My basic philosophy of learning Church Latin is that your textbooks should be the prayers and texts of the Church. After all, If those prayers and texts are what you want to learn to understand, you should get started with them immediately! And thanks to the work of hundreds (thousands?) of people who get things scanned and uploaded onto the internet, so much good stuff for the Church Latin scholar is available for free, as soon as you’re ready!
Here are links to some of those good things to get you started today:
- Pronunciation: The first thing to do is to learn the proper pronunciation of Church Latin. (Note: if you had Latin in High School, it was most likely ancient Roman Latin, which is pronounced differently–and generally uses a very different set of vocabulary words!) Here is a guide I made for my Sunday School students to get them started pronouncing syllables and words correctly from the first day: Church Latin Syllables. At the end of the second page are three well-known prayers in Latin for reading practice. You’ll surprise yourself on how well you do!
- Prayers: After warming up with the pronunciation guide, learn to say and to chant the Pater Noster (Our Father) in Latin. Even more Catholic prayers with English and Latin versions together are here.
- Scripture: Once you have memorized a few traditional prayers, begin a side-by-side comparison of the English translation of the Scriptures with the original Latin. The best way I have found to do this is with Madame Cecilia’s Catholic Scripture Manuals from the 1860s. These books have the English translation of the books of the New Testament in larger print, with the Latin text (Vulgate) in the margins for easy comparison. Starting with the short Gospel of St. Mark, you are quickly on your way to understanding a lot of Latin–because you already know the English text so well.
- The Guide: But, if you really feel more comfortable learning with textbooks, then the free online text of Fr. Edward Caswall’s The Catholic’s Latin Instructor is for you. (For those of you who prefer to purchase a paper copy, you can buy one here.) Fr. Caswall took the chants and texts of the Church, broke them into little pieces, and then translated them portion by portion, doing the hard work for you. All you will need to do is read and memorize!
Remarkably, I have noticed a renaissance of Latin in the local schools; more and more public and private schools are teaching Latin, both in High School and in college. And even happier news is that more and more Catholics are embracing the beautiful Sacred Language of our tradition all the time. Of course, particularly amongst Catholic homeschoolers the need for good Church Latin materials is growing. (Just think of all those children who know Latin being all grown up in 15 years, and what they will then be bringing to the Church–Deo gratias!) Get ahead of the curve, and get started with your Latin studies today!