latin ear, that simply screams.

This is a big deal.  There’s nothing good about this.

And, yes, I have met clerics who seem vaunt their ignorance of Latin, cavalierly brushing it aside as if it were a nit on their mauve cardigans.  Imagine, being proud of being poorly trained and being lazy.

Priests are ordained for sacrifice, which means sacred liturgical worship.  That’s our primary activity as priests.  We are, first and foremost, liturgical.   That means being the best executors of our rites that we can be, not settling for the half-assed or the easy.  There is nothing easy about sacred liturgy.  It takes effort because everything that we are trying to accomplish through it and obtain from it is hard.   We need our worship to be hard.  We need it to require something from us, real effort, lest we run the risk of being liturgical parasites.

Fathers, we need you to work on Latin.  Yes, it’s going to be hard.  What about this thing we are in is easy?  Don’t we want more?   

Yesterday, I posted an amazing line from a sermon for Easter by Gregory the Great:

[A]mánti semel aspexísse non súfficit: quia vis amóris intentiónem multíplicat inquisitiónis.

For one who loves one glance is not enough: for the force of love greatly increases love’s longing.

When you love, you want more not less.  When you love you go the extra distance, you make the hard call, you put in all your effort and even makes sacrifices.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Latin, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Pò sì jiù, Priests and Priesthood, Seminarians and Seminaries, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Diana says:

    I have a quick question on Latin pronunciation, for those who know better.
    I am a native Spanish speaker, so speaking Latin during Mass feels natural for me. However, I was wondering the other day whether I’m pronouncing the words correctly.
    For instance, when we say “Dominum, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea,” I listen to those around me pronouncing the “t”s in “tectum” and “tantum” very hard, like when we say “tangent”.
    I, on the other hand, pronounce the “t”s softer, almost like a d. I can’t think of a word in English that has the same sounds, but if anyone out there speaks Spanish, it’s like when we say “tan tan!” when something is finished.
    Is one correct?

  2. surritter says:

    “For your Cult, Code and Creed, you are enslaved to translations, which do not provide the riches of the original content.”
    That was very true in days past, when Rome was more solid and it was the goofy translators who tried to foist things onto us. But as supreme legislator the pope can change canon law, and the pope has altered the catechism (death penalty), so I worry that the foisting could even happen in the Latin original texts.

  3. Flos Carmeli says:

    As I sit at the computer and read this “rant”, with which I fully agree FWIW, I can glance over and see at my elbow a notebook with English translations that my HS sophomore son is working on from his Cambridge Latin workbook. :-D

  4. MB says:

    Please, with all due respect Fr. Z and all my fellow Zed Heads … Forgive me, but yes, we do want more. I attended NO Masses for 39 years, and have been attending the EF for the last 3 years. The EF of the Mass is very beautiful and reverent, but if I’m being honest, I must say I’ve been a tad disappointed. The priests in our parish love vestments, and architecture, and saying the Mass in Latin with absolute precision – down to the last detail. What they don’t seem to love very much is people.

    I once had a conversation with a woman in a chat room devoted to prayer. She was explaining how she’d conversed online with lots of people who claimed to be very advanced in prayer, and it always made her feel like a failure. I shared with here that in my totally inconsequential opinion, I think that if you met someone who was truly advanced in prayer, you would know it, because you would feel the love of Jesus Christ Himself coming through them. You would feel loved while you were with them, not belittled.

    There’s something wrong in the Latin Mass movement; [Whoa! This is a massive generalization, and not at all fair.] I’m not sure what it is. But, I know that if we were really doing it right, we wouldn’t be able to hold all the people that would come, and the truth would be undeniable. Yes, we need the Latin Mass desperately; we do want the truth according to Jesus Christ, and not according to Cardinal Bugnini. But, the Mass is meant to serve a purpose, it’s not an end in itself. It makes me sad that priests are not willing to say the Latin Mass, because truth be told – they need to do that, and a whole lot more.

  5. scrchristensen says:

    While I recognize the error and find it egregious that a pontiff would make such a mistake, can somebody explain how the nominative changes the sentence in this case? Does it imply three separate gods?

