Tag Archives: Latin

Helping you with Latin in the Novus Ordo

I attend a Novus Ordo Mass (that is, the Mass in the vernacular) almost daily on campus at Notre Dame. I do love it when Latin is used in the liturgy, either in chant or in the parts of the Mass which remain the same weekly. Pat Archbold recently wrote an article titled, “7 Things to Restore the Sense of Sacred Your Pastor Could Do Tomorrow.” His suggestions are returning to an ad orientem Mass (thus having the priest and congregation face liturgical East together instead of the priest facing the congregation), using Gregorian chant and polyphony (recommended by Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium), etc. 

Another one of his suggestions was to use Latin for the parts of the Mass which remain the same week-to-week. I think this is a good idea and so I wanted to help do my part for anyone interested in implementing this. Thus, I’m going to start a series of posts where I give the Latin and English of the Novus Ordo line-by-line, then provide grammatical explanations for anyone interested. The grammar of the Mass in Latin is simple. Ecclesial Latin is not Cicero. I’m not going to provide pronunciation help, but you can easily find this online. The best way to get down the pronunciation is just to do it, however. 

I also want to mention that I am allergic to liturgical politics, so this is not my way of siding with “traddies” or with “new-agers.” I just love the Mass, I love Latin, and I think both the TLM and the Novus Ordo  can be celebrated reverently. If a parish were interested in using Latin and my explanations helped them, all the better. 

As it’s always wise to begin with the beginning, let’s look at the Introductory Rites of the Mass in Latin. The parts the priest says are regular, the response of the congregation is in bold. 

In nomine Patris et Filii                  In the name of the Father and the Son 

et Spiritus Sancti                           and the Holy Spirit. 

Amen.                                           Amen. 

First up: you already know at least one Latin word here and it’s the only word the congregation has to respond with, so you’re set. 

For anyone with a bit of Latin under their belt: 

nomine is an ablative neut singular noun from nomen and means “name.” In is a preposition and with the ablative means…well…”in” (among other things, but we’re only worried about it here).

Patris – genitive masculine singular from pater. The genitive case is often used for possession, so it makes sense here that we use it. We’re beginning the Mass “in the name of“.  If the word for “Father” is in the genitive case, can you guess what Son (Filii) and Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sancti) are in? That’s right, genitive. The endings don’t look the same because they’re all different declensions (i.e. groupings of nouns in Latin). Pater is third, Filius is second, and Spiritus is fourth. The different declensions utilize different endings. You don’t need to know that to hear and understand these words in the Mass, however. 

Then is said: 

Dominus vobiscum.                                    The Lord be with you. 

Et cum spiritu tuo.                                   And with your spirit. 

Dominus is a nominative masculine singular noun meaning “Lord” or “the Lord.”  Nominative nouns are the subjects of sentences. Dominus is related to English words like “Dominion” and “Domicile” (think of someone being Lord of their home). 

Vobiscum should really be thought of as two words, vobis + cumCum is a preposition that means “with.” It is often affixed to the word with which it is translated into English so that it looks like one word. You can see the same word in your response “Et cum…” (and with). So what of vobis? It means “ya’ll” (I’m privileging my North Carolinian upbringing – when I teach Latin at Notre Dame, I make the students translate second plurals as “ya’ll” since English doesn’t really have one).  So Vobiscum means “with you (all).” 

Et is just the word “and.” It’s not the only word in Latin that means “and”, but it’s frequently used. 

Spiritu is the same word we saw in the opening, except in a different case (there Spiritus). Here it is ablative masculine singular. It means “spirit.” 

Tuo is a possessive adjective that goes with “spirit.” It simply means “your.” Easy, right? If you know any Romance languages, you probably already recognized this as “your” (think of Spanish “Tu” or the Italian “Tuo/Tua”). 

One more part: 

Kyrie eleison.                            Lord, have mercy. 

Kyrie eleison.                         Lord, have mercy. 

Christe eleison.                        Christ, have mercy.

Christe eleison.                     Christ, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.                           Lord, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.                        Lord, have mercy.

Oremus.                                  Let us pray. 

If you have ever recited the Kyrie and thought, “This is some funny sounding Latin”, you were onto something, because this is Latinized Greek. If you attend the TLM, you’ll know that each of these is said three times, but only once here in the NO. In the Greek, the phrase is Κύριε ἐλέησον.

