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  • Writer's pictureAnn Brown

The Latin Roots of Our Worship

Updated: May 10

New Hope Publications is proud to announce our new publication, The Latin Roots of Western Prayer: What the Latin Says, What It Means, and How It Can Enrich Our Prayer Lives, authored by Thomas Rohn, a lay Dominican from Indiana.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document that developed the blueprints for the reform of the Mass, instructed that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

This book seeks to support this goal of Vatican II, moving beyond just providing a translation, to offering an explanation of what the Latin says, what it means, and how it can enrich our prayer lives.

The book explores the most common Catholic prayers in Latin: the Sign of the Cross, the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the parts of the Mass, and more. Whether or not you attend a Latin Mass, this book is for you!

We hope you enjoy the following interview with the author.

Mr. Rohn, please tell our readers a little about yourself.

I am a Catholic dad and husband who lives in the Midwest. I taught high school and college Latin and math before switching careers to work as a statistician full-time. I enjoy gardening, hiking, and reading. I was a non-practicing Catholic for about 15 years in my 20s and 30s, but experienced a pretty profound reversion when I was around 38. I became a Dominican tertiary (also called “Third Order” or “Lay Dominican”) in 2021 and am currently working on an MA in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.


What initially got you interested in Latin?

My junior high English teacher (Hi, Mrs. Simich!) knew that I enjoyed grammar and mythology and recommended I take Latin in high school. My high school Latin teacher (Hi, Mr. Keating!) was a very faithful Catholic who gave us a solid appreciation not just for Latin, but also for its use in prayer and the Church. My college Latin teacher (Hi, Prof. Fineberg!) thought I was a good tutor and supported me pursuing a career in teaching. I think what’s kept me interested in Latin after all this time was the endurance of Latin as a language in arts, culture, and religion. English has been the dominant language in education in the West for maybe 50 years. Latin played that role for at least a thousand. Even today, there are academic specialties in which some resources are unavailable if you don’t read Latin.


Church-wise, I really like the Western tradition’s use of the “Unraveling of the Tower of Babel” analogy for us having one unified language as the basis for our liturgy. The idea is that, just as Babel made it so that humans could no longer communicate with each other, unified liturgical languages allowed us to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries to praise God together. In the West, we used Latin, but in the East, the use of Greek, Coptic, or Slavonic served the same purposes—to help those in different areas worship the same way.


In the book I tell a story about my first time in Rome, where I prayed the Our Father in Latin with Pope John Paul II and thousands of pilgrims from all across the world. We differed in accents, but we spoke in the same language, praising God and asking Him to safeguard us. The deeper you get into reading biographies of non-Western Catholics, the more you find stories like this, in which Latin served as a unifying practice. If you ever get a chance to read The Bells of Nagasaki or other works by Takashi Nagai (who was a Japanese Catholic convert who survived the atomic bomb and is now on the path to canonization), he talks about how praying in Latin helped him reconnect with the universal Church after the destruction of his city. Latin, like other Western traditions such as the Rosary, helps unify us not just with other Catholics around the world today, but also with those who lived centuries before us.


You wrote this book in a down-to-earth, easy to understand, non-polemical way. Why did you take this approach?

It goes back to why I wrote the book. I’m in my  mid-40’s, and I know many Catholics my

age who are interested in reconnecting with some of the traditions that were downplayed when we were brought up in the Church. Almost none of them attend the older form of the Mass in Latin, but they still want to get a deeper understanding of the prayers and rites they participate in. So that was my target audience: people my age who wanted a deeper dive into our liturgical lives as Catholics but who didn’t have the benefit of spending six years studying Latin instead of, say, petroleum engineering or another high-paying subject. Oh, and priests who need material for homilies—I think this is a great book for them.


So, I’m not really trying to argue anything here. I used the ordinary form of the Mass that the vast majority of Catholics attend as the basis of the book, but I think those who attend the older form will also find a lot to digest here (there is a very big overlap in the responses made by the people in both forms). I’m a gardener, and I have a four-year-old, and so I appreciate all the different flowers in God’s liturgical garden, so to speak.


As for the style, I spent a lot of time as a teacher, and if you approach teaching 14-year-olds the same way you approached your graduate school seminar on Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, you’re not going to get very far. I tried to write a book presupposing nothing but the good will of my audience.


What age group(s) do you think would find this book useful and accessible?

I think junior high would generally be too young, but I think it would be an excellent supplementary text for high school Latin or Religion/Theology programs. I also think it would work well for adult Catholics who are looking for a meatier study of the Mass and other prayers than what they got in their days in Catholic schools or RCIA programs, whether they be in their 20s or in their 80s.


Also priests.  Did I mention priests who need material for homilies, yet?


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