The Lenten “Prayer over the People” during Holy Mass: a beautiful custom revived

A wonder Lenten tradition is upon us, to remind us of how important Lent is.  Entering Lent, we enter a mystery, a sacramentum.  We need special graces to carry out our Lenten discipline.

The Latin 2002 Missale Romanum restored the ancient custom of the Oratio super populum at the end of Mass.  It had been heinously stripped out of the Novus Ordo by the liturgical engineers through the implementation of BugniniCare.  In the Novus Ordor now, or Ordinary Form, you hear these prayers each day during Lent.  In the older form of the Roman Rite they occur every day of the week but Sunday.

What’s up with this prayer?

The priest says this prayer after the Post communio.  It is introduced by the phrase, “Humiliate capita vestra Deo…  Humbly bow your heads to God.”

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The origin of the Oratio super populum is complex and hard to pin down.  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. 427 ff).  Jungmann emphasizes that, at Mass ends, 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.

By the time of Pope Gregory the Great (+604) the Oratio super populum was only used in the Lenten season, probably because Lent is a time of greater spiritual combat requiring more blessings.

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 (+555) 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 exile in Constantinople.  The people followed them to the ship and demanded “ut orationem ab eo acciperent…that they should receive the blessing prayer from him”.  The Pope recited it, the people said “Amen” and off went Vigilius who returned to Rome only after his death.

Let’s see the Oratio super populum for Thursday after Ash Wednesday in the Ordinary Form, the 2003 Missale Romanum.

Oratio super populum (2002MR):

Qui populo tuo, omnipotens Deus,
notas fecisti vias vitae aeternae,
per eas ad te, lumen indeficiens,
nos facias, quaesumus, pervenire

The phrase lumen indeficiens is what catches your eye and ear right way.  Light unfailing!  This is from Scripture, Ecclesiasticus 24:6: ego in caelis feci ut oriretur lumen indeficiens et sicut nebula texi omnem terram.  Latin Fathers such as Cyprian of Carthage, Maximus of Turin, and Augustine of Hippo worked with this phrase. It also winds up in old prayers, for example in the Liber sacramentorum Augustodunensis and Gellonensis.  In the later it is part of a blessing for a lamp, candle or lantern, right after a fascinating blessing for soap!  But I digress…


Almighty God, who made the paths
of eternal life known to Your people,
grant us, we implore, to come by them
to You, the unfailing light


Almighty God,
who have made known to your people
the ways of eternal life,
lead them by that path, we pray,
to you, the unfading light

The image we get from this prayer is that God is the light which illuminates our way through the obstacle strewn paths of this world.  He lights our way lest we lose our footing and fall into the abyss where there is no light at all.

Through out the history of salvation, God has shown man the way to come to him.  We knew many things by interior lights before the fall.  After the Fall, God gave us commandments and symbolic actions which foreshadowed the clearer realities that would come in their due times.  In the fullness of time the One who is Light from Light came into the this world to dispel the darkness we made.

He is not only Light from Light, eternally, but, in time, He is the Way.

At the end of Mass you are sent back out into the daylight to continue to carry out your vocation.

You need the light that God offers you in the teachings of the Church to guide your footsteps.

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Juventutem Hungary … Introibo Foundation

Apart from the fact that they use a “J”, I am all for the Juventutem movement for young people who want the Traditional Roman Rite.

I received this from the head of the Hungarian tribe of the same:

Dear Father Z.,
I am happy to announce that the members of Juventutem Hungary have launched a foundation called Introibo Foundation. We are still working on the english version of our website, nevertheless all information will be available shortly here:
In your charity, could you please help us in finding donors for our cause?
Same as in your practise, a mass for benefactors will be said every month.
Thank you very much for your help!
In Christ,
Bertalan Kiss
Juventutem Hungary

So… that’s the news.  I wish them well.  I ran into them last October during the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage.

On another note, folks, if you have something going on, it helps to have it completed before I post about it!  Otherwise, I mention it and it scrolls off the main page.  If you get my drift.

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11 February 2013: Benedict XVI announced abdication

benedict xvi resignation abdicationOn this dark day in 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was to resign his office at Bishop of Rome.  He would step down on 28 February.

