Wednesday, 5 December 2012



Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our help with mighty strength,
that what our sins impede
the grace of your mercy may hasten.

In 1570 this was given as the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but with some notable differences:

(1) It was addressed to the Son, with the conclusion beginning qui vivis.
(2) et veni (‘and come’) was added at the end of the first line, making the line a quotation from Psalm 80,3: ‘Stir up your power and come’.

Neither of these features is found in the text given by the Gelasian sacramentary, which is the earliest manuscript. In altering the text, then, the revisers were restoring an earlier form of it.

But in the latter part, they departed from the Gelasian text, which has ‘that, by the help of your glory, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede’. I find the idea of being helped by divine glory somewhat puzzling, a view that may have been shared by later scribes, who replaced ‘glory’ with ‘grace’, giving us the 1570 version: ‘that, by the help of your grace, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede’.

For 1970, ‘by the help of your grace’ was omitted, and ‘grace’ was used in the final line to replace ‘forgiveness’. These little changes gave the text greater conciseness, while leaving its sense and structure intact.

Note that none of these versions articulates what it is that ‘our sins impede’. The mode of this prayer, like that of so many others in the early sacramentaries, is to allude rather than to state explicitly. This pervasive characteristic of the traditional Roman euchology has proved a stumbling-block for those who argue that liturgical language should always be clear and direct.