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Celebrets and Latin Conversation

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 2: Peregrinus Goes Abroad: Chapter 22


“I am delighted to give you leave of absence, Fathers,” said the Bishop. (“Glad to have us out of the Diocese, even for a couple of months,” commented the Liturgiologist, sotto voce.[1]) “Every Priest should make the pilgrimage to Rome when he’s able, and you have waited a long time and certainly deserve a holiday. Here are your Celebrets.[2] You’ll find that you’ll need them in Italy, for they are much more punctilious over there than we are here. You’ll have to show them every time you go to a new church to say Mass, and you’ll have to write your name and the name of your diocese in the register of Masses every time you celebrate. That is a sine qua non,[3] whether you show a Celebret or not, although Canon 804, section 2, only requires it in case you fail to show your Celebret. I believe that there’s a Diocesan Statute in Rome and other Italian dioceses demanding it. And, of course, section 3 of the same Canon requires you to comply. Don’t think it lack of clerical courtesy if you re held strictly to the law.”


“I’ve had some experience in this country—” began the Liturgiologist.


“So I’ve heard,” was the Bishop’s dry rejoiner. “Now here is a letter to Monsignore Procuratore,[4] my Agent in Rome, who will arrange your audience with the Holy Father, and extend other courtesies to you. Be sure to look up Father Importunus,[5] the Domciscan,[6] and get him to take you about. He knows everybody, and can tell you everything. Do either of you, by any chance, speak Italian?”


“I can say ‘non capisco,’ laughed the Antiquary, “and ‘quanto’ and ‘niente’!”[7]


“Quite enough,” nodded the Bishop, “for if you get stuck you can speak Latin, and usually make yourself understood. Then, too, there’s always someone around who speaks English, after a fashion, and with one of those little phrase books in your pocket—”


“Which tells you how to say everything except what you want to say,” interrupted the Liturgiologist.

“Then you’d better stick to Latin,” concluded the Bishop, dryly.


“Latin indeed!” chirped the Antiquary. “What chance have we with those foreign priests who talk it as their mother tongue? I can read it readily enough, and understand it when it’s spoken slowly, but conversation!”


“We might try it between ourselves,” said the Liturgiologist, “on the boat going over, you know.”


“Why not start right now,” rejoined the Antiquary. “You tell me, in Latin, that you’re afraid you’re going to be seasick, and ask me to call the steward.”


Vesica mea,” began the Liturgiologist, “similis est rumpere—”[8]


“Stop!” cried the Bishop. “You’ve been reading Father Tom and the Pope.[9] You’ll have to do better than that in Rome.”


Verum est pro te,”[10] mumbled the Liturgiologist.


“I suppose the youngsters coming out in about five years from now will be real Latinists,” said the Antiquary. “That new decree about the Seminaries stresses the point, and I understand it really has teeth.”[11]


“It has indeed,” replied the Bishop. “Latin conversation is going to be taught in our own Seminary, as well as real facility in reading. Lectures in Latin should not be difficult, if the men have the proper foundation. I have a theory that the teaching of Latin should begin in the lower grades, instead of high school. There’s no reason why boys in the sixth and seventh grades shouldn’t start to learn Latin, not as a dead language, but as a real, usable, every-day mode of speech (which, certainly, it ought be to a priest) and learn it, moreover, by the modern conversational method,[12] just as they would French or German. The classics can very well wait till the language is fairly well mastered, then they’ll be exercises instead of tasks.”[13]


“Your Lordship’s own Seminary could make a beginning,” ventured the Antiquary. “Since you must discontinue the day-scholar features of the preparatory department, the lads will be right in the institution from the time they begin high school, and with a couple of years of Latin before that, and the opportunity to practice actual use of the language among themselves, by the time they’re ready for Philosophy they would be really proficient.”

“I think that when the new decree gets to working,” said the Bishop, “one result will be that boys destined for the clerical state will attend the preparatory seminary as day

students (in the cities, or course) from the seventh grade on, or, perhaps, there may be extension classes in Latin in one or more of the grade schools of the larger centers. It is quite evident that Rome intends us to set our educational house in order, and that the time for beginning a strictly ecclesiastical education must be set forward by two or three years. I only hope it may result in fewer losses among those who start for the Seminary.”

