Does it matter what papal documents said before the Second Vatican Council? I guess it depends on your point of view. In my point of view, yes–they are at least as important today as they were when they were written, and therefore deserve careful reading and implementation. One of them from the mid-20th century is especially dear to me, John XXIII’s Veterum Sapientia: IT’S ALL ABOUT LATIN!
Latin is STILL the official language of the Catholic Church, even today in 2019. It was almost completely abandoned by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, although official documents including this one repeatedly called for increasing understanding of Latin. It is the Church’s language; it is OUR language. But who knows it now? Who values it now?
Thanks be to God, many more people every day are investigating Latin and the Traditional Liturgy and Sacraments, are trying to get a handle on this Sacred Language, and opening themselves up to the true Catholic sensibilities of Church Latin. It’s in revival mode across the whole world, if dozens and dozens of hits to the “learning Church Latin” pages on this blog from zillions of countries are any indication. (I’ve never even heard of many of these places!)
Are you curious? Want to get on board the revival? Reading through the short text of Veterum Sapientia shows that the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council hoped to see Latin everywhere, at all times. He could not have imagined the Latin-less position Catholics find ourselves in today. Don’t let this be you! Get into action.
So the most important things you can do to bring Latin back to the Church and the world is to 1) attend the Traditional Latin Mass, 2) pray and sing in Latin as much as possible, 3) Learn to read and speak Latin, and 4) give lessons, money, or other help to institutions teaching the Latin language. Belloc said, “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe.” In that same spirit, I say, “Catholicism is Latin and Latin is Catholicism.” There are no ifs, ands, or buts, when you look at the history of the Catholic Church, who has defended Latin, who has attacked Latin, when it has been preserved, where it was abandoned, and where it is rediscovered.
(Lengthy Aside: In service of item #3, I can recommend the audio Latin course from the canonical society Familia Sancti Hieronymi, Course of the Living Latin Language by Father Suitbert Seidl. I recently purchased it, and am now halfway through it. Although I have had several years of Latin, both with self-study at home and college classes in-person, none of the lessons were audio-based like these, and they were certainly not Church Latin. I love the author’s basic pedagogical philosophy for this course. This is how he urges students to think: Latin “arbor” ≠ English “tree“; rather, Latin “arbor” and English “tree” both = ♣ . (Squint your eyes, I’m using it as a picture of a tree.) This course proceeds quickly, though! If you are just new to Latin, proceed very slowly with it. Those having had some Latin before will really enjoy the style and pacing and Father’s dozens of liturgical and linguistic informational asides throughout the text of the program.)
Sure it’s tough to learn a second language. It’s even tougher to learn an inflected Classical language. It’s extremely challenging to learn an inflected Classical language as an adult. BUT–are you a Catholic? Then let n-o-t-h-i-n-g stop you: be sure and make Latin a part of your life. Right now. Latin is your inheritance, a gift, “a treasure of incomparable worth” (Pius XII) for you. This is not a poetical flourish–this is a simple, plain, practical fact. See for yourself!