Sunday, 3 March 2013



O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.

Newly composed for 1970 by centonisation of a preface and a prayer from the 1738 Parisian Missal. Clearly, the prayer picks up themes from the Transfiguration narratives, which are read as the Gospel for this day.


May this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray,
cleanse us of our faults
and sanctify your faithful in body and mind
for the celebration of the paschal festivities.

This prayer is found in a large number of manuscripts, and has been used on several occasions in the liturgical year. It occurs 6 times in the 1570 Missal. For 1970 it was adapted with the insertion of ad celebranda festa paschalia. There had already been several variants to this part of the text, determined by the day on which it was used. Also, fidelium ‘faithful’ has replaced subditorum ‘subjects’.


As we receive these glorious mysteries,
we make thanksgiving to you, O Lord,
for allowing us while still on earth
to be partakers even now of the things of heaven.

In the Gelasian Sacramentary and several other manuscripts for use on various days in Lent, but not the 1570 Missal. For 1970, satagimus has been added to the text, to little advantage, and the official translation sensibly ignores it. The official translation characteristically inserts ‘these’ in the first line with no justification from the Latin.


Bless your faithful, we pray, O Lord,
with a blessing that endures for ever,
and keep them faithful
to the Gospel of your Only Begotten Son,
so that they may always desire and at last attain
that glory whose beauty he showed in his own Body
to the amazement of his Apostles.

From the 1738 Parisian Missal, this prayer continues the theme of the Transfiguration. The original says nothing about the 'amazement' of the Apostles, but simply that he showed the beauty of his glory to the Apostles!

Thursday, 21 February 2013



Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

In the Gelasian Sacramentary as the Collect for the First Sunday of Lent and in several other manuscripts. Not in the 1570 Missal.

The opening of this prayer may be more military in tone than the official translation reveals, since the word 'observances' is given as a translation for exercitia, which is cognate with exercitus, Latin for 'army'. Moreover, sacramentum is interpreted as meaning 'a holy season', but it can also denote the oath taken by soldiers at the beginning of a campaign. So there is a case for interpreting the second line of the original, per annua quadragesimalis exercitia sacramenti as meaning 'through the annual exercises arising from Lenten commitment'.

The word-order of the official translation is misleading. The original does not ask God to grant through our observances, but rather to grant that we may grow through our observances.

The translation of the penultimate line has been influenced by Colossians 1,27 and 2,3.


Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray, 
to make these offerings, 
for with them we celebrate the beginning 
of this venerable and sacred time. 

From 740 AD (the Gelasian Sacramentary) until 1970, this was the Secret for the Wednesday in Quinquagesima week (which we now celebrate as Ash Wednesday).

The manuscripts differ slightly in their versions of this text. Some, including the Gelasian, have venturum (upcoming) . . . exordium – perhaps reflecting an understanding that Lent began on the following Sunday, Quadragesima, even though the Wednesday that preceded it was already being kept as a fast-day, but apparently with no ash-ceremony as yet.

Moreover, the Gelasian has not celebramus but the subjunctive celebremus. So the Gelasian text could be translated:

Make us suitable and fit, we pray, O Lord,
for offering these gifts,
so that with them we may mark the beginning
of the venerable and sacred season itself.

This gives fuller force to ipsius, which doesn’t really mean 'this'.

The moving of the prayer from before Lent to within Lent has rather weakened its original note of anticipation.


Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and living Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth.

As one becomes familiar with the orations of the 1970 Missal, one soon learns to spot the newly composed prayers, of which this is one. They tend to be over-long, and over-stuffed with material, in contrast with the compositions of earlier centuries. So here we have a prayer composed from snippets of three pre-existent Prefaces, plus an allusion to John 6.51 and one to Matthew 4,4.

Happily, there are relatively few new texts in the Proper of Time. This is not so in the section of the Missal containing Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions.


May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray, 
come down upon your people, 
that hope may grow in tribulation, 
virtue be strengthened in temptation, 
and eternal redemption be assured. 

