Another Latin “standing” verb

Don’t miss this one!

I read in some blogspot out there some dopey comments about “standing” verbs in Latin in the context of the meeting of bishops at the Millennium in LA (which a quick search showed would cost me $701.41 for four nights there during the same time period as the conference meeting.  But I digress…

In another post today I looked at what circumstantes really means.  Building on the work I did a couple years back when writing on the Eucharistic Prayers, I think we can safely say, based on some serious sources, that circumstantes and circumadstantes was a Biblical and Patristic way of addressing in a generic way those who were present, without literal reference to where they might physically be located.  Since that circumadstantes bring the verb adsto into the mix, and since that verb figures in the commonly used 2nd Eucharistic Prayer, we have better look at it too.

I know this is like eliminating a dopey gnat with a hammer, but here we go.  The 2nd Eucharist Prayer we find the Memores igitur

Memores igitur mortis et resurrectionis eius, tibi, Domine, panem vitæ et calicem salutis offerimus, gratias agentes quia nos dignos habuisti astare coram te et tibi ministrare. Et supplices deprecamur ut Corporis et Sanguinis Christi  participes a Spiritu Sancto congregamur in unum.

The first sentence of today’s text is identical to the ancient text attributed to Hippolytus, originally in Greek as was explained at the beginning our look at this prayer.  You might not immediately recognize asto as adsto, which the precious Lewis & Short Dictionary says means, “to stand at or near a person or thing, to stand by”  The L&S will also inform you that asto has the synonym adsisto

If you have ever heard the phrase “to assist (adsisto) at Holy Mass” this is the concept: you are present and actively participating.

Also, during the Roman Canon, the priest describes the people as circumstantes, “standing around”.  This doesn’t mean they there around the altar with their hands in the their pockets (though I admit I have seen that happen). Rather, they are there morally and spiritually “around” the altar, participating each according to their vocation and capacity.  So, circumstantes is used to identify the baptized who are present.

Mindful, therefore, of His death and resurrection, we offer to You, O Lord, the bread of life and the chalice of salvation, giving thanks that You esteemed us as worthy to stand present in Your sight and minister unto You.  We also pray humbly that we participants of the Body and of the Blood of Christ may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.

Checking the source on liturgical Latin under the voice adsto (asto) we find: “se tenire auprès (servir)”.  In Souter I found the fascinating simple entry: asto = sum (Comm. 2.35.12)  This is a reference to a poet Commodianus.  Doing some footwork on this in m own sources, here is what I found.  You always have to double check, after all.  Here you go, patristibloggers!  The reference is to Commodianus’  Instructionum libri ii  (in CSEL 15).  This work appears to be short poems addressed to different types of people.  For example, he advises drunks (Ebriosis).  This is in the section addressed to “Blabbers” and their need to shut up in church (De fabulosis et silentio).  Note the reference to the Sursum corda of the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer:


Dum leue uidetur cumcumque neque uitatur
et quasi facile ruis dum ab utero illud,
fabulae subueniut, quo uenisti fundere preces
aut pulsare domum stomachi pro delicto diurno.
Bucina praeconum clamat lectore legente,
ut pateant aures, et tu magis obstruis illas;
luxaris labia, quibus ingemiscere debes.
Obde malis pectus uel <illa> in pectore solue.
Sed quia diuitias faciunt aut pecunias frontem,
inde perit omnis, quando sibi maxime fidunt.
Sic feminae quoque coeunt, qua se inicient balneo.
Et, de domo Dei ceu nundinas facitis, astent.
Terruit hinc Dominus: domus orationis adesto!
Sacerdos Domini cum ‘sursum corda’ praecedit,
in prece fienda ut fiant silentia vestra,
limpide respondis nec temperas quodque promittis.
Exortat ille altissimum pro plebe deuota,
ne pereat aliquis; at tu te in fabulis uertis,
tu subridis ibi aut detrahis proximae forma<m>;
indisciplinata loqueris, quasi sit Deus absens,
omnia qui fecit, nec <audiat> neque <te> cernat.

This is great!  It talks about the various types of blabbers in church during Mass!  We need a translation of this.  Do one of you want to tackle it??  Folks, this is straight from the early Church to us!

Also, that use of the verb adsto (above) indicates presence in the church, not just standing.

