Missals in the Monastery Cupboard—2

Sorry – another mega missal post, but the last, so—courage. [As usual, if you click the photos they will open in full size.]

First from the cloister haul is this example of a missal I had not come across before: a Missal-Vesperal. Many of the 20th-century people’s missals began to include vespers and even compline, as a way of bringing the life of Christian worship out beyond the confines of Mass and to imbue daily life with the spirit of the liturgy.

Continue reading “Missals in the Monastery Cupboard—2”

Missals in the Monastery Cupboard—1

This will verge on a megapost. There was quite the variety of missals in the cupboard. As a great lover of the old hand missals I found these of special interest. If the old missals do nothing for your adrenalin levels then this post may not be of interest to you. There is no particular rationale to the following sequence.

The first is a representative of the high-water mark of the hand missals for the laity that were one of the great fruits of the authentic liturgical movement.

It has an intrguing inscription. Either Christopher is something of an indian giver, or Judie is very possessive.

Continue reading “Missals in the Monastery Cupboard—1”

Missal Moments IX: Bidding Prayers – getting them right

Previous Missal Moments here have focused on explaining the changes made in the English version of the third edition of the Roman Missal that came into use at the end of 2011 in Britain. The focus today is not any change as such, but on an element of the post-conciliar Roman Missal that has always been there, but too often poorly practised: the bidding prayers after the Homily (and Creed if there is one).

When they are poorly done, it can be excruciating. When they are abused, they can be infuriating. No wonder many, even laity, often wish they might be omitted altogether.

You have probably been exposed to this poor practice. There are the long, rambling, incoherent monologues that seek to tell the congregation (or even God sometimes if the reader is truly abysmal) the whole story behind the prayer. Sometimes they are so long an actual prayer is never made. Then there are the political manifestos, laden with editorial comment, in which the reader effectively preaches rather than intercedes. Even here I have heard diatribes against the authority of the Church and invectives against bankers, masquerading as intercessions. Then there is the often laudably brief intercession, which states the person/s being prayed for, but not the grace being sought for them. Some of the worst can be the spontaneous ones, in which the pray-er gets so muddled in his or her spontaneity that grammar ceases to function; or those which become sentimental addresses to God about nothing in particular.

What’s in a name?

In England, they tend to be called bidding prayers. In Australia the favoured term is prayer of the faithful. In some places I have heard them termed general intercessions. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM (2008) the phrase is Universal Prayer (though it mentions Prayer of the Faithful too).

The name is important in revealing the true nature of this part of the Mass. Universal Prayer and General Intercessions are closest to the essence of this optional rite. (And yes, it is optional, though GIRM does say it is “desirable”.) It is a period of intercession for all beyond the confines of that small community at worship. It is when the congregation looks out of itself to embrace the wider community and intercede for the rest of the Church, and indeed for the world. This is it universal in scope, and general in context. We are not praying for ourselves, but for others.

The nature of the beast

So what is this Universal Prayer? GIRM is quite succinct:

In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all … [in which] petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world. (GIRM, #69)

The theory is that having heard the Word proclaimed and preached, and on solemn days professed our faith, we are then moved quite naturally to look to the needs of others in response to God’s Word. We are called to move beyond self-absorption, both of the individual and of the congregation as an entity, to embrace the whole Church and the world at large in our prayer and our sacrifice. It is the moment when the baptised can augment their offering of the sacrifice of praise and their own selves with the sacrifice of intercession for others.

Fr Jeremy Driscoll OSB offers good insight into this rite:

The prayers are also called general intercessions, or sometimes even universal prayers, as an indication of the direction in which our prayer ought to go. These petitions should be very broad, all-embracing. Individuals can pray for their particular needs in the the quiet of their hearts. Here the Church is giving voice to her relationship with the whole world. (What Happens at Mass, Gracewing/LTP, 2005, p.59)

Thus, these petitions should never be for ourselves, and usually not even for our own congregation. Normally I allow a short space of time at the end of the petitions for the people to offer their own particular petitions in “the silence of your hearts”, ending with the standard dialogue “Lord in your mercy/Hear our prayer”.

The structure

There are two levels of structure to be remembered. The first concerns the subject order of the petitions; the second concerns the structure of the individual petition.

