From a reader:
Can you explain the construction, "Benedicite Deus"? First, is it actually the equivalent for "God bless," as several websites suggest? If so, how does the grammar work there — is "benedicite" some sort of majestic plural, with "Deus" in the nominative?
As you know, near the end of Prime is also found "V./ Benedicite. R./ Deus," and there is a similar construction in the EF Mass, I think when incense is used, when a Priest is addressed, "Benedicite, reverende Pater."
This has been bugging me, and now several friends, for a while now.
Interesting. I haven’t thought about this.
Benedicite is a 2nd person plural imperative. And Deus is obviously a singular form. Pater Reverende is also a singular.
Benedicite is also common in the liturgy in the recitation of the Canticle in Morning Prayer, "Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, Domino; laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula." But the plural form is clear in that context.
In Prime I am not entirely sure that this is Benedicite, Deus. Notice the comma. I think this is more along the lines of two separate concepts, Benedicite, being a complete sentence, "Let you all speak [i.e. "ask for"] a blessing!" and the response everyone says is "God!", in other words, "May God bless us!" And then in Prime there is a blessing spoken by the one who says Benedicite.
In the case of the blessing of incense, I suppose the same thing is going on. The Benedicite is mainly spoken to everyone present, and the priest blesses. It could therefore be the echo of courtly forms, the courtesy and greater formality of earlier epochs.
I found that Jungmann has a note on Benedicite. In The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. I, p. 309, n. 75 we find a discussion of a custom of saying "Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini" as the priest leaves the sacristy.
"In some churches the servers offer the priest the holy water for a blessing as he pronounces these words. In some places (e.g., in Tyrol) the servers use the formula for asking a blessing: Benedicite! and receive the answer: Deus [sc. benedicat]."
Anyway… there’s my shot at it.