Sunday, 30 December 2012



O God, who through the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary
bestowed on the human race
the grace of eternal salvation,
grant, we pray,
that we may experience the intercession of her,
through whom we were found worthy
to receive the author of life,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Found in both the Gelasian and Gregorian traditions, this was the Collect for January 1 in the 1570 Missal, when January 1 was kept as the feast of the Circumcision.

In the third line, the Latin has praemia, 'prizes' or 'rewards'.

The naming of 'our Lord Jesus Christ' is an insertion by the translators. The original ends 'through whom we merited to receive your Son, the author of life'.


O God, who in your kindness begin all good things
and bring them to fulfillment,
grant to us, who find joy in the Solemnity of the holy Mother of God,
that, just as we glory in the beginnings of your grace,
so one day we may rejoice in its completion.

From the Veronese Sacramentary, where it is assigned as a Prayer after Communion for the Natale Episcoporum, that is, the day when bishops assumed their office. The text was modified for the 1970 Missal by the addition of 'who find joy in the Solemnity of the holy Mother of God'.

It was presumably the references to 'beginnings' that commended this text to the revisers for use at the beginning of the calendar year.


We have received this heavenly sacrament with joy, O Lord:
grant, we pray,
that it may lead us to eternal life,
for we rejoice to proclaim the blessed every-Virgin Mary
Mother of your Son and Mother of the Church.

Found in the Gelasian Sacramentary, this is one of the few prayers in the 1970 Missal that begins with an independent clause of statement. The syntax has been altered somewhat.

The original speaks of 'heavenly sacraments' rather than 'this heavenly sacrament', reminding us that in the eighth century, when the Gelasian was copied, sacramentum had a wider meaning than it was later to acquire. Eighth-century christians might well have counted hearing the scriptures among the 'sacraments' that they received when they attended Mass.

The original was a prayer for salvation through Mary's intercession, without the slightly boastful profession of faith intruded by the revisers. The title 'Mother of the Church' is drawn from Lumen Gentium 67.

Sunday, 23 December 2012



Notice that this is a correct translation of the title given to this Mass in the 1970 Missal. In the 1570 book it was called Prima Missa in Nocte. The popular name 'Midnight Mass' arose because it was long forbidden to celebrate Mass in the afternoon or evening, so that no 'mass during the night' could begin before midnight. In the days when the eucharistic fast lasted from midnight, the fast for anybody receiving  Holy Communion at this Mass would be unusually brief. From this, abuses arose, such as people presenting themselves for Communion while inebriated. Consequently, 'Midnight Mass' acquired a bad reputation, and was banned in some dioceses.


O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendour of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.

Found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts.
This was the Collect at this Mass also in the 1570 Missal.
The phrase 'the true light' is from John 1,9: 'The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world'. The phrase will be heard again at the Mass during the Day, where it occurs in the Gospel.
The Gelasian Sacramentary and some other manuscripts have 'the mystery of his light', but 1570 and 1970 both have the plural.


May the oblation of this day's feast
be pleasing to you, O Lord, we pray,
that through this most holy exchange
we may be found in the likeness of Christ,
in whom our nature is united to you.

Found in the Veronese Sacramentary and, in an expanded form, in the Missale Gothicum. A few other manuscripts end differently, but the 1570 Missal gives the text as found in the Veronese. 1970 gives the same text, but with omission of tua gratia largiente 'by the gift of your grace'.

'Exchange' has become an accepted translation of commercium, and is used on all ten occurrences of the word in the 1970 Missal, including the third Christmas Preface. This can obscure the fact that commercium is a truly 'commercial' word. If we use 'deal' or 'trade', we come closer to the tone of the original, though it would widely be considered to belong to too low a register for liturgical use.

'Likeness' translates forma. There is an echo here of Philippians 2, 6-7: 'being in the form of God, [Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a servant'. Christ is not named in the Latin, which, more literally translated, would be '. . . we may be found in the form of him in whom . . . '.

'Nature' translates Latin substantia, which is used by the Latin Fathers as an equivalent of Greek physis, which we normally translate 'nature'.


Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God,
that we who are gladdened by participation
in the feast of our Redeemer's Nativity
may through an honorable way of life become worthy of union with him.

Found in the Veronese and Gregorian sacramentaries, this prayer occupied the same place in the 1570 Missal, but with some slight differences. 1570 included mysteriis - 'participation by means of mysteries'. The 1970 revisers omitted this word, which is not in the Veronese or Gregorian.



Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word,
the light of faith, which illumines our minds,
may also shine through in our deeds.

From the Gregorian Sacramentary. Not significantly altered in text or function from 1570.
Perhaps 'fresh' rather than 'new' in the second line would better catch the nuance of nova.


