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Catholic Dictionary




Originally the Italic dialect of ancient Rome. It was the ordinary language of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, and Latin translations of the Bible were made as early as the second century. The liturgy was also celebrated in Latin (along with Coptic, Greek, and Ethiopic) since apostolic times. Latin gradually became the official language of the Western Church, and from the time of Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220) was used extensively in theological writing. A historic change took place at the Second Vatican Council, which declared that "the use of the Latin language . . . is to be preserved in the Latin rite. But since the use of the vernacular . . . may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it" in the liturgy. (Constitution on the Liturgy, I, 36). Since the Council the Church continues to use Latin in her official documents, requires the study of Latin by her future priests, and encourages the use of Latin in those parts of the Mass that are sung or recited by the people, e.g., the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. (Etym. Latin Latinum, district of Italy in which Rome was situated.)