Updated: Feb 29
The world's major religions have their sacred languages -- Judaism with its Hebrew, Islam with Arabic, Hinduism with Sanskrit. Christianity is no different, and benefits from a sacred language's ability to unify all in the common liturgy, fulfilling Christ's desire that we be as one. Another benefit is that Latin, aside from at Vatican City, is considered a "dead language" whose words can't change meaning over time (though actually it's not a "dead language," strictly speaking; new words are added to keep up with technology and it is the official language of a country). But that it is not commonly used in a profane way is an exceedingly important fact in light of the problems of politicized language and the absolute importance of Truth.
Latin is, contrary to popular belief, still the language of the Church, and even the documents of Vatican II require it to be retained for the Mass (Gregorian Chant, too, is to be not only retained, but given "pride of place"! See Vatican II's document, "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy"; "Instruction on the Liturgy," Congregation of Rites, 16 October 1964; "Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy," Sacred Congregation of Rites, 5 March 1967; "Iubilate Deo," Preface, Pope Paul VI, 14 April 1974; "General Instruction on the Roman Missal," Roman Missal, 1975, 3rd ed.; and "Fidelity to Doctrinal Foundations Must Guide All Liturgical Renewal," Address to US Bishops, 9 October 1998).
Sadly, we've lost much since the "reformers" with their "spirit of Vatican II" have tried to strip away our common language and cultural heritage. It used to be that a Catholic could go to Mass anywhere in the world -- China, India, Italy, Mexico, Australia -- and experience the same Mass in the same way. The American could look at the Chinese man in the pew next to him and know that both are "on the same page," hearing the Latin but each understanding in his own language. They might not be able to speak to each other after Mass, but both of them, during the liturgy, were participating in the same supernatural Sacrifice, praying with the angels in the same language and in a manner thousands of years old. If needed, each could have his Missal, the former his "Latin-English Missal," the latter his "Latin-Chinese Missal," and follow along. Now, in the Novus Ordo liturgy with its predominant abuses of Vatican II documents, the American and Chinese man would each have to have buy a different Missal for every parish he visited which had a different language than his own. And consider a world where our priests are no longer trained solidly in the Latin language! Some will become Bishops and Cardinals. Some will have to meet in huge Councils with Bishops from other countries. Some will have to meet in Conclaves to elect the next Pope. How will the Bishops and Cardinals from Pakistan, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and Lichtenstein be able to even communicate to do the Church's business without a common language? No, Pope Pius IX had it right when he said in Officiorum Omnium:
"For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time... of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular."
And so was Pope Pius XII, when he wrote in Mediator Dei:
"The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine."
Since even the documents of Vatican II have been ignored and Latin stripped from our liturgy, since dissidents have won a few generations and have denied us the luxury of growing up with our cultural birthright, we must make a conscious effort to reclaim our unifying heritage and pass it on to our children. Please, expose yourself and your children to Ecclesiastical Latin, to chant, to traditional hymns and Catholic art. Give yourself and your children what was denied to you and what makes life much more beautiful and rich. No layman is expected to make a huge study of Latin Grammar or to be able to carry on conversations in the language, but the ability to recognize a few basic prayers and phrases, to be able to recognize the Latin and chants of those parts of the Mass which never change -- these things are basic to our culture and bring on a flood of mental and emotional associations. Do your soul a favor and attend only the Traditional Latin Mass. Support the ancient liturgy at all times! And, by all means, encourage your children to study Latin in school.
How to Pronounce It
Ecclesiastical Latin is different from the Latin you might learn in High School; it's basically Latin with an Italian accent (and a few other differences), the way Latin's been pronounced since at least around the 3rd and 4th centuries. It's actually pretty easy to pronounce as the rules are few and have so much in common with English and modern Italian. As a general rule, just set your mouth to speak Italian, with the slightly trilled "R," and pronounce every vowel and consonant you see the same way an Italian would, with few exceptions. Vowels with acute accent marks are "long vowels."
Vowel Sounds Short sound Long sound
A like the A in "facility"
AH, like the A in "father"
EH, like the E in "met"
AY, like the AY in "may"
I, like the I in "hit"
EE, like the I in "machine"
O, like the O in "loss"
O, like the O in "for"
U, like the U in "put"
OO, like the U in "Jude"
Y & Diphthongs
Y = EE, like Y in "family"
Æ = EH, like E in "met"
EI = AY, like EI in "reign"
Œ = EH, like E in "met"
AU = AH-oo, almost like OU in "mouse"
The consonants sound the same as in English for the most part, with the following exceptions:
Before e, i, ae, oe and y
These letters become soft:and sound like:
C, CH as in "cherry"
CC, TCH as in "matching"
SC, SH as in "ship"
G, G as in "gentle"
T followed by the letter I + another vowel, and not preceded by S, T, X
TS as in "Betsy" (ex., "gratia" is pronounced "grah-tsee-ah," but "modestia" is pronounced "moh-des-tee-ah")
TH = T as in "thyme"
GN = NY as in canyon, or like the Spanish ñ
CH = K as in "Christ"
X After an E or followed by a vowel, X sounds like GS, as in "exam" Followed by a consonant, or at the end of a word, X sounds like KS, as in "tax"
R, very slightly roll the R, touching the tip of your tongue to the top and front of your palate, making almost a slight D sound, like a Scottish R
V sounds like the English "V", not like "W" as in Classical Latin
H silent except for two words, where it sounds like a guttural, German "CH" or K sound as in "ich" or "key": nihil and mihi
J = Y, as in "young" (J is usually replaced with an I, as in "Iesus" for "Jesus")
Z pronounce like "ds"
Double consonants are each pronounced, but it comes off sounding like a single letter that is held just a tad longer, the same way the L's in the word "tailless" are held longer, but each pronounced so quickly they could almost be mistaken for one sound
What Syllable to Accent
Two syllables: Accent the first syllable Three or more syllables: If the next to the last syllable has a long vowel sound, accent that syllable If the next to the last syllable has a short vowel sound, accent the syllable before it
Stringing Roman numerals together means to add them. Placing a smaller number in front of a larger one indicates that one should subtract the smaller from the larger. Only powers of 10 are subtracted (I, X, C, etc.), and only single digits are subtracted (ex., one writes 8 as VIII, not as IIX). A number can't be subtracted from a number that is no more than 10 times larger (ex., I can only be subtracted from V and X; X can only be subtracted from L and C, etc.)
II=2 III=3 IV=4
VI=6 VII=7 VIII=8 IX=9
XI=11 XII=12 XIII=13 XIV=14 XV=15 XV!=16 XVII=17 XVIII=19 XIX=19 XX=20 XXX=30 XL=40 49=XLIX
LX=60 LXX=70 LXXX=80 XC=90 99=XCIX
CL=150 CC=200 CCC=300 CD=400 CDXXIX=429
A horizontal line drawn over (or under) the numbers means to multiply by 1,000.