Pange lingua gloriosi

Some people are freaking out a little in the wake of the news that the Holy Father decided to restrict the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship in the preparation of liturgical translations.  Now the bishops conferences will be pretty much in charge the preparation and Rome won’t, on its own initiative, make changes before approval.

Keep a few things in mind:

1 – Pope Francis did NOT overturn the norms for translation in Liturgiam authenticam.  If conferences prepare translations they have to conform to LA’s norms.

2 – The English speaking conferences which implemented a new translation in 2011 are unlikely to want to go to war again so soon.  They won’t be changing the translation.

3 – Rome can still withhold approval.  Pray that the staff there is good and strong and not a bunch of candybacksides.

4 – Remember that the Extraordinary Form is of equal dignity and that it has a far longer and richer track record that this johnny-come-lately, new-fangled form.  If you don’t want to be caught in ever shifting prayer horizons, or if you simply want Latin (as the Council Fathers desired) and desire to be treated like an adult and see to your own translations with the help of a variety of old hand missal and other resources, you can vote with your feet.  I’m just sayin’… be Vatican II!  Go to the Extraordinary Form.  After all, it’s got the Latin that Council mandated, Gregorian chant, every opportunity for full, active and actual participation that the Ordinary Form does.   With the insights gained over the last 50 years or so, the older, traditional form also fulfills virtually all of the desires of the Council, if you put yourself into and don’t just sit, passively, and have it spoon fed to you in English with all sorts of extra talk and options.

Thus endeth the rant.

Working up a translation of a liturgical text is many layered.   For many years I wrote a weekly column comparing the Latin and the translations.  This blog was born of that effort, for I originally thought that it would be an archive for my columns.  HAH!

I regularly still post some of this work, so that you can see what can be found in a prayer, when you open the hood in look inside.  Language difficulty: isn’t a hood also a bonnet?  Make a choice. Choices limit what we can convey in the text.  Hood and bonnets, are parts of cars but they are both “head wear”, but the words have different connotations. We can find lots of varying connotations in our LATIN texts, some of which are ancient and which need to be recovered or made available to our modern ears.

So, there’s a lot going on in these Latin texts.  Let’s have a look at the Collect I sang this morning in a Solemn Mass.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to “the finger” below.

This Sunday’s Collect for the Extraordinary Form survived the snipping and pasting of the Consilium and the late Annibale Bugnini’s liturgical experts to be used in the Ordinary Form on Tuesday of the 2nd week of Lent.  Figure that one out.

Custodi, Domine, quaesumus, Ecclesiam tuam propitiatione perpetua: et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas; tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxiis, et ad salutaria dirigatur.

Propitiatio, in its fundamental meaning, is “an appeasing, atonement, propitiation”. The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise/Dumas also gives us a view of the word as “favor”. This makes sense. God has been appeased and rendered favorable again towards us sinners by the propitiatory actions Christ fulfilled on the Cross. We have renewed these through the centuries in Holy Mass.

Mortalitas refers, as you might guess, to the fact that we die, our mortality. Inherent in the word is the concept that we die in our flesh. So, you ought also to hear “flesh” when you hear mortalitas.

Labitur is from labor. This is not the substantive labor but the verb, labor, lapsus. It means, “to glide, fall, to move gently along a smooth surface, to fall, slide”.

Auxilium, in the plural, has a military overtone. There is also a medical undertone too, “an antidote, remedy, in the most extended sense of the word”. Pair this up with noxius, a, um, which points at things which are injurious or harmful. There is a moral element as well or “a fault, offence, trespass”.

Salutaria is the plural of neuter salutare which looks like an infinitive but isn’t. Our constant companion the Lewis & Short Dictionary says the neuter substantive salutare is “salvation, deliverance, health” in later Latin. The adjectival form, salutaris, is “of or belonging to well-being, healthful, wholesome”. Think of English “salutary” and O salutaris hostia in the Eucharistic hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274).

When this word is in the neuter plural (salutaria) there is a phrase in Latin bibere salutaria alicui … to drink one’s health” or literally “to drink healths to someone”. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet during the famous “Queen Mab” speech Mercutio declares that a soldier dreams, inter alia, of “healths five fathom deep,” (I, iv) and in Henry VIII the King says to Cardinal Wolsey, “I have half a dozen healths to drink to these” (I, iv).

Wine and health are closely related in the ancient world. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the good passerby pours oil and wine into the wounds of the man who was assaulted (Luke 10:25-37). St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy:

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23).

Apart from its resemblance to blood, it is no surprise that Christ should choose this healthful daily staple as the matter of our saving Sacrament.

