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.