Ecclesiastical Latin

Last updated
Ecclesiastical Latin
Church Latin, Liturgical Latin
Native toNever spoken as a native language; other uses vary widely by period and location
Extinct Still used for many purposes, mostly as a liturgical language of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, as well as in the Anglican Churches, Lutheran Churches, and Methodist Churches. [1] Also used in the Western Orthodox Rite of the Eastern Orthodox Church. [2]
Official status
Official language in
Flag of the Vatican City.svg   Vatican City
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Ecclesiastical Latin, also called Church Latin or Liturgical Latin, is a form of Latin developed to discuss Christian thought in Late Antiquity and used in Christian liturgy, theology, and church administration down to the present day, especially in the Catholic Church. It includes words from Vulgar Latin and Classical Latin (as well as Greek and Hebrew) re-purposed with Christian meaning. [3] It is less stylized and rigid in form than Classical Latin, sharing vocabulary, forms, and syntax, while at the same time incorporating informal elements which had always been with the language but which were excluded by the literary authors of Classical Latin. [4]


Its pronunciation was partly standardized in the late 8th century during the Carolingian Renaissance as part of Charlemagne's educational reforms, and this new letter-by-letter pronunciation, used in France and England, was adopted in Iberia and Italy a couple of centuries afterwards. [5] As time passed, pronunciation diverged depending on the local vernacular language, giving rise to even highly divergent forms such as the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, which has now been largely abandoned for reading Latin texts. Within the Catholic Church and in certain Protestant churches, such as the Anglican Church, a pronunciation based on modern Italian phonology, known as Italianate Latin, became common by the 20th century.

Ecclesiastical Latin was the language of liturgical rites in the Latin Church, as well as the Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church, and in the Western Rite of the Eastern Orthodox Church. [2] Today, ecclesiastical Latin is primarily used in official documents of the Catholic Church, in the Tridentine Mass, and it is still learned by clergy. [3] [1]

The Ecclesiastical Latin that is used in theological works, liturgical rites and dogmatic proclamations varies in style: syntactically simple in the Vulgate Bible, hieratic (very restrained) in the Roman Canon of the Mass, terse and technical in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica , and Ciceronian (syntactically complex) in Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Fides et Ratio .


Late antique usage

The use of Latin in the Church started in the late fourth century [6] with the split of the Roman Empire after Emperor Theodosius in 395. Before this split, Greek was the primary language of the Church as well as the language of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Following the split, early theologians like Jerome translated Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin, the dominant language of the Western Roman Empire. The loss of Greek in the Western half of the Roman Empire, and the loss of Latin in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire were not immediate, but changed the culture of language as well as the development of the Church. [7] What especially differentiates Ecclesiastical Latin from Classical Latin is the consequences of its use as a language for translating, since it has borrowed and assimilated constructions and vocabulary from the koine Greek, while adapting the meanings of some Latin words to those of the koine Greek originals, which are sometimes themselves translations of Hebrew originals. [6]

Medieval usage

At first there was no distinction between Latin and the actual Romance vernacular, the former being just the traditional written form of the latter. For instance, in ninth-century Spain saeculum was simply the correct way to spell [sjeglo], meaning 'century'. The writer would not have actually read it aloud as /sɛkulum/ any more than an English speaker today would pronounce ⟨knight⟩ as */knɪxt/. [8]

The spoken version of Ecclesiastical Latin was created later during the Carolingian Renaissance. The English scholar Alcuin, tasked by Charlemagne with improving the standards of Latin writing in France, prescribed a pronunciation based on a fairly literal interpretation of Latin spelling. For example, in a radical break from the traditional system, a word such as ⟨viridiarium⟩ 'orchard' now had to be read aloud precisely as it was spelled rather than */verdʒjær/ (later spelled as Old French vergier). The Carolingian reforms soon brought the new Church Latin from France to other lands where Romance was spoken.

