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Latin Language Facts & Pronunciation Tips

Latin Mass / Catholic Tradition | Latin Language

Traditional Latin ('Tridentine') Mass

Latin Language Facts &

Pronunciation Tips

Important Notice: The following is provided for informational purposes only and is not comprehensive. We make no guarantees regarding any item herein. By using this site you agree to all terms. For more terms information, click here.


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Latin Language Facts

Pronunciation Tips

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Latin Language Facts...

  • Latin has been (and still remains) the official language of the Church. "Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church in so far as it is the one whose use is hallowed by tradition and confirmed by experience in the headquarters work of the Church in the city of Rome. It is the language in which doctrine is defined and anything affecting the Church at large is recorded: all official acts of the Church are in that tongue and normally it is used in all correspondence and business with the Holy See and Curia. That a universal church must have a universal language is obvious..." (Catholic Dictionary)

  • Latin is not the same as Spanish! 

  • The Latin used by the Church is called "Ecclesial Latin"

  • Various languages (e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) were developed from Latin. Nearly 60% of commonly used English words and as many as 80% of scholarly English words were derived from Latin. Latin appears on U.S. currency and various Latin terms are used daily by many English speaking people (e.g. administrator, aroma, honor, gymnasium, superior, A.M., P.M., P.S., R.I.P., per capita, et cetera, quasi, inter, etc.). Note: Click here for more on this topic.

  • The Latin language is frequently used in science, medicine, and law. State and university mottos are also written in Latin on occasion.  

  • Latin is called an "inflected language" since words have different endings depending on how they are used (somewhat like the German language). The word order may differ from English and there is no word for "a", "an", or "the" in Latin.  

  • Latin uses diphthongs ("double vowels which form one sound"), such as ae, oe, etc.

  • Latin is considered a "dead language", and is therefore not subject to the frequent change that "living languages" experience (consider the sorry fate of the word "gay"). Note that with "living languages" the meaning of words is not only subject to manipulation, distortion, and change, but the language itself can become almost unrecognizable in just a short time - for example, an English speaking person might have great difficulty reading something written just a few hundred years ago in English. Also, word changes can cause division. The unchangeableness of the Latin language is especially beneficial as it helps to assure that the Latin liturgy remains immutable, even over the course of many centuries. This fact that Latin is so resistant to change brings many other benefits to the universal Church. As Pope John XIII has said, "Furthermore, the Church's language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings. But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.) 

  • The Church enjoys many benefits from using the Latin language, including: the ability of the faithful to pray "in one voice", providing of the faithful worldwide with a universal bond, uniting the faithful with one another and with those who have gone before us, assists the hierarchy in retaining control, etc. Further, the use of the Latin language is efficient and economical, promotes unity, saves time, is inclusive of all peoples, protects Church dogma, etc. Note: For more on the benefits of Latin, click here.

  • In previous ages, thanks to the Church, the Latin language was in very wide use (and was the "vernacular" for various persons).

  • The Latin alphabet is now "the most widely used alphabet in the world". English uses the Latin alphabet (A, B, C... Z)

  • Individuals can benefit greatly from learning Latin. Some benefits may include: ability to read original Church documents; ability to read classic literature available only in Latin; provides a tie to the past; helps one appreciate our rich Catholic heritage; allows one to pray in the same language as the saints, one's ancestors, and with Catholics throughout the world; improves test scores; allows one to directly communicate with the worldwide Church (including the Vatican); etc. Note: For more on the benefits of Latin, click here.

  • "Knowledge of Latin is necessary for knowing church documents." Without a personal knowledge of Latin, one must rely on others' translations, if they exist.

  • The Church has used Latin from the earliest days. "Of these three languages the Latin at an early date gained the precedence; for, being the language of the Roman world, it became throughout the West with the spread of Christianity also the language of the liturgy. Divine Providence selected Rome as the center of the Catholic Church; from Rome the messengers of the faith were sent forth in all directions to spread the light of the Gospel." (Gihr) As Crocker states, "With the election of Pope Victor in 189, the Roman Church gained its first Latin-speaking, rather than Greek-speaking bishop, marking the ascendancy of the language that would define the universal rite of the Catholic Church, with few exceptions, for nearly 1,800 years."

  • The Latin language has been used in the Mass for many hundreds of years prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. It is still used today in the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass (and in some Novus Ordo Masses). When attending a Latin 'Tridentine' Mass anywhere in the world, you can easily participate with fellow Catholics, regardless of their native tongue. Note: Click here for more information on the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass.

