QUAERITUR: Roman Canon “Memento” of the living

In another thread Fr. Fox asked:

I know you are busy, so I understand you may not have time to deal with this; but I’d love to hear your take on one section of the Roman Canon as it appears in the new translation:

"For them and all who are dear to them we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and fulfilling their vows to you, the eternal God, living and true."

I’d be delighted to hear any comments you have, if you have time.

Here is how I examined and translated it a few years back when in my WDTPRS columns I worked through the Eucharistic Prayers.  I wrote this back in 2004, I think (my new emphases).  Keep in mind the usual caveats, namely, I was not trying to write something smooth and liturgically appropriate, but rather something a version which stuck closely to the text while cracking the bone of the words and looking at the marrow:

This week’s section is called the “Memento of the Living” in which the priest presents living persons in a particular way to God’s special care.  Later in the Canon there is a similar moment for the dead.  This is very ancient.  We have a letter of Pope Innocent I (402-417) in which he expresses a desire that names of those offering the gifts and sacrificial offerings be included.   What he writes is too vague for us to understand how this was done, though reasonably we can assume names were read aloud.  Perhaps while the bishop/priest was silent another cleric announced their names. 

In Frankish lands Charlemagne commanded that the names should be read publicly during the canon.  Later, the canon was recited silently and so the public reading of names dropped away.  Perhaps the names of the people were whispered into the ear of the celebrant.  Sometimes lists of names were laid on the altar.  Even today such a custom can be seen regarding prayer for the dead during November when offering envelopes are placed on or near the altar for the whole month.  

With the Missal promulgated by Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent the priest in silence could pray for a moment for those whom he might choose to remember, especially for those who offered the stipend for the Mass and their intentions. 

In the 2002MR the twofold inclusion of “N.” (abbreviation for nomen, “name”) and the more audible recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer suggests that priest may speak the names aloud if he so desires. 

Memento, Domine” – The Memento of the Living

Memento, Domine, famulorum, famularumque tuarum N. et N. et omnium circumstantium, quorum tibi fides cognita est, et nota devotio, pro quibus tibi offerimus: vel qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudis pro se suisque omnibus: pro redemptione animarum suarum, pro spe salutis, et incolumitatis suae: tibique reddunt vota sua aeterno Deo, vivo et vero.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Remember, Lord, your people, especially those for whom we now pray, N. et N.  Remember all of us gathered here before you. You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. We offer you this sacrifice of praise for ourselves and those who are dear to us. We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption.

In English we know the noun “memento” is “keepsake” which reminds of the past.   In Latin this is a verb form.  The comprehensive Lewis & Short Dictionary says that this form memento, an imperative form of the verb memini (an irregular verb having forms in the perfect tense), means “to remember, recollect, to think of, be mindful of a thing; not to have forgotten a person or thing, to bear in mind.”   

There is a nice Roman tradition associated with this word.  During my first experience of living in Rome, I said Mass nearly every morning at St. Peter’s Basilica.   I learned there, from many older clerics and canons of the basilica that when one encounters a priest who is about to say Mass (whether you personally are a layman or a cleric) it is customary to say to him “Memento!”, which is a request that the priest be mindful of you and remember you also as he celebrates the Sacrifice of the Mass.   The gentleman priest at that point ought to respond something like “Memor ero… I will be mindful” or “Libenter… willingly” or “Libentissime…. Most willingly”.   This is a genteel custom that could be happily reintroduced

Every Mass can be suitably offered for the living and the dead.   Customs like this also help to reinforce in the priest the conviction that what he does really has an effect in the world, consecrating the Eucharist and completing the Sacrifice with the consumption of the species really accomplishes something.   Far and wide fewer people are giving priests and parishes stipends for Mass intentions for the living and the dead.  Often there is often only one priest with one Mass at each parish.  Also, often the efficacious dimension of Mass, transcending distances and even the threshold of death, has been deemphasized in favor of a horizontal affirmation of the assembly gathered in that moment.  I frequently meet people who long to have Masses said for their loved ones, living and dead, and cannot find priests willing or available to do so.   The diminishing number of priests is of grave concern in yet another way, it seems.  But I digress….

