In 1985, Coca-Cola Company changed the original formula of their prized soft-drink and came out with “new Coke.” New Coke turned out to be a total bust as consumers complained about the new taste and demanded to go back to the old recipe that everyone enjoyed. Coca-Cola acquiesced to their customers’ objections on new Coke and re-branded to “Coca-Cola Classic.” This new Coke story illuminates the often cited phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The lesson learned from the new Coke disaster is that when you have a beloved recipe, it’s probably best not to tinker with it.
If you’re like me and have been disenchanted with the scandals and the overall liberal direction of the Church, you’ll likely be curiously drawn to the original recipe of the Mass. I’m talking, of course, about the Latin Mass. If you’ve dawned those rare churches that still perform the High Latin Mass, you may sense that there is something about Latin that pulls people in. Maybe it’s the Gregorian chants that employ a mysterious and sacred aura to it. Or, it’s the liturgical pageantry that embodies the deep meaning of what is taking place at the Mass. What is it about Latin and why are Latin Masses experiencing a revival in the U.S.? In fact, there was a recent story of a dying parish that was saved precisely because they switched back to the Latin Mass formula. I suspect the more we uncover what Latin is and how it affects the mind, the more we can understand why some people are unconsciously drawn to it. Let’s zoom in on the Latin recipe to see why it is slowly making a comeback.
What is Latin? Latin is a mother language because millions of people today speak her offspring. Latin sprang the Romantic languages of French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, etc. Even in English, the resemblance to Latin is striking. Roughly 40 percent of the English vocabulary is comprised of Latin-based words. Latin has been called a dead language because nobody speaks it conversationally anymore. It’s technically dead, but it still emerges like an eternal spirit every now and then to speak to us. For example, have you ever been asked to fill a quota, finished a list with etcetera or explained something vice versa?
Latin sayings and terms have embedded themselves in our everyday phrases. When we tell the time, we indicate morning or evening with a.m. or p.m.—short-form for ante meridiem (“before midday”) and post meridiem (“after midday”). Other sayings abound such as: non sequitur (“it does not follow”), carpe diem (“seize the day”), ad nauseum (“to the point of nausea”), ergo (“therefore”), impromptu (“spontaneous”), and quid pro co (“something for something”). Despite being declared “dead” Latin continues to come alive in our conversations.
The roots of Latin sprang forth as the Roman Empire spread. It became so widely spoken, that it was the de facto language of the Western world. Latin embodied the culture of Rome in that it followed a tight, logical pattern. Romans were disciplined. Their architecture displayed order and structure with a systematic rhythm of rows and columns. It is no wonder that their language of Latin also embodies a precise, logical order. Latin not only came about in a structured, disciplined environment, but knowledge of Latin was the best way to tell if someone was well-educated in the medieval period. As William Wallace’s uncle Argyle says in Braveheart, “You don’t speak Latin? Well that’s something we’ll have to remedy, isn’t it.”
Today, scholars recognize how Latin cultivates your brain more so than any other subject. As Latin scholar Cheryl Lowe indicates, “Latin develops the intellectual powers of the mind as no other subject can.” Lowe compares Latin to math in that both employ systematic, organized, and logical methods to apprehend it. Latin, much like math is cumulative in that when you master one topic you ascend to the next. In math, once you’ve grasped Algebra 1 you then move on to Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-calculus, then Calculus. The same logical ascension occurs in Latin in that each skill builds upon the previous one while nothing can be forgotten. In this cumulative setting, your brain capacity improves as your knowledge skills grow. You are building a tower of learning, block by block. After a while, your knowledge tower represents a grand castle in which each room reveals a flourishing of one another. Therefore, the better you understand the rubrics of the Latin language, your memory becomes stronger, your rational thinking is enhanced, and you can absorb complicated information easier and quicker. Once your brain goes through this orderly process of building your tower, you’ll begin to notice that you naturally exceed in other areas – business, time management, problem-solving, etc. Here, the rooms begin to flourish from knowing how to correctly order the brick laying process in Latin.
How does this play out in real life? Because Latin enables rational thinking, prominent CEO, Michael Ortner, endorsed studying Latin as a must for business success. He went on to say, “The frequent deductive reasoning required to learn and understand this highly inflected language serves to foster clear, logical thinking. Mastery of logic is essential in business (and science, engineering, medicine, etc.). It enables you to exercise sound judgment, think critically, and creatively problem-solve. It not only allows you to bridge the gap between two seemingly unrelated ideas but to distill data down to a core meaning, identify patterns, and think of solutions.”
Ortner echoes other CEO’s when he says, “I’d much rather hire a great thinker who has never studied business than a business major who never learned to think well.”
It is also no wonder that according to a series of studies of SAT scores, students of Latin consistently scored significantly better than the average across all sections of the SAT – more so than any other language. In fact, data suggests that those who study Latin in high school are more likely to get accepted into Ivy League Schools.