  • Protestant 'Reformers' have correctly seen the use of Latin as a unifying tie which binds the Church. They hated the use of Latin and discarded its use as one of their first changes during the so-called 'Reformation'. As Dom Gueranger has said, "Hatred for the Latin language is inborn in the heart of all the enemies of Rome. They recognize it as the bond of Catholics throughout the universe, as the arsenal of orthodoxy against the subtleties of the sectarian spirit. They consider it the most efficient weapon of the papacy." And, "We must admit it is a master-blow of Protestantism to have declared war on the sacred language. If it should ever succeed in destroying it, it would be well on the way to victory. Exposed to profane gaze, like a virgin who has been violated, from that moment on, the Liturgy has lost much of its sacred character, and very soon people find that it is not worthwhile putting aside one's work or pleasure in order to go and listen to what is being said in the way one speaks in the marketplace..." [Note: Of course one must remember that to miss Mass without sufficient cause is a grave sin.]

  • The Second Vatican Council never called for the elimination of Latin [which - as the popes warned - has been accompanied by many negative outcomes - "...introducing of the use of popular language into the liturgical prayers, (is condemned as) false, rash, disturbing to the order prescribed for the celebration of the mysteries, easily productive of many evils." (Errors of the Synod of Pistoia, Condemned in the Constitution "Auctorem fidei," Aug. 28, 1794 A.D.)]. In fact, the Second Vatican Council stated that the Latin language was to be preserved

"The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites." (Second Vatican Council)

"[C]are must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." (Second Vatican Council)

  • The pope who called the Second Vatican Council never desired the elimination of the Latin language. In fact, quite the contrary. Consider these quotes from Pope John XXIII, the very pope who called the Second Vatican Council:

"Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)

"It will be quite clear from these considerations why the Roman Pontiffs have so often extolled the excellence and importance of Latin, and why they have prescribed its study and use by the secular and regular clergy, forecasting the dangers that would result from its neglect." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)

"In the exercise of their paternal care they shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See's will in this regard or interprets it falsely." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)

"And We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons - the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods - are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use. The employment of Latin has recently been contested in many quarters, and many are asking what the mind of the Apostolic See is in this matter. We have therefore decided to issue the timely directives contained in this document, so as to ensure that the ancient and uninterrupted use of Latin be maintained and, where necessary, restored." (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)

"For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority 'as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.' She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more easily with Rome and with one another. Thus the 'knowledge and use of this language,' so intimately bound up with the Church's life, 'is important not so much on cultural or literary grounds, as for religious reasons.' These are the words of Our Predecessor Pius XI, who conducted a scientific inquiry into this whole subject, and indicated three qualities of the Latin language which harmonize to a remarkable degree with the Church's nature. 'For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure to the end of time...of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non vernacular.'" (Pope John XXIII, "Veterum Sapientia", 1962 A.D.)

  • The near abandonment of the Latin language was not foreseen by council fathers:

"Who dreamed on that day that within a few years, far less than a decade, the Latin past of the Church would be all but expunged, that it would be a memory fading into the middle distance? The thought of it would have horrified us but it seemed so far beyond the realm of the possible as to be ridiculous. So we laughed it off." (Davies, quoting an American prelate)

"The [Council] Fathers voted for the retention of Latin as the norm but permitted limited concessions for the use of the vernacular. It was presumed that this would be principally in the missions... [T]here was a considerable difference between what the Bishops who approved the Constitution thought they were voting for, and the manner in which the experts who had drafted it intended that it should be interpreted." (Davies)

  • Church authorities have urged continued use of the Latin language:

"If the Church is to remain truly the Catholic Church (that is, universal) it is essential to keep a universal tongue." (Cardinal Heenan)

  • The Latin language was used for many years by the Church in the administration of Sacraments, including at Mass (click here for reasons for using Latin). It is still used in places where the traditional Mass is said (and where sacraments are administered according to traditional rites). Note: For more information on the status of the traditional Latin Mass, click here. For reasons to attend the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass, click here.