“But Father! But Father!” you might want to object.  “People STOOD at Mass!  We all KNOW that!  don’t try to tell us they didn’t!”  Speaking of blabbers, while talking about attitudes of prayer in church and getting control of your tongue…. St. Augustine speaks of different postures of prayer in his time, early 5th century North Africa.  Here is the bishop in the Enarrationes in psalmos 140, 18.  He has just finished speaking about getting control of your tongue.

You have now gained control of yours, you say?  I wonder if anyone is able to do so perfectly, in every respect.  Still, you think you have controlled your tongue.  All right, but how do you manage with your thoughts?  What do you do with the tumultuous rabble of rebellious desires?  No, I am not saying you yield to them bodily; I am quite prepared to believe you do not, and in fact I can see that you don’t.  But surely your thoughts sometimes throw you off course and bear you away, and often while you are kneeling in prayer?  You prostrate yourself or bow your head, you confess your sins and you worship God.  I can see your body lying there, but I wonder where the mind is flying.  I see the limbs lying still, but is the attention standing still?  Is it concentrated on him whom it is worshipping?  Is it not more often torn away by thoughts like a stormy sea and tossed hither and thither by the blasts?

If you were talking with me now and suddenly you turned away to talk to your slave instead, ignoring me, would I not think you had been rude to me?  And this even though you were not a suppliant begging a favor from me but someone conversing with me as an equal.  Yet this is how you behave to God every day!

Okay, I could do a lot more but I think I better stop and ponder all this.

Let it be said that adsto in the context of the Eucharistic Prayer cannot be rendered in a facile way as “standing” or circumstantes as “standing around”.  These words refer to the presence of participants in the midst of the sacred action of Holy Mass.

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  1. I have a fast version of the piece from Commodianus:

    Though it seems a thing of small importance and it can’t be avoided
    and it is a thing as easy as being born,
    blabberings enter in to the place where you came to pour out prayers
    and to disquiet the house on account of an irritating daily sin.
    The horn of the heralds sounds as the lector is reading,
    in order that your ears may prick up, and you can better shut them out;
    Your lips are running flapping loosely, with which you really ought to be uttering mournful sighs.
    Shut your heart to evil things or loose them from your heart.
    But because they involve riches or money as their facade,
    each one perishes thence, when they powerfully entrusted themselves to them.
    Just so also the ladies gaggle together when they spur each other on at the baths.
    And you would think the house of God were a street market when they are there.
    The Lord scared this type away: let this be a house of prayer!
    When the priest of the Lord goes ahead with the ‘Sursum corda
    in the prayer which must be offered, so as to cause silence to fall,
    you respond clearly and you do not water down what you profess.
    Let him exhort the Most High on behalf of the devout people
    lest anyone perish: but you are engaged in little chats,
    you sneer around or disparage the appearance of your neighbor;
    you blurt dopey things, as if God who made all things weren’t present,
    didn’t hear you, wasn’t seeing you.

  2. My understanding of “adsto” from all my classical reading squares with what you say here. It literally means “to stand present,” but carries with it the connotation of being attentive — fully there in mind as well as in body. So we see that it isn’t just an early Church definition; the word has always carried with it a deeper meaning.

  3. Jeff says:

    I am curious, Father, how presently used and relatively faithful translations of these words render them. For example, how do the Italian (which you have available) and the Polish (which you may not, but which is reputed to be very traditional) vernacularize these words in context?

    I am in no doubt that the physical act of standing is not what the passages are fundamentally “about.” After all, my Lasance hand missal renders “omnium circumstantium” as “all here present.” Surely no one back then was worried that they had to stymie a desire to gather around the altar on the hoof.

    Still, it seems to my ignorant brain that it MAY be the case that there’s a flavor of physicality that remains in the terms, though they no longer strictly convey that physicality.

    For example, the slang phrase “hanging around” does ,NOT any longer convey any physical hint of “hanging” in the sense of “being suspended from” something.

    But your term “bystanders” DOES seem to me still to retain a connotation of “being on one’s feet”, though it wouldn’t really matter if some or even ALL of the people referred to were actually upright or not.

    If I were translating “bystanders” into another language and if I had the choice of one term that conveyed the meaning accurately but ALSO included or loosely implied the physical aspect of “on their feet” and another term that didn’t, I would–all other things being equal–choose the first.

    I guess what I’m wondering is: If we weren’t worried that including the “on the feet” aspect would somehow play into the hands of those who want to abolish kneeling, would we want to get at this physical aspect in our translations here, or would we not? “Bystanders” is in some ways ideal, but as you indicate, it somehow connotes a lack of involvement or attentiveness, a bit like “onlookers”…

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