Famulus, i and feminine famula appear with frequency in Mass prayers.  Etymologically famulus seems to be from Oscan (an ancient cousin of Latin) faama meaning “house”.  A famulus is someone who belongs to the house or household as a servants, slave or free.  In the ancient world, the famuli were members of the household, the larger family.   Whole households, family and servants, would convert and become Christians together. 

Circumstantium is an active participle of circumsto, which means “to stand around in a circle, to take a station round; and, with the accusative, to stand around a person or thing, to surround, encircle, encompass.”  The people who are circumstantes are those who are “standing around”, not in a sense of being idle, but of location.  In more ancient manuscripts this was circum adstantes.  Standing for the whole Canon was the practice for the first thousand years or so.   As our understanding of the Real Presence grew and deepened, the practice of kneeling developedThis is not some historical encrustation that needed to be scraped off of the Mass in a desire to return to the “pristine” way of liturgy.   Circum means “around” but that does not mean that in the ancient Church people literally stoop in a circle about the altar.  In Roman basilicas the altar was between the presbytery, the large semicircular part of the apse where the clerics, especially priest(s) were properly situated, and the nave, the proper place of the faithful.  Often there is found a semi-circular area in front of altars which was the entrance to the crypt below and the remains of martyrs were found.  The most famous of these is the “Confession” of St. Peter’s Basilica.  If there were transepts, the people were then on three sides of the altar, but in no way standing around the altar in any close or proximate way. 

Briefly, devotio can be seen as "a devotion to duty". With true “devotion” we keep the commandments of God and the duties of our state before all else.  If we are truly devoted (in the sense of active virtue) to fulfilling the duties of our state as it truly is here and now, then God will give us every actual grace we need to fulfill our vocation.  We are, in effect, fulfilling our proper role in His great plan and thus God is sure to help us.  Incolumitas signifies, “good condition, soundness, safety” which can refer to both bodily and spiritual wellness.   Nosco, “gives us nota while cognosco, “thoroughly acquainted with; acknowledge; etc.” provides cognita estVotum is from voveo.   It means first of all “a solemn promise made to some deity, a vow” and then also “thing solemnly promised, that which is vowed or devoted”.  Eventually this means a “vow”, especially a marriage vow.   Vel is a complicated little particle that usually means something like “or, else” but can function as an intensifier like “or even, if you will, or indeed, or … itself, even, assuredly, certainly.”

Be mindful, O Lord, of Your household servants and handmaids N. and N., and of all the bystanders here whose faith and recognized vocational devotion is completely known to You, for whom we are making this sacrificial offering to You: and who assuredly also are offering to You this Sacrifice of praise for themselves and for all of their own loved ones: on behalf of the redemption of their own souls, for the hope of their own salvation and well-being: they also offer back their own solemnly promised sacrificial offerings to You Eternal God, Living and True. 

I suppose I should be saying something more literal and politically acceptable like “Your male and female servants”.  Sometimes “colleagues” might do given the exaltation of the community nearly to God’s own level in some places.  Suus is a possessive pronoun which refers back to the subject of the sentence.   When used in the form of a substantive, sui , suorum, m., we have “his, their (etc.) friends, soldiers, fellow-beings, equals, adherents, followers, partisans, posterity, slaves, family, etc., of persons in any near connection with the antecedent.”  This is why I choose “all of their own loved ones” for suisque omnibus wherein again we have the language of a large household in an ancient sense. 

There you go.

I haven’t had the chance yet to examine closely what the new Ordinary says.   Maybe next year, if the WDPTRS project continues.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Alex S. says:

    I wonder if this has been suggested or thought of, but your WDTPRS segments ought to be collected, organized, and published as a book, Father. They’re excellent, and to see them in order (of the Mass, of the liturgical year for the collects) – that would be even better!