(1) GIRM quite clearly states as normative (not merely recommended, though exceptions are as ever allowed) that:

The series of intercessions is usually to be:

a) for the needs of the Church;
b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
d) for the local community.             (GIRM, #70)

Thus our petitions from the universal to the more particular, from the Church (which as it encompasses the Communion of Saints, is greater in scope than the world), to government, to the world at large, to those in particular need, to the needs of the community in which the congregation is situated. There should no reason at all ever to change this structure, and deacons and laity who lead these intercessions should be properly instructed in how to order them, and how to construct a petition.

(2) Each petition is in fact an invitation to the congregation (bidding them) to pray for those intentions announced. Thus the English bishops in their official commentary on the new Missal spell it out as clearly as they can:

Both the priest’s introduction and the proposed intentions are addressed to the assembly, not to God. (Celebrating the Mass, CTS, 2005, #173)

We should never hear the reader say “Lord, we ask…..” or the like. The reader is not talking to God but to the congregation, inviting them to pray for the announced intentions. Moreover, since it is an invitation, the phrasing should reflect this fact. Thus, “We pray for the….”. The phrase “We pray” is not an invitation but a declaration, and it is wholly inappropriate. How does the reader know that “we pray” for that intention. Rather the proper phrasing should be “Let us pray for…”.

How NOT to do bidding prayers.
How NOT to do bidding prayers.

Having announced the person/s being prayed for, the petition should then specify succinctly what is being sought for those persons. Thus a petition should have a structure something like “Let us pray for…, that….”. So an example might be, “Let us pray for the Church under its shepherds Pope Francis and the bishops, that together they might grow ever stronger in faith, hope and charity.  Lord in your mercy./Hear our prayer.” The people’s response is their affirmation of the intention or petition and their presenting it to the Lord as the people of God.

Thus the rite of the Universal Prayer should follow the schema given by the English bishops’ Liturgy Office:

  • Invitation to Prayer (to the people, by the priest celebrant)
  • Silence
  • Intentions
    • Intention (“Let us pray for… “)
    • Silence for prayer
    • Response
  • Concluding Prayer (to God, as a collect, by the priest celebrant)

Noble simplicity

The Roman Rite  is known for its noble simplicity, and this should be manifested no less in the petitions. They should be as short as possible, succinct and to the point. They should be so phrased that no one in the congregation might feel unable to affirm them. The reader is serving the congregation not him- or herself. The English bishops again:

These intentions should be short, clear, and objective enough for the faithful to understand and respond to them without difficulty. They should express the prayer of the entire community. (Celebrating, #173)

Moreover, they should be strictly intercessory, that is, asking for a grace or graces for the benefit of others. They intercessions cease to be so when they lapse into (usually self-indulgent) praise, gratitude or other sentiments. Again, the English bishops state regarding the petitions,

The response they are to evoke is petition rather than praise, thanksgiving, or repentance. (Ibid.)

When, for example, we use the intercessions to offer thanks to God then we have lapsed into self-absorption again. After all, the Eucharist itself is the great thanksgiving.

An excellent set of intercessions.
An excellent set of intercessions, tainted by the “We pray to the Lord”. So close!

Best practice

To the surprise of many, I am actually a fan of the general intercessions, but only when they are well done. If they cannot be done properly they should not be done at all.

Properly includes the necessity for the petitions to have been drafted beforehand in writing, and approved by the priest celebrating the Mass. Spontaneous intercessions are dangerous, all too often ending in confusion, incoherence, poor grammar and syntax, and so becoming a burden to the congregation, not a help. Certain types of Protestant have a knack for making intercessions, a knack not found as often in Catholics. Therefore, the Catholic should draft the petitions beforehand, and have them approved by the priest.

Brevity is also essential. Otherwise the point of the petition can end up being forgotten, and also there is a danger of lapsing into story telling or editorializing. Likewise, there should be only one reader of the intercessions. Having several readers of intercessors tends to lengthen the rite beyond reasonable bounds, and give it an importance that is not proper to this rite. It also risks reducing the rite to banality. In other words, too many cooks spoil the broth!

Ideally, the intercessions should be announced by the deacon, or a competent layperson. This allows the witness value of having a non-priest offer the congregation’s petitions, since the petitions are meant to express the response of the people to the Word of God and to begin their preparation to take part in offering the Sacrifice.