  6. JonathanTX says:

    I’ve often come across musicians, quite talented ones, who have learned by ear and state as a matter of pride, “oh, I can’t read music” as though this were something to celebrate. When pressed on this, they have explained that they are proud they are as good as they are despite the handicap of not reading music. To which I reply, “but how much better you could have been if you had just learned to read music ”

    This analogy transfers easily to priests who haven’t learned Latin.

    My point is that it’s not just pride, or mediocrity, but PRIDE OF MEDIOCRITY that is the problem.

  7. HvonBlumenthal says:


    I was very lucky to be taught Latin at school and I think I can safely say that I get something valuable out of every Mass I hear which I would not have done had I been ignorant of it. The reason is that even the best translations do not bring out the whole sense; the translators have to make choices.

    Can I suggest that all of us laymen who were fortunate enough to learn latin should try to offer a weekly beginners lesson to fellow parishioners who have not had the opportunity to learn latin before?

  8. Cicero_NOLA says:

    It sounds to me he jumbled two different Trinitarian blessings I have heard: “May the blessing of Almighty God, (of) the Father, (of) the Son, and (of) the Holy Spirit descend upon you…” and “May Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless you…” Our esteemed host is right that in his position he should get it right and use the book since it is there for this very reason.

  9. Danteewoo says:

    “Must we settle for mediocrity?” Why, that is 0ne of the chief themes of the Conciliar Church. But sometimes the Church doesn’t manage to rise that far.

  10. msc says:

    “Benedictio Dei Omnipotentis, Patris, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus, descendat super vos et maneat semper.” Horribile visu!

  11. Imrahil says:

    And, frankly:

    It’s not terribly difficult.

    When I was at school, it was required to sign up for either Latin or French. Some two thirds, or a few less, chose French, most of them in order to avoid Latin. Some one third, or a few more, chose Latin, and most of whom in order to avoid French. So, there goes. It’s about learning a language; not, of course, one of the two languages in the world where a beginner’s knowledge will make you at least think you understand a lot (viz., English and Afrikaans – though English does become ever more subtle the more you proceed); but still not more than learning a language. It’s easier than Chinese. It is probably easier than Russian or Czech. It’s much easier than Hungarian. It’s probably even easier than German, because you can mostly guess the gender and don’t have to mess around with a definite article, and you get regular genitives rather than somewhat counterintuitive compounds again (an “episcopal conference” is easily enough understood; the German word literally means “bishop’s conference”, with “bishop” in the singular).

    But in any case, it’s just a language.

    And that was the language of Cicero, Sallust, Seneca, Vergil et aliis which I was talking about. (I did not say “Tacitus”; that’s where things get actually difficult.) Compared to that, the Vulgate and the Latin of the Missal, while poetic and noble in its own way of course, is a piece of cake as far as the difficulty is concerned. I translated some passage of Lactantius for my high-school exam; and we were all sighing with relief when we heard “the text for translation is by Lactanctius” because we knew that Christian authors are like Cicero but easier.

  12. Ms. M-S says:

    Latin doesn’t change. The vernacular changes. The truth and doctrine that reflects this truth don’t change. Anything taught and prayed in the vernacular will necessarily reflect the changes in the vernacular. It’s hard not to conclude that the choice of the vernacular over Latin stems from a desire to change doctrine.

  13. dholwell says:

    I regret not learning Latin. My sons studied it in Catholic High School (thank you, Irish Christian Brothers!)
    I would love to see an inexpensive option to learn Ecclesial Latin online with a group of similarly motivated Catholics.

    He is Risen! Alleluia!

  14. lgreen515 says:

    dholwell, I would join this group. I always learn better in company.

  15. Fuerza says:


    I don’t know about Ecclesiastical Latin, but offers a free one-year Classical Latin course (though you can go through it much more quickly or slowly, according to interest and abilities). The book used can be downloaded for free from the website, or purchased for about $15 on Amazon. The accompanying lectures are very thorough. From there Ecclesiastical Latin should be pretty easy, and there are ample inexpensive textbooks designed for self-study (A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, Scanlon’s Latin Grammar, etc.). Perhaps you could put a group together using one or more of those resources.

    Mr. Linney also writes his own basic, but excellent, Latin text, Getting Started with Latin, and includes free audio clips in both Classical and Ecclesiastical pronunciation on that website (which can also be accessed from the free website linked above).