Wine was often safer to drink than water in the ancient world, though it was nearly always mixed with water to some extent. To drink uncut wine, merum in Latin (from the adjective merus “unadulterated”, giving us the English word “mere”) was considered barbaric. Cicero (+43 BC) and others hurled that accusation at Marcus Antonius (+31 BC) who was a renowned merum swiller.

Catholics sing the word merum in the hymn of the Holy Thursday liturgy, Pange lingua gloriosi, by St. Thomas Aquinas: “fitque sanguis Christi merum… and the (uncut) wine becomes the Blood of Christ”. In sacramental terms, there is a link between wine and health in the sense of salvation. During Holy Mass, we offer gifts of wine with water to become our spiritual “healths” once it is changed into the Blood of Christ. These archaic and literary references help us drill into the language of our prayers.

Let’s drill some more. Did you know that the index finger was called digitus salutaris, and that the ancient Romans held it up when greeting people? We don’t do that very often these days. I believe modern usage, at least on roadways, more commonly employs a different finger.

The special designations of fingers in Latin are pollex (thumb); index or salutaris (forefinger); medius, infamis or impudicus (middle finger); minimo proximus or medicinalis (ring finger); minimus (little finger, “pinky”). The priest, during Mass, always held the consecrated Host only between his thumb and the digitus salutaris. One way to harm a priest, our mediator at the altar and in the confessional, was to chop off his index fingers. Priests without those fingers were forbidden to say Mass without special permission from the Holy See.  Those fingers were clearly understood by those who hate the Church, priesthood, and the Eucharist as being especially important.  North American martyr missionaries were mutilated like this.

Let’s push this a little more.

The adjective medicinalis, “medicinal, healing”, comes from the verb medeor or medico, the original meaning of which has to do with “to heal” by magic. The verb traces back to the stem med– or “middle”. So, medicus, “doctor” is associated with “mediator”. We can think of this in terms of the English word “medium”, who is a mediator with the spirit world. The Latin poet Silius Italicus (Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus +101) called a magician “medicus vulgus” (Punica, III, 300). The ancients saw what we call the “ring finger” as having magical powers. This is reflected in the name digitus medicinalis, the “medicinal/magic” finger.

One of the most important Patristic Christological images in the ancient Church is Christus Medicus, the “Physician”. St. Augustine does amazing things with this image, and Christus Mediator. He is the doctor of the ailing soul. He is the only mediator between God and man.


Guard your Church, we beseech You, O Lord, with perpetual favor and, since without You our mortal flesh slides toward ruin, by means of your helping remedies let it be pulled back from injuries and be guided unto saving healths.

Watch how the old incarnation of ICEL ruined the imagery.


Lord, watch over your Church,
and guide it with your unfailing love.
Protect us from what could harm us
and lead us to what will save us.
Help us always, for without you we are bound to fail.

We won’t ever have to hear that one again!


Guard your Church, we pray, O Lord, in your unceasing mercy,
and, since without you mortal humanity is sure to fall,
may we be kept by your constant helps from all harm
and directed to all that brings salvation

We all know the image of the slippery slope. Once you are on this slope, scrabble and scratch with your weak hands as you can, and you can’t get a purchase.

You slide and slide, faster and faster.  Down.

Our fallen nature and our habitual sins drag us onto the slope from which we cannot save ourselves.  Sometime we only hang on to the cliff by our fingers.

In the sacraments and teachings of Holy Church, Christ extends the fingers of His saving hand.

He draws us back from a deadly slide with His Almighty hand.

The moderation queue is on, and I will soon by on a long flight.  Patience.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. servulus indignus Christi says:

    I was informed once by a Latin instructor of no insignificant name that the digitus minimus was otherwise known as the digitus auricularis for its felicitously fitting use when a swab may not be at hand

  2. Poor Yorek says:

    Did you know that the index finger was called digitus salutaris, and that the ancient Romans held it up when greeting people?

    There is a classic scene in the Star Gate series involving “the finger” when the Asgard Supreme Commander (Thor) “pops in” to an acrimonious meeting within Cheyenne Mountain:

    (the toady) Senator Kenzie (wagging his finger): “I’m sure it was Commander …”

    Thor (interrupting holding up his hand with the digitus salutaris extended): “Supreme Commander.”

    The camera work and focus on the hands is excellently done (and its just funny to see Kenzie get his comeuppance. Easily found on youtube and worth 3 mins.

  3. Ave Crux says:

    Father Z.: I know you always try to keep us optimistic and rational in the face of ever increasing anarchy within the Church; however, there is a very insightful article on the new Motu Proprio online by David Martin that makes it clear this is not just about translations, but all liturgical regulations within each diocese and Conference.

    The following quote will explain:

    Paragraph §4 makes it clear that the Pope has now given bishops the power to determine much of the Church’s liturgical direction. “Within the limits of his competence, it belongs to the diocesan bishop to lay down in the Church entrusted to his care, liturgical regulations which are binding on all.”

