The Agnus Dei Explained

Though the majority of Catholics in America attend Masses almost entirely in English, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is something that is often sung in Latin. If you have ever wondered what each word means in the song, here you go:

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

miserere                        nobis

have mercy                    on us                          (x 2)

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

dona             nobis                pacem

grant             to us                 peace

The initial line comes from John 1.29 where John the Baptizer says, “Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἀμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου” – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

A few grammatical notes, for those interested:

qui is a relative pronoun and it means “who”. It is most often used with 3rd singular verbs, just like in English. “I saw a man who loves ice cream.” However, Latin will sometimes use it with a 2nd singular verb, which here is tollis (you take away/lift up/raise/destroy). So it’s “you who takes away the sins”.

miserere is an imperative, a command. “Have mercy”.

dona likewise is an imperative. “grant” or “give.” You can see it is related to the word “donation.”

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Agnus Dei Explained

  1. I just wanted to drop a note to let you know that I really enjoy reading your blog. I don’t comment usually, I just enjoy your translations and I enjoy attempting to follow along (albeit sadly).

  2. “Dōnāre” also shares a stem with “δίδωμι,” “I grant/give.” Some may find this helpful. Dō/Δω refers to gift giving. Thank you for the enlightening post, Josh.

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