WDTPRS 23 December COLLECT (2002MR)

Here is the first prayer for the Mass of 23 December, the last full day of Advent before the Vigil of Christmas.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
nativitatem Filii tui secundum carnem
propinquare cernentes,
quaesumus, ut nobis indignis famulis tuis
misericordiam praestet Verbum,
quod ex Virgine Maria dignatum est caro fieri,
et habitare in nobis.

This is an ancient prayer from Rotulus 24 published with the Veronese Sacramentary.

Almighty everlasting God,
as we are discerning that the Nativity of Your Son according to the flesh
we beseech You, that the Word grant mercy to us Your unworthy servants
for it deigned to be made flesh from the Virgin Mary
and dwell amongst us.

That use of dignatum est isn’t very common, and so it should spark interest right away.  In looking around for how this has been used by ancient writers, I found an interesting passage in a letter of Fulgentius of Ruspe (ep. 7.18):

Deus ergo factus est Christus ut Christus esset deus homoque perfectus, quia verbum dignatum est caro fieri, ut caro posset verbi, hoc est dei, nomine nuncupari. … God therefore became Christ so that Christ might be the perfect God and man, for the Word deigned to become flesh, so that flesh could be proclaimed by the name of the Word, that is God’s.

Nuncupo, as your own copy of the Lewis & Short Dictionary will tell you, is not merely "to call by name, to call, name",, but also "to name publicly before witnesses as one’s heir" and "to announce publicly, proclaim formally".  The naming is critically important here.  The Word becoming flesh resounds.  It is God’s manifest claim of paternity over humanity, an indestructible bond.

What catches my attention in the Collect is the interplay between the form of indignus with dignatum est.

We are unworthy (nos indigni) but it was deemed a worthy thing (dignatum est) that the Word should become flesh (Verbum caro fieri).


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father Zuhlsdorf,

    Thank you for the excellent – as always – philological reading of this collect. Indeed, an isocolic scansion of the prayer shows that your contrast between indignis and dignatum est is heightend by their initial positions in the three-stress rhythmical cola:

    3 Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
    3 nativitatem Filii tui
    2 secundum carnem
    2 propinquare cernentes,
    3 quaesumus, ut nobis
    3 indignis famulis tuis
    3 misericordiam praestet Verbum,
    3 quod ex Virgine Maria
    3 dignatum est caro fieri,
    2 et habitare in nobis.

    When will you be publishing your “wdtprs” in book form?

    P.S. You have a beautiful snow cover down there at the Sabine Farm!

  2. Roland de Chanson says:

    This collect echoes John: et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis …

    It is much to be deplored that the Last Gospel was expurgated from the Novus Ordo Missae. But, despite my personal dislike of the NO, I enjoy immensely your explications de texte. I will have to learn more about the Veronese Sacramentary. I wish I had discovered this site years ago.

    Gratias maximas ob et operam laboriosam et opus illustre tuum ago. (Many thanks for your strenuous effort and outstanding work.)

  3. Denis: Well done! Thanks for that interesting comment. That supports what I picked up philologically.

    For those tuning in, Denis’ observation depends on eliding (that is, crunching together) the ending of dignatum (-um) and the beginning vowel of  est: dignatumst. 

    Ancient Romans (Latin speakers) pronounced the –um with a nasal rather than a voiced “m” as we do, with lip closure.  

  4. Probably heard in your local parish church this morning:

    ICEL 1973 version
    we contemplate the birth of your Son.
    He was born of the Virgin Mary
    and came to live among us.
    May we receive forgiveness and mercy
    through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

    Does it appear that, unlike many ICEL collects, this one touches upon the principal points of the Latin original?

  5. Roland: Thanks for that. The so-called Veronese or Verona Sacramentary is sometimes called also the “Leonine” or Sacramentarium Leonianum, because an 18th c. redactor attributed it to Pope Leo the Great.  Anyway, this is the oldest surviving Roman sacramentary.  We have it preserved in only one 7th century manuscript which was found in the chapterhouse of the Cathedreal of Verona.  It is clearly a Roman book, since it has all sorts of allusions to Rome, such a Collect to be said by the Bishop of Rome on the anniversay of his elevation to the See of Peter and other prayers with references to the boundaries of the “City”, which is Rome.  Some scholars think it was compiled during the 6th century.  In any event, the prayers therein represent a very ancient Roman tradition and there is little doubt that some of the orations bear the influence of great minds of the early Church of Rome, perhaps even Leo and Gregory. 

  6. John P says:

    I think that “quod” may be the relative pronoun rather than the conjunction.

  7. Roland de Chanson says:

    Thanks for the background on the Veronese Sacramentary, Fr. Zuhlsdorf.

  8. Dr. S. Petersen says:

    nuncupo: hence, a nuncupative will

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