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Catholic Latin Phrases and Their Meanings

Catholic Latin Phrases and Their Meanings
Catholic Latin Phrases and Their Meanings
(Last Updated On: September 5, 2023)

Latin Language

The Latin language is an Indo-European language. Did you know that many Catholic prayers are said in Latin? It’s true! Here are the Catholic Latin phrases and their meanings in English so you can learn more about the Latin terms used during mass and church services or even in some Educational institutions.

The History of the Latin Language

Numerous myths have been perpetuated throughout human history due to widespread beliefs that help define a people’s identity and culture. The Romans’ colony is where the Latin alphabet and numerous rites have their roots, but many other positive aspects of that era have endured to the present day.

The Fibula Praenestina, a text from the seventh century BC, was uncovered in Rome as the first written Latin source. Of course, we cannot simply sum up hundreds of years of Latin.

  • Archaic Latin (700-100 BC): The basic Latin
  • Classical Latin (100 BC-14 AD): The golden age of Latin under Emperor Augustus
  • Silver Latinity (14-130): Imperial Latin, expansion of the Roman Empire
  • Late Latin (2nd-8th centuries)
  • Medieval Latin
  • Humanistic Latin (15th & 16th centuries)
  • Neo-Latin

Rome and Latin

The elite and ordinary folk in Rome spoke classical Latin, which served as the official language of the Catholic Church, the legal system, and the educational system. The colonized and the general public spoke vulgar Latin, which coexisted with the “barbaric” dialects that were the norm before the Roman occupation.

Latin linguistic influences on the Germanic and Slavic languages were further guaranteed by the Roman Empire’s territorial expansion (from the Middle East to North Africa, Spain to the Balkans). Modern Romance languages emerged due to the spread of Latin and its mingling with other languages.

Rome Empire

Latin evolved and became the standard literary language throughout the lengthy rule of the Roman Empire over Europe. Numerous original Latin works by well-known authors still exist today, including works by Seneca, Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Erasmus, and even Newton.

Interestingly, numerous regional dialects before Romance languages like French or Spanish were unified. Latin remained the primary international language for decades after the fall of the Roman Empire because only speakers of Latin could comprehend one another.

latin catholic

Latin a dead language?

Latin was progressively displaced as the official language in the European kingdoms by a mixture of local dialects and vulgar Latin. For instance, Latin was replaced as the official language of France by French in 1549. Once there are no more extended native speakers of a language, it is referred to as a “dead language.” After all, nobody speaks Latin as a first language anymore.

This is due to political, cultural, and historical factors. However, the precise causes are still up for debate today. Some academics are confident that the Western Roman Empire’s fall in 476 and the decline of the Latin language are closely related.

The decline began when Latin was no longer used as the sole language of communication and thus no longer represented the earlier authority of the Romans. At some point, Latin was no longer a living language. Over the centuries, it developed so that, apart from a few devout churchgoers, no one could understand Latin anymore. The Catholic Church is the only institution that retained the language as an official language.

By renouncing the Latin language and honoring their national language as the official language, European emperors and kings could demonstrate their power and independence from the Roman Empire. This created a national feeling, and people began identifying with their country.

Read about our blog: Is Latin a dead language?

You might not immediately recognize how similar Latin is to European languages when you first start learning it. So, the question of why learn Latin in the twenty-first century arises. As we may have already indicated, Latin is and will always serve as the foundation for both Western and Eastern Romance languages. The more Latin writings you read and translate, the more connections and parallels you will find between Latin and today’s languages.

The supremacy of the Roman Empire led to the Latinization of all conquered European provinces. In ancient times, speaking Latin was the only way to integrate into society. Moreover, the Romans granted citizenship to free men from the Roman colonies, which explains the importance of the Latin language, which still exists from Portugal to Romania, and France to southern Italy.

meaning latin catholic phrases

Some Common Catholic Latin Phrases

Ora et Labora

This Latin term by St. Benedict’s famous saying, means, Pray and work. It emphasizes that prayer should be united with activity; when we combine our efforts, they are multiplied. Most often, ora et labora is said about monasticism; prayer (oratio) helps one perfect their work (labor).

Crux Ave

O crux ave, spes unica; quae salus et vita hominum! Salve, crux ave, mater misericordiae! (Hail O Cross of Mercy / Salvation of man, that art/art thou who are our only hope!) This is an exclamation done at Benediction during Holy Week.

Pax Vobiscum

Pax vobiscum is a Catholic Latin phrase meaning peace (be) with you. It is used as a greeting or farewell in formal circumstances.

Ego Te Absolvo

I absolve you. This is a declaration made by a priest during a Sacrament of Penance (Confession). In that Sacrament, a Catholic seeks God’s forgiveness for sins committed after baptism. The Priest then pronounces absolution, generally understood as forgiveness of sins. This term has a different range of meanings. When used in an exorcism rite, it is usually understood to mean that demons are cast out from the possession of a human host.

