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