May our offerings be worthy, we pray, O Lord,
of the mysteries of the Nativity this day,
that, just as Christ was born a man
   and also shone forth as God,
so these earthly gifts may confer on us what is divine.

In the Gelasian Sacramentary and several other manuscripts. This prayer occurred at the same point in 1570 as in 1970.

Line 2, more literally translated, would read 'of the mysteries of today's Nativity'.

The 1570 text had 'and always pour peace into us' after line 2. This is not in the Gelasian or several other manuscripts, and the 1970 revisers removed it.

Christ is not explicitly named in the Latin, which was more literally translated by Fortescue thus: 'as he who was born as man shone gloriously also as God'.

'These earthly gifts' translates haec terrena substantia, literally 'this earthly substance'. One translator has suggested 'this stuff of earth', which brings out well the contrast made in the prayer between our humble gifts and the use that God makes of them.


Grant us, Lord, as we honour with joyful devotion
the Nativity of your Son,
that we may come to know with fullness of faith,
the hidden depths of this mystery
and to love them ever more and more.

A prayer from medieval Spain, found in the Visigothic Orational, and not previously used in the Roman Rite.

The Latin contrasts 'fullness of faith' (plena fide) with 'fuller ardour of charity' (pleniore caritatis ardore), but the translation does not replicate this rhetorical balance. An alternative translation might be:

. . . that we may come to know the hidden depths of this mystery with full faith
and to cherish them with more fully ardent charity.



O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully restored it,
grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Found in the Veronese and many later manuscripts as a Christmas collect, this prayer, in a slightly altered form,featured at the Offertory in the 1570 Missal, when the priest poured water into the wine. A shortened version occurs at the same point in the 1970 Missal. The 1970 revisers also restored the prayer to its original function as a Christmas Collect.
The rhetorical balance of the text, with its parallelisms between ‘wonderfully’ and ‘more wonderfully’ and between ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity’ is reminiscent of the Christological writings of Pope St Leo the Great, where the balance of his style mirrors the delicate balance he keeps between the two natures of Christ.
The English version captures this well.


Make acceptable, O Lord, our oblation on this solemn day,
when you manifested the reconciliation
that makes us wholly pleasing in your sight,
and inaugurated for us the fullness of divine worship.

Found in the Veronese and Gelasian sacramentaries and elsewhere, this is a somewhat free translation that nonetheless conveys the essence of the original.
In the Latin, the phrase perfecta placatio is important because the frequent occurrence of the verb placo and its derivatives in the Missal raises the question whether the Mass is understood in the Roman euchological tradition as intended to placate God. Here, the placation of God is represented as already complete, presumably because it was achieved by the sacrifice of Christ.
'The fullness of divine worship' implies that earlier rites, though sometimes divinely instituted, were preparations for Christian worship, and rendered obsolete by its arrival.


Grant, O merciful God,
that just as the Savior of the world, born this day,
is the author of divine generation for us,
so he may be the giver even of immortality.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Found in many manuscripts, this was the Post-Communion prayer for the same Mass in the 1570 Missal.
'Even' in the fourth line is a rather strong translation for the et of the original: earlier translators have used 'also', which seems appropriate.

Saturday, 22 December 2012



Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.

In the Gregorian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts, assigned to various celebrations, including the Annunciation and the Conception of the Virgin. Occurs four times in the 1570 Missal. ‘His’ in the last line of the official translation has no parallel in the Latin, which refers to the General Resurrection rather than to the Resurrection of Christ.


May the Holy Spirit, O Lord,
sanctify these gifts laid upon your altar
just as he filled with his power
the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.

Found in the sacramentaries of Gellone, Bobbio and Bergamo, this prayer seems to have roots outside the main Roman euchological traditions. The original found in Bobbio and Gellone translates thus:

'May the Holy Spirit, O Lord, who today filled the womb of blessed Mary with the splendours of his power, in kindness take up the gifts laid upon your altar.'

The idea of the Holy Spirit taking up the eucharistic gifts seems foreign to Roman tradition. The 1970 revision removed it, replacing assumat with sanctificet.

‘Holy’ is an interpolation of the translators, which enhances the accessibility of the prayer at the expense of diminishing its allusive quality. However, sanctus is found in the manuscripts. Translated more literally, the 1970 might read:

'May that Spirit, O Lord, who filled the womb of blessed Mary with his power, sanctify the gifts laid upon your altar'.


Having received this pledge of eternal redemption,
we pray, almighty God,
that, as the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer
so we may press forward all the more eagerly
to the worthy celebration
of the mystery of your Son's Nativity.

