Friday 27 April 2012

Introduction to Liturgical Latin

In a fit of enthusiasm, I rashly suggested on Twitter that I could post some kind of introduction to Liturgical Latin, and to my dismay a number of people expressed an interest.

I always think it helpful to establish one’s credentials early on, in this kind of endeavour, and in this instance that is quite simple: I have none.

I did pass O level Latin (sat 1st & 4th July, 1977) with a grade C (and that was a travesty of justice: I shouldn’t have got more than a D at best....).  But I have sung Latin for many years, and have a passing knowledge of French and Spanish, so may be able to cobble something together.

Moreover, I have reason to believe that at least one distinguished Latinist occasionally visits this blog, so if I commit anything too heinous, I am sure he will let me know.

So here is my proposed modus operandi (get that: Latin already - it means way of working).

I suggest that for the next few weeks I post a prayer that you should know and take it apart word by word.  I will also post a link to a sung version of the prayer in Latin, and strongly recommend that you learn to sing it by heart (by far the easiest way to learn texts in my experience).  That will enable you to start to build a vocabulary, and also to reflect on the words and their relationship to English words (which I will try to point out in passing).  As you advance, you will be able to re-visit these learned prayers to find examples of grammatical points we come to later.

Initially, we will mainly look at vocabulary - what the words mean.  I will also introduce a few elements of grammar.  At any stage you can post questions in the Comms box and I will endeavour to answer them.  If nobody posts anything at all in the comms box, and if I get no other feedback that people think this worthwhile, I will desist.

This programme comes with a unique 100% money back guarantee.  If at any stage you are dissatisfied with the programme, I will refund you precisely nothing - that’s a full refund, with no deductions for admin. postage or anything else.

So let’s go:

Pater Noster - Our Father

Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

Pater - Father.  From which we derive words such as paternal, patriarchal, patrimony.
noster - Our. 
qui - who 
es - art or are (as in ‘you are’, in the singular)
in - in. (I told you this was easy)
caelis - Heaven. From which we get celestial
sanctificetur - may it be made holy.  Saint comes from the root of this word.
nomen - name.  From which (as well as name itself) we get nominal.
tuum - thy, your (singular).
Adveniat - may it come. From which we get advent.
regnum - kingdom. From which we get reign.
Fiat - let it be done. (we find this in the Angelus, too...)
voluntas - will. From which we get voluntary, volunteer.
sicut - as.
caelo - Heaven (again - different ending this time  - we’ll come back to that...)
et - and
terra - earth From which we get terrestrial.
Panem - bread.
nostrum - our (different ending - see below)
quotidianum - daily.
da - give.
nobis - to us.
hodie - today.
dimitte  - forgive.
debita - trespasses. From which we get the word debt.
nostra  - our (again)
nos - we
dimittimus - we forgive
debitoribus - debtors
nostris - our (again)
ne - not (as in ‘do not’ - applies to the following verb)
nos - us
inducas - you lead 
tentationem - temptation
sed - but
libera - free. From which we get liberty, liberal, liberate.
a - from
malo - evil, or the Evil One. From which we get malicious, malefactor etc.

A quick note on grammar (about which more in later posts...). 

In order to talk intelligently about language we need to know some basic technical terms.

Noun - this is a word that names someone or something: ball, dog, Ben, pencil

Adjective  -  a word that modifies a noun: the red ball, the fierce dog, lazy Ben, the blunt pencil.

Verb - a word that describes an action: to kick, to love, to believe, to write, to think and so on...

Adverb - a word which modifies a verb: to kick quickly, to believe wholeheartedly, to write beautifully, to think profoundly...  These often end with -ly in English.

And here is where it gets interesting:

In English, we interpret sentences largely based on the order of the words: consider ‘John kicks Peter’ and ‘Peter kicks John.

We know who does the kicking and who is kicked by the word order.  Latin does not work like that.  In Latin, most of that information is conveyed by changing the ending of the words.  The endings of the words indicate who is the subject of the verb (who is doing the kicking) and who is the object (who is being kicked), and how many (singular or plural) are involved.

So nouns are changed to show which is the subject and which the object of the action (and various other things which we will come to later).  Adjectives are changed to match the noun which they are modifying.

