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.