Found in the Veronese and many subsequent manuscripts, this occurred twice in the 1570 Missal. In the manuscripts, the prayer begins with a statement: ‘We have received, O Lord, the pledge of eternal redemption’, and then continues with the petition. In 1570 this structure was preserved, but the 1970 editors changed the opening into a dependent clause. ‘This’ in the English has no equivalent in the Latin.
The Latin represents worthy celebration as something we pray for, whereas the English seems to assume that it will happen. Substitution of ‘a’ for ‘the’ in line 5 would restore the emphasis of the original.

I apologize for the recent silence on this blog, due to pastoral and other concerns in the approach to Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012



Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we who are weighed down from of old
by slavery beneath the yoke of sin
may be set free by the newness
of the long-awaited Nativity
of your Only Begotten Son.

In the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries, this was a Collect on  Ember Saturday in the 1570 Missal. It remained unchanged in 1970. In lines 2-3, ‘the newness of the long-awaited Nativity’ would, literally translated, read ‘the long-awaited new Nativity’, but this sounds as if there was also an ‘old Nativity’. A certain licence in translation has brought out the contrasts between old and new and slavery and freedom that structure this prayer.


May the sacrifice to be offered to you, O Lord,
make us acceptable to your name,
that we may merit for all eternity
to be the companions of Christ,
by whose Death our own mortality was healed.

An ingenious concoction put together from two pre-existent prayers and a preface. The structuring contrast here is between eternity and mortality, both as possessions of Christ. A more literal, though not more elegant, translation of the last two lines would be:
That we may merit to share the eternity of him / who cured our mortality by his own mortality.


May we receive your mercy
in the midst of your temple, O Lord,
and show fitting honour
to the coming solemnities of our redemption.

In the Gregorian sacramentary and many subsequent manuscripts, this was the Post-communion prayer for the First Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. 1570 and the manuscripts have reparationis, which was changed for 1970 to redemptionis.
The first two lines echo Psalm 48,9: We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God, in the midst of thy temple.
The final word of the Latin, praecedamus, is perhaps more accurately translated by Adrian Fortescue, the latter part of whose translation runs: ‘that we may anticipate with due honour the coming solemnities of our renewal’. In the original, this is a prayer that we may prepare well for Christmas, not that we may celebrate it well when it comes.

Monday, 17 December 2012



O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in an ever-virgin womb,
look with favour on our prayers,
that your Only Begotten Son,
having taken to himself our humanity,
may be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.

Based on a collect from the Rotulus of Ravenna, but with substantial changes, some of them based on another collect, found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and in ten other manuscripts, and there assigned to the Christmas season.

Our collect follows the Rotulus prayer in its first four lines. Then the Rotulus has:

‘that, having received the nativity of your only-begotten, we may become worthy also to be united to the divine fellowship of the Redeemer himself’.

The Gelasian prayer translates thus:

Almighty ever-living God, creator and reformer of human nature, which your Only-begotten assumed in an ever-virgin womb, look upon us with kindness so that, having received the incarnation of your Son, we may become worthy to be counted among his members.

The word ‘humanity’ deserves notice. In pre-christian Latin humanitas means ‘humaneness’, that is, kindliness. I suspect that its use to mean ‘human nature’ is a distinctive feature of the writings of Leo the Great, after whom it became common in christian discourse. The 1970 revisers imported this leonine expression into the Rotulus text, perhaps because they were moving a Christmas prayer into the Advent season, and ‘incarnation’ and ‘nativity’ seemed too specifically linked to the event of Christ’s birth. Something has been lost, however, because the idea that we have ‘received’ Christ’s incarnation and nativity represents him as the Father’s gift to the human race.


Sanctify these gifts of your Church, O Lord,
and grant that through these venerable mysteries
we may be nourished with the bread of heaven.

From the Gelasian sacramentary, and imported into the 1970 Missal with only one change: the substitution of dona for munera at the beginning. Both words are regularly translated as ‘gifts’ in the English Missal, so it is hard to see a reason for this decision.

The official translation narrows the focus of the prayer, which in the original begins 'Sanctify the gifts of your Church', by replacing 'the' with 'these', which has no equivalent in the Latin. So this has become a prayer for the sanctification of the Eucharist, rather than of all the gifts that God's people offer him at Mass.


Nourished by these divine gifts, almighty God,
we ask you to grant our desire:
that, aflame with your Spirit,
we may shine like bright torches
before your Christ when he comes.

Found in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries and in many medieval manuscripts, with several textual variants. The 1970 text is an abbreviated form of the Gelasian, which in full translates thus:

'May our souls, we pray, almighty God, gain possession of this deasire, that they may be set on fire by your Spirit and, like lamps satiated with the divine gift, may we shine like bright lights before the face of your Christ when he comes.'