The Universal Prayer, or whatever name for it your prefer, should be given the same care and attention in preparation as any other part of the Mass. If done properly they can serve as a powerful and effective means of transition from the more passive reception of the Word of God to the more active offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with Christ’s one sacrifice of the Cross made present on the altar. This movement of passive devotion to active devotion addresses the need we have to move from self to others, an evangelical movement that makes us intercessors for the whole world.


There is a strong and lucid argument that holds the Universal Prayer to embody precisely the “useless repetition” that the Vatican Council sought to remove from the liturgy. The Mass itself is one great universal prayer, offered not only for ourselves but for the whole Church and for the salvation of the world. The argument is a powerful one, and it touches me deeply. However it strikes me that the Universal Prayer allows the people of God to articulate and become more conscious of their need to move their focus from self to others, and through others to God. In that sense it can be a fitting preparation for the Eucharist proper.

Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

A while back I remember a copy of survey questions, emanating from the diocesan bureaucracy, floating around our common room. It struck me, even without reading it through, as an exercise either in futility, at best, or potentially wilful pot-stirring at worst. After that I gave no more thought to it.

Alas, its results have been released under the name of Paul Inwood. The report makes some desultory attempts at being impartial and even-handed but largely fails in that endeavour. It tends to confirm both my initial musings. You can read it here.

Others better than I can dissect it if they choose to do so. One section will suffice here. The section on the “language of the texts” (pp.9-11) has the equivalent of 8 paragraphs describing (in obsessive detail) negative comments, and the equivalent of 2 paragraphs at the end with the positive comments. It is clear that the editorial preference of this report favours the negative. This is confirmed in the conclusion when Mr Inwood opines:

The final outcome, however, as evidenced from the overall reactions summarised above, is clearly weighted towards the negative, with narrative reactions indicating just how bleak the landscape is for many. The majority are disappointed and hurt, even angry, and remarks about the deleterious effect the texts have had on their prayer lives are both moving and disturbing. At a more prosaic level, it also appears from many comments that church attendance is haemorrhaging as a result of the introduction of the new translation.

That something so tendentious and self-serving could come from a paid diocesan employee is food for thought. His conclusions may well be a justifiable assessment of the survey, and that might be telling in some circumstances. But wait… some context is enlightening.

At the outset Mr Inwood admits that “a significant number” of responses came from outside the boundaries of the diocese of Portsmouth, including some from overseas or from temporary visitors. That alone should make us wonder how representative this survey actually is of the true balance of opinion in the diocese. What rather confirms that it is most definitely not a reliable gauge of opinion within the diocese is in the very final paragraph (p.18):

Although the final number of responses received is not enormous (a total of 307), they appear to be broadly typical of what has been heard in parishes all over the country. It is to be hoped that the Bishops will indeed not file them away but take appropriate action.

The total number of responses is 307, out of a diocese with an estimated Catholic population of 192,000: that is 0.16%   It is freely admitted that of this paltry total of 307 responses, a “significant number” are from those not part of the Church in this diocese. Mr Inwood offers no evidence at all for his claim that the survey accords with national opinion. A survey with a greater number of respondents, and executed far more rigorously, while admittedly from the USA, tells a far different story to this one. The American context may involve factors lacking here, catechesis perhaps, but its results tend to demand that Mr Inwood provide evidence for his peremptory assessment of the national Catholic mood.

Ironically, given its insurmountable inadequacies, what Mr Inwood hopes to avoid is precisely the fate that this survey deserves: to be filed away. It hardly justifies any action by the bishops against the new Missal, even if there were action able to be taken. Liturgy and doctrine are not products of popular surveys at any time, and that such a deficient survey can be touted as justification for action against the 2011 Missal is the stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.

Neither Bishop Philip, the diocese nor the wider Church are in any way well served by this flawed survey and report, and at a time of financial constraint for the ordinary person one might ask if it was a judicious use of the faithful’s money.

Advent blessings.

Missal Moments VIII – restoring an enriching ambiguity

One change in the Missal that has seems to have escaped notice is the endings to the prayers of the proper of the Mass (ie the collect, the offertory, the post-communion).

Previously, these prayers ended “We make this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who…” etc, or “We make this prayer through Christ our Lord”. Now the respective endings are “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who…” or “Through Christ our Lord”. The we make this prayer has been cut.

