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Latin, Italian or English?


Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 37


The last lap of the “Scoot’s” homeward journey ran through plains and farmlands which, seen by the weary traveler anxious to have done with a tedious train ride, appear dull and monotonous, but from the more leisurely progress of the two old Priests in their carefully-driven car, disclosed new beauties at every turn of the old post road which followed the still discernible embankments of what had once been the canal which made northern Indiana an island.


They were not due in the editorial sanctum[1] for several days yet, but planned to stop at the University of the Quatuor Coronati[2] for the four-days’ diocesan retreat. Hence, they were in no hurry. Hence, also, perhaps, their talk was more mild than usual, though they did, after the fashion of good priests everywhere, devote some time to the discussion of their bishop.


So the knocks of that day’s ride were not confined to the engine, for well they knew that devoted loyalty and wholehearted love and respect do not paralyze men’s judgment or their tongues! In the course of the conversation the Antiquary said something about the bishop’s crozier being a stick to drive no less than staff to lead.


“Very well, then,” interrupted the Liturgiologist, “why not call it a staff and not confuse it with the archepiscopal cross, which is properly called a crozier? Pastoral staff is good English for the pontifical ornament you have in mind (and ought to have elsewhere). Why must we use Latin nomenclature, and Italian, and strange bastard words[3] like ‘rabbi’ when we have good English words for most of these familiar things?”


“Well,” admitted the Antiquary, falling into the mood, “‘Rabbi’ is an odd word for a ‘collaro,’ which isn’t a collar at all.”


“Why ‘Roman collar’ or ‘stock’?” said the Liturgiologist. “Dr. Nainfa has some pertinent remarks on this topic of foreign words, and Fortescue, in the Introduction to his Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described,[4] pleads for a vernacular terminology. We use the word ‘pall’ quite commonly for the parva palla linea[5] with which we cover the chalice. Yet we speak of an archbishop’s pallium,[6] when the same English word applies to both ornaments, and was formerly so used.”


“Isn’t it Nainfa who calls the house gown worn by prelates a ‘simar’ and discourages the use of the Italian word ‘zimmara’?” asked the Antiquary. Then, without waiting for an answer: “We never say ‘vestis talaris’[7] for cassock, though some call it a ‘soutane.’[8]”


“I’m surprised you don’t put in a word for ‘frontal’ instead of antependium, and also remind me that the ‘ciborium’ is not a cup but a canopy over the high altar,”[9] laughed the Liturgiologist. “The vessel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved is a pyx, whether it be in the form of a large cup for many particles [Hosts], or a small watch-shaped case for a few. Now ‘pyx’ is English as well as Latin and so has a double recommendation besides being accurate. Chalice is English, so is paten. How do you suppose it came about that some terms have been anglicized in practice and others not?”


“I’m sure I don’t know,” admitted the Antiquary (a triumph of grace!), “Fortescue says there are no English equivalents for mozetta and manteletta, and insists on the ‘a’ rather than the ‘um’[10] termination of these words which are Italian not Latin. Why not ‘cape’ or ‘short cape’ for the former and ‘mantle’ for the latter?”


“Why not indeed,” said the Liturgiologist, with a quizzical smile, “except that it’s seldom if ever thought of. But there are good precedents in liturgiology, as well as in books in your line, for many good old terms which were familiar to our Catholic forefathers but sound strange to us. For example, ‘foot-pace’ instead of predella, ‘cap’ for biretta, ‘bench’ for scamnum or sedilia. ‘Hand candle’ is descriptive, while ‘scotula’ is not, but, as Fortescue remarks, there is no more reason for calling this little ornament ‘bugia’ than there is for ycleping it ‘bougeoir.’[11] But, on the whole, I agree with you that Fortescue does not carry his purism far enough, and that there are good English words for some things which he thinks must inevitably be titled in Latin. Capsula easily becomes urn, and it is an urn which the rubrics require for the Repository, not a tabernacle on a side altar.[12] Secretarium is nothing but a vesting chapel for the bishop, and the genuflexorium is a kneeling bench. Prie dieu is French and more or less usual. But it’s a kneeling bench for all that!”


“And well we’ll know it the next few days,” said the Antiquary, as the domes and towers of the University of the Quatuor Coronati grew taller and more distinct across the prairie.


Of the retreat the less said the better. The incidental ceremonies illustrated all the faults ever discussed by our genial old friends, yet they kept the silence fairly well. The Bishop’s allocution, however, was a bomb shell for them both. “It is our order,” said the his Lordship, towards the end of his discourse, “that the Assistants in parishes shall not own automobiles, and that their use of cars belonging to the parish shall, so far as possible, be confined to sick calls.”


The rest of his admirable admonitions were lost upon the Antiquary and Liturgiologist. Nor did they join in the subdued indignation meeting of the younger Assistants which followed. They were, to be sure, Editorial priests, but attached to the parish officially as Assistants. They were honest, pious, conscientious men, and they remembered their Promitto.[13]


So they drove, in unwonted silence, out of the gates of the Quatuor Coronati, emptied the side pockets of the “Scoot” of breviaries and caps, had the car washed, and sold it, not without sighs of regret, to the smiling Jim who made a quick turnover to his brother, the garage man, who in turn disposed of it to the thirty-second cousin of a young Assistant in the next parish. Poor old “Scoot,” no loner new!


Poor old Priests, deprived of a fitting vehicle for the expression of their kindly thoughts!



1 That is, their study, or “inner sanctum”.


2 Latin for “the four crowns”. Considering the travels through the farmland of Indiana, this could be a reference to the famed Notre Dame University (just outside South Bend and which has at least one very visible gilded dome on its campus church), which had been presented (and lost) some beautiful crowns for a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The reference could also be simultaneously alluding to the “Four Crowned Martyrs”, and thus a premonition of the Liturgiologist’s and Antiquary’s martyrdom over the loss of their beloved “Scoot”.


3 Here this term (unfortunately used more often as an insult) is being used to describe such words as being not genuine or irregular to the English language.


4 This is referring to the earlier editions of Fortescue (1917-1934) which included this introduction, but which was omitted in the subsequent ones edited by J.B. O’Connell.


5 Latin for “little linen cover”; the pall is actually derived from the corporal and thus uses the same blessing.


6 A type of over-stole made of white wool and adorned with five black crosses which is worn over the chasuble and attached to it with three jeweled pins. It is presented by the pope to archbishops as a sign of particular unity and must be worn by them when pontificating at Mass on certain feast days.


7 Latin for “ankle-length garment”, which refers to the cassock.


8 The French term for the cassock.


9 Cf. Geoffrey Webb’s The Liturgical Altar for a description and images, as well as Candles in the Roman Rite for another pictorial example.


10 Referring to the plural and singular Latin declining of words (i.e., their changeable endings).


11 The French word for a bishop’s hand-candle used during pontifical Masses.


12 This is referring to the older (pre-1955) rubric for Holy Week, when the Blessed Sacrament was specially reserved at the altar of repose.


13 In Latin, “I promise”, referring to the oath of obedience that newly-ordained priests make to the bishop after the Communion of the ordination Mass.

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