The reason that Latin leads to this explosion of your brain is that when you are translating a sentence in Latin, there are precise rules you are forced to interpret and apply logically in order to extract the correct meaning of the text. This process allows for the perfect combination of left and right brain thinking, where there is both knowledge of systematic guidelines and innovative flexibility. Therefore, Latin helps you train your brain to think more carefully, analytically and also creatively. These are skills that allow people to think with precision, style, and be able to consume more complex messages. It is no coincidence that Latin has produced the most influential literature of all time from Vergil, Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, etc.
While Latin can strengthen your overall cognitive skills and allow you to interpret dense, multi-layered information with relative ease, perhaps its greatest contribution is that it enhances your spiritual experience. Latin music alone illuminates the senses to a near mystical experience. A person would have to be near tone deaf if he couldn’t appreciate the beautiful hymns in the Latin Mass or such songs as Dies Irae, Palestrina, and Salve Regina.
Furthermore, Latin brings out the faith in a more clear, concrete way as it forces the reader to look into the deeper meaning of the text. Latin prevents people from having a superficial reading of God’s message. A simplistic interpretation of “pluck out your eye” misses the whole point of the passage is to take sin out at its source. Therefore, Latin enhances the reader’s understanding of key phrases in Scripture.
What’s also significant about Latin is that the definition of a word is better seen through the Latin root. For example, the word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religare.” Religare means to bind yourself to a relationship. Therefore, the word religion is describing how one attaches and binds his entire self to a specific deity. Everyone binds themselves to something – be it music, sports, politics or popularity. But, the Latin word shows that to use the word “religion” you’d have to be calling to a higher power than merely expressing an ordinary area of interest (like saying music is my religion). Understanding the real definition of a word will automatically heighten your contemplation of what that word is describing. To know that the word “hierarchy” which is “ierarchie” in Latin means “a sacred order” is to know that anytime you see the word “hierarchy” in the Church it’s referring to a Divine recipe. Today, people often spin certain words like “tradition” or “hierarchy” as negative sounding. However, if you comprehend Latin, then you know that pop culture is cleverly trying to repackage the word “hierarchy” as the true sense of the word is expressive of God’s formula.
Here, we come to a key point about what language does. In language, a message is communicated, heard, and, in turn, interpreted as to its true meaning. A language is a form of communication in order to understand reality because words are a description of reality. It follows if your language gives you the clearest definition of a word then you are in a better position to grasp reality. It also follows that a language such as Latin that forces both the sender and receiver to use critical thinking is in a much better position to apprehend and articulate the truth. Recall, that Jesus said he was the truth (John 14:6, 18:37), and that “the truth would set you free” (John 8:32). How interesting that Latin is one of the best avenues in which the truth can be clearly seen.
If Latin makes you smarter, enhances your religious experience, gives you a better taste of the truth, it is it no wonder that exorcists routinely acknowledge that the devil hates Latin. In fact, demonologist Adam Blai recommends using Latin based Gregorian Chant music as an effective way to drive out demonic spirits. In short, Latin packs an incredibly strong punch. Why of all languages does Latin scare away the demonic? The reason is that when Jesus was nailed on the cross and defeated the devil, the sign that announced his victory on the crucifix that read, “The King of the Jews,” was written in 3 languages – Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (see John 19:20). Therefore, these languages now become sacred and anointed tongues as they proclaim the Messianic title that defeated the devil. Of these three, Latin came about in a Roman context and fulfilled the prophesy of Daniel in which Rome would be transformed under the coming of the Son of Man. So, anytime the devil hears Latin he is reminded of his defeat on the cross and will scurry away from this language quicker than he would from any other language (see here).
The variety of languages and interpretations create a cloud of uncertainty as people all over the world attempt to communicate with one another. This idea of linguistic confusion was poetically described in the tower of Babel story in Genesis. In this account, because of man’s pride, language between people became convoluted, and the true meaning of words became obscure. Might it be that the language that spawned the many European languages today stands as the key to undoing the confusion from the tower of Babel experience?
The Church grew under the banner of Latin. From the 4th century to the 19th century, Latin was the universal language of the Church. During this time period, the Church thrived and was united under one, common tongue across the world. Today, you’ll likely have to hunt to find those churches that display the beauty of Latin in the liturgy. They are out there, and they are slowly beginning to increase in number because people are starting to demand to go back to the original formula.
Footnote: Attending Latin Mass for the first time will be difficult because we are so accustomed to the new Mass. Latin Mass is very much like drinking coffee for the first time. At first, the taste is so new it seems strange. But, after time the Latin Mass becomes an acquired taste much like coffee does. I recommend before attending your first Latin Mass to check out this video to know what goes on in the Latin Mass.