Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Our Father

Today's Gospel records Jesus' teaching of the 'Our Father', to his disciples. If you were present two days ago for the Rite of Election of candidates for baptism, you may have been surprised that, unlike most liturgical functions, it did not contain this most central of Christian prayers.

The reason is that Christian tradition regards the Lord's Prayer as part of the arcanum, the secrets that are known only to the initiated, and only passed on to catechumens as their initiation draws near. We have already prayed, in the Collect of the First Sunday of Lent, that we will grow in understanding of Christi arcanum, which our Missal translates (with a nod to Ephesians 3:8) as ‘the riches hidden in Christ’. The Lord’s Prayer will be handed on to the elect as part of the liturgy of the third scrutiny on the fifth Sunday of Lent. But they will only proclaim the prayer with the community for the first time after their Baptism and before their first reception of the Eucharist.

In our culture, the Lord's Prayer is widely known and used. Even unbaptised children in our schools are expected to learn and repeat it. Before the Council, the Roman liturgy contained more indications of its special character. At Mass, the celebrant would sing or say it alone, the rest of the assembly only responding with its final clause, sed libera nos a malo. On many other occasions, the bulk of the prayer was said silently, only the opening and the conclusion being audible. In many monastic communities the custom survives of the superior singing most of it on his or her own.

Theological support for this is found in the New Testament: 'unless a person is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God' (John 3,5); 'Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew . . . ' (1 Peter 1,3). Our new birth through baptism gives us a new Mother - the Church - and a new Father - God.

Hence the tentative tone of the introduction to the Our Father at Mass. The celebrant seems almost to be tip-toeing up to the prayer with a reverent hesitation. He refers twice to the giver of the prayer: 'the Saviour's command . . . divine teaching' but not directly, until finally, having screwed up his courage and presented his credentials, he dares to address God as Father.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Striving on the First Sunday of Lent

In the Post-communion of today's Mass we anglophones are bidden to pray that we may 'strive' to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That isn't what the the Latin says. It prays that we may 'be able' so to live. The English stresses human effort more than the Latin does.

The previous English translation was widely, and rightly, criticised for the same tendency. Many accused it of Pelagianism. The new translation has improved matters in this regard, but not entirely, as today's Post-communion shows.

Another instance of this tendency can be seen in the invitation to repentance at the beginning of Mass. We are asked to acknowledge our sins 'and so prepare ourselves' to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. The Latin says merely 'that we may be ready' (ut apti simus) to celebrate - no mention of human effort there, but plenty of room for God's grace.

Pelagius was a Celt, and a high proportion of English-speaking Catholics have Celtic roots. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the shadow of his teaching should fall over our translation of the Mass.

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.