    Of course I can’t post without mentioning Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. That series is absolutely fantastic, and completing only the first book, Familia Romana, will still give you the equivalent of two years of college Latin. It’s written entirely in Latin, though if you work through it methodically you will have no problem understanding. has tons of free lectures and other audio material corresponding to the book.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    If Father Z’s wish is granted, and priests become fluent in Latin, then when a priest is asked to undertake a task he finds unpleasant, he can say:

    “It’s toooo haaard… I have too much to dooooo… People aren’t asking fooooor it…. I’m too ooooold to change… I’d don’t liiiiike it….”

    but he can say it in Latin.

  17. cengime says:

    @Diana: The difference you hear between your T and the American T is called aspiration. The authentic Latin T is unaspirated, just like in Spanish. An American-like aspirated T is represented by the combination TH, and appears almost exclusively in Greek names and loanwords: Corinthus, cithara, thesaurum. TH was not a fricative in Classical Latin as in English thick or thurible. It wouldn’t be easy for a native English speaker to make T and TH sound distinct in his Latin, though. In Ecclesiastical pronunciation, the distinction is not maintained, and both T and TH are pronounced identically to the Spanish T.

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the difference in your pronunciation of the letter t. There is a fairly wide range of value for that consonant across the western world. The fact that you notice the difference shows that you are being careful to listen — one of the most important skills to have in speaking or singing.
    The example you gave, though contains an error. It is not Dominum, non sum dignus …, but Domine non sum dignus …. We use the vocative for direct address. That being said, there is wide range of pronunciations for the t in the middle of a word. Native speakers of English tend to give it much more air than do speakers of Spanish or Italian or French. French speakers tend to swallow their t’s , especially after an nasal like n.
    T and d are a dental pair. They are formed the same but the d is vocalized while the t is not. To check this out, make both sounds alternately while holding your fingers lightly on your throat. You will feel a slight vibration on the d, but none on the t.
    For speakers of what is called Standard American English, a stand-alone t followed by a vowel is usually more aspirated than one following c or n. eg. tectum, tactile. In both cases, the introductory t is “harder” (more aspirated) than the one in the middle. This is only a general rule. “entrance” has a very hard t. The wide variations in these sounds are what make for different dialects of a language.
    Don’t let it disturb you… Keep listening and praying, especially in Latin.

    Hope this helps

  19. Uxixu says:

    I’m convinced the Latin Rite needs at least a minimal amount of Latin. The push for the vernacular in the US goes all the way back to Bishop Carroll, of course. At the very least, the response now should be as it was: the essential form of all Sacraments (to include the consecration at Mass) should be in Latin, along with associated rites (exorcisms especially).

    Humans learn language most effectively through immersion. For clerics and Religious, this means at least the bulk of the Divine Office should be required in Latin. The Mass, the Ordinary, the Canon, and arguably the collects (directly addressed towards God).

  20. tho says:

    Our decades long experiment in affirmative action has made the whole country lazy and stupid. I had a year of Latin in high school, but I only remember my Altar Boy responses, plus a few common words. Hopefully, the need for priests has not diluted the academic rigor that was one common place in Roman Catholic seminaries.

  21. adriennep says:

    Just outstanding article, Father Z! I’m saving this one for the battle.

    Memoria Press has excellent and diverse Latin resources, including one on Ecclesiastical Latin.

    It also occurs to me that we could volunteer at our parishes to form Latin learning groups, and invite the Pastor to join in the fun. Now that would be fruitful! And is the pastor refuses (on what grounds?) that would be enough for me to find another parish.

  22. veritas vincit says:

    Not making any excuses. But it’s hard to expect our priests to be proficient in Latin, when ahrdly anyone else knows Latin.

    Latin used to be known by most college educated Americans, and quite a few educated in high school. Even as late as the 1970s, my rural high school had Latin courses. (Dummy me, I took Spanish because Latin was a “dead language”). But as a friend of mine once observed, Latin is the mother tongue of Western civilization. Were he Catholic, he could have added, the mother tongue of the Latin Church.

  23. cdnpriest says:

    Thank you, Father, for reminding everyone (and especially for reminding us priests of the Latin Rite) that it is a part of our sacred duties to know — and know well — the mother tongue of our Roman Liturgy.

    Dominus te benedicat!