  2. TNCath says:

    I certainly hope it does continue, Father. Beyond the scope of accurate translations of prayers of the liturgy, your blog provides important translations and analyses of liturgical documents, papal speeches and statements, and episcopal appointments and directives , to say nothing of “frank commentary on Catholic issues,” which is so important in this age of “spin” and “designated spokespersons.” In this blog, what you see is what you get: a refreshingly honest presentation of “thinking with the Church.” Thanks again for all you do, and I hope WDTPRS continues in some capacity as your schedule permits.

  3. Mitch says:

    Why don’t you work with the translation “experts”.. Seems they could use your help and maybe it is your place at this moment in time to shine Father…Have you ever been mentioned for something akin to that???

  4. David says:

    Father, I hope you do get a chance to comment on the new translation of this prayer — it’s a little perplexing.

  5. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I think part of the issue is getting the translation of “vel” correct. Vel can mean “or”, but it frequently means something like “or rather, or even, or indeed”. I usually find that I need to translate vel with more than one word. I suspect that “vel qui…” should be translated something like, “or, if you prefer, they offer this sacrifice of praise to you for themselves and all those dear to them.” Vel gives another option, another way of looking at something, without necessarily excluding the first option. Fr. Z. translated it as “and…assuredly”, which deftly escaped the simplistic “or” trap into which ICEL fell.

  6. Larry says:

    I wonder if the original question on this is related to “who themselves offer…” which is clearly the actual meaning. It seems to me that the questioner may have had a problem with the notion of others besides the priest be seen as offering The Sacrifice. This is clearly a fact that needs catechisis so that the generation(s) that have been subjugated to the less than adequate translation can understand what they are supposed to be doing at Mass.

  7. Baron Korf says:

    I think sticking with “household servants and handmaids works well”. But then again, I never did understand political correctness.

  8. Larry says:

    The “new” translation is almost word for word the translation used in the St. Joseph Daily Missal published in the 50’s and 60’s. At least in this part that is the particular case. So I don’t think “political correctness” is really a part of this. The members of the currrent ICEL may be ladies and gentlemen but they are not trapped in the culture of poitical correctness.

  9. Larry: Or… another way of looking at it, is that the new ICEL version and the old St. Joseph Missal versions both … stick to the Latin?

  10. David says:

    The part I find perplexing about the new ICEL translation is how it translates the words “suisque omnibus” twice:

    For them and all who are dear to them
    we offer you this sacrifice of praise
    or they offer it for themselves
    and all who are dear to them,

    which seems rather awkward. I don’t know about the old St. Joseph Missal, but Father’s translation doesn’t do this and seems more fluent for it.

  11. Father Z:

    You da man!

    I was hoping for a couple of lines of commentary, and wow!

    The new wording does strike me as awkward; on another thread, someone said it can work better than it seems, and that’s generally true: you can fix an awkward phrasing with very intentional pauses and emphases; but I think it’s better to avoid that in the first place.

    Just for kicks, working from your literal translation, I revised the new, official one, as follows–the edits are indicated with italics:

    “Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you, for whom we offer you this sacrifice of praise; and, assuredly, they offer it for themselves and for all who are dear to them,
    for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and fulfilling their vows to you, the eternal God, living and true.”

    You know, Father, they could save a lot of time and trouble if just you and I handled this…

    Seriously…I readily understand no one is going to want to reopen any of this; is there much chance of something like this being changed even by Rome, or would they just figure, leave well enough alone?

    Just to be crystal-clear: I’m happy with the new translation.

  12. Fr. Fox: I think this pretty much settled.

    Thanks, btw, for “da man”.

  13. Reginald Pole says:

    Compare the new wording with the translation from the Book of Divine Worship for the Anglican Usage.

    Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids [N. and N.]
    and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto
    thee and their steadfastness manifest, on whose behalf we offer
    unto thee, or who themselves offer unto thee, this sacrifice of
    praise; for themselves, and for all who are theirs; for the
    redemption of their souls, for the hope of their salvation and
    safety; and who offer their prayers unto thee, the eternal God,
    the living and the true.

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