Textbooks for Learning the Latin Divine Office

Many of you (most, perhaps?) coming here for Latin resources are interested in learning to understand the Traditional Latin Mass. Excellent! And as you become familiar with the texts of the Mass, you will be more and more aware of the extensive liturgical prayer surrounding the Mass: the Divine Office. Especially if you begin to pray Compline at night or use the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary each day, you will want to learn the Latin found there. Guess what? There are old books that were specifically written to teach the Latin texts found in the Traditional Divine Office.

The Mantrina

The Mantrina, a Latin primer especially adapted to the Missal and Breviary by Cora Ilione Townsend

The aim of this little manual is to increase piety and devotion among Catholics, by rendering a knowledge of Latin available to a greater number than is at present practicable. As every translation, however carefully prepared, falls far short of the original, Catholics unable to read Latin lose much of the beauty and sublimity of the offices of the Church, and are debarred from one of the greatest helps to fervent devotion.

The MANTRINA (faithful guide)…is intended merely as an introduction to the Latin language, and as a direct preparation for a thorough study of the Missal and Breviary. These lessons are equally well adapted, as a beginning book, to the student hoping to become a profound Latin scholar, and to the boy or girl whose school days must be limited.

This book has been divided into sixty lessons, so that, at the end of a school term of three months, a diligent pupil can begin with profit a study of the Missal or Breviary. By means of this book, many can learn to read understandingly Mass and Vespers in the language of the Church, who have but a short time to spend on the study of Latin….Most of the words, and a large portion of the sentences are taken from the Missal, the Breviary, or the Holy Scriptures….The pupil can immediately put in practice the knowledge of Latin acquired from day to day, and can make much more rapid progress when he enters upon the study of the Missal and Breviary.

Preface–The Mantrina by Cora Ilione Townsend

The author introduces this book so well here that I can think of nothing more to add, other than this is the oldest selection in today’s post, dating from 1892, and that is probably why the type is so very, very small!

An Introduction to Liturgical Latin

An Introduction to Liturgical Latin by A.M. Scarre

IT requires an unusually good acquaintance with the ordinary sort of Latin to understand the Divine Office. For to come to liturgical Latin by way of the classical language is to go a very long way round. But there is a short cut–the direct way–that is to learn liturgical Latin through Liturgical Latin. Hence the use of a Latin grammar where the words and examples are taken from the liturgy. Experience has shown that the end, the understanding chiefly of the Divine Office, is not really so far distant, and that to reach it is possible, even easy, and very satisfactory.

FOREWORD, An Introduction to Liturgical Latin by A.M. Scarre

The author wrote in the foreword that the way to become fluent in liturgical Latin was threefold:

“1) learn Latin grammar as found therein,

2) acquire the necessary vocabulary,

3) have practice from the beginning in the translation of phrases and sentences which actually occur in the ecclesiastical writings in common use.”

I appreciate this pedagogical principle and intention behind every page of the book. If you have worked through Linney’s book, you will be ready for this one and find it of a similar style. (Unfortunately, no answers for this book!)

Latin for Sisters: a Practical Guide to Breviary-Latin

Latin for Sisters: a Practical Guide to Breviary-Latin for Sisterhoods Who Recite the Divine Office or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin by Abbot Vincent Huber, OSB.

With our mind fixed on God, our prayer is essentially good, even though we understand not a word of the Latin language in which it may be couched. We intend to proclaim the praises of the Lord, or of the Blessed Virgin, expressed in the text which we read or sing. But granting this, let us bear in mind that the ability to grasp the literal sense of the Latin text is one of the greatest helps to recollection and an unfailing source of devotion. The Psalms, the Antiphons, the Hymns, the Lessons, contain an inexhaustible treasury of sublime thoughts and most exalted reflections, which no man, let his mind be ever so keen or his heart holy, can equal.

FOREWORD–Latin for Sisters by Abbot Vincent Huber

(I first became aware of this book from its listing on Dr. Peters’ website.) This volume appears to me to be best used as a reference book or Latin grammar summary as it specifically relates to the Divine Office. For the life of me I don’t understand how it could actually be used as a lesson book to learn to understand the Breviary, as the Father Abbot intended. The grammar information comes densely and quickly, and the exercises are few and spaced far apart. Lots of good information, but I see this as a reference book rather than learning book.

Church Latin: An Aid to the Appreciation of Our Lady’s Little Office

(Note: I believe this book to be in the Public Domain. This volume was copyrighted and published by the author in 1928: by U.S. Copyright Law at that time, the author was required to have its renewal registered after 29 years. Its copyright renewal was not published in 1955 or ’56. Furthermore, this book also seems to classify as what is known as an “orphan work” as well.)

Church Latin: An Aid to the Appreciation of Our Lady’s Little Office by Lloyd R. Manning (1928)

This little book is published in the hope and with the confidence that it will serve in a general way as an introduction to Church Latin and more particularly as a guide to the beauty and full significance of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

…{The author’s} intention for the present has been merely to open for our devoted religious a breach in the wall of Latin that separates them from a full realization of the spiritual and poetical beauties which are to be discovered in the Officium Parvum. If success attends his venture in this respect, he will consider his labor well spent.

from the Preface of Church Latin: An Aid to the Appreciation of Our Lady’s Little Office by Lloyd R. Manning

Hic liber est omnis divisus in partes tres. The first third of the book is made up of 29 lessons demonstrating grammar principles and forms, each concluding with a brief reading comprehension exercise from the text of the Little Office. In the middle of the book, the vocabulary listing is helpfully sorted twice: once by each lesson, and once alphabetically, as in a glossary. The last 59 pages of the book are the complete Latin text of the Parvum Officium, including the Advent and Christmas variations, and the prayers before and after the Office as well.

Learn Church Latin (Manning)


I still think that for most people, working steadily through the entire Latin by the Natural Method series, designed for completion in about three academic years, will be the best way to learn Church Latin. That preps you for reading the Liturgy, Scripture, theology, philosophy, history, hymns…all that great stuff. But those who have a deep love for the Divine Office, especially those contemplating a vocation to a traditional religious community, will find books like these very valuable indeed.

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