Like many of the Missal's Prayers over the People (38 by my count), this is from the Veronese Sacramentary. However, it has been adapted for the 1970 Missal. Whereas the original is a series of brief petitions without subordination, the revision has subordinated all but the first, with a clause of purpose introduced by ut. The original can be translated thus:

May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray, 
come down upon your people, 
may pardon come,
may consolation be granted,
may holy faith grow,
may eternal redemption be assured. 

Friday, 15 February 2013



Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

In the Veronese, Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and many other manuscripts. It has been prescribed for many fast days, not all of them during Lent. In 1570 it concludes the rite of blessing and imposition of ashes, which precedes the Mass.

Lent is seen as a military campaign, presumably under the influence of the passage in Ephesians 6 (11-17) on the ‘armour of God’. The Collect for the First Sunday of Lent has a similarly military tone.


As we solemnly offer the annual sacrifice for the beginning of Lent
we entreat you, O Lord,
that through works of penance and charity
we may turn away from harmful pleasures,
and cleansed from our sins, may become worthy
to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son.

In many manuscripts. The first line of the Latin contains the word sollemniter, from sollemnis, which can mean either ‘solemn’ or ‘annual’. Either meaning would make sense here: the official translation incorporates both.

The opening line also refers to ‘the sacrifice of the beginning of Lent’, raising the question, what sacrifice is referred to? Is it the Mass, or more generally the self-denial undertaken during Lent?
In 1570 this is the Secret for the First Sunday in Lent, but the latter part of the original text has been remodelled, incorporating an excerpt from a preface. The original, in Fortescue’s translation, ends: ‘that while we restrain our carnal feasting, we may likewise abstain from all harmful pleasures’.


May the Sacrament we have received sustain us, O Lord,
that our Lenten fast may be pleasing to you
and be for us a healing remedy.

Found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts. This is the post-Communion for Ash Wednesday in both 1570 and 1970.

The word ‘Sacrament’ in the first line translates a Latin plural. What are the sacramenta to which the original refers? The Eucharist, after all, is only one sacrament. Perhaps the original writer - in the eighth century or earlier - had in mind the imposition of ashes as well as the Eucharist, and a faithful translation of the first two lines would be ‘May the sacred signs we have received sustain us, O Lord’.

After the military theme of the Collect, the imagery here is medical, recalling the words of Jesus ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick’ (Matt 9,12 and parallels). Medical imagery recurs frequently in the Lenten liturgy: the word remedium ‘remedy’ occurs no fewer than 12 times.


Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God,
on those who bow before your majesty,
and by your mercy
may they merit the rewards
you promise to those who do penance.

In the 2002 edition of the Missal, the custom was restored of providing a Prayer over the People for each day in Lent. Several theories have been advanced concerning the origin of these prayers, the most likely one in my view being that they were said by the Bishop as he left the Church and passed the penitents who were gathered at the entrance because they were not allowed in. It is characteristic of these prayers to refer to the people in the third person.

This is a composite text made of elements from three ancient prayers. Unusually, it falls into two syntactic units, coordinated by et. The manuscripts and 1570 have ut, not et, which makes a more conventional prayer - ‘Pour out . . . ‘that they may merit’. Perhaps et is a misprint.

Sunday, 10 February 2013



Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection.

In the Gregorian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts. This was in 1570 the Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.

The translation may give the impression that we pray in line 2 to rely solely on the hope of heavenly grace, but these words translate a relative clause, stating that we do in fact so rely. Cranmer's version conveys the sense of the original more precisely:

Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they which do lean only upon hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power.


O Lord our God,
who once established these created things
to sustain us in our frailty,
grant, we pray,
that they may become for us now
the Sacrament of eternal life.

In the Veronese, Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and many other manuscripts, in 1570 this was the Secret for the Thursday after Passion Sunday. It was damaged in revision for the 1970 Missal. The 1570 text, which accords with most of the manuscripts, is translated thus in the 1952 hand-missal of Fortescue and O'Connell:

O Lord our God, who hast commanded and preferred that these material things, created by thee for the support of our frail nature, should also be dedicated as offerings to thy name, grant that they may not only help us in this present life, but prove a pledge of immortality.

