QUAERITUR: A Prime example…. V. Benedicite. R. Deus.

From a reader:

Can you explain the construction, "Benedicite Deus"?  First, is it actually the equivalent for "God bless," as several websites suggest?  If so, how does the grammar work there — is "benedicite" some sort of majestic plural, with "Deus" in the nominative? 

As you know, near the end of Prime is also found "V./ BenediciteR./ Deus," and there is a similar construction in the EF Mass, I think when incense is used, when a Priest is addressed, "Benedicite, reverende Pater." 

This has been bugging me, and now several friends, for a while now.

Interesting.  I haven’t thought about this.

Benedicite is a 2nd person plural imperative.  And Deus is obviously a singular form.  Pater Reverende is also a singular.

Benedicite is also common in the liturgy in the recitation of the Canticle in Morning Prayer, "Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, Domino; laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula."  But the plural form is clear in that context.

In Prime I am not entirely sure that this is Benedicite, Deus. Notice the comma.  I think this is more along the lines of two separate concepts, Benedicite, being a complete sentence, "Let you all speak [i.e. "ask for"] a blessing!" and the response everyone says is "God!", in other words, "May God bless us!"  And then in Prime there is a blessing spoken by the one who says Benedicite.

In the case of the blessing of incense, I suppose the same thing is going on.  The Benedicite is mainly spoken to everyone present, and the priest blesses.   It could therefore be the echo of courtly forms, the courtesy and greater formality of earlier epochs. 

I found that Jungmann has a note on Benedicite.  In The Mass of the Roman Rite, Vol. I, p. 309, n. 75 we find a discussion of a custom of saying "Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini" as the priest leaves the sacristy.

"In some churches the servers offer the priest the holy water for a blessing as he pronounces these words.  In some places (e.g., in Tyrol) the servers use the formula for asking a blessing: Benedicite! and receive the answer: Deus [sc. benedicat]."

Anyway… there’s my shot at it.

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  1. Geoffrey says:

    Thank you for commenting on this. While I don’t pray the old Divine Office (I prefer the new Liturgy of the Hours), I have studied the old Breviary and was always always always puzzled by this. Thank you for shedding some light on this!

  2. Geo.F. says:

    At Mass this weekend the priest said “Benedicamus Domino” instead of “Ite Missa est”.
    The celebrant was an O.S.B. priest, I don’t know if this has anything to do with the different dismissal. I have heard “Benedicamus Domino” with the used while attending Vespers.
    Could this perhaps be one of the new dismissals theat the Holy Father just approved in conjunction with the 2002 Missale Romano ?

    Any Ideas ?

  3. Gavin says:

    Geo, I’ve wondered this too. I do know it’s an appointed dismissal, as there’s melodies for it in the Gradual. But I don’t know when it’s supposed to be used in place of “ite”. Hopefully some kind commenter will enlighten us!

  4. Geo.F.,

    In the 1962 Missal, the Ordo Missae says: “Quando post Missam sequitur aliqua processio, loco Ite, missa est, cantatur ‘Benedicamus Domino.'”

    Therefore, if a procession follows the Mass, “Let us bless the Lord” is said instead of the usual ‘Ite, Missa est.’

    Before the Missal reforms of Bl. John XXIII, at Masses that have no Gloria, i.e. those of Advent and Lent, vigils, and ember-days, etc., there was said the Benedicamus Domino.

    Perhaps this Benedictine priest was using the former discipline.

    This has nothing to do with the new dismissals approved for the Ordinary Form.

  5. FrPaul says:

    In Greece there is a similar phenomenon. People often greet a priest by saying “Father, bless”. Sometimes they say it in modern Greek, “Evlogeite Patera” (notice the use of the plural as polite address, as in many European languages such as French). Sometimes they use the consecrated, liturgical expression in Ancient (or more exactly Byzantine) Greek: “Evlogison, Pater” (singular…the polite plural is unknown before the early modern period as in Latin). In either case the priest replies “O Kyrios” -“the Lord”, i.e. may the Lord bless you (because He is source of all blessings and I the priest am but a chanel).

