Why Not Pray in Latin?

Common Objections - Questions and their Answers

  1. Isn’t Latin old and outdated?
    • Could not one try to say the same thing about the Catholic faith or the Church founded by Jesus Christ? That the faith is “too old” and needs to change with the times? The Catholic faith, like the Latin language cannot change. The faith can deepen, but by its own admission must remain the same–“the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding” (Vatican I). 
    • The way we pray is directly connected with the way we believe. Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. As Pope Benedict XV solemnly wrote, “Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected” (Ad Beatissimi). Our Latin prayer tradition stands as a bulletproof shield to preserve and defend the Faith, which is as alive now as ever through those who believe. 
    • A great benefit of Latin is the fact it is a “dead language,” meaning it is no longer used in common speech and is not therefore subject to constant change in its meaning. Thus, Latin possesses a certain theological and spiritual precision unmatched by any common languages of today.  
  2. I thought Vatican II changed that. Didn’t Vatican II do away with Latin?
    • Actually the documents of Vatican II say the exact opposite! They mandate Latin’s retention: “…the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (36). “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (54). 
    • Pope John XXIII, the pope who actually convened Vatican II forever canonized Latin in his Apostolic Constitution, the highest and most solemn form of papal decree, Veterum Sapientiapublished during the council in 1962.
      • a primary place must surely be given to [Latin].”
      • a bond of unity for the Christian peoples”
      • “The Latin language ‘can be called truly catholic.’ It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed ‘a treasure … of incomparable worth
      • “The Church…requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.”
      • “We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons … are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor and to do all We can to promote its study and use
  3. Then why are most Masses in the vernacular today if Vatican II mandated retention of Latin?!
    • In the text of Vatican II, there was an exception clause that said that some vernacular could be used. The dropping of Latin entirely, contrary to both the Council documents and Veterum Sapitentia, like many other things that occurred after the council is considered in a sense to be another form of liturgical abuse. 
    • In Trent, the Church even goes as far as to excommunicate those who declare the vernacular to be the necessary or only permissible language for the liturgy (Council of Trent, Ss XXII, Ch IX, Can IX). 
    • You must understand that the Catholic Church is the “Latin Church” by its very name and being. Latin is intricately tied to the identity of the Catholic Church. Thus, to reject sacred Latin is in a sense to reject the Catholic Latin Church itself. 
  4. Ok, but I do not understand Latin. Why should I pray in a language I do not understand?
    • Prayer in a sacred, non-vernacular language goes back further than even Christianity to the time of the Jews. Jesus Himself prayed in a non-vernacular language of ancient Hebrew, used almost exclusively for temple worship.
    • Non-vernacular sacred languages have continued to be used in the Catholic Church for nearly 2000 years of her history and with good reason. A language set apart distinctively for worship creates a sense of the sacred and enables one to pray distinctly in a way other than the ordinary common language so often used to blaspheme God, make jokes, and other irreverent purposes. 
    • Prayer itself is by definition the elevating of the heart and mind to God. Understanding every word in vocal prayer is not required. The intention is what matters. In order to pray, one must have the will to pray. What many Catholics do not realize is that vocal is actually the lowest form or prayer, and mental prayer through meditation is a much higher and more elevated means. 
    • St Augustine explained “If there are some present who do not understand what is being said or sung, they know at least that all is said and sung to the glory of God, and that is sufficient for them to join in it devoutly.” (The Catechism Explained, Fr.S). This evidences that even from the earliest days people did not understand the prayer language, and yet were still able to pray. 
    • Effort is efficacious. God appreciates the effort to learn his Church’s sacred language and blesses it abundantly. 
    • Latin through its beauty and heavenly poetic sounds communicates that something sacred is happening. This language set apart for prayer creates the perfect space to propel one into a deeper state of prayer and understanding of God and His transcendence. 
  5. I heard that the early Christians prayed exclusively in Greek (the vernacular at the time) and that Latin wasn’t adopted until much later; is that true?
    • It is true that early Christians did pray in Greek, one of the three sacred liturgical languages. However, that Latin was not used at all until much later is an argument often employed by those who generally have a disdain for this sacred language, and many have believed this modern theory without further investigation. 
    • Fr Nicholas Gihr in his book The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass explains the following:
      • “From the first four centuries, no liturgy can be shown to be composed in any other language other than the three languages from the inscription on the Cross” 
      • “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. The inscription on the Cross: “Jesus of Naz- areth, King of the Jews,” was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (John 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 the liturgical use of the Church.”
      • “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 centre of the Catholic Church; from Rome the messengers of the faith were sent forth in all directions to spread the light of the Gospel. Along with the grace of Christianity, together with the Catholic faith and its divine worship the western nations also received Latin as the Church-language; for in that tongue the Holy Mysteries were always celebrated, though the nations recently converted spoke a different language and did not understand Latin. Thus the language of the Mother Roman Church became the common language of worship of all her daughters, the Catholic Christian Churches established from Rome in the West.”
    • One of the greatest liturgical scholars, Dr Adrian Fortescue in his book The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy confirms the early date of prayer in Latin and provides various early sources. 
    • It is also a fact that even well after Latin ceased to be a spoken language that it was always retained throughout the entire Church as the official language of prayer to be used in the sacred liturgy. 
  6. Does the devil really hate Latin? Isn’t that just some superstition?
    • The devil would certainly like you to believe that! Pretty much all experienced exorcists will tell you that it is a fact that demons are utterly repelled by the sacred Latin language and that Latin prayers are extremely powerful in driving away the demonic. 
  7. If I want to do some more research into these reasons for praying in Latin, where should I go?
  8. I would like to learn Latin to deepen my prayer. What should I do?
    • Learning Latin, at least enough to be able to pray the basic prayers is easier than you may think. Full knowledge of the language is not needed. Start with the pronunciations and move just one step at a time on to saying the most basic prayers like the Ave, Gloria Patri, and Pater Noster from the Holy Rosary. Listening to the audio and repeating aloud is typically the most effective means.
    • Learning these basic prayers as Pope Benedict XVI explained also has a great benefit for diverse people around the entire world being able to pray together in their shared sacred language. 
    • Remember that learning Latin is not hard. It just takes a little time invested to pick it up. If you attend a Traditional Latin Mass, you will likely see children as young as 9 and 10 years old saying all the prayers at the foot of the altar. If they can learn it, we can learn it too!
    • To learn more than just the most basic prayers of the Rosary, some of the best books to help one learn to pray the prayers of the liturgy in Latin may be found here
    • After learning the basic prayers, one can then move on to more prayers which are available online here in the online Latin prayerbook. For those who prefer to also have a physical copy, printed prayer books may also be found here