Agnes Azzolino

Dr. Daniel Zimmerman

English 235

October 17, 1996


Agnes Day


The only requirement for membership in the Ima Hogg Memorial Society is having received an awful name at birth. The eight current members are four women (Agnes Day, April Raines, Mary Chris Maas, and Polly Esther Weaver) and four men (Gene Poole, Hans Orff, Jay Byrd, and Rico Shae). [Wall 40]

Some names of mythical characters serve as frequent reminders of the message of the myth itself or evolve to serve as adjectives for those sharing characteristics of the mythological being. Some names don't achieve this status. The name Midas, the mythical lover of gold and wealth, still names one of wealth. The name Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, though known to some has a significantly less universal recognition.

The above quote sent by R², Ronald Ruemmler with the note, "A², I don't get this joke! Can you help?" serves as evidence that the Christian term Agnus Dei does not call to the mind of one well-informed, and well-educated, atheist, 50ish American male the figure translated in modern English as Lamb of God. The quoted puzzle serves as evidence that another male, Charles Wall, the author of the puzzle, has at least heard some semblance of the phrase.

The 1982 John Pielmeier American play entitled Agnes of God and the 1985 Norman Jewison American movie also entitled Agnes of God serve as evidence that some segment (even if only the authors) of the adult American population has recognition of the name, or the meaning of the name and possibly the myth behind the name.

The word agnus means lamb. The name Agnes, or its derivatives "Agna, Agne, Agneda, Agnella, Agnessa, Agnese, Agneta, Inez, Ines, Inista, [and] Neysa" [Dunne, 5] means lamb. The patron saint of Girl Scouts and girl youth [Dunne, 38 and 40], St. Agnes chose martyrdom, at the age of 12, rather than marry and relinquish her vows of virginity and faithfulness to Christ alone. This is not the Agnes of Agnus Dei.

Lamb together with "dei," meaning "of god," makes Agnus Dei an entirely different from any other agnus. Agnus Dei means the sacrificial Lamb of God, the Son of God, Jesus.

Agnus DeI(gnes d, nys d, gns) noun

  1. 1. Lamb of God; Jesus. Also called Paschal Lamb.
  2. 2. a. A liturgical prayer to Jesus. b. A musical setting for this prayer. [Late Latin : Latin agnus, lamb + Latin dei, genitive of deus, god.] [American Heritage Dictionary]

Agnus Dei, Lamb of God, identifies the roll Jesus performed when "he died for our sins." The name recalls the mythological act.

For this author, first name Agnes, the phrase Agnes Day calls to mind a 1950s and '60s relic of Roman Catholic upbringing. It resounds of a part of the mass, originally conducted in Latin, in which the priest prompts the believers to appeal to the entity personified as the Lamb of God. In the "Gloria" passage below, the name epitomizes the sacrifice of Jesus.

Glorificamus te. GratiamWe glorify You. Lord God,
agimus tibi propter magnamheavenly King, God the Father
gloriam tuam. Domine Deus, Rexalmighty. Lord Jesus Christ,
coelestis, Deus Paterthe Only-begotten Son. Lord
omnipotens. Domine FiliGod, Lamb of God, Son of the
unigenite, Jesu Christe.Father. You who take away the
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filiussins of the world, have mercy
Patris. Qui tollis peccataon us. You who take away the
mundi, miserere nobis. Quisins of the world, receive our
tollis peccata mundi, suscipeprayer.
deprecationem nostram. [Halsall 1996]

John, the New Testament author, writes of the sacrificial lamb and used the phrase Lamb of God. Those for whom he writes through sacrificial practices and offerings to the gods and through the Old Testament phrase, Isaiah 53:7, "He [the servant of God] was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter ..." It refers to the biblical identification of Jesus by John the Baptist in John 1:29 - 34. The passage states:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.

This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me ...

And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. [Asimov 306]

The "Forty Hours Devotion," prompts participation by believers and the acts of verbal response such as the singing of a Christmas Carol or the recitation of the times tables force that spoken aloud into memory. With the congregation's response in italics and the priest's dialogue in regular print, the devotion goes:

That You would give and preserve the fruits of the earth,

That You would grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed,

That You would listen to us,

Son of God,

Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,

Spare us, Lord,

Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,

Hear us, Lord,

Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world,

Have mercy on us. [Catholic Book Publishing Co. 546]

The oral recitation of the phrase, "Lamb of God, Who take away the sins of the world," reinforced and reminded children of the mythological sacrifice of Jesus. When spoken in Latin as Agnus Dei, by those who knew Latin, the phrase had the same effect. Those who knew no Latin heard the words but not necessarily the meaning behind the words. Catholic children of forty years ago heard and repeated the name weekly if not daily. Yet, the Agnus Dei myth does not have the universal recognition of the Midas myth. Who now uses the word agnus in common speech? [Dr. Zimmerman suggests perhaps the AGNUSTICS?] Who now uses the name Midas in common speech? Midas has usage similar to that of Scrooge, Agnes has no such degree of use.

Agnus Dei reminds those who see the Catholic mythology as a religion of the sacrifice of Jesus. The myth serves these, ala Joseph Campbell, to help make meaning of the world. To them the phrase remains Agnus Dei, a very sacred idea. To the now 50ish American adult who chanted the "Gloria," the "Agnus Dei," Agnes Day recalls the memory of the chant and the myth behind it. Agnes Dei speaks of a very special sacrifice, and though an important one to a believer a less important one to a non-believer of Catholicism. Midas speaks of wealth equally well to a Catholic believer or non-believer. Where Midas, and the Midas myth, makes meaning of the world for the general public, Agnes Day, and the Agnus Dei myth, makes a point about sacrifice. To the general public the Midas myth has greater value. We remember Midas but diminish the importance of Agnus Dei for all but the catholic/Christian population. For all Agnes Day becomes only an unfortunate name.


Works Cited

"Agnus Dei," The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition
copyright 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from InfoSoft International, Inc.
Asimov, Isaac, Asimov's Guide to the Bible. New York: Avon Books, 1969.
Dunne, William P., "Is It A Saint's Name?" Integrity
Supply, Chicago, Illinois, 1950.
Halsall, Paul, "Tridentine Mass - 1962 Version", Internet Medieval Source Book.
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/latinmass2.html, © 3/96.
"Forty Hours Devotion," Parish Mass Book and Hymnal: Catholic Book
Publishing Co., 1965 New York.
Wall, Charles R. "Ima Hogg Memorial Society." Dell Logic Puzzles.
New York: Dell Magazines, Crosstown Publications, December 1996.




mathnstuff/papers/agnes.htm © 1/12/99, 10/11/2010, A. Azzolino