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’.