We have some remnants of this in English. ‘I’ denotes the subject, and ‘me’ denotes the object, for example.  ‘Pencil’ denotes one pencil, ‘pencils’ denotes more than one.

In Latin, verbs are changed to show who is doing the action and when (past, present, future etc).  

Again we have some remnants of this (consider kick, kicks, kicked, kicking).

That is why in the Pater noster, we have the same word occurring with different endings in different contexts: caelis and caelo; noster, nostrum, nostra and nostris. We will explore that in more detail in a later post: this feels quite enough to be starting with!


Idle Rambler said...

Thanks, Ben, am with you so far. If we're being pedantic, I'd say 'in my best primary schoolteacher voice' an adjective 'describes' a noun. It's a 'describing' word as we used to say way back when! :-)

Idle Rambler said...

I love the idea of posting the chant clips too. A great help. Thanks :-)

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks IR - good to know somebody is reading. Yes, 'describing' probably better for adjectives than 'modifying'.

Joseph Shaw said...

Why not come on the LMS' 6-day course in July?

Sitsio said...

This is exciting, thanks very much! Of course, I know all this already (he said pompously). Like you, I learned Latin at my Jesuit grammar school. I really enjoyed it, but had I known it's importance in terms of the liturgy, I would have got so much more from my study! I guess this is one reason I have enjoyed the resurgence of the Usus Antiquior so much.

Ben Trovato said...

JS - yes the LMS course looks good. If only work didn't get in the way. I swear I should have been born with an independent income like Bertie Wooster....

ML - except mine was Benedictine, and I didn't enjoy it. But I love singing it, and appreciate it more and more.

Sitsio said...

I can certainly empathise, I think one of my Latin teacher's actually was this Roman Centurion:

Lazarus said...

Thanks for doing this, Ben. I've been struggling to give my children the rudiments of the language for years now. (Mixed success with them -but it's done wonders for my grasp of the language.) In retrospect, I'd have done far more of what you're doing here: starting off with memorized Latin prayers. (Ralph McInerny seems to do something similar in his, 'Let's Read Latin' (ISBN: 9781883357269) but I haven't actually seen the book, only heard about it.

Ben Trovato said...

I find, with children, as well as the rote learning of prayers, that an effective strategy is to have one meal a day at which only Latin is spoken.

This 'total immersion' technique is well-validated pedagogically.

(And yes, I'm kidding... If only my Latin were that good!)

Hugh of Avalon said...

Wonderful initiative! Anything that encourages appreciation of the official language of the Church is to be welcomed. In my opinion the introduction of the vernacular in the Mass and Divine Office was a catastrophic mistake, as Latin was a symbol (and even instrument) of the unity of the Church. Anyone who has tried to find a decent Mass while abroad will know the obvious drawbacks of our present Babel-like state. I can well remember the delight I felt when, during a long sojourn in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, I found a Latin EF Mass. My German was rather poor and isolating, but for that hour of Mass I felt perfectly at home.

Sig Sønnesyn said...

This is superb stuff! Great initiative, and one that is much needed. And by choosing this method you show very clearly the great benefits a working knowledge of Latin has in a specifically Catholic setting.

While I fully understand that you cannot cover all aspects of the benefits of Latin in one post, I would like to mention one aspect I have found particularly useful in studying liturgical and ecclesiastical Latin. While the Christian adaptation of Latin greatly expanded and changed the range of meanings expressible in that language, the pre-Christian meanings and connotations continued to offer at least part of the semantic range associated with words and expressions. The usage of 'debita' in the Pater Noster is a case in point. While 'trespasses' is a good English rendering of it, it is impossible to reproduce the full linguistic context that the term carries in Latin. The notion is deeply rooted in the classical definition of justice: 'suum cuique retribuere' 'giving to each his or her due. The idea is that in sinning (in relation to God) or in causing injury or offence (in relation to fellow human beings) we incur debts, and justice entails the redeeming of those debts. Sp while the modern translation captures the basic idea, it lacks the fuller context anchored in an elaborate account of the concept of justice and justification that we find in the Latin. Which is another good reason for the excellence of your initiative!