If you have Greek, you’ll recognize Κύριε as the vocative (the case you use in direct address) of κύριος – the Greek word for Lord. Remember the Latin for this? Dominus. So you’re directly addressing the Lord here. Likewise, Χριστέ (Christe)  is the vocative of χριστός (Christos). 

ἐλέησον is the 2 singular aorist imperative of the verb ἐλεέω or its later form, ἐλεάω. Either way, you’re imploring God to be merciful. 

The only actual Latin is what the priest says afterwards – oremus. This means “Let us pray.” It is a 1 plural (so “We” or “Us”) subjunctive (a hortatory subjunctive, if you’re into these things) from oro, orare. You may recognize the infinitival form of the verb (orare) from the famous Benedictine motto ora et labora (Pray and Work). The subjunctive is used here because the priest is exhorting us to pray. 

That seems like enough for one post. I’ll continue to write more and try to get most of the Latin used in the Novus Ordo explained. 

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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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Perfect example of…well, I don’t know what to call this

In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, we see a neat use of the subjunctive. In Book III.3, when the head of the nightwatchmen is giving his testimony about seeing Lucius supposedly kill three brigands, he uses the subjunctive in a cool way and I guess you could call it something like “the subjunctive of thwarted action” or something. I don’t know what its actual name is, but here you go:


Et ipse quidem conscientia tanti facinoris merito permotus statim profugit et in domum quandam praesidio tenebrarum elapsus perpetem noctem delituit. Sed providentia deum, quae nihil impunitum nocentibus permittit, priusquam iste clandestinis itineribus elaberetur, mane praestolatus ad gravissimum iudicii vestri sacramentum eum curavi perducere. (III.3)

My translation

But that one there, being rightly moved by the knowledge of such a crime, immediately fled into some house, having escaped by the protection of the darkness, he hid throughout the whole night. But by the providence of the gods, which allows nothing unpunished to the guilty, before that one could escape along clandestine paths, I, having waited for him in the morning, have arranged to lead him to the most grave case of your court.


Because the action never came to fruition, that is, Lucius was not able to escape before he was captured by the nightwatchman, the verb is in the subjunctive.  If anyone knows the actual name of this, please feel free to tell us in the comments.

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Friday is for Funny Words

This Friday’s funny word is my favorite Latin word: pullarius or “chicken master.” Cicero in his De Divinitate (On Divination) talks about the duties of the pullarius and his skepticism concerning the efficacy of their omens. In the morning, a pullarius would go out to feed the chickens in silence. If the chickens ate with fervor, it was a good omen. If not, it was received as a bad omen. One of the most famous instances of this type of augury in antiquity was when Publius Claudius Pulcher, during the First Punic war (mid-3rd century BC), sailed out against the Carthaginians even though the chickens did not eat with vigor that morning. He lost the battle (probably because the men were so frightened they were incapable of fighting well) and was subsequently exiled for his sacrilege.

Tum ille: “Dicito, si pascentur.” “Pascuntur”. Quae aves? Aut ubi? Attulit, inquit, in cavea pullos is, qui ex eo ipso nominatur pullarius. Haec sunt igitur aves internuntiae Iovis! Quae pascantur necne, quid refert? Nihil ad auspicia; sed quia, cum pascuntur, necesse est aliquid ex ore cadere et terram pavire (terripavium primo, post terripudium dictum est; hoc quidem iam tripudium dicitur) – cum igitur offa cecidit ex ore pulli, tum auspicanti tripudium solistimum nuntiatur. Ergo hoc auspicium divini quicquam habere potest, quod tam sit coactum et expressum?

My translation is thus:

Then he said: “Tell me if they eat.” “They are eating” responds the Augur. “What birds? And where?” He says, “A man brings the chickens into the birdcage and on account of this is called the chicken master (pullarius).” These chickens are therefore the mediators of Jove! And whether they eat or not, what does it matter? Nothing to the auspices; but because, if they eat, it is necessary that something will fall from their beak and strike the ground (this was at first called terripavium, afterwards called terripudium, and now it is indeed called tripudium [a favorable omen when chickens eat greedily]) – therefore when the food falls from the beak of the chicken, then it is said that the most perfect chicken omen has begun. Therefore how is this omen able to have anything divine, which is so forced and strained?

