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.