The simple reason is that this phrase is not in the original Latin of the Missal, nor has it ever been in the Latin of any Roman Missal to the best of my knowledge. It appeared in the post-conciliar English translation, no doubt to smooth the transition from the body of the prayer to its concluding formula. Interestingly, in more than one place I have heard priests recite the body from the new Missal, and then re-insert we make this prayer into the conclusion. It seems they cannot bring themselves to make the adjustment to the seemingly stark Latinate conclusion.

Now it is not something to lose sleep over, but I do think that literally translating the Latin concluding formula, Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, filium tuum, qui… etc, and so omitting the supplied transitional phrase, is vastly to be preferred. Why?

Whether it is intended or not, there is in the new, more literal formula a fruitful ambiguity. One half of it is made clear by the now-obsolete expanded conclusion: the prayers we make to God are through the Son. He is the Mediator between God and his people. Yet mediation is a two-way street: the graces God gives in answer to the prayers of his people are likewise mediated through Christ. The now-obsolete formula excluded this rich ambiguity, and to our impoverishment. The new Missal allows the ambiguity to be heard, and to our enrichment.

An example is always helpful – a random choice. Let us take the post-communion prayer for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time:

Grant, we pray, O Lord,
that, having been replenished by such great gifts,
we may gain the prize of salvation
and never cease to praise you.
Through Christ our Lord.

There is a manifold ambiguity here. Our asking is through Christ; but also God’s granting it is through Christ, and the gaining of salvation is through Christ, and our ceaseless praising is through Christ. The old formula would have killed the beautiful ambiguity by restricting Christ’s mediation to the making of the prayer alone.

Of course, ambiguity in this context is not a case of either/or, but of and/and. It reveals the many layers of theological and spiritual meaning in the Missal’s prayers. There must be a more apt word than ambiguity, but it is late and I cannot think of it!

Lest it seem that I am being a little too fanciful about the presence of positive ambiguity or levels of meaning in the Missal’s texts and prayers, we need only look to Eucharistic Prayer III for another example of the new Missal restoring the ambiguity, or many-layered meaning, of a text. In the old Missal we would have found near the beginning of the Prayer:

… so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made…

Now it reads:

… so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice…

The change, faithful to the Latin of course, is not merely a case of adding some poetic élan to the prayer. It is ambiguous: it could refer to geography; it could also refer to chronology – that is, to space or time. In fact, both are envisaged and intended: the pure sacrifice is offered across the world and throughout time. The previous translation, without good reason, restricted it to a geographical reference. We lost something there, and now it is restored. Deo gratias.

Collect 30: another voyage through liturgical translation.

The Sunday just past (Sunday 30 in Ordinary Time), the collect for which will generally be used on ferial days in the coming week, provides yet another example of how theological or motivational shifts affected the translation of the Missal.

The collect (or opening prayer at Mass) for Sunday 30 of the year is another, and ancient, prayer which has been retained from the pre-conciliar liturgy, in which it was found on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. The Latin text is:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
da nobis fidei spei et caritatis augmentum,
et ut mereamur assequi quod promittis,
fac nos amare quod praecipis.

A hasty literal translation, to get the sense of this prayer, might be:

Almighty ever-eternal God,
grant us an increase of faith, hope and charity,
and, that we might merit to attain to what you promise,
make us love what you command.

It is another beautiful and spiritually sound Roman prayer, hallowed and confirmed by centuries of use in our worship. As so often happens in our liturgy, the Church’s corporate worship, it is an ambitious prayer. We ask for an increase in God’s gifts to us of the three things that abide (as St Paul teaches), faith, hope and charity (the theological virtues). Even more, we ask that God might make us worthy to attain to his promises by making us love his commandments. In other words, we dare to ask God to make it easier, as it were, to obey him, because we always find it easier to do what we love, and to serve those whom we love. If we love God’s commandments, we will be more likely to overcome our weakness and obey them. In its spirituality this prayer acknowledges human psychological reality.

Two points of note before heading into the translations. The first is that the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are gifts from God, not achievements or attributes of our own. This is reflected in the phrasing of the Latin, but not always very clearly in some of the translations to follow. Moreover, “charity” is the precise and appropriate way to translate caritas (employed in the form caritatis in the collect). Though the word has been debased a little in idiomatic usage, being used to refer to giving to the poor and the like, it still captures the essential meaning that giving to the poor is itself an example of: namely, that charity is love in action.