Come to think of it, tripudium solistimum (the most perfect chicken omen) is pretty funny too.

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Latin vs. Mandarin

Thanks to Darrell Pursiful who thanks the author at Rogue Classicism (an excellent blog!) for pointing out this great article on why it’s a good thing to learn Latin.

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Augustine and Jerome in Letters

In one of Augustine’s letters to Jerome (XXVIII), Augustine covers a variety of points on which he would like Jerome’s opinion/response. Augustine deals with the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, translation of Origen’s works (though Origen is not named),  and the Galatians controversy.

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin had already occurred long before Jerome and Augustine. Jerome’s vulgate was an attempt to create a better translation, drawing upon the vetus latina, the Septuagint, and the Hebrew Bible.  He had, however, drawn criticism for using the Hebrew manuscripts.  Augustine tells Jerome that he wishes for him to use the same methods he had used in his translation of Job, namely to apply signals and symbols wherein Jerome’s translation is at odds with the Septuagint, whose authority is most weighty (ut signis adhibitis, quid inter hanc tuam et LXX, quorum est gravissima auctoritas, interpretationem distet). This is not because Augustine is concerned with textual criticism, but because he wants Jerome to be convicted as to how wrong some of his translation work is. In another letter (LXXXII), Augustine tells the story of a Bishop who is almost run out of his congregation because of reading Jerome’s translation of Jonah at the point where Jonah is covered by the shade of a plant. Jerome’s translation reads “hedera” or “ivy”, whereas the congregation was used to hearing “curcurbita” or “gourd.”  Obviously this doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but for Augustine it’s quite serious as it caused an uproar in this congregation. Jerome writes to Augustine to give a defense of his choice of word, citing both his philological prowess and his experience with the plant (CXII).

The Galatians controversy is another interesting issue. Some exegetes in the early Church were uncomfortable with the idea of Paul actually rebuking Peter (Cephas) in Galatians 2. It was used to discredit Paul or Peter amongst heretical sects who wanted to do away with one or the other. Clement of Alexandria comes up with the idea that Cephas is another Cephas and not Peter, son of Jonah. This is possible, but unlikely. Origen however comes up with another theory: Paul and Peter planned this as an act in order to show the Judaizers were wrong. Jerome had adopted this explanation in his commentary on Galatians and Augustine is “grieved” because it violates the double precept, which is the guiding rule in Augustine’s hermeneutic. If one is to admit any falsehood into Scripture, what keeps heretics from saying anything that displeases them is a lie? Augustine asks about Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 4.1-3 concerning the forbidding of marriage. “What shall we say, when perverse men arise, forbidding marriage…declaring that all that he said about strengthening of marriage was a lie…?” (XXVIII).  He also uses Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15.14-15 concerning the resurrection of Christ. Augustine asks if someone were to ask Paul, essentially, “So what if it’s not true, doesn’t it resound the glory of God?” would not Paul correct them? Then Augustine gets Jerome with another statement undoubtedly meant to convict him: “Sed hoc intellegentiae relinquo tuae. Admota enim lectioni diligentiore consideratione, multo id fortasse facilius videbis quam ego” that is, “But I leave this matter to your own intelligence. For by the application of diligent consideration to reading, perhaps you will be able to it with even greater ease than I.” In other words, “Through diligent consideration, you may end up agreeing with me and agreeing with me more than I agree with myself.”  Then another slammer, “…nisi forte regulas quasdam daturus es, quibus noverimus ubi oporteat mentiri et ubi non oporteat” or “unless by chance you can provide some rules by which we might know when it is right to deceive and when it is not right.”

This is just a snippet of the correspondence between Augustine and Jerome. It’s a fascinating piece of history. In fact, both Jerome’s and Augustine’s letters both provide interesting insights into the world of late ancient Christianity. There are many translations available if Latin isn’t your gig and I would suggest reading them.


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We will be changed…or will we?

