The Meanings and Derivations of Familiar Catholic Terms

(The following text is pp. 128-130 from Church Latin for Beginners; an elementary course of exercises in ecclesiastical Latin by J. E. Lowe. London: Burns & Oates; Washbourne, 1923. Images are from Glossary Of Ecclesiastical Ornament And Costume by A. W. Pugin, 1844. [Pugin himself did these drawings!])

ASPERGES, from the Latin aspérgo, I sprinkle: the ceremony of sprinkling the altar, clergy, and congregation with Holy Water at the beginning of High Mass, so called from the first word of the antiphon with which the ceremony begins: “Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor,” “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed” (Psalm L, 9).

CARDINAL, from the Latin cardo, cárdinis, a hinge: hence the point on which anything turns. The original Hebrew word used for the Princes of the Philistines also means an axle or
.* The term cardinal was first used in Christian times to mean the permanent clergy of any church—i.e., those priests who were so indispensable to the work of the church that every-
thing seemed to revolve round them, just as a door turns on its hinge.

* Of. Josh, xiii, 3; Judg. iii, 3. 128

CENACLE, from the Latin cenáculum, which literally meant an eating-room; then, as this was usually in the upper part of the house, it was used to mean an upper room, or even a garret or
attic. The word is now used for the upper chamber at Jerusalem where Our Lord partook of the Last Supper with the Apostles.


CHASUBLE, from the Latin cásula, a diminutive of casa, a hut: the chief vestment worn by the celebrant at Mass.

CIBORIUM, from the Latin cibórium (Greek, κιβώριον), which literally meant the seed-pod of the Egyptian bean, but which was also used for a drinking vessel resembling the bean in shape.
In England the term Ciborium is applied to the vessel in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept.

CONFIRMATION, from the Latin confírmo, I strengthen, hence the name given to the Sacrament which confers strengthening grace.

FERIA. The Latin word fériae, holidays, meant days on which the ancient Romans abstained from political and legislative work, and gave their slaves a holiday. Such days were those consecrated to any deity. Later, the fériae were kept for the observance of Christian feasts. To-day the term féria denotes the days of the week from Monday to Friday inclusive; this use of the word probably comes from the custom in the early Church of calling the Monday in Easter week the second feast-day, or féria secúnda, the Tuesday the third feast-day, or féria tértia, and so on; the practice was then adopted for all the days of the year except Saturdays and Sundays.

GENUFLECT, from the Latin genu, a knee, and flecto, I bend; literally, therefore, to genuflect means to bend the knee, though for a correct genuflection the knee should touch the ground.

INDULGENCE, from the Latin indulgéntia, a Roman legal term meaning a remission of punishment or taxation. A Plenary Indulgence, from the Latin plenus, full, is therefore an indulgence remitting the full temporal punishment due to sin.

JANUA COELI, Gate of Heaven, a title given to our Lady in the Litany of Loreto. Janus was the most ancient of all the kings of Italy. He built a small town on the River Tiber, called Janiculum, which was afterwards the name of one of the seven hills of Rome. After his death he was ranked among the gods, and was represented with two faces, one looking backward over the past, the other looking forward over the future. He had a small temple in the Forum,* with two doors opposite each other, which stood open in time of war, and shut in time of peace.† All doors, gates, avenues, and beginnings were sacred to Janus, and January, the month which begins the year, was called after him. In religious ceremonies his name was invoked first, since he was said to preside over the gate through which the prayers of men passed to the immortal gods. The word janua, a gateway, or door, is derived from Janus, the god of gateways, and so, in the Litany of Loreto, the pagan idea which centred round the old Roman god, Janus, is transferred to our Lady, who is indeed the gateway through which our prayers pass to Heaven.

* The Forum was a large open space between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, where most of the business of Rome was transacted.

† In the course of seven hundred years they were only shut on three occasions.

MASS, from the Latin missa, another form of míssio, dismissal. The term was originally used for the two dismissals during the service, the first that of the catechumens, after the sermon, the second that of the rest of the congregation at the end of the proceedings. ‡ It is curious that the word which signified a dismissal from the service should come to be used for the service itself, and some authorities support the explanation that in the sixth and seventh centuries, when the term missa began to have the meaning which we give to the word Mass, short Masses, consisting of the Canon only, were said at the end of the Canonical Hours, and came to be regarded as services of dismissal.

C.f. Ite, missa est, Go, the mass is finished.

MONSTRANCE, from the Latin monstro, I show: the vessel in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed or “shown forth” at Benediction or in procession.

PATEN, from the Latin pátina, a dish: the plate used to receive the Host consecrated at the Mass.

PISCINA, from the Latin piscína, a fishpond, or tank for keeping fish (from piscis, a fish). Later the word came to mean a basin or bath, and in the early Latin Church it was used to denote the baptismal font. In the Middle Ages it was applied to the niche in the wall on the Epistle side of the altar, containing a perforated basin through which was poured the water used in washing the
priest’s hands.

PONTIFF, PONTIFICATE, from the Latin Póntifex, which may be derived from pons, pontis, a bridge, and the root of fácio, I make or build, and thus means a bridge-builder. The term Póntifex Máximus meant the High Priest at Rome in ancient times; he was looked on as the builder of the bridge between gods and men. The office of Pontifex dates from the earliest period of Roman history.

RUBRICS, from the Latin ruber, red. The term rúbrica was first used to mean the red earth used by a carpenter in drawing a line on a piece of wood to show where to cut it. Later the word passed into the language of the law, and was used for the titles, maxims, decisions, etc., which were written in red. In Christian times it came to mean the directions and instructions to be followed in the Mass and other services; these were written in red ink, while the passages for recitation were written in black.

SACRAMENT, from the Latin sacraméntum, which was originally a legal term, and meant the deposit, or pledge, which both the plaintiff and the defendant were obliged to make at the beginning of a lawsuit. The one who lost his case forfeited the deposit, which was set aside for some sacred purpose, or for use in the temple. The word next came to mean the pledge, or oath, taken by a Roman soldier not to desert his standard in battle, and this meaning was afterwards extended to any oath or pledge. In Christian times it first meant the oath which a soldier of Christ took when he swore to be true to his standard or faith; next it meant anything which sanctified men; and finally it was defined by the Church as ” a visible sign of invisible grace instituted for
our justification.”

VIATICUM, a Latin word which originally meant journey money, or provisions for the way (from via, a road or way). Next it came to mean provision for the journey of life, and finally
the term was applied to Holy Communion when administered to the dying, the provision for the soul on its last journey from this world into the next.

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