This Lent brings a new, old Roman tradition for Mass: the Oratio super populum

Now that the new, corrected translation is in force in most places, you will notice with the beginning of Lent something new that is really something old: the Oratio super populum… the Prayer over the people at the end of Mass.

Fathers: You might want to talk you your flocks about this.

The “Prayer over the people” was reintroduced in the Latin edition of the 2002 Missale Romanum. Now that we have a new translation, it is part of the Novus Ordo Mass in English as well.

This is an important custom for Lent.

The origin of the Oratio super populum is quite complex and hard to pin down. The use of this prayer is ancient, found in both the Eastern liturgies of Syria and Egypt and in the West.  It became part of the Roman liturgy very early on.

Turning to Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann’s monumental two volume The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development we find a history of this prayer at the beginning of the section concerning the close of the Mass (II, pp. 427ff). Something Jungmann emphasizes that caught my attention is the fact that we are at a “frontier” moment, the threshold of the sacred precinct of the church and the world.

When properly formed we want the influence of our intimate contact with the divine to carry over into the outside world.

Unlike the Postcommunio, the object of the prayer is not “us”. Instead, the priest prayers for and over the people, not generally including himself as he does in the prayer after Communion.

By the time of Pope Gregory the Great (+604) this Prayer over the people was only in the Lenten season, probably because this is perceived to be a time of greater spiritual combat requiring more blessings. Indeed it was extremely important for those who were not receiving Holy Communion, as was the case of those doing public penance before the Church, the ordo poenitentium.

How important was this prayer to the Romans?

In 545, when Pope Vigilius (537-55) was conducting the Station Mass at St. Cecilia in Trastevere, troops of the pro-Monophysite Byzantine Emperor Justinian arrived after Communion to take the Pope into custody and conduct him to Constantinople. The people followed them to the ship and demanded “ut orationem ab eo acciperent… the they should receive the blessing prayer from him”, by which was meant the Prayer over the people. The Pope recited it, the people said “Amen” and off went Vigilius who would return to Rome only after his death.

With the new translation, more people will begin to experience this old new Roman practice.

Lent is a time of spiritual combat. The Prayer over the people is meant to strengthen you on the threshold between the sacred precinct of the church and the world which you are charged both to shape and to endure.

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11 Responses to This Lent brings a new, old Roman tradition for Mass: the Oratio super populum

  1. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Pope Vigilius – I’d never heard that story and I just about cried hearing it. What a beautiful witness by both him and his blessed people.

    Thank you again, Father, for providing such amazing insights into our history. As I always tell my CCD kids, EVERYTHING we Catholics say, do or pray is for a reason. From our liturgical colors to how we use our hands / fingers when making the Sign of the Cross. EVERYTHING is so full of history and meaning. I cannot wait to share this with them this week.

    Class is on Tuesday which means it’ll be just in time for the new practice! Something to look out for on Sunday! Yay!

    You are such an immense blessing, Father Z. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Be blessed a million times. <3

  2. shin says:

    Fr. Jungmann eh? The last book on your recent reading list has some “interesting” things to say about his work.. to say the very least!

  3. Fr. Lovell says:

    Father,

    How exactly is this done in the Novus Ordo? Does it replace the final blessing? Is there the dismissal afterwards? The rubrics are scant and the IGMR does not mention it (or if it does I cannot find). Help would be much appreciated.

    God Bless,
    Fr. John Lovell

  4. Fr. Lovell: I believe you simply say the prayer immediately after the Post Communion. Double up, as it were, saying the Oratio super populum with its conclusion. The new, corrected translation of the rubric on Ash Wednesday – immediately before the Prayer over the people – says:

    For the dismissal, the Priest stands facing the people and, extending his hands over them, says this prayer:

    Then give the blessing in the normal way.

    In the Extraordinary Form, immediately after the Post Communion the priest says “Humiliate capita vestra Deo… Bow your heads to God”. He then says the prayer with its conclusion. Then he continues as is normal.

  5. Fr. Lovell says:

    Thank You!

  6. It’s interesting to note that for the weekdays of Lent, the Roman Missal says that the Prayer over the People is “for optional use”. However, for the Sundays of the season, this is not said, implying that it’s mandatory on Sundays. I wonder how many priests have noticed this. This is along the lines of the new directive in the Missal for Nuptial Masses, that the Gloria in excelsis is said…

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  8. Speravi says:

    I am still confused on this. It says “for the dismissal.” But isn’t the dismissal the “Ite missa est?” Wouldn’t this suggest that the prayer would follow the final blessing (acc. to the Novus Ordo)? If that were the case, would Ite Missa est be omitted?

    Or could it follow the pattern of solemn blessings? Dominus vobiscum, prayer, then blessing and dismissal???

  9. Pius says:

    The GIRM (No. 185) says: “If a Prayer over the People or a formula of Solemn Blessing is used, the Deacon says, Bow down for the blessing. After the Priest’s blessing, the Deacon, with hands joined and facing the people, dismisses the people, saying, Ite, missa est (Go forth, the Mass is ended).”

    In addition, the section on Blessings at the End of Mass(Section II, Other Blessings) indicates that the priest always adds the final blessing. Note that this final blessing is different than the usual blessing at the end of Mass.

    Therefore, it would seem that it should be done this way: After the final prayer the Deacon (or, in his absence, the priest) says “Bow Down for the Blessing”. The Prayer of the People is said by the priest with hands extended. Following this, the blessing is given, followed by the dismissal (given by the deacon or, in his absence, the priest).

    The rubrics do not seem to indicate that the “Dominus Vobiscum” is used before the Prayer over the People, so that seems to be omitted.

  10. Pius says:

    On reflection, the rubrics seem to indicate in a number of places that the Prayer of the People is an expansion of the Blessing and Dismissal. These would suggest that the Dominus Vobiscum is said. So the correct form seems to be:

    - Prayer after Communion
    - “The Lord be with you” by the priest
    - “Bow down for the blessing” by the deacon (or priest)
    - The priest says the Prayer over the People, extending his hands over the people
    - The priest then gives the blessing (different from the usual Roman blessing)
    - The deacon (or priest) gives the dismissal.

    In other words, just like the Solemn Blessing after Mass.

    Interesting, the blessing given in this way is identical to the usual blessing found at the end of Mass in the Dominican Rite.

  11. Speravi says:

    Thank you, Pius. I did end up stumbling onto GIRM 185 and have been doing it in the manner you suggest, except for the different formula of blessing, which I will now use. This pretty much wraps up the question with moral certitude for me. However, I did notice that the previous GIRM and previous editions of the Missal had the non-Lenten “oratio super populum.” So I have wondered if there might be a difference in how these new ones are done. However, against that, is the very fact that there are almost no new instructions with the Lenten orations. Therefore, it seems to me most reasonable to conclude that they added no new instructions because we simply follow the ones given in GIRM 185.