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Catholic Customs and Symbols

A musical term meaning slowly and gracefully.
Referring to the Albigenses, heretics of the southern part of France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They were dominant in Albi (whence the name conferred upon them), in Languedoc. Read the article, Albigenses, in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Allegro vivace.
A musical expression meaning in a brisk and sprightly manner. It is a very rapid movement.
The broad curved space for walking, around the choir and apse, in cathedrals and large churches.
Latin = a corner.
The singing of the Divine Office is divided between two choirs which answer each other (anti-phon, from the Greek = sound against or answering sound), one choir singing a verse of a psalm, or hymn, and the other taking up the next verse or stanza, and so on. Nearly all the chanting, whether of psalms and hymns, or of antiphons and responsories, is antiphonal in the Mass and the Divine Office.
The last book of the Bible, styled in the Protestant version the “Book of Revelation.” The splendors of the Heavenly Jerusalem are dwelt upon largely by St. John, giving Longfellow his phrase, “Apocalyptical splendors.”
We commonly understand the word “apology” as an excuse for some unintentional offense or indiscretion. Its truer meaning (from the Greek) is vindication of, rather than excuse for, an act or course of action. Thus Cardinal Newman wrote his Apologia pro Vita Sua as a vindication or explanation of his whole course of life, including his conversion to Catholicity.
A semicircular or polygonal recess at the rear of the main altar. Sometimes an apse-aisle surrounds the apse, with openings into chapels, thence called apsidal-chapels. The Lady Chapel is often the central one of these apsidal-chapels.
Argumentum ad hominem.
An “argument to the man,” i.e., an appeal based on the personal characteristics of the person addressed in an argument. It is an argument based on the man’s own premises or admissions or views, and therefore ought to be admitted as valid by him, whether valid in itself or not.
A very rich cloth whose web was of gold and woof of silk, embroidered, used for vestments in the Middle Ages. The word is derived from Bagdad, where the cloth was originally made.
Bouche fermée.
Literally (French) “closed mouth” = humming rather than singing.
Bible of Amiens.
Buskin so entitled one of his works because the innumerable sculptures of prophets and apostles, of symbols and types, all testifying to the Cornerstone (a monolith figure of Christ) of the Cathedral of Amiens, formed, as it were, a Bible to be read of all men. Perhaps Buskin found his title suggested by the Biblia Pauperum of the Middle Ages. Such were, indeed, the great Cathedrals.
Biblia Pauperum.
Latin = Bible of the Poor. A mediaeval book of from forty to fifty pages giving pictures of the drama of our Redemption by Christ, together with pictures of the prophets, etc. testifying of Him. Accompanying the pictures were appropriate texts from the Bible. Many sculptors obtained their inspiration for the adornment of churches from the book. It is supposed to have been the first book issued, after the invention of printing, from the presses of the Netherlands and Germany, in the fifteenth century. The word “poor” may mean either those who could not afford to buy manuscript portions of the Old and New Testaments or those whose lack of education necessitated instruction through pictures rather than written words.
Diminutive of the Latin campana — bell. A bell-shaped flower “swung in air” (as Lowell, doubtless thinking of the Cathedral bell of the Chartres, happily describes the oscillation of the flower when entered by the bee).
Latin = chain. A series or links of proofs, illustrations, quotations, making up a running commentary upon some theme or text. We have our present-day “chain-stores” linked together by one management however separated in space from one another. A Catena Aurea (Latin = Golden Chain) is applied to any notably excellent “chain.” “Golden” was a mediaeval term of high approval, e.g., The Golden Legend, The Book of Gold (Legenda Aurea, II Libro d’Oro), etc. We have our modern equivalent in the long French series of Paillettes d’Or, translated into “Golden Sands.” A notable Catena Aurea is that of St. Thomas Aquinas giving us the Pour Gospels commented on by the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Both the singers and the place of their location. The choir should properly be located within the space which we call the “sanctuary.”
Latin = A dance in a ring. Durandus thought the Latin for choir (Chorus) might have been derived either from chorea or corona ( = crown)—a forced etymology due to his mental picturing of the singers as standing around the altar (the “ring” of the chorea, the circle of the corona).
A costly cloth, of uncertain material, used in the Middle Ages.
Cloth of Tars.
See below, Tars, Cloth of.
An emblematic device or expression [such as Laus Deo! (God be praised), Deo sit laus et gloria (To God be praise and glory), etc.] placed at the end of a book or manuscript by author or scribe or printer, to indicate sentiment, place, date, name, etc.
French — conservatory or musical academy.
Latin = crown. See above, Chorea (for derivation by Durandus).
Cross Crosslet.
A cross each of whose arms ends in a cross (in heraldry).
Cross Potent.
In heraldry a cross each of whose arms ends in a cross-head.
In the form of a cross. Many mediaeval cathedrals were symbolically cruciform.
A room for resting or sleeping.
De Divina Psalmodia.