Secondly, and consequently, the concept of our being able to obtain merit in the eyes of God is expressed. The theology of merit is not popular today, not least because protestant Christians often find it offensive (as they understand merit, that is). Yet our ability to merit is another example of God’s fatherly love for us. Out of his gratuitous love for us, he gives us credit for using the grace he has given us towards its proper end.

It is much like when a young boy wants to give his mother a birthday present but, of course, he has no money of his own. So his father gives him some money that he might buy a present for his mother. Now both the father and the mother know that their son has not any means of his own to buy the present. Nevertheless, the mother will give thanks to her son as if the gift was wholly his own, and the father will confirm the credit the boy receives from her. The boy has gained merit. It is the fruit of his parents’ love for him.

So, being an ancient prayer, we can expect to find earlier translations of this collect, not least from the 20th century hand missals that were such a rich fruit of the Liturgical Movement. So let’s proceed as we did for last week’s collect.

In the St Joseph Daily Missal of 1959 the collect is translated as:

Almighty and everlasting God,
give us an increase of Faith, Hope and Charity;
and that we may deserve to obtain what you promise,
make us love what you command.

It is a faithful translation of the original. As we saw last week, the use of “everlasting” is not quite spot on. It is the Duracell or Energizer God that comes to mind, at least to mine. God is beyond time, without beginning or end, and “eternal” best captures that sense of timeless existence. On the other hand, “merit” has been rendered as “deserve”, which is fine as it preserves the truth that our obedience (the gift of grace) is that which makes us deserving of God’s promises.

The Layman’s Missal of 1961 (reprinted 2008) offers this translation:

Almighty and everliving God,
increase our faith, our hope and our charity,
and that we may be able to obtain what you have promised,
make us love your commandments.

The translation here is a little more ‘dynamic’. “Everliving” is somewhat better than everlasting, but not as good as eternal. More significant is the rendering of nobis (lit. “to us”) as “our”, and not just once but thrice. Instead of asking God to give something to us, we ask instead to have something we already possess (thus, “our”) increased. Now theologically this is not wrong necessarily, since when we accept God’s gifts with an open and faithful heart, they live within us and become part of us. However we lose the lovely ambiguity of the original Latin, which balanced the divine origin of the theological virtues with our derived, grace-based possession of them. Indeed the triple mention of “our” seems almost to emphasise our possession of them only. Lastly, some tinkering with verbs has occurred. Promittis has become past tense instead of present tense – the Latin is present tense, and God’s promises are eternal not merely a past phenomenon, so the Latin was better. Praecipis, (lit. “you command”) is now made into a noun, “(your) commandments”. This disrupts the effective and educative coupling of “what you promise” with “what you command”: as God promises, so too he commands what is needed for us to benefit from his promises. In a few memorable, words much theology is contained.

In the New Roman Missal of 1961 our collect is translated:

Almighty and everlasting God,
grant unto us an increase of faith, hope and charity:
and that we may deserve to obtain what Thou dost promise,
make us love what Thou commandest.

We need not refer to “everlasting”. Enough said. Otherwise it is a precise, faithful translation which captures the rhetorical coupling and wholesome ambiguity of the Latin original. In this rendering it is quite easy to perceive that our deserving of heaven is related to our being given grace to obey (and so using that grace). The only significant difference with the other translations so far is that it has a much more elevated register of English, even archaic. It seems appropriate to liturgical prayer but is not something to lose sleep over.

The St Andrew Bible Missal of 1962, of Belgian Benedictine origin, offers this rendering:

O God, almighty and everlasting,
give us more faith, hope and charity.
Make us love your Law
so that we may deserve to gain your promises…

Here is a real attempt to move from a more literal translation to a more (perhaps) idiomatic one. God is still addressed in a more formal way (though with that pesky “everlasting”). The theological virtues are not made ours too prematurely, though the asking of them might seem a little brusque: “give us”, rather than the softer “grant us”. Then again, the original Latin is so bold as to say just that: da – “give”. The first of two syntactical changes is the division of the prayer into two sentences, a procedure followed in the 1975 Missal. I suspect this is an attempt to break the prayer up into shorter, more manageable units, to cater for our diminishing attention spans (rather than God’s). That said, they have a better reason than the 1975 Missal usually has: there are two prayers or petitions here, in a sense. The second change in syntax is the reversal in order of the loving with the deserving. This too is a reasonable massaging of the text. Striking, however, is the replacement of the verbal phrase “what you command” with “your Law”, which (in line with the title of the Missal itself) seems to be introducing a biblical gloss on the prayer.

