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).