Cardinal Bona’s work “On the Divine Psalmody” (the use of the Psalter in the Church).
De Gustibus.
A hint of the Latin proverb: De gustibus non est disputandum (“There’s no disputing about taste”), rendered by the French: Chacun à son goût (“Every man to his taste”).
Adjective from deicide, one who kills a god, concretely, one who crucifies Christ. The “deicidal cries” were the shouts of the mob calling for His crucifixion (“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”) and mocking Him on Calvary.
Dies Irae.
The great hymn or “Sequence of the Dead” attributed to Thomas of Celano (thirteenth century) and forming part of the Requiem Mass. The greatest masters of music have exhausted their inspiration in its symbolical musical settings, but the plainsong is withal most affecting in spite of its melodic simplicity. The opening words, Dies Irae, mean “Day of Wrath.”
In art, two small panels hinged together, containing pictures or carvings.
Divine Office.
Generally understood, in a restricted sense, as the “Canonical Hours” recited daily in cathedral or conventual churches or privately by clerics in Major Orders; briefly, “the Breviary” (or “the eternal Breviary,” as Charles Dickens styles the volume seen so commonly in the hands of priests whilst traveling).
Another spelling of dungeon, but preferred by some writers since, although it means the inner tower or stronghold of a castle, it does not include the idea of imprisonment suggested by dungeon.
Sometimes written Embolismus, meaning literally an insertion. In almost all liturgies, the Lord’s Prayer is followed by an elaboration of the closing words Sed libera nos a malo (But deliver us from evil). In the Roman Liturgy, our prayer follows the end of the Lord’s Prayer thus: “Deliver us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all evils, present, past, and future, and through the intercession of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with thy blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and Andrew, and all thy saints, grant of thy goodness, peace in our days, that being assisted by the help of thy mercy, we may be always free from sin and secure from all disturbance.” The prayer thus leads up to the next one: Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (“The peace of the Lord be always with you”) and connects the idea of freedom from evil with the concurrent idea of the peace which surpasseth all understanding.
Excursion, The.
The most ambitious poem of Wordsworth’s. Isaac Williams finds symbolic intent in the poet’s preface.
Ex post facto.
Latin = retrospective, after the deed is done. A symbolism is said to be devised ex post facto when it was not originally intended by the religious ceremony but was subsequently affixed to the ceremony.
Ex uno disce omnes.
Latin — From one learn all; that is, one instance will convey the same lesson as would all.
Latin = By reason of a vow. Ex-votos are gifts to a shrine in fulfillment of a promise or vow to make such gifts if one’s prayer is answered.
Golden Rose, The.
On the fourth Sunday in Lent, called Laetare (from the first word of the Introit at Mass) and sometimes called Rose Sunday (rose-colored vestments are permitted on that day), the Pope annually blesses, with elaborate ceremonial, a rose or branch of roses of pure gold, highly ornamented and most artistically wrought, which is occasionally conferred as a token of esteem upon some church, sanctuary, government, city or person distinguished for loyalty to the Church or to the Holy See. The rose has many mystical and symbolic meanings. Pope Innocent III identified the “flower” of Isaias (11: 1) as a rose.” In different centuries, the Golden Rose varied much in size and value, as well as in shape and ornamentation.
Hound of Heaven.
“The Hound of Heaven” is Francis Thompson’s poetical masterpiece. Under the figure or symbol, he pictures Our Saviour as pursuing our errant souls with the same untiring patience, the same keen scent, as a hound upon the trail of a fugitive.
Literally (from the Greek) “image-breakers.” In the eighth century, Leo the Isaurian began a persecution of those who venerated sacred images, imitating in this fact the zealotry of his fanatical neighbor, the Caliph of Damascus, who four years earlier had ordered the destruction of all Christian images within his jurisdiction. The first image to be destroyed under Leo was the famous crucifix over the gate of the imperial palace. Pope Gregory II resisted him. The conflict continued between the Eastern Emperors and the Popes down into the ninth century, when the party or sect of the iconoclasts died out with the last of the persecuting Emperors. During the reign of Philip II, Protestants in the Netherlands riotously destroyed the sacred images in Catholic churches. The destruction wrought by fanatical mobs in England need not be told.
The art of graphic representation.
In Cruce Salus.
Latin — “Salvation in the Cross.”
German = Church (or Ecclesiastical) Dictionary.
The military standard of Constantine the Great, bearing the Cross and the monogram of Christ.
Latin (lac — milk), a term covering various kinds of milk-foods, such as milk, butter, cheese.
Madonna degli Ansidei.
One of Raphael’s masterpieces, now in the National Gallery in London. From within its glassed frame, the canvas glows with brilliant coloring, suggesting the thought of Devas that no amount of chemical analysis of the pigments entering into the coloring will account for the emotional appeal of the whole picture composition.
