In Christ all things are ever ancient and ever new, even ancient languages. Latin has been used in the Roman Catholic Church since 600 AD, but it is new to the students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School. At first some students expressed uncertainty when they were asked how they felt about Latin, but as the school year has progressed, they have discovered that Latin has a beauty and relevance that brings it to life.
On the first day of class, the Norbertine sisters, who are helping to teach Latin, asked the students, “Why Learn Latin?” The students were interested to learn that Latin is the “mother tongue” of European languages. More importantly, Latin, the liturgical language of the Church, unites Catholics in prayer. With their new understanding of Latin, students can understand prayers of the Mass in any part of the world. Further, studies show that students who master Latin score consistently higher on college entrance exams.
The nuts-and-bolts of learning a language can become tedious, so the sisters use a variety of engaging activities. The students learn vocabulary with games such as Jeopardy!, Memory Match, and Statues. They study Roman and Church History, using Latin in context with our cultural and Catholic heritage. In one lesson, students learn about education in Ancient Rome from St. Augustine, who describes his school years in the Confessions. The students, in turn, write a letter incorporating Latin vocabulary as if they were students in Ancient Rome. The students love when the sisters teach them Gregorian chant, and it is not unusual to hear students chanting Ave Maria.
The sisters are encouraged by the positive response to Latin. Some students consider it their new favorite subject and ask their teachers to recite their prayers in Latin, which some refer to as “God’s Language.” Many of those who were “uncertain” now enjoy learning Latin and appreciate how it is expanding their language skills. Others express their appreciation simply by greeting the sisters on the playground with “Salve Soror!” The students at SJB are definitely giving this “dead language” new life.