The comparison implied here between eucharistic reception and the pouring of oil into a lamp in order to keep it alight was lost in the 1970 revision. Also, 'souls' has been removed, as in so many texts in 1970.

The translation again adds 'these' with no basis in the Latin. It also omits to translate conspectum, 'face'.

Sunday, 16 December 2012



Incline a merciful ear to our cry, we pray, O Lord,
and, casting light on the darkness of our hearts,
visit us with the grace of your Son.

Found in both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, this was the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. The latter part of the text in the manuscripts reads

. . . and illuminate the darkness of our minds with the grace of your visitation.

In the majority of manuscripts, this prayer is addressed to the Father, but in some, and in 1570,  it is addressed to the Son.
In 1970 it is addressed to the Father, with mention of the Son. Literally translated, the 1970 text ends:

and illuminate the darkness of our hearts with the grace of your Son visiting us.

Thus the prayer retains its reference to Christ from 1570, but without being addressed to Christ.

‘hearts’ replaces ‘minds’

Saturday, 15 December 2012



O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation,
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

From the Rotulus of Ravenna, though not so scriptural in its expression as the prayers from the same source that we have considered so far.
The phrase 'great salvation' (but not 'so great') occurs in 1 Sam 14,45 and 19,5, but not in the New Testament.
I am puzzled as to what we are praying to attain in this prayer. Is it the joys of Christmas, or the eschatological joys that flow from the Incarnation? If the latter, we will be celebrating them in anticipation. This being so, perhaps the former is the more likely interpretation, though it seems strange to pray in a Collect that we will live long enough to see Christmas.

Friday, 14 December 2012



May the splendour of your glory dawn in our hearts,
we pray, almighty God,
that all shadows of the night may be scattered
and we may be shown to be children of light
by the advent of your Only Begotten Son.

From the Rotulus of Ravenna and, like the other prayers from the same source that we have considered so far, greatly influenced by Scripture. The 1970 revisers introduced several modifications to the Rotulus text, of which this is a translation:

May the splendour of glory, our Lord Jesus Christ, dawn in our hearts, we pray, almighty God, so that, all the darkness of night being scattered, the coming of the true light may show us to be sons of the day.

‘Splendor of glory’ is from Heb 1,3, where Christ is said to be the splendour of the Father’s glory. The 1970 addition of ‘your’ in the first line is therefore in keeping with the scriptural background of the prayer.
‘Dawn in our hearts’ echoes 1 Pet 1,19 ‘. . . until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’.
The phrase in the Rotulus ‘sons of the day’ does not occur in Scripture, but its 1970 replacement, filios lucis occurs at Luke 1,8; John 12,36; 1 Thess 5,5. The choice of ‘children’ rather than ‘sons’ to render filios was presumably motivated by a desire for gender-inclusive language.

Thursday, 13 December 2012



Grant that your people, we pray, almighty God,
may be ever watchful
for the coming of your Only Begotten Son,
that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us,
we may hasten, alert and with lighted lamps,
to meet him when he comes.

Found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and nine other manuscripts. Not in the 1570 Missal.

The background is clearly the parable of the ten virgins and their lamps (Matt 25, 1-12). The 1970 revisers altered the text of the manuscripts, which ends ‘we may prepare our souls like glowing lamps to meet him’. The 1970 Missal shows a certain aversion from the word 'soul'  (anima), which may be one reason for this change. The revisers may also have been influenced by the Prayer after Communion for December 17 (also in the Gelasian Sacramentary) where we pray that 'we may shine like bright torches / before your Christ when he comes'. However, the difference between these two Gelasian prayers and the modern one is that they use 'lamps' as a synonym, whereas in the modern prayer 'lamps' seems to be a metaphor, but it is not clear what the metaphor is intended to represent.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012



Stir up our hearts, O Lord,
to make ready the paths
of your Only Begotten Son,
that through his coming
we may be found worthy to serve you
with minds made pure.

Found in both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and in many other manuscripts, this was the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. Though moved to a different day in 1970, its text has remained unchanged.
What is the ‘coming’ (adventum) referred to in the fourth line? Presumably not the Second Coming, since no time for service will remain to us after that. Then perhaps it is Christ’s First Coming, his incarnation, which we pray will enable us to serve God in purity. Or perhaps it is the celebration of his First Coming, that is, the feasts of Christmas. Or again, perhaps it is  the coming of Christ into our hearts now, in this time of preparation. Saint Bernard developed the theme of the three comings of Christ in the passage from one of his Advent sermons that occurs in the Office of Readings for Wednesday in the first week of Advent.
The Latin and the English are both ambiguous, and thus stimulate reflection.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


For the first three days of this week, the Missal gives us three Collects drawn from the Rotulus of Ravenna. They illustrate the obscurity of the original texts and their dependence on Scripture, and also the modifications made for the 1970 Missal and for the official English translation in order to make the prayers more accessible.


