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.