In my “Early Christian Latin Texts” course, we were assigned a few pages of a random Latin text to translate, identify, and discuss. Mine turned out to be the ending of Rufinus’ Commentarius in Symbolum Apostolorum, specifically where he’s discussing the resurrection of the flesh.  He goes through various arguments, then gets into 1 Corinthians 15. Quoting 1 Cor. 15.51, he says:

Ecce mysterium vobis dico: omnes quidem resurgemus, non omnes autem immutabimur (sive, ut aliis exemplaribus invenimus: omnes quidem non dormiemus, omnes autem immutabimur).

“Behold, I speak to you a mystery: we all will rise, but we will not all be changed (or, as we have found in other manuscripts: we will not all sleep (die), but we will all be changed).”

Rufinus’ first reading agrees with Codex Bezae’s reading, which replaces the Greek “οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα” (we will not all sleep/die) with “οὐ ἀναστησόμεθα” (we will not all rise). He notes, however, that he’s aware of manuscripts which read like most of our Greek NTs do today- “we will not all sleep/die, but we will all be changed.”

If I remember correctly, I don’t think the critical apparatus in the NA-27 listed Rufinus as a witness to the alternative reading.



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Homer, Virgil, Luke

On Wednesday I was lecturing to my Greek and Roman History course for which I am a TA on Books V and VI of the Aeneid. This is one of my favorite pieces of ancient literature, particularly Book VI, and so I was excited to share with them all the neat literary and historical tidbits contained therein (or, at least as many as I could think of and cover in a 50 minute lecture). One thing I pointed out, in hopes that this would spark their interests, is a parallel between Homer, Virgil, and Luke –

Odyssey, Book X.553ff

Ἐλπήνωρ δέ τις ἔσκε νεώτατος…(ὤν) οἰνοβαρείων..ἀλλὰ καταντικρὺ τέγεος πέσεν.

There was a certain young man named Elpenor…(who being) drunk…fell headlong off of the roof.

Aeneid, Book V.859ff

…liquidas proiecit (eum) in undas


And he (Sleep) threw (him = Paulinurus) headlong into the flowing waves…

Acts of the Apostles, XX.9

καθεζόμενος δέ τις νεανίας ὀνόματι Εὔτυχος ἐπὶ τῆς θυρίδος, καταφερόμενος ὕπνῳ βαθεῖ…..κατενεχθεὶς ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἔπεσεν ἀπὸ τοῦ τριστέγου κάτω…

There was a certain young man named Eutychos sitting upon the windowsill, falling into a deep sleep…brought down into a deep sleep he fell down from the third floor.

Granted, Paulinurus doesn’t die from his fall (but rather from Barbarians killing him as he climbs up a cliff – rough life!), but I think Virgil is definitely thinking of Homer there (and in the story of Misenus as well), and Luke is probably thinking of both.  I think it’s interesting that Luke twice mentions that Eutychos is taken over by sleep – perhaps he doesn’t want someone thinking poor Eutychos is a lush like Elpenor, or he might be excusing the fall like Paulinurus’ – or both!

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Is Augustine making a joke?

I think there’s a joke in Augustine’s Enarratio in Psalmum 52, but I may just be reading something into the text that isn’t there. After discussing the heading of the Psalm (IN FINEM, PRO MAELETH, INTELLECTUS IPSI DAVID), and etymologizing Maeleth to mean parturiens and dolitus, Augustine goes on to explain that it is Christ about whom the heading of the Psalm, and especially Pro Maeleth, speaks.

He then explains that it is through the members of the body of Christ that Christ Himself suffers here on earth (Christus hic parturit, Christus hic dolet) and then says what I think is the joke: caput est sursum, membra deorsum = the head is above, the members below. The joke of it is: Augustine is preaching thus far from the heading (caput) of a chapter of the Psalms and has yet to get into the body of the text (membra). It’s a lame joke if it’s a joke at all, but I think it’s there.

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What is Tertullian saying?

In my Latin course this morning, there was some discussion over what Tertullian means here in the Apologeticum (XXXIX.2):

Coimus in coetum et congregationem facimus, ut ad Deum quasi manu facta precationibus ambiamus. Haec vis Deo grata est.

Which I took to mean, “We unite in assembly and we surround God with our prayers just as a band of soldiers (manu facta). This violence is pleasing to God.” In other words – the only ‘violence’ done by the Christians is surrounding God with prayers. Am I completely off-base or is this how you would read it?

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