May our prayer of petition
rise before you, we pray, O Lord,
that, with purity unblemished,
we, your servants, may come, as we desire,
to celebrate the great mystery
of the Incarnation of your Only Begotten Son.

 In the Rotulus, this text is addressed to the Son, speaking of ‘the great mystery of your incarnation’. However, at the end of the prayer the scribe has written per, the usual indication that a prayer is to end with the conclusion addressed to the Father: 'Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son . . .'  This indicates that the scribe was uncertain concerning the addressee of the prayer. For the 1970 Missal the text was been adjusted so that it is clearly addressed to the Father.

The opening of the prayer is based on Psalm 141,2: 'Let my prayer come before you'.

A more literal translation of lines 3 to 6a would be 'that the vows of our service may come with purity unblemished to the mystery of the great Incarnation'.  It is a prayer that we may faithfully keep our Advent vows (the 'resolve' to which the Collect of Advent Sunday refers) until Christmas arrives. On this reading, the 'mystery' is the liturgical celebration of Christmas. 'The mystery of the great Incarnation' may seem a strange expression to modern ears, but a similar phrase will occur in another collect from the Rotulus on December 19th: tantae incarnationis mysterium 'the mystery of so great an incarnation'.

The modifications made by the official translation to the meaning of the somewhat obscure original have made this prayer more accessible to the modern worshipper.


O God, who have shown forth your salvation
to all the ends of the earth,
grant, we pray,
that we may look forward in joy
to the glorious Nativity of Christ.

The Latin original was somewhat simplified for the 1970 Missal. The full text from the Rotulus could be translated thus:

O God, who have shown forth with shining signs your salvation,
which has been proclaimed to all the ends of the earth,
grant, we pray,
that we who solemnly await the glory of his nativity
may no longer be enslaved by the deceits of our enemies.

'Shining signs' refers to the star of Bethlehem (Matt 2,2; 9-10) and perhaps the appearance of angels at the birth of Christ (Luke 2, 9-15). The use of the phrase 'your salvation' to refer to Christ is derived from Luke 2,30 (the Nunc Dimittis). Christ is not named in the Rotulus text, but the addition of his name in the official version makes the prayer more readily comprehensible.


Almighty God, who command us
to prepare the way for Christ the Lord,
grant in your kindness, we pray,
that no infirmity may weary us
as we long for the comforting presence
of our heavenly physician.

This text, too, appears in the 1970 Missal in a somewhat pruned version. The original can be translated:

Almighty God, who command us
to pass through the gate of justice 
and prepare the way for Christ the Lord,
grant in your kindness
that no infirmity may weary us
as we long for the glowing presence
of the heavenly physician.

The phrase 'gate of justice' seems not to occur in Scripture, but probably alludes to the 'narrow gate' mentioned by Jesus in Matt 7,13 and Luke 13,24.
The command to 'prepare the way of the Lord' is found in Isaiah 40,3, and on the lips of John the Baptist in Matt 3,3, Mark 1,3 and Luke 3,4.
The replacement of 'glowing' with 'consoling', while involving a loss of vividness, may have brought a gain in accessibility.
'we pray' in the English has no equivalent in the Latin.
Though Jesus is not explicitly called a physician in Scripture, he applies that title to himself by implication with his words 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick' (Matt 9,12; Mark 2,17; Luke 5,31) and by his miracles of healing. Saint Ignatius of Antioch calls Jesus 'physician of flesh and spirit' in his Letter to the Ephesians (7,2).

Saturday, 8 December 2012



Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.

This neat little prayer is found among the prayers for Advent in the Gelasian sacramentary and seven other manuscripts. It is not in the 1570 Missal. The word-order has been radically changed by the 1970 revisors, but with little effect on the sense.

Today's Gospel, in all three Lectionary cycles, contains the command of John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight. Perhaps that is why this prayer, which concerns the removal of obstacles that hinder our meeting with Christ, was chosen by the 1970 revisers for this day.

‘set out in haste’ repeats the idea of Advent as a time of hurry, which we found already in the Collect for the First Sunday. Like so many Roman prayers, this one rests on a binary contrast, in this case between earth and heaven.  The same contrast underlies today’s Prayer after Communion. Other prayers, particularly in Advent, are motivated by the contrast between present and future.

The Prayer over the Offerings and the Prayer after Communion for today are used frequently during Advent, and have already occurred.

Thursday, 6 December 2012



O God, who sent your Only Begotten Son into this world
to free the human race from its ancient enslavement,
bestow on those who devoutly await him
the grace of your compassion from on high,
that we may attain the prize of true freedom.