“We might make a start with the Altar Boys,” put in the Liturgiologist. “At least we could make sure that they really know their answers for serving at Mass. And their pronunciation usually leaves much to be desired.”[14]

“I have two young men at St. Inveteratus,” said the Antiquary, “who are attending the University of the Quattuor Coronati.[15] They complain because they must do their classics in what they call ‘classical Latin’ with the c’s all k’s and the v’s spoken like w’s. When they serve mass, as they do every time they are at home, there’s a fine mix-up. One of them responds ‘seecoot ayrat een preecheepayo” while the other tries to drown him out with “Sykut erat in prinkipio—et in Sykula sykulorum!” Now I can’t, for the life of me, see why a Catholic college should not teach the Catholic pronunciation of Latin.”

“I got mine in a public high school,” subjoined the Liturgiologist. “It was excellent training, but the old so-called ‘English,’ or ‘Oxford’ pronunciation was still in vogue, the vowels being given their English sound, so that we said ‘De-us in adjutori-um me-um intende’ and, what’s worse, ‘Kyry elysun,’ when we served Mass. But now that the Holy Father has, to all intents and purposes, urged the universal use of the ‘Italian pronunciation’[16] I must say I agree with my old friend that our boys should learn it in the beginning, certainly those who have any idea of going to the Seminary.”

“I think we’d better be going, my Lord,” anxiously injected the Antiquary. “Something seems to tell me that my old friend is about to mount his most violent hobby, and give us a declamation on Greek for Students for the Priesthood.”

“Another time, Father,” smiled the Bishop, rising and extending his hand. “If that heresy is no worse than those you’ve adumbrated today you may keep your Faculties usque ad—”[17]

Outside the door, the Liturgiologist whispered to the Antiquary;—“Well, he didn’t recommend either of us to go to Calabresi’s to buy purple sashes!!”[18]




1 Italian for “in a soft voice”.


2 See the previous Peregrinus chapter, “Passports and Preparations” for details.


3 Literally in Latin “without which not” but referring to an absolute or essential condition.


4 Italian for “attorney” or “agent” (thus the Bishop’s pun of “my Agent”), or someone who has the “power of attorney”, i.e., a person with authority.


5 Latin for an “inconvenient” or an “annoying” person.


6 A jocular combination of the names of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders.


7 In order, “I do not understand”, “how much?” and “nothing”.


8 Humorously in Latin, “My bladder is likely to rupture…”.


9 This is reference to a famous satirical work, Father Tom and the Pope: Or A Night in the Vatican, first published in 1861 and available at


10 Literally in Latin “it’s true for you... (but not for me)”, and often rendered as “but for you…”, that is, how the Liturgiologist would speak Latin to the Bishop as opposed in Rome itself! It's possible though that this may also be a play on the Hiberno-English phrase of "True for you" from the Gaelic "Is fior dhuit!"


11 The mentioned decree is the Apostolic Constitution, Deus scientiarum Dominus, promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1931 concerning the education provided in Catholic universities and ecclesiastical faculties. An English commentary can be read here while the official Latin version can be read at the Vatican’s website.


12 That is, the “immersion method”.


13 Referring to the method of translating and grammatically-dissecting such works as Seneca, Cicero, or Caesar.


14 For the proper more romano pronunciation (versus the oft-heard Anglicized versions), see the Server’s Mass Response Card.


15 Latin for “the four crowned ones”. It’s possible that this reference may also be a tongue-in-cheek allusion to the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, a Freemasonic institution for Masonic research.


16 I.e., the more romano liturgical style, versus the curial, or conversational, ecclesiastical style. From the Server's Mass Response Card:


In 1928, Archbishop Louis-Ernest Dubois of Paris received a letter from Pope Pius XI who urged: “Not content like Our Predecessors, Pius X and Benedict XV, simply to approve this [Roman] pronunciation, We Ourselves express the keenest desire that bishops of every nation shall endeavor to adopt it when carrying out the liturgical functions.” Papal Legislation on Sacred Music, Msgr. Robert Hayburn (1979).


17 Latin for "up until".


18 Here “Calabresi” is the name given for an ecclesiastical tailor shop, such as the well-known Gammarelli’s in Rome.

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