He announced to a hastily assembled consistory of Cardinals and others:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


On this same day, 11 February, lightning struck St. Peter’s Basilica.

The photo from Agence France-Presse:

I’ll bet you remember where you were when you heard about this astonishing announcement.

I remember my reaction: “You gave up WHAT for Lent?”  Then I had Eggs Benedict for breakfast.

Seriously, I was pretty much floored.



Click HERE.

In the meantime, remember…

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Your Ash Wednesday Sermon Notes

Was there a good point made in the sermon you heard at Holy Mass for Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday was not a Holy Day of Obligation, as all Sundays are.

For my part, I spoke briefly about the need for purification and cleansing during this sacred season, which the ancients referred to as a sacramentum. We enter into mystery during Lent. We prepare to go into the tomb with the Lord. We have to be ready to suffer and embrace the Cross when we say “No!” to our appetites and our passions, whether disordered or not. In the self-denial we suffer. We have to be aware of this fact and be disciplined about it. First we fast, then we feast. The mystery of Lent brings us to experience, in a season, the pattern of our lives. Passion… resurrection.

As a side note, last night we had a Sung Mass in the older, traditional form of the Roman Rite. This was at a church in a parish of three merged churches. It was the only evening Ash Wednesday Mass for the parish. Thus, some of the people from – let’s just say the rather more modernist nearby town – had a taste of “something old and something new”. Furthermore, the CCD class from the rather more modernist parish was there. It’ll be interesting to have some feedback about their experience.

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LENTCAzT 02: Thursday after Ash Wednesday


It is Thursday after Ash Wednesday.

We are creeping into Lent through the “narthex” of these first few days.

With this audio offering, I am beginning a series of daily 5 minute podcasts for Lent.  They are intended to give you a small boost every day, a little encouragement in your own use of this holy season.

I am providing these again this year especially in gratitude to benefactors who help me and this blog.

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LENTCAzT 01: Ash Wednesday


It is Ash Wednesday.  For those bound by the law, it is a day of fasting and abstinence.

With this audio offering, I am beginning a series of daily 5 minute podcasts for Lent.  They are intended to give you a small boost every day, a little encouragement in your own use of this holy season.

I am providing these again this year especially in gratitude to benefactors who help me and this blog.

REMINDER: This evening at 6:30 PM CST, Ash Wednesday, I will say Mass for the intention of my benefactors, that is, people who have donated through the button on the sidebar or who have subscribed each month, and those who have sent items through my wishlists.

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ASK FATHER: Young children receiving ashes on #AshWednesday

This comes up each year in my ASK FATHER email, so I will repost an oldie.

ashesFrom a reader:

I have a three year old girl. She loves the material aspects of Catholicism (holy cards, holy water, lighting candles, relics etc) and has a pretty good understanding of them for her age.

Can she receive ashes on Ash Wednesday? She obviously hasn’t any sin to repent of in the literal sense of the word, but we do encourage her to say sorry to Jesus every night for the littlw ways she might have been bold that day. Receiving ashes could be a useful part of the learning process for her.

Are there any official rules around the age when one can have ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday?

There aren’t any age rules for this.  As your child’s parent you get to make your own call about that.  If the priest is amenable, you can do this.

I would advise, however, that if the ashes are put on a bit thick on the forehead that you take care that she not get any in her eyes.

If she is old enough to say “sorry” to Jesus before bed, she is old enough to start learning with steps about penance and self-denial too, perhaps.  Of course, at that age she isn’t bound to fast or abstain, etc.

Perhaps parents can chime in with their comments about this, for they have been through these decisions.

Speaking for myself, I have some very early memories.  I wonder what the long-term effect of the reception of ashes might be deep down in her Catholic identity as she grows up amid the deepening challenges of this world.

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POLL: #AshWednesday Ashes and You

Some people are under the impression that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation.

It is not.

Lent is an important season in the yearly cycle of a Catholic Christian’s life.  The inclination toward a feeling of obligation is laudable. The desire to begin the spiritual war of Lent by marking it with ashes is good.

Nevertheless, people are not obliged to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday nor to receive ashes.

You are not a “bad Catholic” if you don’t go to Mass on Ash Wednesday.