Sursum Corda

When a priest says Sursum corda, he is asking for all of his congregation to lift their hearts in prayer. The literal translation is Lift your hearts or Lift your souls. So, its Latin translation is ‘call to worship.’

Gloria Patri

This phrase, which means Glory to the Father, is a line sung by Roman Catholics in honor of God. It appears in English and Latin versions of all four official prayers of Christian worship (The Our Father, The Apostles’ Creed, The Hail Mary, and The Glory Be). Before Vatican II (1962-1965), it was also common for Catholics to say or sing Gloria Patri after each Mass.

Parce Domine

The words parce Domine (Latin for spare, O Lord) are found in many English hymns. Originally written by Thomas Aquinas as a plea to God to stop attacking a city, it has become an expression of repentance. The phrase is also part of Masses on Good Friday. Parce Domine is a technical term in Catholic theology referring to Christ sparing his mother from death on Good Friday. This event is referred to as Parturition.

Non nobis Domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory. This is found in Psalm 115 of the Vulgate version, a translation of the Hebrew original. It might also be rendered into English as Not to us, not to us only, but to thy name be the glory is given. The phrase is part of a Hymn sung by deacons at mass during the Advent season.

meanings latin phrases
catholic latin phrases

Traditional Catholic Latin Phrases

is a Latin phrase meaning “Lamb of God,” a chant addressed to Christ. Agnus Dei

The Latin phrase English translation is “with praise” or “with honor,” representing an academic level of achievement. Cum laude is one of three commonly used Latin honors designations recognized in the United States. ‘Cum Laude’

Magna cum laude is one level above. Meaning “with great praise” in the Latin language, magna cum laude differs from summa cum laude, which in turn means “highest praise” or “highest honor,” representing the highest level of academic distinction. These designations may be awarded on factors such as GPA, class ranking, or outside academic achievements.

means “Thus always to tyrants.” It is said that this was the line Brutus uttered after assassinating Julius Caesar. Sic Semper

means ”(signed) with one’s hand.” Manu propria

Latin legal terms:

List of Legal terms

lex script meaning ”written law.”

Latin Dictionaries

To effectively translate Latin, the internet can prove invaluable. An excellent resource for words and definitions is William Whitaker’s Words, as well as the online Latin Dictionary. When relying on these websites, one should exercise caution when accepting the translations to ensure the given meaning is sensible with the intended translation. The Dizionario di Abbreviature Latine ed Italiane features an exhaustive list of Latin abbreviations, albeit with Italian translations. Additionally, Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary Revised Edition is a recommended book, and is accessible through various libraries, and the FamilySearch Digital Library. More about the Latin Translation can be found in our Latin Translation Services.

mala in se means” bad/evil in itself.”

Latin sayings about love

Religious occasions, in particular, are ideal for writing Latin sayings on the card. Latin was also the language of the Bible for a long time. Especially in the Middle Ages and beyond, sermons were held in Latin. Even today, some hymns are sung in Latin.

  1. Tempus fugit, amor manet.
    (Time flies, love endures.)
  2. Amor est precious auro.
    (Love is more precious than gold.)
  3. Caritas omnia potest.
    (Love can do anything.)
  4. Ama et fac quod vis. – Augustine
    (Love and do what you will.)
  5. Si deus pro nobis, quis contra nos?
    (If God is for us, who can be against us?)
latin catholic explained

Latin proverbs and sayings

In the following, you will find many well-known and unknown Latin proverbs and sayings. Some of them are quotes from famous personalities, others you will know from German translations. Here you can learn more about the meaning of proverbs that you already know or learn new ones. Expand your vocabulary or make a good impression in your following term paper. We’ve organized the proverbs and idioms alphabetically to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

  1. Abyssus abyssum invocate.
    Translation: One mistake leads to another.
  2. Ad absurdum
    Translation: to prove something as nonsensical.
  3. Alea iacta est.
    Translation: The die is cast. (quote from Caesar)
  4. Aliquid stat pro aliquo
    Translation: something stands for something
  5. Amantes amentes.
    Translation: Lovers are out of their minds. (quote from Terence)
  6. Amor est precious auro.
    Translation: Love is more precious than gold.
  7. Barba decet virum.
    Translation: The beard makes the man.
  8. Bene docet, qui bene distinguished.
    Translation: Good teaches who explain the differences clearly.
  9. Captatio benevolentiae
    Translation: hunting for goodwill (similar to “fishing for compliments”)
  10. Carpe Diem.
    Translation: Seize the day. (quote from Horace)


Veni, vidi, vici, one of the most well-known and frequently used Latin phrases, has been used hundreds of times to convey victory over the centuries. Caesar is reported to have uttered the remarks while celebrating a victory.

Omnia means prepared in all things or ready for anything. 

The adage is borrowed from one of the Roman poets, Horace’s Odes, a lovely lyric about the poetic transience of life, which was penned in 23 BCE. The brother of carpe diem, carpe noctem, which means “seize the night,” is a darker interpretation.

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