Lingua Latina, Utrum Sit Mortua?

In one sense the Latin language is mortua. When a language is no longer spoken by mothers to their infants, mortua est haec lingua. Somewhere on this earth there may be found parents who say Fili, pius esto et manduc olera tua, and children being taught the difference between gerunds and gerundives even as they learn to tie their shoes, in the home of the professor of the classics department for example. But this is not sufficient to call Latin a living language. Latin has been dead as a language, as a societal language, for quite some time.

Yet in another sense it is living. People still study Latin, and pray in it, and love it. There are Catholics who for example hear the voice of the Bishops of the World, under the headship of Pope Paul VI, saying these words..

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 36. 1. Linguae latinae usus, salvo particulari iure, in Ritibus latinis servetur.

..and who respond with a hearty, “Ok.”* Jews pray in Hebrew. Catholics pray in Latin. It makes sense. It made sense to Pope Saint John XXIII, who once wrote: [lingua Latina] quaedam quasi ianua, qua aditus omnibus patet ad ipsas christianas veritates antiquitus acceptas et ecclesiasticae doctrinae monumenta interpretanda. [Latin] is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching.

Do you have your passport?

* I offer this as an example not only of docility toward the Church but also of what Christ called a childlike faith.

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