As a matter of fact, were someone to go and receive ashes because they want to be seen, not in the sense of bearing witness, but in the sense of “See how pious I am”… well…

His dictis, let’s move to our poll question.

Give us your best answer and your comments.

On Ash Wednesday 2016...

View Results

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MADISON, WI – #AshWednesday – TLM 6:30 PM

There will be a Missa Cantata in the traditional Form of the Roman Rite this evening at 6:30PM at St. Mary’s, Pine Bluff.  Fr. Z is the celebrant.


The Ordinary will be Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII. The proper will be rendered in Gregorian chant. The following polyphonic settings the liturgical texts in lieu of the chant:
• Distribution of Ashes:
o Immutemur habitu: SATB setting by José Mauricio Nunes Garcia
o Inter vestibulum: SATB setting by G.A. Perti
• Communion:
o Qui meditabitur: SATB setting by Heinrich Isaac
o [Motet if needed] O bone Iesu: SATB setting by M.A. Ingegneri
• After the Last Gospel:
o Ave Regina Caelorum: SATB setting by Francesco Soriano

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ASK FATHER: Lent, #AshWednesday and the ol’ aligator on Friday question!

I have posted on this in the past, but repetita iuvant as we say in Latin.


Someone sent me a copy of a letter written by the Archbishop of New Orleans to a member of his flock about eating alligator during Lent.  The answer is “yes”.  You may eat alligator during Lent.

This is old news to readers of this blog, of course.  Last year I posted this, which ought to have settled the whole thing:

QUAERITUR: Abstinentia de carne lacertina aut crocodrillina

Ex lectoris e-pistulis extractum:

Reverendo patro Ioanni Zuhlsdorf discipulus C. salutem et commemorationem in precibus suis. Gratias meas, sivis, ob opum tuam tibi agere volo. [Acceptae.] Mihi, catholico iuveni et discipulo in collegio liberalum artis et liberalum (aut impudicarum) mentum, scripturae tuae magnam auxilium fuerunt. Mox Ludovicianam meabo. Quaeritur: Sineturne corpus alligatoris feria VI in Quadregesima sine violando abstinentiam Quadragesimae edere?

Corrigendis ignotis

Ossificatus manualista impoenitens respondeo de paginis Compendii Theologiae Moralis (Sabetti-Barrett) n. 331, :


Nomine carnis veniunt omnia animalia in terra viventia ac respirantia, ut communiter admittunt theologi ex regula tradita a S. Thoma vel, ut S. Alphonsus innuit, n. 1011, animalia quae sanguinem habent calidum; vel illud quod consuetudo regionis ut carnem habet; vel, si nec consuetudo praesto sit, dubium solvi potest considerando mentem Ecclesiae in sanciendo delectu ciborum, ut comprimendae ac minuendae carnis concupiscentiae per salutarem abstinetiam consuleret; examinetur, an huiusmodi animal simile sit aut dissimile iis quorum esus interdictus est et an illius carnes humano corpori validius nutriendo et roborando idoneae dignoscantur; et si ita appareat, ista caro inter vetitas est ponenda. Benedict XIV., De syn. dioec., lib.11, c. 5, n. 12. Haec quatuor multum deservient omni dubitationi solvendae.

Ergo, crocodrilli et lacertae inter reptilia sunt et amphibia.

Edi ergo possunt feriis sextis et tempore Quadragesimae

Omnibus tamen diebus ab eis edimur!

So, there you have it.

You can eat alligator and crocodile on Fridays of Lent.


Speaking of fasting and abstinence, during Lent I get all sorts of questions about what can be eaten and how much of the what. Old manuals of moral theology help me out with most of the things people throw at me.

By the way, the justification for the eating of alligator was that they are cold-blooded.  I think Benedict XIV was unaware of the existence of the endothermic (warm-blooded) Moonfish.  But I digress…

Yes, you may fry your fish and chips in liquefied beef fat. We can also eat gelatin from meat but not peptonized beef.  (I had to look that up.) I believe, according to local custom, in some parts of South America capybara is allowed.

NB: Muskrat can be eaten on Fridays in some parts of Michigan. I’m told it tastes of dirty dishrag and has the consistency of very old, thick asparagus.

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