Among the critics of a further return to the Church's traditional language in the liturgy, there are always those who say that an expansion of Latin would be impractical because nobody would be able to learn or understand it. It is too difficult, they say, to take people who only know English and try to educate them in the meaning and pronunciation of a different language. Nobody would understand what they were saying and, even if they were willing to try to pick up the Latin, it would take way too much time for them to master the phrases. Latin might be fine for those who have taken years of it in college, the say, but for the vast bulk of the laity who have not, this is just a kind of liturgical elitism, a practice that is beyond the ability of most people to find any meaning in. The laity simply does not have the endurance or competency for such an undertaking (a rehash of the old "ignorant laity" argument).
At my parish we recently did an experiment that blew this argument out of the water. Last week we had about 60 kids from many surrounding parishes participate in our yearly Catholic Vacation Bible School program. Instead of singing a lot of insipid, Protestant-inspired songs, the music director decided to teach the kids to sing the Our Father in Latin. The majority of the kids (I'd say 80%) had never heard it before; I know this because we took a "show of hands" poll to see who had prior exposure to the Pater Noster - very, very few did.
The student guinea pigs were from grades 3 to 6 and spent 45 minutes with the music director each day (though perhaps only ten or fifteen minutes were devoted to the Our Father specifically). On day one they were introduced to the prayer, were taught why we use Latin, were taught the prayer in its entirety, worked on pronunciation and had an opportunity to listen to the director singing the melody. At the end of the class, they fuddled their way through it once, too.
On day two they practiced singing through the song themselves, working out bumps in the timing and tweaked the pronounciation a little more.
On the third day they were able to sing through the whole thing, guided by the Music Director, and sounded pretty good. By this time a good number of the phrases were committed to memory.
On day four they rehearsed the whole thing several times - I also reviewed it with them in class, explaining little points about the Latin and how it related to English words they already knew. On the evening of day four, they performed a concert for their parents and sung the entire Pater Noster, reading music off of provided sheets. Was it as perfect as it could have been? Not at all - it could always be better. But the success story here is that we took a group of 7 to 11 year olds who had by and large never heard the Our Father sung in Latin and in the span of four days taught it to them with enough proficiency so that they were able to perform it at a concert.
Our excellent Music Director hit it on the head when, in a little talk to the kids, she said, "You guys are amazing. A lot of adults think what you are doing is too hard, but it's not is it?" The kids laughed and jested at the idea that adults could not do what they themselves were doing with relative ease.
So, are adults too stupid to learn Latin? Are they too busy? Will it take too long to get them proficient? I'd say my Music Director invested maybe two or three hours total time with these kids on this particular song over four days and that was plenty good enough. Next time somebody tells you that a switch to Latin would be too laborious and time consuming, remember that a group of 3rd-6th graders did it in four days. It's really not that big a deal. The obstacles are ideological, not practical.
"From the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21:16).