The cultivation of the Latin language in the Church is a cause dear to the hearts of not a few NLM readers. The bond of Latin links us to the universal Church and her worship, and also to the thought of our forebears in the faith across the centuries. The recent canonization of Pope St. John XXIII also is giving us the opportunity to recall his under-appreciated encyclical Veterum Sapientia on the need to spread knowledge of Latin.
A part of that work is the cultivation of Latin as a living language and indeed a spoken language, and no discussion of spoken Latin is complete without a mention of that great organization promoting spoken Latin in our country, the Familia Sancti Hieronymi, founded by the late Carmelite friar Suidbertus Siedl, O.C.D. The Family of St. Jerome meets for an annual week, a Caenaculum, a full-immersion experience with spoken Latin. It is open to all sorts of learners, even those turning their school Latin into spoken words for the first time.
The event is usually held along the southern Gulf coast, and this year it will take place at the Visitation Monastery in Mobile, Alabama in the first days of August; a fuller description is on-line as a PDF document.
To provide a personal account of the Caenaculum, I would like to welcome the distinguished canonist and holder of the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair in canon law at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Dr. Edward J. Peters:
My experiences of a Cenaculum with the Family of St. Jerome
Edward Peters, Ann Arbor, MII have attended three Cenacula (olim Feriae Latinae) over the years, two in the 1990s (both in Florida, once alone, and once with an 8-year-old son) and a third just last year in Puebla, Mexico (with a 16-year-old daughter). I’ll be attending this year’s gathering in Mobile, Alabama, with two of my young adult children and some of my Latin students from Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary.I arrived at my first Cenaculum with no Latin speaking ability but, backed by two years of Latin grammar classes (and competence in French), I was confident in my ability to chatter away if not in perfect Ciceronian, then at least ably modo Aquino.I was wrong.For the first three days of that first Cenaculum, I understood barely a word. Not that everyone else was fluent (only some participants had a solid grasp of conversational Latin) but, if one has never heard a Latin sentence that didn’t come straight from a grammar book or the liturgy, then the vocabulary, the cadences, even the sounds of spoken Latin, seem so exotic that one might as well be listening to ancient Sumerian. I called my wife on Tuesday and said “I feel like such an idiot. If I don’t understand something by tomorrow I’m taking a cab to the airport and flying home.”Well, long story made short, the very next day, a few words, then some phrases, and eventually whole sentences (if not yet whole paragraphs) began coming together in my mind. My bookish grammar (which helps, though it is not crucial for a good experience) began to come to life in spoken Latin.The Cenaculum does not present grammar classes as such. There are no lectures on, say, the use of the supine with verbs of motion or, for that matter, drills on the second declension neuter. Instead Living Latin is experienced in three main ways.First, there are frequent liturgical and devotional practices led by competent Latin-speakers. The Liturgy of the Hours is prayed at the right times and daily Mass is celebrated (about half the time in the new rite, about half in the Tridentine), along with a Rosary around lunch time. No one takes attendance at these events, of course, but most folks come for most spiritual and linguistic exercises.Second, during the day two or three, sometimes four, presentations on very interesting topics are offered in Latin again by good speakers. One lecture might address, say, the history of the Rosary, another will explain the parts of the Bible, a third will give a slide show tour of Roman ruins or discuss a modern political question, and so on. The best thing about these talks (besides there being no quiz at the end!) is that one gets interested in the topics themselves and forgets that one is learning Latin at the same time.Third, there is “down time” for conversation at meals and especially during afternoon breaks and into the evening. A lot of conversational Latin gets done in these informal gatherings (and yes, some folks take naps or go to bed early, which is also fine). One of the best things I’ve noticed about Cenacula is the international flavor they have: participants come largely from the USA, but I’ve met many folks from Europe and South America. Speaking skills range considerably (not counting that some kids, with their parents, come from time to time). Most participants are not Classics majors or college Latin teachers, but rather, they come from all walks of life including clergy, seminarians, lawyers, home-schooling parents, white collar workers and blue, and a fair number of college and graduate students.No matter what your level of Latin speaking skills, you will find others at your level at the Cenaculum, and you will find others above it. You will, in other words, find folks to talk to and folks to learn from. And you won’t help but be able to help teach others Latin just by your trying.
The chairman of Familia S. Hieronymi, attorney Jan Halisky, was interviewed about Latin in Catholic life on the "EWTN Live" program in 2012: