Although largely in disuse in its spoken form, Latin is one of the world's most influential languages. Many languages owe their origins to latin - for example Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan and Romanian, and other minor languages. (These are known collectively as the "romance" languages). In addition, many other world languages (especially European ones) have inherited vocabulary from Latin.
The roots of Latin can be traced back some 2500 to 3000 years.
It is the original language of Ancient Rome, and through the Roman conquest it spread to most parts of western and central europe. The first known writings of the Romance languages occur in the 9th century. These languages all stem from vulgar latin. Initially, these were spoken languages of people groups, which gradually over time became distinct enough from their latin origins to become a language in their own right. (For example, Portuguese replaced Latin as the official language of Portugal in 1296). During the Middle ages, Latin became more fragmented, with wide discrepencies in it's written form as to the meaning and use of the words. However, with the coming of the Renaissance, the language flourished again, and several scholars set about recovering what they believed to be "Classical" latin, issuing strict guidelines has to how the language was to be used.
Latin remains the official language of the Holy See and the Vatican City-State. The Vatican City is the only place in the world which has an ATM with Latin instructions! Although the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) permitted the Mass to be conducted in the vernacular language, Latin remains the official language of the Roman Catholic Mass, and as such, the Lord's Prayer cited above (without the doxology written at the end) is the official liturgical version (taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church). However, in most parts of the world, with the exception of the Vatican, the Lord's prayer is generally spoken in the language indigenous to the community.