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I recently stumbled upon a website called Unam Sanctam Catholicam. It had a very instructive article on an apostolic constitution by Pope St. John XXIII, promoting the study of Latin — a document about which I had never previously heard, titled Veterum Sapientia (1962). Interestingly, Veterum Sapientia, written by the father of Vatican II, affirms Latin studies' importance for the Church.
It is an indisputable fact that, today, the Latin Liturgy attracts many very prayerful people, especially young adults. Everyone knows that the rising generations represent the Church of the future. The pews at Latin Masses often are filled with large families, who can provide the future vocations the Church badly needs.
Pope Francis has famously spoken about the need for pastors to smell of their sheep, which is his way of emphasizing that pastors must hear the voice of the laity and provide for the laity's needs.
Many of the sheep today smell of the sacred incense of traditional Liturgy. So pastors would act wisely in adding more incense to the thurible (at least figuratively) by enhancing the beauty and reverence of the Liturgy.
Pope St. John XXIII's Veterum Sapientia provided a comprehensive rationale for why Latin should be studied. I summarize some key sections below, but nonetheless recommend that every Catholic read the document in full.
There are five central reasons for the study of Latin proffered by Veterum Sapientia:
Pope St. John XXIII understood the concept of a liturgical language, the Church's need for such a language, the need for it specifically to be "non-vernacular," and the eminent suitability of Latin to serve such a role in the West.
Some might object that learning Latin is needlessly difficult and time-consuming — and thus that it is a distraction from evangelization. It would seem more prudent for a missionary overseas, for example, to learn the local tongue rather than ecclesiastical Latin.
But the idea that learning the Church's liturgical language somehow forecloses upon learning vernacular languages is insulting to the innumerable Catholic missionary priests who went to great lengths to study local tongues for the sake of spreading the gospel, while contemporaneously celebrating Mass in Latin. Here are but a few such priests:
The use of liturgical Latin has never been an obstacle to Catholic pastors learning vernacular languages. Quite the opposite: Knowing Latin may facilitate the learning of other languages. Indeed, many students of Latin find that their knowledge of Latin grammar, with all its precision and complexity, helps immensely with learning modern tongues.
Finally, the idea that priests should not study Latin because they need to devote their time to more important matters could have been totally avoided had the priests been trained in Latin in their years spent in seminary, in keeping with centuries-old tradition. That way, by the time of their ordination, priests would be ready to begin studies of whatever other languages were necessary for their vocations.
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