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.