Latin, manipulus — a handful (manus — hand), a bundle, a company of soldiers. In ecclesiastical Latin, a vestment worn on the left arm. Psalm 125 uses the word in the Vulgate Latin (verses 5-7): “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Going they went and wept, casting their seeds. But coining they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves (portantes manipulos suos). Manipulus, meaning a handful of anything, is applied here to a sheaf or small bundle of corn. By easy extension, manipulus means anything carried in the hand, e.g., a handkerchief, which was the original use of the ecclesiastical vestment now known as the maniple. Durandus plays on the double meaning: sheaf and kerchief, finding in the maniple a symbol both of the toil in the Lord’s vineyard (resulting in the sweat which the handkerchief wipes away) and the fruits of that toil (the sheaves carried home with joyfulness).
Motu Proprio.
Latin=By one’s own act or initiative. Legislation originating from the Holy Father himself is said to be motu proprio, by an act of his own, and not by a measure coming through the ordinary channels of the Roman Sacred Congregations. Pope Pius X, in 1903, thus characterized his legislation on Church Music (dated appropriately on the Feast of St. Cecilia, Patroness of Church Music, Nov. 22nd). His “Liturgical Code of Sacred Music” is thus commonly known as the “Motu Proprio.”
The main body of a church between the aisles. It extends from the church door to the sanctuary or “choir.”
A charm, or form of words, taken from the “Arabian Nights’ Entertainments,’’ to signify anything which will enable one to pass freely through barriers.
—Latin, ostendere = to exhibit; identical with Monstrance, from monstrare — to show. “A vessel with a base like a chalice and the upper portion fashioned to represent the rays of the sun, issuing from the center, in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed or carried in procession. . . . The rays of the ostensorium should at least be of silver or silver gilt and it is recommended that it should be surmounted by a cross” (Weidenhan). The Sacred Host is first placed in a lunula or lunette (both words signify a “small moon-shaped” receptacle), defined by Weidenhan as “a circular or crescent-shaped vessel of gold or silver-gilt, with glass sides, large enough to hold the large Sacred Host used at benedictions and expositions. It is made to fit in the central space of the ostensorium. ... In Germany it is known as the lunula and the melchisedeeh.”
Peter Bell.
In Wordsworth’s poem, Peter Bell typifies dull-witted, stodgy, unimaginative folk, who can perceive nothing behind the mere externals:
“A primrose by the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him—
And it was nothing more.”
The “Northern port” in Lowell’s Cathedral means the north door of the Cathedral of Chartres.
Porte Rouge.
French — red door. O’Reilly questions the symbolism attached to this little door, in “How France Built Her Cathedrals.”
Prix de Rome.
French = a traveling scholarship to study some art for a time in Rome. Charles Gounod won such a prix de Rome whilst a student at the Conservatoire, the famous academy of music in Paris. Many art-schools give this grand prize to singularly apt pupils.
Pros and Cons.
A short term for arguments for (pro) and against (contra) anything.
A small vessel of precious metal in which the Sacred Host is carried to the sick.
Revelation, Book of.
The Protestant name of the last book in the Bible, which Catholics style the Apocalypse.
A short term for rose-window.
A circular window with tracery affording artists in stained glass an admirable frame for exquisite blendings of colors and shapes.
Samit or Samite.
A heavy silk, with satin gloss, each thread of which was twisted of six fibers.
Sancta sancte.
Latin = “Holy (things) holily (to be treated”).
Sarum Use.
The pre-Reformation manner of regulating the details of the Roman Rite in the south of England. (Old) Sarum lay about two miles distant from (New) Sarum or Salisbury.
Sartor Resartus.
Latin — The tailor (sartor) re-tailored (resartus). It is the title of Carlyle’s famous work on the symbolism of “clothes” (using the word in the sense of his hero Herr Teufelsdroeckh).
Sepulchri Officium.
A mediaeval quasi-sacred “office” or quasi-liturgical act, celebrating dramatically the interment and resurrection of Christ.
The name of five hymns now in the Roman Missal. The word Sequence (Latin, Sequentia) is derived from the fact that the hymns follow the Alleluia after the Graduale, using for their melody originally the many notes found in the melody given to the final “a” of the Alleluia.
Splendor Veri.
Latin = The splendor of truth. Beauty is the splendor of Truth.
Sursum Corda.
Latin —Lift up your hearts. It is one of the sentences introducing the Preface at Mass.
An affluent of the Garonne river in France. Upon it is situated Albi (see above, Albigensian).
A rich silken stuff, styled also tarse and cloth of Tars, supposed to be of Tartar origin.
The Sanctus in the Roman Mass, so-called because the word Sanctus is said thrice (ter — thrice).
A Greek word meaning literally the same thing as the Latin Tersanctus, but applied to the Greek formula “Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” Tris — thrice; agios — holy.
In liturgy, a farcing of a Mass-text with original matter.
Tropi Graduales.
Tropes built upon texts in the choir-book called the Graduale.