The idea is that God has created bread and wine both for a material purpose - to sustain us in our frailty - and, more importantly, for a spiritual one - to be offered to him in sacrifice. Consequently we pray that they may help us materially and spiritually. The revisers removed the reference to sacrifice, but failed to remove the comparative adverb potius, meaning 'rather', which indicated that the spiritual purpose was more important than the material one. So we are left with potius floating free, having no comparison to attach itself to.

The official translation overcomes this difficulty sensibly, by ignoring potius.


O God, who have willed that we be partakers
in the one Bread and the one Chalice,
grant us, we pray, so to live
that, made one in Christ,
we may joyfully bear fruit
for the salvation of the world.

This prayer, which was not in the 1570 Missal, has been taken from a Dominican source. It is rich in scriptural allusions:

'one Bread' 1 Cor 10,7
'made one in Christ' John 17,11
'bear fruit' John 15,16.

Sunday, 3 February 2013



Grant us, Lord our God,
that we may honour you with all our mind,
and love everyone in truth of heart.

From the Veronese Sacramentary. Not in the 1570 Missal.

In line 2, the 1973 translation had 'with all our hearts' for tota mente. The change to 'mind', a more natural translation of Latin mens, is in harmony with a tendency in the official translation to correct the 1973 version's emphasis on the feelings rather than on the intellect. 'Mind' appears more often in 2011 than in 1973.
But I am uncertain whether this translation is correct, because Latin mente has given us the adverbial terminations -mente (Italian) and -ment (French). The fact that an adjective is used in its feminine form before these suffixes (rigorosamente, rigoureusement) shows the origin of this formation, since Latin mens is a feminine noun.
If this development was already in progress by the time of the copying of the Veronese Sacramentary (early 7th century), then perhaps tota mente simply meant 'totally', fideli mente meant 'faithfully', libera mente meant 'freely' and so on, and the translator need not use the English word 'mind'. But it would not be easy to convince the world's English-speaking bishops of this, or the Congregation for Divine Worship.

'In truth of heart' is a free translation, perhaps suggested by the Grail translation of Psalm 51,6 ('indeed you love truth in the heart') of rationabili . . . affectu, which might be translated literally as 'with reasonable affection'. However, in Romans 12,1, rationabilis translates Greek logikos, which in turn is sometimes translated 'spiritual' (e.g. in RSV). This fact justifies the use of 'spiritual' to translate rationabilem in the Roman Canon. It would also justify a translation of the last line of this prayer as 'and love everyone with spiritual affection'.

The implications of Romans 12,1 for the liturgy have been illuminatingly discussed by Joseph Ratzinger in Chapter 3 The Spirit of the Liturgy.


O Lord, we bring to your altar
these offerings of our service:
be pleased to receive them, we pray,
and transform them
into the Sacrament of our redemption.

Like the Collect, today's Prayer over the Offerings is taken from the Veronese Sacramentary, and was not in the 1570 Missal.

The first two lines might more literally be translated 'O Lord, we bring to your altars the offerings of our service'. The prayer would thus refer to all the offerings we bring to God whenever we celebrate Mass. The official version characteristically narrows the horizon of the text by changing 'altars' to 'altar' and 'the' to 'these', making it refer only to the bread and wine placed on the altar shortly before the prayer is said.

'The Sacrament' is a somewhat anachronistic translation, since our current understanding and enumeration of sacraments was only developed in the scholastic period, long after the Veronese Sacramentary. A seventh-century christian would have understood the Latin to mean 'and transform them into a sacred sign of our redemption'.


Nourished by these redeeming gifts,
we pray, O Lord,
that through this help to eternal salvation
true faith may ever increase.

Given in the Veronese Sacramentary among the prayers for Masses in July, this is by many later manuscripts, and by the 1570 Missal, to the Saturday in Easter Week.

Again, the official version uses 'these' although there is no equivalent in the Latin. 'Nourished by the gift of our redemption' would be an adequate translation of the first line.

'True faith' (vera fides) raises a theological question. It is traditional to distinguish fides qua creditur, 'the faith by which we believe', that is, the virtue of faith, from fides quae creditur, 'the faith that we believe', that is, the objective content of the christian faith. We refer to the former as 'faith' and to the latter as 'the faith'. Which is referred to in this prayer?