Usage during the Reformation and in modern Protestant churches

The use of Latin in the Western Church continued into the Early modern period. One of Martin Luther's tenets during the Reformation was to have services and religious texts in the common tongue, rather than Latin, a language that at the time, many did not understand. Protestants refrained from using Latin in services, however Protestant clergy had to learn and understand Latin as it was the language of higher learning and theological thought until the 18th century. [9] After the Reformation, in the Lutheran churches, Latin was retained as the language of the Mass for weekdays, although for the Sunday Sabbath, the Deutsche Messe was to be said. [10] In Geneva, among the Reformed churches, "persons called before the consistory to prove their faith answered by reciting the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo in Latin." [10] In the Anglican Church, the Book of Common Prayer was published in Latin, alongside English. [1] John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist churches, "used Latin text in doctrinal writings", [1] as Martin Luther and John Calvin did in their era. [1] In the training of Protestant clergy in Württemberg, as well as in the Rhineland, universities instructed divinity students in Latin and their examinations were conducted in this language. [10] The University of Montauban, under Reformed auspices, required that seminarians complete two theses, with one being in Latin; thus Reformed ministers were "Latinist by training", comparable to Catholic seminarians. [10]

Modern Catholic usage

Ecclesiastical Latin continues to be the official language of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) decreed that the Mass would be translated into vernacular languages. [11] The Church produces liturgical texts in Latin, which provide a single clear point of reference for translations into all other languages. The same holds for the texts of canon law. [3] Pope Benedict XVI gave his unexpected resignation speech in Latin. [12]

The Holy See has for some centuries usually drafted documents in a modern language, but the authoritative text, published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis , is usually in Latin. Some texts may be published initially in a modern language and be later revised, according to a Latin version (or “editio typica”), after this Latin version is published. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was drafted and published, in 1992, in French. The Latin text appeared five years later, in 1997, and the French text was corrected to match the Latin version, which is regarded as the official text. The Latin-language department of the Vatican Secretariat of State (formerly the Secretaria brevium ad principes et epistolarum latinarum) is charged with the preparation in Latin of papal and curial documents. Sometimes, the official text is published in a modern language, e.g., the well-known edict Tra le sollecitudini [13] (1903) by Pope Pius X (in Italian) and Mit brennender Sorge (1937) by Pope Pius XI (in German).

Comparison with Classical Latin

There are not many differences between Classical Latin and Church Latin. One can understand Church Latin knowing the Latin of classical texts, as the main differences between the two are in pronunciation and spelling, as well as vocabulary.

In many countries, those who speak Latin for liturgical or other ecclesiastical purposes use the pronunciation that has become traditional in Rome by giving the letters the value they have in modern Italian but without distinguishing between open and close <e> and <o>. <ae> and <oe> coalesce with <e>. <c> and <g> before <ae>, <oe>, <e> and <i> are pronounced /t͡ʃ/ (English <ch>) and /d͡ʒ/ (English <j>), respectively. <ti> before a vowel is generally pronounced /tsi/ (unless preceded by <s>, <t> or <t>). Such speakers pronounce consonantal <v> (not written as <u>) as /v/ as in English, not as Classical /w/. Like in Classical Latin, double consonants are pronounced with gemination.

The distinction in Classical Latin between long and short vowels is ignored, and instead of the 'macron' or 'apex', lines to mark the long vowel, an acute accent is used for stress. The first syllable of two-syllable words is stressed; in longer words, an acute accent is placed over the stressed vowel: adorémus 'let us adore'; Dómini 'of the Lord'. [14]

Language materials

The complete text of the Bible in Latin, the revised Vulgate, appears at Nova Vulgata - Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio. [15] New Advent [16] gives the entire Bible, in the Douay version, verse by verse, accompanied by the Vulgate Latin of each verse.

In 1976, the Latinitas Foundation [17] (Opus Fundatum Latinitas in Latin) was established by Pope Paul VI to promote the study and use of Latin. Its headquarters are in Vatican City. The foundation publishes an eponymous quarterly in Latin. The foundation also published a 15,000-word Italian-Latin Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis (Dictionary of Recent Latin), which provides Latin coinages for modern concepts, such as 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 extracted from the book appear on a page [18] of the Vatican website. The Latinitas Foundation was superseded by the Pontifical Academy for Latin (Latin : Pontificia Academia Latinitatis) in 2012.

