Vatican Latin website

BBC News reports on a new section of the vast (and very professional) Vatican website.

The Roman Catholic Church, for centuries a bastion of Latin usage, has given the ancient tongue a 21st Century boost by launching a website in Latin.

The Vatican website now has a section – Sancta Sedes (Holy See) – with Latin papal texts and religious works.

Pope Benedict XVI is an advocate of Latin, allowing Mass in the language.

But when a papal decree was issued only in Latin by mistake last June, there was confusion until the Vatican press office put out an Italian version.

“It caused a bit of panic for my colleagues who had no schooling in Latin,” said the BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey, “until the official translation finally emerged.”

The Vatican website already has sections in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Ancient traditions

For centuries church documents were all written in Latin, the mass was said only in Latin.

Without a knowledge of the language you would not go far if you were an ambitious priest.

But Latin has fallen out of favour in recent years as the subject has been dropped from school curricula in many countries and normal Vatican business is conducted in Italian, or increasingly in English.

But Pope Benedict wants the Catholic Church to keep its ancient traditions.

After his election to the papacy three years ago, he addressed the Church's cardinals in Latin.

He has encouraged the use of the language in seminaries where new priests are trained.

Last year he lifted restrictions on celebrating the Latin Tridentine Mass,

The Latin Mass had been largely abandoned in the 1960s, as part of reforms to make Catholicism more relevant to its worldwide congregation.

But Father Reginald Foster, an American priest who is the Pope's official Latinist, praises the virtues and the clarity of the Latin language.

“You have to say something and move on,” he says.

“It's not like French and some of these philosophical languages where you can write a whole page and say nothing – in Latin you can't do that!''

Fr Foster has a weekly programme on Vatican Radio called The Latin Lover, in which he explains the historical and contemporary uses of the language.

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