    This opens the door, not only to greater liberty in translating liturgical texts, but to creativity in drafting their own texts and rules [norms].

    The bishops of an episcopal conference can now decide that if the faithful kneel to receive Communion, receive only on the tongue, or fail to participate in the hand shake of peace, this could be grounds to refuse them Communion. [I have already been refused Holy Communion for trying to receive on the tongue]

    The new motu proprio also supersedes Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, which dispensed priests from the need to obtain episcopal permission to say the Traditional Latin Mass.

    With the new ruling, an episcopal conference can now rule that the offering of the Latin Mass is forbidden in a given diocese, or in an entire country, so that traditional Catholics no longer have the option of appealing to Rome for help. The episcopal ruling is now Church law.”

    I was once harassed by a Priest at a nearby parish for wanting to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. I was able to have recourse to the provisions issued by Rome,which make it clear that is the faithful themselves who decide whether they will receive Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue, and whether they will kneel for Holy Communion.

    Given this new Motu Proprio, in the future one will no longer be able to have recourse to Rome’s directives in this way if the local Bishops Conferences change these norms locally.

    It’s clear this Motu Proprio is another bombshell in disguise, and will ultimately have all of the disruptive, divisive repercussions which Amorils Laetitia has had in the moral sphere.

    No more happy gas for me….

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    Using an unofficial translation of Magnum Principium

    It’s interesting in :

    The liturgical text, since it is a ritual sign, is a means of oral communication. But for the believers who celebrate the sacred rites, the word is still a mystery. When in fact the words are spoken, especially in the reading of Sacred Scripture, God speaks to men, Christ himself in the Gospel speaks to his people who, on their own behalf or through the celebrant, respond in prayer to the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

    The purpose of the translations of liturgical texts and biblical texts, in the liturgy of the word, is to announce to the faithful the word of salvation in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. To this end, it is necessary to communicate faithfully to a particular people, by means of their own language, that which the Church intended to communicate to another people by means of the Latin language.

    … that the Motu Proprio is declaring that the purpose of translations of Liturgical texts into vernacular is for addressing and instructing the people of God — which leaves completely open the possibility of keeping in (or reverting to) Latin those sections of the Liturgy where the Celebrant is praying to God.

    De facto, Magnum Principium has opened a particular door door to a so-called “Reform of the Reform” that was previously closed, given that previously the local Churches had not the power to establish any such mixed Latin-Vernacular norms locally.

    This Canon will also make easier the work on Liturgical Bible translations for use during the Mass, such as the magnificent French Liturgical Bible ( — IMO *the* Best modern translation of the Bible ever made ), which for its own part necessitated a complex cooperation between all francophone or partially francophone Bishops Conferences.

    The new norms may also be addressing a difficulty encountered in the general propagation of the Third Edition of the Missal.

    Of course, we can all imagine the worst that could come out of this, particularly for those living in regions governed by overly liberal Bishops Conferences … but good too can be found in the Motu Proprio, and as always it is the Virtues and Vices of local churchmen will determine local Fidelity to the Spirit of the Holy Mass.

  5. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    Who knows? A differently constituted Bishops’ Conference might choose to take advantage of the provisions of this Motu Proprio by (a) producing an edition of the Roman Missal which uses the translations in the (already approved) Ordinariate Missal; (b) “adapts” the aforesaid version by including things like the prayers at the foot of the altar, the old offertory prayers and the Last Gospel; (c) prints the texts of the missal in column format rather than “sense lines”: and, (d) consigns all the Eucharistic Prayers apart from the Roman Canon to an appendix at the back.

    There are those who are celebrating this Motu Proprio because they think it gives them the freedom to do what they want. They might start chewing the carpet if the next generation dares to take a view which is different from theirs. Divine Providence can sometimes work in strange ways, and this might not turn out to be the disaster that some fear.

    [Rem acu.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. Kerry says:

    We are beggars before God. The obsolete translations, perhaps without exception, chiselled this from the stone.

  7. Lavrans says:

    Having attended yet another beautiful Ordinariate Mass yesterday, it would be a magnificent development that in, say a decade, a reconstituted USCCB would incorporate most or all of the Divine Worship Missal into the English Novus Ordo. If you want a Mass done right in English, there is no substitute for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. It has everything I was always looking for.

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    Please, Father — and readers — pray on my behalf

    Please pray to Our Lord and to His delightful Mother to petition on my behalf our Father for understanding on my part and good Grace into my wish to accomplish the “full pilgrimage” from home parish to home parish by foot via Fatima, Santiago, Lourdes, no matter how long that may be.

    Signs are one thing — I beg you, please pray to the Lord that I may do His Will, not mine own.

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