Another prayer from the Rotulus of Ravenna.

'from its ancient bondage’ translates a vetustatis condicione, literally ‘from the condition of oldness’. Notice how indirectly this prayer is expressed, like last Thursday’s Collect. It has been made clearer for vernacular use by specifying ‘enslavement’ as that from which Christ came to free us.

‘devoutly’ accurately renders devote, which is used here without the sacrificial context that we noticed in last Sunday’s Prayer over the Offerings.

‘Compassion’ translates pietas, which has given us the modern English words ‘piety’ and ‘pity’. In pre-Christian Latin it denotes the correct observance of familial duty, so that Aeneas is credited by Vergil with pietas because he carried his elderly father to safety from the burning city of Troy. This sense survives in Christian Latin, so that in the liturgy, pietas is frequently predicated of God, indicating that he treats us as his children. So ‘compassion’ is an appropriate translation.

The well-known image of the ‘pelican in her piety’ shows a mother bird pecking her breast in order to feed her chicks with her own blood. Her ‘piety’ is her motherly care. It is often used in Catholic tradition to illustrate the compassion for our needs that Christ shows in the Eucharist.

Here is an example from Gloucester Cathedral:

 © Cambs Historic Churches Trust 2011 



Stir up your power, we pray, O Lord, and come,
that with you to protect us
we may find rescue
from the looming dangers of our sins,
and with you to set us free,
be found worthy of salvation.

This prayer, deriving from the Gregorian sacramentary tradition, is the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. Its first line is very like yesterday’s, except that it ends with ‘and come’, so that the line is a quotation of Psalm 80,3 ‘Stir up your power and come’.

The official translation nicely reproduces the rhetorical balance of the original, repeating ‘with you’ as the Latin repeats te with an ablative case.

The double use of the English verb ‘find’, which has no precise parallel in the Latin, serves to represent Latin mereamur. This verb, used very commonly in the Missal, indicates the reception of a reward given in response to a deed, with no implication that the deed and the reward are commensurate. So this prayer clearly implies that our rescue and our salvation are God’s gift, not our achievement. As Augustine famously said, when God crowns our merits, he is crowning his own gifts.

In the earliest manuscripts, this prayer is addressed to God the Father, but in later ones and in 1570 and 1970 it is addressed to the Son. 1970 has far fewer prayers addressed to the Son than 1570 has, perhaps under the influence of Joseph Jungmann’s The place of Christ in liturgical prayer.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012



Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our help with mighty strength,
that what our sins impede
the grace of your mercy may hasten.

In 1570 this was given as the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but with some notable differences:

(1) It was addressed to the Son, with the conclusion beginning qui vivis.
(2) et veni (‘and come’) was added at the end of the first line, making the line a quotation from Psalm 80,3: ‘Stir up your power and come’.

Neither of these features is found in the text given by the Gelasian sacramentary, which is the earliest manuscript. In altering the text, then, the revisers were restoring an earlier form of it.

But in the latter part, they departed from the Gelasian text, which has ‘that, by the help of your glory, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede’. I find the idea of being helped by divine glory somewhat puzzling, a view that may have been shared by later scribes, who replaced ‘glory’ with ‘grace’, giving us the 1570 version: ‘that, by the help of your grace, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede’.

For 1970, ‘by the help of your grace’ was omitted, and ‘grace’ was used in the final line to replace ‘forgiveness’. These little changes gave the text greater conciseness, while leaving its sense and structure intact.

Note that none of these versions articulates what it is that ‘our sins impede’. The mode of this prayer, like that of so many others in the early sacramentaries, is to allude rather than to state explicitly. This pervasive characteristic of the traditional Roman euchology has proved a stumbling-block for those who argue that liturgical language should always be clear and direct.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012



Prepare our hearts, we pray, O Lord our God,
by your divine power,
so that at the coming of Christ your Son
we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life
and merit to receive heavenly nourishment from his hands.

Based on a prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary. Not in the 1570 Missal. Greatly altered for the 1970 Missal. Here is a translation of the text as it stands in the Gelasian:
Powerfully gird up, we pray, Lord our God, the loins of our mind [cf. 1 Pet 1,13] with your divine power so that, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life, and merit to receive from him promotion to heavenly dignities.
‘From his hands’ (ipso ministrante) recalls Luke 22,27 ‘I am among you as one who serves’.


May the sacrifice of our worship, Lord, we pray,
be offered to you unceasingly,
to complete what was begun in sacred mystery
and powerfully accomplish for us your saving work.