Most translators before Vatican II understood vera fides to denote the virtue of faith:

'true faith may ever prosper' (Fortescue 1926)
'true faith may ever profit' (Finberg and O'Connell 1949)

Some added 'within us' to make this clear:

'true faith may ever prosper within us' (Husenbeth 1847)
'true faith may ever increase within us' (St Andrew Daily Missal 1962)

This is the interpretation adopted by the official version.

Only one translation that I have found interpreted vera fides as signifying the content of the faith:

'the true faith may ever advance' (Dominican Missal 1948).

This last translation is recommended by the fact that this prayer used to belong to Easter Week, when the addition of new members is fresh in the memory of the Church. It could be heard as a prayer that still more converts will be drawn to the faith. However, now that the prayer has been moved to Ordinary Time, this interpretation is less appropriate - an example of the meaning of a text being changed by its context.

Thursday, 31 January 2013



Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.

In the Gregorian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts. In 1570 this was the Collect for the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas. The 1970 revisers sought out prayers for the Christmas season more clearly suited to its themes, but retained this prayer in a new position.
This brief text is very difficult to translate satisfactorily.
What is the adverbial phrase ‘in the name of your beloved Son’ intended to modify? Most versions make it modify ‘abound’, which fits with the rules of Latin syntax, but I find it hard to see what it means to speak of abounding in the name of Christ.
It would make better sense to speak of abounding in good works done in the name of Christ, but that is not what the Latin says.
The official version leaves mereamur untranslated, although it is scrupulous about translating that word elsewhere.


Accept our offerings, O Lord, we pray,
and in sanctifying them
grant that they may profit us for salvation.

A prayer composed for the 1970 Missal by conflation of a text found in the Veronese and Gregorian Sacramentaries (which provided the first two lines) with one of somewhat later provenance (which provided the third).
To my ear, the use of ‘in’ suggests that the benefit that comes to us from the eucharistic offerings is simply a by-product of God’s sanctification of them. ‘By sanctifying them’ would perhaps indicate more clearly that our profit is caused by God’s act.


Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, receiving the grace
by which you bring us to new life,
we may always glory in your gift.

Found twice in the Gelasian sacramentary, once for the First Sunday of Lent, and  once for the Third Sunday in Eastertime, and in many other manuscripts for use during Easter, in 1570 this is the Post-Communion for the Second Sunday after Easter.
Within that paschal context, the ‘grace by which you bring us to new life’ can more readily be understood to refer to the grace of baptism. Outside that context, the prayer has lost some of its point.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013



Almighty ever-living God,
who govern all things,
both in heaven and on earth,
mercifully hear the pleading of your people
and bestow your peace on our times.

From the Gregorian Sacramentary and many other manuscripts. In the 1570 Missal this was the Collect for the Second Sunday after Epiphany.

For those who find the language of the Missal too elaborately deprecatory, it is worth noticing that this prayer contains little deprecatory expression. The last two lines contain two simple imperatives, softened only by 'mercifully' (clementer).

The Cranmerian translation is:-

'Almighty and everlasting God, which dost govern all things in heaven and earth: mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life.'

Cranmer's final line, adhering slightly less closely to the Latin, uses a dactylic rhythm that, as well as giving pleasure, assists the memory.


Grant us, O Lord, we pray,
that we may participate worthily in these mysteries,
for whenever the memorial of this sacrifice is celebrated
the work of our redemption is accomplished.

Found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and many subsequent manuscripts, this prayer has been assigned to many occasions in the liturgical year. In the 1570 Missal it is the Secret for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. It occurs three times in the 1970 book - as the Prayer over the Offerings for the Second Sunday of the Year, for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and for the Votive Mass of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.

It has played a significant rôle in the history of Catholic doctrine. St Thomas Aquinas quotes it (STh 3a q83 a1) in support of his assertion that through the sacrament of the Eucharist we are made participants in the fruit of the Lord’s passion. It was mentioned in discussions at the Council of Trent (but not, I think, in the Council’s documents). Pius XII quoted it in Mediator Dei, and Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium. In the Catechism, it is quoted twice (1364 & 1405).