In the Roman Catholic Daily Missal of 2004, which is effectively a reprint of a 1962 missal, we find this translation:

Almighty and everlasting God,
give to us an increase of Faith, Hope and Charity;
and that we may deserve to obtain what Thou dost promise,
make us love what Thou dost command.

Again another more formal, very faithful translation, though with some variations on the similarly archaically-phrased translation of the New Roman Missal of 1961 above. Though not detectable in the actual speaking of the prayer, the capitalisation of the three virtues enhances the sense that these are divine gifts rather than naturally human virtues. It is a sound translation, and its elevated register of language is quite appropriate to the formal communal act of liturgical worship.

Moving now into the post-conciliar official attempts at translation, we begin with the undated, but pre-1966, unbound inserts from Burns & Oates, which provide this translation of our collect:

Almighty, everlasting God,
grant us increase of faith, hope, and charity;
and fit us to obtain what thou dost promise
by making us love what thou dost command…

Again we find a more formal register of English. The omission of “an” before “increase”, while grammatically possible, does sound awkward, and perhaps would sound slightly less awkward if it were “increase in” rather than “increase of”. The original translation of fac nos as “fit us” is mixed in quality: it keeps clear the truth that it is God who is the origin of our worthiness, but seems to rule out any sense of our possessing this bestowed worthiness as our own. We appear to be only acted upon, rather than also acting. It is, perhaps, a little too brutally theocentric. As English, however, it works well. In last week’s collect this interim translation rendered the same Latin phrase, fac nos, as “so deal with us”, another creative variation.

In the lovely 1965 experimental Missal of the Scottish Bishops, again by Burns & Oates, we find a translation that almost exactly reproduces the previous one:

Almighty, everlasting God,
grant us increase of faith, hope, and charity;
and fit us to obtain what thou dost promise
by making us love what thou commandest:…

The difference is minor: “thou dost command” is here made into “thou commandest”, which has the virtue of being shorter but the vice of being less felicitous to the ear.

The National Liturgical Commission for England and Wales in 1972 offered this interim translation, though the change in the liturgical calendar is reflected in this collect now being placed in its current place on Sunday 30 of the year:

Almighty, eternal God,
help us to grow in faith, hope and charity.
Teach us to love what you command us to do,
so that we might be able to receive what you promise to give.

As this translation gives us something, it takes away something else. At last we find “eternal” used, for which it deserves (merits?) a round of applause. Then it introduces words we saw constantly in the 1975 Missal, “help… grow”. “Help” is far too weak here, and could imply that we have some power of our own to grow in the theological virtues, and that we merely seek some help, some fertiliser, to grow them. It also can be made to imply that these virtues are native to ourselves. But “charity” has been kept. Again, with another harbinger of its successor, this translation has divided the collect into two sentences, though as mentioned above, this has some justification from the content of the collect, which effectively has two petitions in it. Another weakening is that merit has disappeared entirely, to be replaced by the bland, and non-committal, “be able”. Theologically there is no error as such, for to merit something is to be able to receive it, but it is an evasion of a clear statement of the Catholic teaching. Lastly, the translators have embellished the verbs “command” and “promise”, rather tediously spelling out what was clearly implied in the more succinct original.

As with last week’s collect, this translation makes it unchanged into the 1973 Goodliffe Neale Missal authorized for England and Wales.

In 1974, the Divine Office reveals dynamic equivalence in full swing when it gave us this translation of the collect:

Lord God, deepen our faith,
strengthen our hope,
enkindle our love:
and so that we may obtain what you promise
make us love what you command.

