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Latin (Ecclesiastical)

Ecclesiastical Latin, sometimes called "Church Latin", is a term that refers to the Latin language as used in documents of the Roman Catholic Church.

The dogmatic definitions of the first seven General Councils were given in Greek, and even in Rome Greek was at first the language of the liturgy and the language in which the first Popes wrote. Clearly, the Holy See is not obliged to have Latin as its official language and, in theory, could change its practice.

However, this is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. As a language no longer in common use (a “dead” language, though some would dispute the exactness of this description), Latin has the advantage that the meaning of its words is no longer subject to change from century to century. This helps to ensure theological precision and to safeguard orthodoxy. Accordingly, Pope John Paul II has reaffirmed the importance of Latin for the Church and in particular for those doing ecclesiastical studies.

Since the Second Vatican Council, Latin is no longer the exclusive language of the liturgy of the Western Church, but official liturgical texts are still produced in Latin, thus providing a clear single point of reference for translations into all languages.

The same holds for canon law.

Since Latin ceased to be an everyday language even among scholars, papal documents and the like have for some centuries usually been drafted in a modern language, but the authoritative text, the one published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, is generally in Latin, even if it this text becomes available only later.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was drafted in French and appeared first in that language. But five years later, when the Latin text appeared, the French text had to be corrected in line with the Latin version.

Occasionally, the official texts are in a modern language. Two of the best known are Tra le sollecitudini [1] (1903) by Pope Pius X, in Italian, and Mit brennender Sorge [2] (1937) by Pope Pius XI, in German.


The rule now in force on the use of Latin in the eucharistic liturgy of the Roman Rite is: "Mass is celebrated either in Latin or in another language, provided that liturgical texts are used which have been approved according to the norm of law. Except in the case of celebrations of the Mass that are scheduled by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place in the language of the people, Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 112).[3]

Ecclesiastical Latin is not a different language from classical Latin. Study of the language of Cicero and Virgil is quite sufficient for understanding Church Latin. However, those interested only in ecclesiastical texts may prefer to limit the time they devote to ancient authors, whose vocabulary covers matters that, though of importance in that period, are unlikely to be dealt with in Church documents.

The complete text of the Bible in Latin can be found at Nova Vulgata - Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio. A site of more uncertain permanence gives, side by side, the Vulgate Latin text of the New Testament and the Rheims English translation.

A Vatican institution, the Latinitas Foundation, exists to promote the use of Latin not only in Church documents but in all facets of modern life.

Among its initiatives has been the publication of the 15,000-word Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis, which indicates Latin terms to use in referring to a bicycle (birota), a cigarette (fistula nicotiana), a computer (instrumentum computatorium), a cowboy (armentarius), a motel (deversorium autocineticum), shampoo (capitilavium), a strike (operistitium), a terrorist (tromocrates), a trademark (ergasterii nota), an unemployed person (invite otiosus), a waltz (chorea Vindobonensis), and even a miniskirt (tunicula minima) and hot pants (brevissimae bracae femineae). Some 600 such terms can be seen on a page of the Vatican website.[4]

See also

Additional Latin entries

External Links

Text Resources

  • The New Missal Latin by Edmund J. Baumeister, S.M., Ph.D., published by Mount St. Marys Publishing Co., Kansas 66536, USA
Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45