The new Pope Benedict may be versed in the language of ancient Rome but the Vatican's foremost Latin lover says it's way too soon to shout "Gaudeamus Igitur" (Therefore, let us rejoice).
"He's going to be in for a sad awakening if he thinks just by giving his first speech in Latin everyone's going to jump on the bandwagon," said Reginald Foster, an American Carmelite monk from Milwaukee, WI, who translates papal documents.
Foster, 66, was among a team of Latin experts put to work on a seven-page speech that the new pontiff, the German former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave in Latin on Wednesday to the cardinals who elected him the day before.
That address, Sunday's inaugural papal Mass in Latin and several other Latin rites in the papal transition were broadcast live around the world to hundreds of millions of viewers.
The words "Extra Omnes" (Everyone Out), spoken when the cardinals secluded themselves in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, and "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope) when the new pontiff was chosen, are now familiar to a vast global audience.
Yet Foster, who also teaches young priests Latin at the Gregorian University in Rome, said Benedict would have a "Herculean task" reversing the decline of what had been the Church's lingua franca (common tongue) for nearly 2,000 years.
The Church used Latin worldwide for its services until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 ruled that Mass could be celebrated in local languages.
"People aren't studying it; we've lost a whole generation of teachers since Vatican II," Foster told Reuters before a class at the Gregorian for around a dozen seminarians and priests.
A RUSH JOB
Foster had only half an hour to complete his work on Benedict's speech last Wednesday and admitted that, as a result, the Latin in parts of it was not the most elegant.
He noted, however, that Ratzinger was among the best Latin speakers of the cardinals who entered the conclave -- no doubt a comfort to a man who winces at hearing his carefully crafted Latin speeches pronounced with the wrong emphasis or accent.
He also said the new Pope had accepted the Latinists' decision to return to the tradition of referring to himself with the honorific first person plural "We" rather than "I" as his predecessor John Paul had preferred.
Foster said it was wrong to associate Latin with the conservative wing of the Church. "Latinists in the Renaissance were the most broad-minded people," Foster said. "Now they think if you love Latin you have to be old fashioned."
Foster himself can sometimes surprise his students by voicing his liberal views in the most traditional of tongues.
Speaking to his class on Friday, he wondered how the Pope would handle Spain's decision to legalise same-sex marriage.
He paused, searching for the right words, then smiled as he said the clergy could not be "strutiones in deserto".
For those whose Latin is rusty, that's "ostriches in the desert" -- heads in the sand.