The final word of the body of the prayer, exercetur, has been questioned, since one very early manuscript has a different reading - exseritur. This, if accepted, would make the final line mean ‘the work of our redemption is made known’. Exercetur is more difficult.

The official translation, ‘is accomplished’ should not be taken to mean ‘is completed’ like Jesus’ word from the Cross sometimes translated ‘It is accomplished’ (John 19,30). Rather, a process is implied: ‘is being accomplished’ might make this clearer.

Because of the prayer’s long history, there are many translations of exercetur to compare. Here is a selection:-

‘is exercised’ (Husenbeth 1847)
‘is wrought’ (Fortescue 1926)
‘is renewed’ (English Dominican translation 1948)
‘every offering of this memorial sacrifice carries on the work of our redemption’ (Oconnell and Finberg 1952)
‘is accomplished’ (Caraman and Walsh 1961).

And from translations of the Catechism published on the Vatican website:-

‘s’opère’ (French)
‘s’effetua’ (Italian)
‘se realiza’ (Spanish)
‘is carried out’ (English in section 1364)
‘is carried on’ (English in section 1405).


Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness 
make those you have nourished 
by this one heavenly bread, 
one in mind and heart.

Found in many manuscripts, from the Veronese Sacramentary on. 

In the first line, infunde does not quite mean ‘pour on us’ but rather ‘pour into us’, echoing Rom 5,5 ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (RSV).

The prayer could be more literally translated:

Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
so that in your kindness 
you may make those you have nourished 
by this one heavenly bread, 
one in mind and heart.

But the problem with this is that it seems to imply that God has to do one thing (pour his Spirit on us) in order to be able to do another (make us one). This cannot be so, for God has no purposes that are not also results. So whereas when we learn Latin we are taught to distinguish between clauses of purpose (‘final’ clauses) and purposes of result (‘consecutive’ clauses), when God is the subject of a verb in a dependent clause, this distinction vanishes. 

Translators sometimes cope with this challenge with ‘so as to’, thus avoiding the use of ‘may’, and sometimes, as in this case, by writing two coordinate clauses where Latin subordinates one clause to another.

Monday, 21 January 2013



Attend to the pleas of your people with heavenly care,
O Lord, we pray,
that they may see what must be done,
and gain strength to do what they have seen.

Found in the manuscript of the Gregorian Sacramentary kept at Cambrai and known as the Hadrianum, and in many other manuscripts. In the 1570 Missal this was the Collect for the Sunday in the Octave of the Epiphany. Note the parallelism (‘both . . . and’) so common in Roman orations, perhaps influenced by the Psalms, of which parallelism is also characteristic.
The official version leaves supplicantis untranslated.

This Collect was translated for the English Book of Common Prayer thus:

LORD we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same.

The doublets 'perceive and know' and 'grace and power' are characteristic of the Cranmerian style.


May your people's oblation, O Lord,
find favour with you, we pray,
that it may restore them to holiness
and obtain what they devoutly entreat.

From the Veronese Sacramentary; not in the 1570 Missal. 
Notice the parallelism between the second and third lines.
The official version alters the syntax, assisting comprehension without violating sense. Lines 2 and 3 literally mean:
‘by which may they acquire sanctification
and obtain what they devoutly request’.

Refero is used frequently in the Veronese sacramentary in the sense of ‘bring back’ or ‘carry home’.
This is a surprising use of ‘entreat’ with an inanimate object, since in Modern English it is more usual to speak of entreating a person for a thing.


Humbly we ask you, almighty God,
be graciously pleased to grant 
that those you renew with your Sacraments 
may also serve with lives pleasing to you. 

This prayer is found in many versions in many manuscripts, and has been used for many occasions during the liturgical year.. It occurs several times in the 1570 Missal.

Again, it includes a parallelism, though the translation somewhat conceals this.

‘Also’ may sound awkward to some. It translates etiam, which in the Latin joins two verbs of which God is the subject. It is hard to reproduce this in English, but a possibility would have been simply to remove ‘also’, leaving etiam untranslated.