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’.