Monday, 9 January 2017

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

This feast did not occur in the Roman Rite before Vatican II. When it was introduced into the 1970 Missal, a new Collect was composed which, like many of the newly-written prayers in our Missal, lacks the conciseness and simplicity of the older tradition. Its seven lines contain no fewer than three participial phrases - a challenge to the translator.

The alternative Collect is simpler and much more ancient, being found already in the Gelasian Sacramentary. In the official translation, the third and fourth lines contain a curious thought:

grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves.

Line 4 seems to imply that Christ, though outwardly like ourselves, is inwardly unlike us. This seems to me to veer towards the heresy of Apollinarianism, which holds that Christ had no human soul. Orthodox Christianity understands that Christ is 'like us in all things but sin' (Hebrews 4,15). 

The revisers have misunderstood the Latin. In fact it prays that our outward Christian profession may be matched by our inner lives. The problem, as so often in this translation, arises from incorrect placing of an adverb. It easy to mend with the help of the Morecambe Principle:

grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize outwardly as like ourselves.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

January 5 Prayer after Communion

One criticism of the official translation of the Missal that one often hears is that it is 'clunky' - that is, clumsy in its language. There are several reasons, but a major one - the major one, I would say - is that the revisers seem not to have understood how adverbs and adverbial expressions behave in English. They put them in the wrong place. A clear example is today's Prayer after Communion, in which we are asked to pray

that, through the working of this mystery,
our offences may be cleansed
and our just desires fulfilled.

move 'through the working of this mystery' from its current place to the end of the prayer, and I think you will find it far less clunky. This is because the normal position for a non-modal adverb or adverbial phrase in English is after the verb that it modifies.

The modification that I propose follows the 'Morecambe principle', named after the comedian Eric Morecambe who, when accused of playing the wrong notes on a piano, retorted that he had played the right notes, but in the wrong order.

If you adopt this change, you may also wish to change 'through the working' to 'by the working' so as to avoid having two occurrences of 'through' in consecutive lines.

I'm back

I stopped writing this blog nearly three years ago because I couldn't find time to achieve the level of coverage that I had been aiming at.
Now that the official translation has been in use for 5 years, it seems a good idea to start again but less ambitiously. I'll post when I come across something in the Missal that seems worthy of comment - that leaves me with plenty of material.
I would also like to hear comments from other people, and so I have (I hope successfully) opened the blog to comments.

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.