“Precisely in the multiplicity of languages and cultures, Latin, for so many centuries the vehicle and instrument of Christian culture, not only guarantees continuity with our roots but continues to be as relevant as ever for strengthening the bonds of unity of the faith in the communion of the Church”. Benedict XVI
Latin is the principal language of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church, since at least the 4th century, worships in the Latin language. In Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church reiterated the centrality of Latin for the Roman liturgy. The majority of the great Catholic mystics and thinkers communicated in Latin. Understanding Latin is a great aid in accessing the immense patrimony of the Catholic Church’s prayers, music, theology, and philosophy.
Latin became the language of the Church because it was first the language of Western civilization. The Romans assimilated and spread the ideals of the Greek culture, while adding their own invaluable contributions in law and politics. Latin, more than any other language, forms Western culture. That culture – its ideals and aspirations, its portrayal of virtue and the human good – is best accessed through the original Latin works. Latin is the language of Cicero and Vergil, Livy and Tacitus, Boethius and Bede, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Latin forms the mind to think logically and precisely. It gives a command of grammar, which is the correct use of language and therefore the foundation of all further study. Evelyn Waugh, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, defends classical studies as necessary to “fully understand that a sentence is a logical construction and that words have basic inalienable meanings.” Many other benefits of learning Latin can be adduced: it improves English vocabulary, it aids in learning other foreign languages, and it helps students score higher on standardized tests.