It is the first half of the prayer that has felt the hand of change more forcefully. The two adjectives describing God have been ditched in favour of “Lord”, which is not in the Latin, but of course is not wrong theologically. But why the change? “Grant us an increase” has been triply elaborated, divided for each virtue. And for the first time since the Layman’s Missal of 1961 (see above) the virtues are again described as “our”. The effect is very poetic, but the force and theological precision of the original prayer have been sacrificed. Also, is “enkindle” the right word here? Since one assumes we are not asking for the gift of love is not new to us, perhaps “re-kindle” would have been better in this context. Surprisingly it keeps the one-sentence structure, and thereafter fairly faithfully sticks to the Latin original except for its fudging of the issue of merit: “that we may merit” has been watered right down to “we may”. And for the first time, “charity” has been forsaken for the vaguer but warmer “love”.

In the 1975 Missal which we have been using hitherto, the prayer is neutered radically:

Almighty and ever-living God,
strengthen our faith, hope and love.
May we do with loving hearts
what you ask of us
and come to share the life you promise.

The adequate opening line is the best part of this translation; it is all downhill thereafter. “Grant us an increase of” has become “strengthen our”, so that the virtues again appear to be native to us, and in need only of some extra nutrition. Charity has succumbed to “love”. “Love” is near-universal in this Missal, obscuring the finer nuances of the several words it translates. The collect is here also split into two sentences. In the second sentence the damage is even greater. To love what God commands has been diluted to doing with “loving hearts” (a saccharine expression of feeling not found in the original) what God “asks” of us: no commandments now, just requests from God. Lastly we do not seek to merit what God promises any more, but only to “come to share the life” God promises. The addition of the gloss “life” rather restricts the broad horizon offered in the orignal prayer, and it is arguable that “life” is an adequate summation of all that God promises us. This translation has radically changed the collect and diluted its theology significantly.

The 1998 draft Sacramentary from ICEL offered this translation:

God of holiness,
increase within us your gifts of faith, hope, and love,
and enable us to cherish whatever you command,
that we may come to possess all that you promise.

Another exercise in dynamic translation. “God of holiness” is theologically fine, just not in the original, and the change seems to have no real purpose other than to be different. However the first of the two petitions or sub-prayers in this collect is translated very well, with a little licence, true, but at the service of sound theology; in this case making it explicit that the three theological virtues are God’s gifts not our own original possessions. The continued use of “love” for “charity” is unfortunate. The translators have resisted the temptation to form a new sentence for the second petition. This petition begins well, with “cherish” being a clever translation of amare, “to love”. Cherish has a sense of commitment about it which is apt here. Alas, the theology of merit has been dodged, and we ask more weakly only “to come to”. The post-conciliar tendency to downplay merit actually militates against its otherwise sunny view of human nature, which seems to have been sacrificed here to an ecumenically-driven desire not to offend protestants (“seems” – it is not certain, but why else remove the theology of merit?). That said, it is a much better prayer than the 1975 Missal’s.

To finish we have our new translation, which some may have heard this week, but not all:

Almighty ever-living God,
increase our faith, hope and charity,
and make us love what you command,
so that we may merit what you promise.

It is a much better prayer than that we have had until now, but it is not entirely perfect. The good work of 1998 in making explicit the divine origin of the three theological virtues has been undone by a reversion to “our”. As said before, it is not theologically wrong if read correctly, but it has needlessly weakened the happy ambiguity of the Latin original, which allowed the divine origin of these virtues, and our making them our own. Perhaps I am too harsh on this point. Thankfully, “charity” has returned, and welcome it is, though “eternal” still fails to appear. The second petition, no longer separated into a second sentence, faithfully reproduces the meaning and force of the original prayer, including its theology of merit.

Anyway, as we continually discover, almost by definition no translation is perfect, but some are clearly better than others. The tendency in the immediate post-conciliar period to soften the Church’s theology in its liturgical prayer, and to reflect a sunnier view of human nature and destiny, may have had a spiritual cost for the Church. If we do not explicitly pray for certain things we cannot expect to get to them. Closing our eyes to the tougher truths will not make them go away. As a Russian proverb puts it:

Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.

(NB – this collect was included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1662 for the 14th Sunday after Trinity [and probably in earlier Anglican service books]. In that translation our collect is rendered:

Almighty and everlasting God,
give unto us the increase of faith, hope and charity;
and that we may obtain that which thou dost promise,
make us to love that which thou dost command;…

It is a remarkably faithful translation [though merit is side-stepped], and beautiful to boot.)