This prayer is found in many manuscripts from the Veronese on, and occurs in both 1570 and 1970 Missals as the Secret or Prayer over the Offerings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. 1570 and most manuscripts had mirabiliter (‘wonderfully’) in the last line, but the 1970 revisers replaced it with potenter (‘powerfully’), which is the reading of the Veronese.
Also, 1570 had in nobis (‘in us’), which is found in a few manuscripts, but others have simply nobis (‘for us’), and this reading was adopted for 1970.
The third line is difficult to interpret, and other translations that have been offered include Adrian Fortescue’s ‘that it may (...) fulfil the institution of this sacred mystery’ and ‘so that the end for which thou didst ordain this holy rite may be fulfilled’ from O’Connell and Finberg.


We implore your mercy, Lord,
that this divine sustenance
may cleanse us of our faults
and prepare us for the coming feasts.

The Post-Communion Prayer for the 3rd Sunday of Advent in both 1570 and 1970, found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and some other manuscripts for use in Lent. These have haec divina ieiuniorum subsidia, ‘this divine sustenance in fasting’ in the second line, but many others put the prayer in Advent, and lack ieiuniorum. These were the ones followed for 1570 and 1970.

Monday, 3 December 2012



Look with favor, Lord God, on our petitions,
and in our trials grant us your compassionate help,
that, consoled by the presence of your Son, whose coming we now await,
we may be tainted no longer by the corruption of former ways.

This prayer comes from the Rotulus of Ravenna, a vellum scroll probably copied in the mid-8th century at Ravenna, but now housed in Geneva. It contains 40 collects for the Advent and Christmas seasons, and only one of its prayers is found in any other manuscript. It first attracted the attention of scholars in the nineteenth century. The compilers of the 1970 Missal drew material from the Rotulus for 16 prayers. These delight in ingenious expression, and are consequently often difficult to translate.

‘By the corruption of former ways’ translates contagiis vetustatis. vetustas (literally ‘oldness’)  is seen as a contagious or infectious decay or defilement which must be purged away for a Christian to enter newness of life. It occurs in 16 prayers in the Missal, mostly in Lent and Eastertime. 

Its use recalls the Jewish custom of removing all leaven from a house in preparation for Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12, 15-20). After Passover, an entirely new leaven would be prepared, using grain from the new harvest. Jesus warned against the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16,6; Mark 8,15; Luke 12,1).   Saint Paul uses this custom to speak about the new life of the Christian: ‘Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor 5,8).


Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings,
and since we have no merits to plead our cause,
come, we pray, to our rescue with the protection of your mercy.

This prayer, which is found in both the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, was the Secret for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. There, the final line reads tuis nobis succurre praesidiis, translated by Adrian Fortescue as ‘grant us the succour of thy protection’. In the 1970 Missal, the reading of several early manuscripts, including the Old Gelasian, was restored: tuae nobis indulgentiae succurre praesidiis, justifying the inclusion of ‘of your mercy’ in the official translation.


Replenished by the food of spiritual nourishment,
we humbly beseech you, O Lord,
that, through our partaking in this mystery,
you may teach us to judge wisely the things of earth
and hold firm to the things of heaven.

The original of this prayer, which is found in both the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries, was the Post-Communion for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1570 Missal. It includes the phrase terrena despicere, ‘to despise the things of earth’, but this was changed for the 1970 Missal to terrena recte perpendere, presumably because the older version was thought to accord ill will the positive attitude to earthly things expressed by Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes and elsewhere. The first chairman of the committee for revising the Mass, Dom Placide Bruylants, wrote an article on this phrase in the Festschrift for Cardinal Lercaro published in Rome in 1967 (vol 2 pp. 195-206) but I have currently no access to it.

‘partaking’ translates participatio, a word that has assumed importance since the Second Vatican Council because of its use in Sacrosanctum Concilium 30 in the phrase actuosa participatio, usually translated into English as ‘active participation’. In Latin, both pre-Christian and Christian, participatio usually means ‘receiving a share’. It was Pope St Pius X who first spoke of partecipazione attiva in an official Church document, which was subsequently translated into Latin as participatio actuosa. The Italian partecipazione can denote simply ‘being present’. With these Latin and Italian uses in the background, one should beware of assuming, as so many commentators have done, that participatio always means ‘joining in’.

Sunday, 2 December 2012



Keep us alert, we pray, O Lord our God,
as we await the advent of Christ your Son,
so that when he comes and knocks
he may find us watchful in prayer
and exultant in his praise.

Found as an Advent prayer in 13 medieval manuscripts, including the Gelasian Sacramentary. (Information from Corpus Orationum ed. E. Moeller et al., published in the Corpus Christianorum series.) Not in the 1570 Missal.

The manuscript texts are slightly longer than the one in the 1970 Missal, but the revisers, in removing unnecessary words, retained the structure and sense of the original.

