What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fourth Sunday of Advent
This Sunday is both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and also Christmas Eve. Thus, in the morning we can have the Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent and in the late afternoon or evening the Vigil Mass of Christmas, and the next day the three Masses of Christmas. It will be a busy few days in parishes around the world.
Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.
I love the sound of that last phrase per passionem eius et crucem ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. It is beautifully alliterative and has a snappy cadence, particularly followed by the rhythmically gear changing conclusion, Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum…
This is so familiar to everyone, that I am just going to reproduce here the good old-fashioned prayer that many (why not all?) Catholics know and use for daily recitation of the Angelus. It is also the prayer said with the antiphon of Our Lady, Alma Redemptoris Mater, sung after Compline during Advent.
The history of the development of the Angelus is very hard to pin down. It was a very old practice (at least by the fourteenth century) to say three Hail, Mary’s in the evening or at sundown when the bell rang. This was granted an indulgence by Pope John XXII in 1318 and 1327. The development of saying these prayers at morning and midday came later and not merely in imitation of the evening usage. There is still an indulgence for the use of this prayer under the proper conditions.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord.
In our version of the prayer above, I would note that Angelo nuntiante is an ablative absolute. These can be hard to render in English, and we normally need some sort of paraphrase, as we find above.
Here I am including the nice old “Thees and Thous” which are the bane of some liturgists. This is how I learned the prayer at mealtimes in the rectory of my home parish. At noon and six, meal time, first the hour bell would toll in the great tower and then the Angelus would ring, finishing in a glorious peal of all four marvelous bells. Before blessing the food, the pastor would lead us all in the Angelus… complete with “Thees and Thous”.
A note about “thou”. This is an archaic form of the pronoun for second person singular. It is also the familiar form, used by a superior to an underling, or between equals or people who are intimate. The “you” form, from “ye” is the more formal. “Ye” is also the plural second person and the abbreviation for the country Yemen. Sometimes people today think wrongly that “thou” is more formal. It is not. It is technically a familiar way to address God, though in stylized liturgical language it strikes me that it has taken on the trappings of solemnity and formality. Either way, unless you are a Quaker (and they use it wrong, by the way) you aren’t saying “thou” to often around home or at the grocery store. Furthermore, ICEL gave us “Alternative Prayers” that have nothing to do with the Latin collects. Our Latin Missals do not have alternative opening prayers. Though we are using in our collect prayer the greatest respect, the three uses of a form of “thou” in this prayer provoke me to quote Shakespeare’s Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night: “if thou thou’st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss.” (“Twelfth Night” is, of course, an old name for the feast of Epiphany, relevant to the Christmas season for which we are preparing.) I think it would not be a mistake to reintroduce, perhaps as an option, a second version of the prayers translated into English for Mass with the “Thees and Thous”. I don’t think we will be mistaken for Quakers.
fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection
for he lives and reigns…
Not bad, though I prefer “Passion and Cross” to “suffering and death”. The ICEL prayer, in my opinion, eliminates the poetry. Let us hope that the next round of translations will give more than a nod to the sonorous rhythms and dignified beauty of the Latin prayers.
Since this Sunday is so close to the great feast of Our Lord’s birth, please accept my cordial greetings and prayerful best wishes for you and yours together with a very Merry Christmas.