Current use

Latin remains the official language of the Holy See and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. [19] Until the 1960s and still later in Roman colleges like the Gregorian, Catholic priests studied theology using Latin textbooks and the language of instruction in many seminaries was also Latin, which was seen as the language of the Church Fathers. The use of Latin in pedagogy and in theological research, however, has since declined. Nevertheless, canon law requires for seminary formation to provide for a thorough training in Latin, [20] though "the use of Latin in seminaries and pontifical universities has now dwindled to the point of extinction." [21] Latin was still spoken in recent international gatherings of Catholic leaders, such as the Second Vatican Council, and it is still used at conclaves to elect a new Pope. The Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2004 was the most recent to have a Latin-language group for discussions.

Although Latin is the traditional liturgical language of the Western (Latin) Church, the liturgical use of the vernacular has predominated since the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council: liturgical law for the Latin Church states that Mass may be celebrated either in Latin or another language in which the liturgical texts, translated from Latin, have been legitimately approved. [22] The permission granted for continued use of the Tridentine Mass in its 1962 form authorizes use of the vernacular language in proclaiming the Scripture readings after they are first read in Latin. [23]

In historic Protestant churches, such as the Anglican Communion and Lutheran churches, Ecclesiastical Latin is occasionally employed in sung celebrations of the Mass. [1]

Church Latin kana

In the hymnbook used in the Catholic Church in Japan, there are some special kana characters. To represent the /l/ sound in the Latin language, the R column kana letters with ゜(the handakuten diacritic) are used (such as ラ゚ for [la], レ゚ for [le], リ゚ for [li], ロ゚ for [lo] and ル゚ for [lu]).[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman Missal</span> Central book of the most widespread Catholic liturgical rite

The Roman Missal is the title of several missals used in the celebration of the Roman Rite. Along with other liturgical books of the Roman Rite, the Roman Missal contains the texts and rubrics for the celebration of the most common liturgy and Mass of the Catholic Church.

<i>Sacrosanctum Concilium</i> Catholic Constitution on the Liturgy

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, is one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. It was approved by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,147 to 4 and promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963. The main aim was to revise the traditional liturgical texts and rituals to reflect more fully fundamental principles, and be more pastorally effective in the changed conditions of the times, clarifying not only the role of ordained ministers but the modalities of appropriate participation of lay faithful in the Catholic Church's liturgy, especially that of the Roman Rite. The title is taken from the opening lines of the document and means "This Sacred Council".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mass of Paul VI</span> Type of liturgical rite in the Roman Catholic Church

The Mass of Paul VI, also known as the Ordinary Form or Novus Ordo, is the most commonly used liturgy in the Catholic Church. It is a form of the Latin Church's Roman Rite, and was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 and published by him in 1970; it was then revised in the 1975 edition of the Roman Missal, further revised by Pope John Paul II in 2000, and published in a third edition in 2002.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tridentine Mass</span> Form of liturgy in the Roman Rite

The Tridentine Mass, also known as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Traditional Rite, is the liturgy in the Roman Missal of the Catholic Church published from 1570 to 1962. Celebrated almost exclusively in Ecclesiastical Latin, it was the most widely used Eucharistic liturgy in the world from its issuance in 1570 until the introduction of the Mass of Paul VI.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sacred language</span> Language that is cultivated for religious reasons

A sacred language, holy language or liturgical language is any language that is cultivated and used primarily for religious reasons by people who speak another, primary language in their daily lives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New American Bible</span> English-language Catholic Bible translation

TheNew American Bible (NAB) is an English translation of the Bible first published in 1970. The 1986 Revised NAB is the basis of the revised Lectionary, and it is the only translation approved for use at Mass in the Latin Church Catholic dioceses of the United States and the Philippines, and the 1970 first edition is also an approved Bible translation by the Episcopal Church in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition</span> 1966 English translation of the Bible

