In reading Miller, don't be put off by the Latin. It is the overall story that counts. Some of the Latin that is important will be translated for you. The Latin is mostly for giving religious context to the story. (In 1959 the Catholic Church was pre-Vatican II [1962-1965] and had not begun to use the vernacular in the liturgy.)
Miller has a Florida connection. He was born in New Smyrna Beach (1922) and died in 1996 in Daytona Beach. He participated in 53 bombing runs over Italy and the Balkans during World War II, and these included the bombing and destruction of Monte Cassino (where Benedict had written his Rule ca. 540, and the oldest continuing monastery in the west). He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1947. Canticle is the only novel published in his lifetime. It won the Hugo Award in 1961 (science fiction's highest award). It is brilliant, dense with significance, and provocative.
In Canticle, one of the continuing threads is provided by a monastic order, the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, so there is an irony in the fact that the author also had been a destroyer of the most historic western monastery.
As you start, recall the importance of stories and metaphor. Miller is telling a very large story, reaching into the fourth millennium. As an artist (and engineer) he is bringing before us a complex symbol, metaphor, story. You will not get the "whole meaning," just as you wouldn't for a parable of Jesus' or Hamlet. And for every generation, it will say something a little different. So you've got some latitude here as you read and respond to this challenging work. And remember Tyler Durden's (Fight Club) pragmatic question: "How's that working out for you?"
Notice also that the novel is called a "canticle," a biblical song, like Mary's "Magnificat" in Luke (1:46-55): "My soul doth magnify the Lord," etc.
Here's a story that is a biblical song--or not!
The novel first appeared as three novellas. The first part, Fiat Homo, means "let...