  24. Alaskamama says:

    The seminarians hereabouts are required to take more Spanish courses than Latin. I think the bishops hope open borders will eventually bring Spanish speakers here.

  25. Rob83 says:

    Latin at least makes a token appearance now and then at local NO Masses where in the 80s and 90s I think the only Latin that was used was Gloria in Excelsis Deo when singing Christmas hymns.

    How well trained local seminarians are in Latin these days, I don’t know, but no matter how well trained, disuse does not improve fluency. The pope’s gaffe seems like something that comes from being rusty at using the language and possibly getting confused with the blessing that ends Mass, which is in the nominative while this one is in the genitive.

  26. Lucas says:

    After a long and stressful confession my OF pastor whipped out the absolution in Latin. I was flabbergasted.

    “I didn’t know you knew Latin”

    “of course I would! It’s the language of the church, why wouldn’t I?”

    I wanted to scream, “THEN WHY DONT YOU USE IT DURING MASS???” but I didn’t want to put him on the spot.

  27. KateD says:

    It is difficult for some to overcome the fear of looking the fool in order to learn something new. It is that great nemesis of created beings, pride, which gets in the way.

    As a parent, I feel it is my obligation to prepare my children to be able to fully answer whatever vocation God may call them to. I figure many little boys today will grow up to be priests, some to be bishops and at least one of those will be the Bishop of Rome. Can you imagine being the mother blessed to have a some who becomes Pope….and you didn’t teach him Latin?!? Talk about a face in palm moment! Even for them to guide their own little domestic church, how much better will the father of a family be able to navigate through the turbulent times of the Church if he gets Latin from an early age in li

  28. KateD says:

    *the mother blessed to have a boy who becomes Pope…

    For this reason I feel it is imperative to teach my children Latin….especially the boys.

    But my one year of Jr. High Latin at an Episcopalian school was completely inadequate for the task….and so I have relied upon the good sisters, The Daughters of Mary, to teach my children proper pronunciation via chant. I download their albums from iTunes and then set alarms on my iPhone. So at 6am, 12 noon and 6pm we are reminded by that song playing, that it’s time to pray the Angelus. They all sing the Angelus in Latin beautifully….this time of year the song is replaced by the Regina Caeli by Miles Christi. And then for Lauds we have different Latin Hymns downloaded off iTunes that sound at 6:30am, ie Jam Lucis from that same Daughters of Mary album. Its a twofer. They learn Latin and chant at the same time. Bonus: My home is filled with little voices singing….and when they are singing, they are praying and they are not bickering :D

    There are so many Latin resources on-line to avail oneself of in the privacy of one’s own home where one doesn’t need to be concerned with looking foolish in front of others.

    Last thought: When God tossed the inhabitants of Earth into a state of babble, it was a chastisement….we were given a reprieve in the Church for nearly a thousand years. What’s the thought process behind throwing away such a priceless gift?

  29. R. Guadalupe says:

    Makes me think about the experience I had this Good Friday. I converted about 15 years ago through the Novus Ordo. I learned about Tradition very quickly and started attending a Latin Mass exclusively. I fell away from the Church due to a personal disaster about 4 years ago and have moved since then. There is no Latin Mass within a four hour drive, so I have been attending the local NO. It is mostly a Spanish congregation with two Spanish Masses that are overflowing. The English Mass in between has maybe 25 people. Thanks be to God, the priest seems very traditional, in fact, he has kneelers brought out and everyone receives kneeling and on the tongue. I was floored. However, I am completely lost trying to follow the New Mass.

    So anyway, I went to the Good Friday services. There were Stations of the Cross before. It was all in Spanish. I was a little disoriented, but followed along anyway. Then we all processed inside, and I was stuck out on the steps with a lot of other people. The Mass was in Spanish. I was completely lost, had no idea what was going on.

    I ranted to my atheist friend later about how if everything was still in Latin, all of us would know what was going on. One Church, all praying and worshipping together in one language. My friend said:
    “Sounds like Mass confusion!” Exactly!

