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First Latin Prayers to Memorize

If you’re looking for Latin prayers, the best digital resource is preces-latinae.org. Their parallel Latin-English structure really helps you see the prayers in a clear way and lean on whichever language you’re currently focusing on. For more print and digital resources, scroll to the bottom of this introduction.

I have an order I teach my students with two major goals in mind: I want to build some basic vocabulary and reinforce a few grammatical or syntactical concepts in each prayer.

Sīgnum Crucis

In nomine Patris et Filio et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Just look at all those Genitive singulars. Practicing them in three of the five cases (no Neuters, though, ‘cus we’re dealing with Persons (of the Trinity) here!).

NominePatrisFiliīSpiritūsSanctī
Nt. Sg. Abl.Masc. Sg. Gen.Masc. Sg. Gen.Masc. Sg. Gen.Masc. Sg. Gen.
3rd Decl.3rd Decl. 2nd Decl.4th Decl.2nd Decl.

Glōria Patrī

Gloria Patrī et Filiō et Spirituī Sanctō, sicut erat in principiō et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculōrum. Amen.

Take the same words from the Signum Crucis and see them in the Dative singular! Only one verb in the whole sentence means we’ve still got training wheels on. It’s such a common verb, too, the Imperfect Tense of “to be” – erat.

Ave Maria

Ave Maria, gratiā plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tuī, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Deī. Ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

It’s shorter than the Pater Noster and you can point out all kinds of good things. Lack of a verb in the first half is great for showing how “be” can be implied, even with a complex, clarified by the same word showing up in two genders: benedicta for Mary and benedictus for Jesus.

The first half of the prayer—lifted straight from Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42—was all there was for a long time. with Mary starting off and leading logically to her end (and ours): Jesus. We added the second half during the Protestant Reformation to make sure we were actually asking Mary for something and not just worshipping her, the oft-repeated complaint from our Protestant brothers for the last five centuries.

So, in adding the second half, Jesus moved from the end of the prayer to its center. Still a good visual lesson and good practice for attending to endings. In the non-scriptural part, we give Mary her greatest title: Mother of God and then ask her to pray for us now and when our present collides with the eternal (i.e. our death).

The latter half practices the imperative and focuses on what Mary does best for us (pray!) and contrasts nicely with the Gloria Patrī, giving latria to God, glory given now and forever. When we look at our own lives, we want prayers now and at our end (or passage into eternity).

Pater Noster

Pater noster, qui es in caelīs, sanctificētur nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuam, fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terrā. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie et demitte nobis debita nostra sicut nōs dimittimus debitoribus nostris, et nē nōs indūcas in tentationem sed libera nōs ā malō. Amen.

This one I also split in half and memorize over two weeks to unpack all the coolness. Just like the Ave Maria, it’s long been used in two halves when reciting the Rosary in groups. After the intimate familial title, we launch into a relative clause (and a simple one at that), but it’s good to notice that we’re still talking to God in the second person singular. Then we have three great Jussive Subjunctives (polite commands) sanctificētur, advēniat, and fiat.

That fiat stands not only in the Our Father but in Creation (fiat lux!) and in Mary’s yes to the Incarnation (fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum). Powerful word, that. The double focus here is heaven and earth (heaven’s mentioned twice, once in the plural and once in the singular for vocab review). The first half also features three neuter nouns: caelum, nomen, and regnum. I like to remind my students that Latin’s nōmen has the English word no

Latter half: Focuses on what God does for us and what He asks of us. Daily bread has the Eucharistic sense but also helps us see that word order (which mimics the Greek word-for-word) emphasizes the daily bread by bringing it out to the front of the clause “Panem nostrum quotidianum, etc…” then we get more practice of simple imperatives (da, dimitte) (why imperatives here if Jussive Subjunctives were good up above… again, I think the Greek has the answer here but that just pushes this question back one language). The balance and euphony of the d’s, b’s, and m’s confuse people who mumble through the Our Father, but I’ve always thought this part makes the prayer really beautiful in showing how interlocked our forgiveness is with our ability to forgive others. It ends with another polite jussive that we should be saved from temptation (or testing) and delivered from evil. Malo is a great example of adjectives used substantively.

Angele Deī

Angele Dei, qui custos es meī, me tibi commisum pietate superna hac nocte (vel hodie) illumina, custodi, rege, et guberna. Amen.

Practice that second declension Vocative right at the beginning! Check out another qui clause to practice relatives and get you used to the way Catholics pray, as many of the Collects in the Mass start with “traditional Title for God, who does things that have been reported to us in Scripture….etc.”

The juxtaposition of the me and tibi right next to each other in the prayer is a beautiful reminder of how close our angels are to us, and you get an ablative of cause that gives an interesting title for God that doesn’t make it into the English translation: pietate superna, is usually covered by the English in “God’s love” but it really means “by heavenly piety”—piety being that difficult to translate virtue that involves the mutual relational obligations between fathers and sons in particular and between individuals, families, and communities in a larger sense. Sometimes this title strikes me as unnecessarily poetic and abstract, while at other times I feel like God’s love is the most fitting English sense of it. Then we end with four simple imperatives, which are rendered as purpose-infinitives in the English: Illumina, custodi, rege, et guberna. They all have English cognates which help us get a sense of what our angels are given to us for: to shed light (lumen – light) in dark places of ignorance and doubt, to guard us in spiritual and physical dangers, and to show our conscience what rules it is to live by (justice), and govern our reason to find the best means to choose in accord with those rules (prudence).

Bonus: Benedictio Ante Mensam (Grace Before Meals)

Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona, quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi per Christum Dominum Nostrum. Amen.

Ok, this should make it on to the next list, but who can resist a bonus? An irregular imperative reminds us that Latin has only four irregular imperatives in the singular: dic, duc, fac, fer. That is: speak, lead, do, and carry. They’re all going to be commonly used with God, and no one more often than when dico is added to bene as a suffix and we get benedico – to bless (literally, to speak or say (something) well). Largitas is a good example of abstract nouns, almost all of which are feminine in Latin (hence the tua modifier).

It also looks like largesse and helps us realize its the word translated as bounty in the standard English rendering (that is, generosity). And most gloriously (from a grammatical perspective) we get to practice the rare and elusive Future Active Participle. We are (sumus) in a state of being ABOUT to do something: sumptūrī. The -ur- infix is all you have to add to the fourth principal part of a verb to get that “about to do” sense. It exists in our word future which comes from the fourth principal part of Latin’s to be – sum, esse, fuī, futūrus.

And then we close with the nearly-memorized closing that so many know before they know any Latin. All things happen per Christum Dominum Nostrum. Can I get an Amen?

Print and Web Resources for Learning Latin Prayers

Thesaurus Precum Latinārum – Treasure-House of Latin Prayers – This Geocities website from web 1.0 has been around for a millennium, in Internet years.

Latin-English and Latin-only prayer cards for sticking in a prayer book, missal, or Bible.

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