The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) is an English translation of the Bible first published in 1966. In 1965, the Catholic Biblical Association adapted, under the editorship of Bernard Orchard OSB and Reginald C. Fuller, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) for Catholic use. It contains the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament placed in the traditional order of the Vulgate. The editors' stated aim for the RSV Catholic Edition was "to make the minimum number of alterations, and to change only what seemed absolutely necessary in the light of Catholic tradition."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Missal</span> Liturgical book

A missal is a liturgical book containing instructions and texts necessary for the celebration of Mass throughout the liturgical year. Versions differ across liturgical tradition, period, and purpose, with some missals intended to enable a priest to celebrate Mass publicly and others for private and lay use. The texts of the most common Eucharistic liturgy in the world, the Catholic Church's Mass of Paul VI of the Roman Rite, are contained in the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal. Missals have also been published for earlier forms of the Roman Rite and other Latin liturgical rites. Other liturgical books typically contain the Eucharistic liturgies of other ritual traditions, but missals exist for the Byzantine Rites, Eastern Orthodox Western Rites, and Anglican liturgies.

<i>Nova Vulgata</i> Official Classical Latin translation of the original-language texts of the Bible

The Nova Vulgata, also called the Neo-Vulgate, is the official Classical Latin translation of the original-language texts of the Bible published by the Holy See. It was completed in 1979, and was promulgated the same year by John Paul II in Scripturarum thesaurus. A second, revised edition was published in 1986. It is the official Latin text of the Bible of the Catholic Church. The Nova Vulgata is also called the New Latin Vulgate or the New Vulgate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liturgy of the Hours</span> Liturgical prayers of the Catholic Church, used at fixed times throughout the day and night

The Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office or Opus Dei are a set of Catholic prayers comprising the canonical hours, often also referred to as the breviary, of the Latin Church. The Liturgy of the Hours forms the official set of prayers "marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer." The term "Liturgy of the Hours" has been retroactively applied to the practices of saying the canonical hours in both the Christian East and West–particularly within the Latin liturgical rites–prior to the Second Vatican Council, and is the official term for the canonical hours promulgated for usage by the Latin Church in 1971. Before 1971, the official form for the Latin Church was the Breviarium Romanum, first published in 1568 with major editions through 1962.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is a commission set up by a number of episcopal conferences of English-speaking countries for the purpose of providing English translations of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, the originals of which are in Latin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Latin liturgical rites</span> Category of Catholic rites of public worship

Latin liturgical rites, or Western liturgical rites, is a large family of liturgical rites and uses of public worship employed by the Latin Church, the largest particular church sui iuris of the Catholic Church, that originated in Europe where the Latin language once dominated. Its language is now known as Ecclesiastical Latin. The most used rite is the Roman Rite.

Divino afflante Spiritu is a papal encyclical letter issued by Pope Pius XII on 30 September 1943 calling for new translations of the Bible into vernacular languages using the original languages as a source instead of the Latin Vulgate.

The English Missal is a translation of the Roman Missal used by some Anglo-Catholic parish churches. After its publication by W. Knott & Son Limited in 1912, The English Missal was rapidly endorsed by the growing Ritualist movement of Anglo-Catholic clergy, who viewed the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer as insufficient expressions of fully Catholic worship. The translation of the Roman Missal from Latin into the stylized Elizabethan Early Modern English of the Book of Common Prayer allowed clergy to preserve the use of the vernacular language while adopting the Roman Catholic texts and liturgical rubrics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic Bible</span> Catholic Church canon of Bible books

The term Catholic Bible can be understood in two ways. More generally, it can refer to a Christian Bible that includes the whole 73-book canon recognized by the Catholic Church, including some of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament which are in the Greek Septuagint collection, but which are not present in the Hebrew Masoretic Text collection. More specifically, the term can refer to a version or translation of the Bible which is published with the Catholic Church's approval, in accordance with Catholic canon law.

Liturgiam authenticam is an instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, dated 28 March 2001.