  30. tho says:

    In response to am earlier comment. Although the Mass is not an end in itself, only God is that, but the Mass is a vehicle by which we approach God. Whether the priest loves us, or not, is not important, what is important is his facilitating us toward Jesus through the Holy Mass. All priests are not saints, the same as all laymen are not saints.
    The question in the church today is which rite best steers us to that encounter. the OF, or the EF. Either rite must have Latin at it’s core, because it’s meaning must be unambiguous. Latin is a dead language it’s meaning cannot change. The vernacular does change, one example is the word gay, and so on, and so on.

  31. KatieL56 says:

    I enjoyed the article, but I can tell you that over at the Catholic Answers forum, it is getting the usual snarky, nasty comments that sadly one has come to expect any time the words “Latin” and “Mass’ come near each other. Let me give you a sample.

    “This priest seems to have lost touch with people.” [And how would she know?]
    “The words of the Mass are drawn primarily from scripture. Fr Z’s claim that the ‘original language’s Latin is false. [That’s just plain stupid. I’ve never claimed that.] The ‘original language’ of the new testament was Greek. Of the old, Hebrew. The original spoken language from which the Greek scriptures were drawn, was Aramaic.” (when that poster was called out that the article never said that the original language (of the Mass) was Latin, the response,
    “Are you saying that is not what he meant by those words? What else could he possibly have meant? He is arguing about the use of Latin in the liturgy. It’s the topic of discussion. He makes a claim about the original language? Could we say he was discussing his tropical fish? The Epistle of Clement? Why the Pope (old one) wears red shoes? Of course not. He was talking about what he was talking about. Latin. He was wrong. His enthusiasm overcame what he undoubtedly already knew -that the Latin Mass is itself a translation of written material, interpreted from memories of earlier spoke words. He can have any opinion he like about Latin as far as I am concerned, but he should stick to facts.” [This person is clueless.]

    “Would Fr. Z think we should remove the Hosanna because it his Hebrew, or the Kyrie because it is Greek, from the order of the Mass, and replace it with Latin?” [Stupid.]

    “I have read enough of Fr Z’s articles in print and online to make this judgement. I still read his pieces just to see how out of touch he still is. To be honest any priest who has a begging list (amazon wish list) which he keeps pushing whilst travelling to lovely locations in Europe needs a kick up the backside and a reality check.” [Ad hominem and stupid.]

    Honest to goodness, the venom of many over what they ‘think’ is said (often with no real grasp of what actually was said), the total disregard when they hear any other possibility but their own obviously ‘right’ denouncing. . .it is terribly depressing. [And entirely predictable. I’ve seen this sort of lunacy for decades. It’s sort of like Ambrosian chant… forever the same two notes.]

  32. Gab says:

    “Honest to goodness, the venom of many over what they ‘think’ is said (often with no real grasp of what actually was said), the total disregard when they hear any other possibility but their own obviously ‘right’ denouncing. . .it is terribly depressing.”

    Whoever wrote that has zero self-awareness.

  33. Gab says:

    Oh dear. Ignore that remark, it was not directed at KatieL56.

  34. adriennep says:

    The Devil Hates Latin. Wear it like garlic.

    Good enough reason to learn it. Robert Hughes Benson in his novel The Lord of the World portrays the end-times Pope as having required his clergy to all speak in Latin, especially to avoid persecution and detection by the One World/Anti-Christ forces. Seemed fantastical when I read the book ten years ago, now not so much. And Benson wrote at the turn of the century!

  35. Diana says:

    Thank you @FrKelly and @cengime! Your insights are very helpful!

  36. gdweber says:

    I question whether “[hardly] anyone else knows Latin” (veritas vincit). According to a 2016 article on Aleteia, Latin has been making a comeback and is now the “third most studied language” in the secular world!

  37. gdweber says:

    Eighteen months ago I began my third attempt to learn Latin. I’m using Wheelock’s Latin, 7th edition, and Anki ( ). The book gives me delicious quotations from Cicero, Seneca, and other Roman philosophers and classics, and occasionally from the Vulgate. It’s not ecclesial Latin, but it’s easy to adapt. Anki provides a smart review system: it focuses review time on the things you need to review. I make my own review cards (highly recommended) for both grammar and vocabulary. I’m approaching the last chapters in the book, and it is going well.

  38. gdweber says:

    dholwell, lgreen515, and others looking for support, and any who are willing to provide support, I invite you to join the newly created Catholic Latin Study Group on MeWe, the social network that respects your privacy:

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