  • The use of a non-vernacular language for worship is biblical. Like Latin, Hebrew was a "dead language" when Jesus became Incarnate. Therefore, when Jesus participated in Jewish worship, he also used a "non vernacular" language. As Fortescue states, "[T]he conservative instinct, always strong in religion, retains for the liturgy an older language no longer used in common life. The Jews showed this instinct when, although Hebrew was a dead language after the captivity, they continued to use it in the Temple and the synagogues in the time of Christ, and still retain it in their services." And, as Bouyer states, "Our Lord Himself always worshiped according to the ritual of the Palestinian synagogue, in which only the readings, with a few prayers immediately connected with them, were in the vernacular. The great fixed prayers...were all retained in Hebrew, a language at least as dead then, so far as common usage was concerned, as Latin is now. If Our Lord had found such a practice intolerable, He Who so relentlessly denounced the formalism of the Pharisee would certainly not have accepted that practice without a word of criticism, as He did." 

  • The use of the Latin language was consecrated at the Passion and is closely interwoven with the liturgy: "The Latin language is consecrated by the mystic inscription attached to the Cross, as well as sanctified by the usage of nearly two thousand years, and hence it is most closely interwoven with the primitive Roman Catholic liturgy of the holy Sacrifice [of the Mass]. The inscription on the Cross: 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews' was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (Jn. 19:19-20). These were the three principal languages of that epoch, and by divine dispensation they were, so to say, destined and consecrated on the Cross for liturgical use of the Church. Through the inscription on the Cross they proclaimed to the whole world the dignity, power and glory of the Redeemer, the loyalty and dominion of grace which He acquired by His bloody death; at the altar these languages continue to live throughout all ages, and to serve to announce and celebrate until the end of time the death of Christ for our redemption" (Gihr)

  • Latin is sometimes called the "language of heaven."

  • It is said that "the devil hates Latin" (since Satan hates all things sacred, since the language was 'canonized' on the Cross, since it unifies the Church, etc.). As Bishop Gemma, "one of the Roman Catholic Church's leading experts on exorcism", has said: "If I speak Latin, the demon responds to me in Latin. He has a horror of that language." (emphasis added)

  • Since the Catholic faith is not tied to a particular language, nation, or time, it is fitting that she use a universal, timeless language which "never exalts one nation to the expense of the others."

Pronunciation Tips (Ecclesiastical Latin)

Most letters in Latin sound the same as they do in English, however there are exceptions. The following Latin pronunciation tips may be helpful:

"Every vowel, even a final e, is pronounced:

  • a = ah as in "rather"

  • e = ay as in "day"

  • i = ee as in "sweet" when long, as in "pit" when short

  • o, when long, as in "fort", nearly as in "not" when short

  • u = oo as in "tool" when long, as in "pull" when short

Diphthongs:

  • ae and oe = ay as in "day"

  • au = ow as in "now"

Consonants: Every consonant except h is sounded;

  • c = k before a, o, u, au, and h

  • c = ch as in "cherry" before e, i, ae, and oe

  • g, as in "gate" before a, o, u and au

  • g = j as in "journey" before e, i and ae

  • gn = ni as in "union"

  • i = y

  • sc = sk before a, o, u and h

  • sc = sh as in "show" before e, i, and ae

  • ti = tsi before a and o

  • xc = ksh before e, i and y

  • z = ds

  • h in nihil and mihi becomes k."

(Catholic Dictionary)

Note: "J", when it appears may sound like "y".

The best way to pick up correct pronunciation may be to immerse oneself in the language - e.g. at the Traditional Latin 'Tridentine' Mass. Click here for more information on this Mass. Fortunately, Latin/English missals can help you follow along when attending a 'Tridentine' Latin Mass. A Latin dictionary (or various online sources) may provide additional assistance with pronunciation.

Also Try...

Latin Language (Topic Page)

Benefits of the Latin Language

The Latin Language

Latin Language Reflections

Basic Latin Prayers & Other Prayers in Latin

The Rosary in Latin

Definitions of Selected Latin Terms

English-Speakers Already Know Some Latin!

Latin Mass Facts

Why the Latin Mass?

Status of the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass

How to Find a Latin 'Tridentine' Mass

Latin Mass & Catholic Tradition: Q & A

The Traditional Latin Mass vs. the Novus Ordo (New) Mass

How to Learn More About the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass


The above is provided for informational purposes only and is not comprehensive. We make no guarantees regarding any item herein. By using this site you indicate agreement to all terms. For terms information, click here.

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Also See...

* Latin Language (Topic Page)

* Traditional Latin Mass (Topic Page)

* Traditional Catholic (Topic Page)

* Catholic Prayers (Topic Page)

 

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