The Pontifical Academy for Latin is an organization established in 2012 to promote appreciation for the Latin language and culture. The Academy replaced the Latinitas Foundation, which Pope Paul VI erected in 1976, and is linked to the Dicastery for Culture and Education on which it depends. Its headquarters is located in Vatican City.

The Grail Psalms refers to various editions of an English translation of the Book of Psalms, first published completely as The Psalms: A New Translation in 1963 by the Ladies of the Grail. The translation was modeled on the French La Bible de Jérusalem, according to the school of Fr. Joseph Gelineau: a simple vernacular, arranged in sprung rhythm to be suitable for liturgical song and chant. All official Catholic English translations of the Liturgy of the Hours use the Grail Psalms.

Pope Francis issued the document Magnum principium dated 3 September 2017 on his own authority. It modified the 1983 Code of Canon Law to shift responsibility and authority for translations of liturgical texts into modern languages to national and regional conferences of bishops and restrict the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW). It was made public on 9 September 2017 and its effective date was 1 October of the same year.

Liturgical use of Latin is the practice of performing Christian liturgy in Ecclesiastical Latin. This practice is typically found in the context of liturgical rites of the Latin Church.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 961. ISBN   9780192802903. The Second Vatican Council declared that the use of Latin was to be maintained in the liturgy, though permission was granted for some use of the vernacular; in the outcome, the use of the vernacular has almost entirely triumphed, although the official books continue to be published in Latin. In the Church of England the Latin versions of the Book of Common Prayer have never been widely used, though, for instance, John Wesley used Latin text in doctrinal writings. The option of using traditional Latin texts in sung worship has been retained by choirs in both the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.
  2. 1 2 "On the Western Rite Liturgy | Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese". Retrieved 2017-12-30.
  3. 1 2 3 "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Church Latin". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  4. Collins, Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, pg. vi
  5. Wright, Roger (1982). Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France. ARCA (Classical & Medieval Texts, Papers & Monographs). Vol. 8. Liverpool: Francis Cairns. ISBN   9780905205120.
  6. 1 2 Collins, Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, pg. vi
  7. Leonhardt, Jürgen (2013). Latin: Story of a World Language. Munich: Harvard University Press. p. 94. ISBN   978-0-674-05807-1.
  8. Wright, Roger (1982). Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France. Liverpool: Francis Cairns. pp. 44–50. ISBN   0-905205-12-X.
  9. Janson, Tore (2007). Natural History of Latin: The Story of the World's Most Successful Language. Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN   978-0199214051.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Waquet, Françoise (2002). Latin, Or, The Empire of a Sign: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. Verso. p. 78. ISBN   9781859844021.
  11. "Second Vatican Council | Roman Catholic history [1962–1965]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  12. See it at the Catholic News Service channel.
  13. "Tra Le Sollecitudini Instruction on Sacred Music". Adoremus Bulletin. November 22, 1903. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  14. Roman Missal
  15. "Nova Vulgata - Bibliorum Sacrorum Editio".
  16. "HOLY BIBLE: Genesis 1".
  17. "Latinitas, Opus Fundatum in Civitate Vaticana".
  18. "Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis, parvum verborum novatorum Léxicum".
  19. As stated above, official documents are frequently published in other languages. The Holy See's diplomatic languages are French and Latin (such as letters of credence from Vatican ambassadors to other countries are written in Latin Fr. Reginald Foster, on Vatican Radio, 4 June 2005]). Laws and official regulations of Vatican City, which is an entity that is distinct from the Holy See, are issued in Italian.
  20. Can. 249, 1983 CIC
  21. Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 961. ISBN   9780192802903.
  22. Can. 928 Archived December 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine , 1983 CIC
  23. [ "Apostolic Letter: On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the 1970 Reform". Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2015-03-27 via Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum , article 6


  • Baumeister, Edmund J. The New Missal Latin. St. Mary's, KS: St. Mary's Publishing.
  • Byrne, Carol (1999). "Simplicissimus". The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2011. (A course in ecclesiastical Latin.)

Further reading

Latin and the Catholic Church



Other documents