Monday, June 15, 2009

Learn Latin: it's practical

Latin is still the functioning lingua franca of the Church. I've been in several situations lately where I am in a room full of people with whom the only possible common language we have is Latin. I wasn't good at it, but I've retained enough to get simple ideas across, and there are situations in which liturgical and Vulgate Latin come in very handy indeed.

It's not always easy to get your confession heard in English in this town. There are loads of confessionals, but they are rarely manned. In some churches, (I'm looking at you Sant Ignacio) the posted times for confession are meaningless. You see it says five to six pm, you go in at 5:30 and no one is there. Other times, there is someone there, but, despite the sign that says, "English", the old guy just shrugs.

So, here's a suggestion. Learn the names of your favourite sins in Latin. Seriously. Most of the boys in the boxes in the major basilicas are elderly retired priests. With those guys, the old language is still in there, lurking about just looking for something to do.

The Roman confessionals have a window in the middle and when the priest isn't hearing someone's confession, he usually keeps the shutters open. Just go up to them and ask "In Latine?"

The old Jesuit I got today seemed bemused but game and we stumbled through. It was clear from what he said that my simple nouns and verbs (with, I'm sure, all the wrong declensions and conjugations) and jumbled mishmash of Latin and my little bits of Italian, got the message across. I more or less got the gist of what he said to me in Latin, (also simple sentences with just nouns and verbs, and doubtless all with perfect grammar). And I'm sure the formula for absolution are as deeply ingrained in an old Jesuit as ... err... some really deeply ingrained thing. (Just drew an analogous blank, sorry.)

I understood him clearly enough when he said in Latin, "Ten hail Mary's and ten Our Fathers, and say the Act of C. in English."

You know more Latin than you think you do, and it can have some very practical applications in Rome.

Catholicism is so cool.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think just plain "Latine?" would suffice, as it is an adverb ("Latinly") not a substantive. But if you want, you might ask, "In lingua Latina?"

BillyHW said...

Ten hail Mary's and ten Our Fathers

Did you attempt murder or something?

Iohannes Carolus Crassus said...

Plenty of English confessors at St Peter's and Mary Major. Look for the Chinese guy near the Altar of St Petronilla who always says "You go say Hail Mary. I give absolution now." In and out in a breeze, with non of the novus weirdo pyschobabble.

Louise said...

They obviously give out more substantial penances in Rome, Billy.

Just drew an analogous blank, sorry.

Don't you hate that?

Right, that settles it, I *will* get a Latin tutor for the kids.

HJMW said...

Yes, St. Peter's, with the five mile long queue, playing anvil to the sun's hammer. No thanks. And Mary Major is a leeeetle out of the way for me.

Emily said...

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