Q — Do you know whether Latin is known as the sacred language of the Roman Catholic Church because Jesus was alive when it was spoken?

A — Very briefly, the answer to the question as it is posed is “No.” Jesus spoke Galilean Aramaic, probably knew Hebrew, perhaps a smattering of Greek, and maybe even some words in Latin. Historically speaking, it is simply impossible to know the extent of our blessed Lord’s language skills. Greek was the language of the church around the Mediterranean world area for several hundred years, the exception being the Roman colonies of North Africa in and around the city of Carthage. The great pre-Nicene authors, Tertullian and Cyprian, wrote their theological treatises in Latin, as did St. Augustine in the post-Nicene period. The language of the North African church was Latin, and, of course, Latin was the language of law and of the Roman aristocracy in Rome itself. But the common language of the people was most often Greek. Thus, in the (most probably) first liturgical document of the Church of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, written around 215 A.D., the language of the liturgy is Greek. It would be at least one more century before Latin became the language of the liturgy there. From the late fourth century onwards Latin became more and more the language of the West, and the language of the Western Church, and the mother of the various Romance languages. Because traditionally Latin very quickly became the liturgical language of most Western countries/regions as well, of course, as the fact that St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible was in Latin (the Vulgate), Latin took on a sacred character. However, Latin is not a sacred language because Jesus was alive when it was spoken.