With line 3 compare Cant 5,2 ‘Listen! my beloved is knocking’, Luke 12,36 ‘be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks’, and Apoc 3,20 ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking’.

The official translation nicely replicates in lines 3 and 4 the rhetorical balance of the Latin orationibus vigilantes, et in suis inveniat laudibus exsultantes, and even matches the Latin rhyme on -antes with an alliteration between ‘prayer’ and ‘praise’.

The Prayer over the Offerings and Prayer after Communion for this day are repeated from the Sunday. Altogether, they occur 7 times each in the Missal, always in Advent and always as a pair.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Advent Sunday


Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

The earliest known occurrence of this prayer is in the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, which was copied at the nunnery of Chelles, some 18km N.E. from the centre of Paris, in the mid-8th century. The text as it stands in the manuscript contains some manifest errors, which have led to its modification both by modern editors and by those who prepared the prayer for the 1970 Missal. These changes have not substantially altered the sense. The 13 medieval manuscripts that contain this prayer show that in the Middle Ages it was used at various points in Advent. It does not occur in the 1570 Missal.

The idea of running with good works to meet Christ recurs in the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent (‘those /who set out in haste to meet your Son’) and in the Prayer after Communion for 22 December (‘so that we may go out to meet our Savior / with worthy deeds when he comes’). It recalls the parable of the ten virgins and their hurried encounter with the Bridegroom (Matt 25, 1-13), which is alluded to in the Collect for Thursday in the Second Week, and in the Prayer after Communion for 17 December. Surprisingly, this passage does not feature in the lectionary for Advent.

'Gathered at his right hand' recalls the eschatological prophecy of the sheep and the goats from the same chapter of Matthew (25, 31-46), asking God that, in the words of the Roman Canon, we may be 

'delivered from eternal damnation 
and counted among the flock of those you have chosen'.

‘They may be worthy’ translates mereantur, a word that occurs with great frequency in the Missal, and merits fuller treatment at a later date. For the moment, suffice it to stress that our hoped-for worthiness is represented as God’s gift: the Roman Rite never speaks as though we could deserve God’s generosity.


Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make,
gathered from among your gifts to us,
and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below,
gain for us the prize of eternal redemption.

This prayer comes from the Veronese Sacramentary, the oldest collection of prayers of the Roman Rite, which was copied in the early seventh century and is now kept in the Cathedral Library in Verona. Its contents were not printed until the eighteenth century, and thus were not available for the compilation of the 1570 Missal. The large number of texts from this source that were incorporated into the 1970 Missal constitutes one of the principal differences between those two books.

‘what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below’ translates, somewhat approximately, quod nostrae devotioni concedis effici temporali, which might more accurately be translated ‘what you grant as the effect of our devotion in time’. the Advent season is particularly concerned with time, especially the end-time when the Lord will come again, and with our preparation for that future event. However, the official translation has replaced a temporal expression with a spatial one, ‘below’, although the rhetoric of the prayer involves a balancing contrast between ‘temporal’ and ‘eternal’.

Devoutly is also worth another look. To use, ‘devotion’ denotes a habit of mind, and its Latin ancestor already had that sense when this prayer was composed. But in earlier Latin, a devotio was an act of sacrifice, often of oneself. The self-immolation of a suicide bomber would be known to the Romans as a devotio. In liturgical Latin, devotio often occurs in a context of sacrifice, as in the reference in the Roman Canon to those ‘whose faith and devotion are known to you’, and in the prayer under discussion. If we were to interpret devotio according to the older sense, the lines 3 and 4 would mean ‘and may what you grant as the effect of the sacrifice we make in time be the prize of eternal redemption’.


May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated, profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures.

This text was composed for the 1970 Missal by combination of elements drawn from two prayers found in the Veronese Sacramentary with some elements added by the compilers. A text made up of snippets from already existing texts is called a ‘cento’, and the process of its composition is known as ‘centonisation’. This technique was used a great deal in the composition of the 1970 Missal. Here are translations of the two source-prayers:-

Grant us, Lord, to have no taste for what is earthly but to love what is heavenly, and, while we are set among passing things, to cling already to what will endure. (Veronese 173)

May the mysteries at which we have been present profit us, O Lord, so as to deliver us from earthly desires and to teach us to love what is heavenly. (Veronese 1053)

The most striking difference between the 1970 version and the Veronese texts is in the use of iam nunc (literally ‘already now’).  While Veronese 173 prays for us, that we may ‘cling already’, the 1970 text replaces that prayer with a statement that God already teaches us.

As in the Prayer over the Offerings, the official translation has removed a reference to the future, saying ‘what endures’ rather than ‘what will endure’.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I am offering this blog as a service to those who wish to study the texts of the post-conciliar Roman Missal