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.