    I suspct the “Benedicite Pater reverende” of the blessing of incense is indeed a reflexion of the origins of the polite plural in court usage.

    As for “Benedicamus Domino”, pre-1962 it replaces “Ite Missa est” whenever there is no Gloria in Excelsis. In 1962 (if I remember rightly; the folowing is certainly the case for the OF) it is only used when another liturgical ceremony, eg. a procession, follows the Mass immediately (and in this case there will be no Last Gospel). Some priest like to keep a few pre-1962 features, and I guess that whereas this is strictly speaking an infringement of the rules, it might be justified on the basis of “epikeia”.

  6. totustuusmaria says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. This has been troubling for me for a long time. Generally I have hated every single change that has come down since 1945, with the exception of the change of the Mass times for the Triduum and the possibly the simplification of the classification of holy days. I have especially hated when they have eliminated texts. But this is an exception. A good part of me wants this text illiminated.

    I pray Prime with people sometimes. Oftentimes the people I pray it with have never prayed it before! I love the feeling of introducing them to something so lovely. When, however, we get to that text, I always blush. There is always the desire to skip it because it sounds choppy and is difficult to make sense of. But I am obedient. This is a strange reaction for me, since I generally love the things I do not fully understand

    I basically came up with the same interpretation of it as you did. I thought, however, that “Deus!” could have been something of an eiaculatio or a heart felt cry out to God, or perhaps a heartfelt benediction. Whatever it is, I still don’t fully like it.

  7. Gregor says:

    Interesting, Father, what you mention from Jungmann. In fact, in my parish in Berlin we used to say, under our old parish priest, V. Adjutorium… R. Qui fecit… V. Benedicite. R. Deus.

    I don’t have it with me, but I believe my old “Schott” hand missal (or was it some other book?) translated this as: “V. Speak the word of blessing. R. (sc. the holy Name of) God.”

  8. Geo.F. says:

    David M. Wallace :

    Thanks for the clarification.
    I am inclined to believe that the priest was using the former discipline.

    Best regards,

  9. Clayton says:

    My impression of the Benedicite is that it is in fact an ‘imperative’ directed towards God. In this case, the plural form could be reflective of a common usage; we know, for example, that ‘benedicite’ is a colloquialism once adopted by several religious orders to ask for another’s blessing. Perhaps this is true in this case as well.

  10. Pistor says:

    And of course, don’t forget “Jube Domne Benedicere” before meals and Compline

  11. wsxyz says:

    The Angelus Press abridged Divine Office translates this as:

    V: Bless ye
    R: God.

    In the old “Schott” missal this appears at the end of the Gotteslob am Morgen

    V: Sprecht das Segenswort. (Say the word of blessing)
    R: Gott möge segnen. (May God bless)

  12. Black Friar says:

    In the Dominican Rite, the servers kneel in the sacristy after low Mass and say “Benedicite!”, and the priest blesses them, “Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus”, making the sign of the cross over them. They answer “Amen” and then stand.

  13. Wayne Cobb says:

    The Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin by Leo F. Stelten defines “Benedicite” (notice capitalization) – “Bless you, Praise God, a monastic greeting.” The Baltimore Book of Prayers, copyright 1889, directs the penitent to make the sign of the cross and “. . .say, Benedicite, or, Father, bless me, for I have sinned.” Maybe in defining “Benedicite” custon trumps grammar.

  14. Joseph says:

    Gen 18:3:- Et dixit: Domine, si inveni gratiam in oculis tuis, ne TRANSEAS servum tuum: 4, sed afferam pauxillum aquæ, et LAVATE pedes vestros, et REQUIESCITE sub arbore.

    Dear Fr. Z
    For the above verse the Church doctors interprets to show One God in Three Persons. Abraham says ne transeas instead of transeatis, whereas he says in plural imperative lavate nad requiescite.
    I would like to say (it is only my personal opinion)that it is a kind of profession of the article of our faith i.e. Three Person in one God – when we say Benedicite we ask all the Three Divine Person who not Three different gods but One only for Their blessings

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