Vocabula Mira: “Confessor” and “Cappella”

In the earliest years of Christianity, the vast majority (not the totality) of those whom the Church honored as Saints were those who had witnessed to the Faith by dying during persecution. Such persons were called “martyrs”, the Greek word for “witness”; already by the later 2nd century, this was so well known in the […]

Vocabula Mira: “Laterculus”

The word “laterculus”, the diminutive form of the third declension masculine noun “later – a brick”, is one of Latin’s most curious examples of semantic evolution. Already in the early 2nd century BC., it had come to mean a small cake or biscuit shaped like a brick or tile, as attested in Plautus’ Poenulus (“the […]

Vocabula Mira: “Indictio”

The Latin verb “indīcere, indīxī, indictus” (not to be confused with “indĭcāre”), originally meant “to declare publicly, proclaim, announce, to appoint”, and more broadly, “to impose, or inflict”, especially a penalty. From it is derived the noun “indictio”, meaning “the imposition of a tax.” This was originally used most often used to mean the regular […]

Vocabula Mira: “Speculator”

Today is one of the oldest and most widespread feasts of the Christian liturgical tradition, the commemoration of the beheading of St John the Baptist. At Mass, the majority of rites, including the Roman, read the most complete account of this event among the Gospels, from St Mark, chapter 6, 17-29. At verse 27, when […]

The Dog-Days of Summer

Since yesterday we talked about dogs in connection with both pagan and Christian religious observances in the early days of August, today we look at the “dog-days” of summer, and a Christian feast which is related to the heat of this season. The term “dog-days” comes from the Latin “dies caniculares”, a translation of the […]

Vocabula Mira: ‘Macte Virtute’

Yesterday, we presented a selection from Livy’s account of the death of the consul L. Aemilius Paullus at the Battle of Cannae. (Ab Urbe Condita 22, 49 and 50) When a military tribune offers to carry him off the battlefield to safety, the consul begins his reply with the words “tu quidem … macte virtute […]

Vocabula Mira: “Melos”

The Greek word “melos” underwent an interesting evolution before it entered the Latin language. It originally meant “limb”, although in the earlier writers, it only occurs in the plural. From this it came to mean a “musical member or phrase” and thence “a song”, a use which first occurs in roughly the 6th century B.C., […]

Vocabula Mira: “Pascha” and “Phase”

Between roughly 250 and 130 B.C., Greek-speaking Jews in the diaspora communities of the Eastern Mediterranean produced the translations of the Sacred Scriptures collectively known as the Septuagint, which are still used by many of the Eastern churches to this day. These translations seem to have been made mostly in Egypt, but were not the […]

Vocabula Mira: “Encaeniare”

In the traditional Mass lectionary of the Roman Rite, the Gospel for today is St John 10, 22-38, which begins as follows: “In illo tempore: Facta sunt Encaenia in Jerosolymis, et hiems erat. Et ambulabat Jesus in templo, in porticu Salomonis. – At that time: it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem; and […]

Vocabula Mira: “Tubilustrium” and “Quinquatrus”

On the Roman calendar of religious observances, March 23rd sees the convergence of two different festivals, although it seems that not very much is known about either of them. One was called the “tubilustrium – the purification of trumpets”, a ritual that was repeated on May 23rd. The trumpets in question were either war-trumpet used […]