WDTPRS: Ash Wednesday – Prayer over the people – (1962MR & 2002MR)

I am delighted that in the 2002 Missale the tradition of the "Prayer over the people" was revived in Lent.  This is an important custom.

The origin of the Oratio super populum is quite complex and hard to pin down.  Turning to Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann’s monumental two volume The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development we find a history of this prayer at the beginning of the section concerning the close of the Mass (II, pp. 427ff).  Something Jungmann emphasizes that caught my attention is the fact that we are at a “frontier” moment, the threshold of the sacred precinct of the church and the world.  When properly formed we want the influence of our intimate contact with the divine to carry over into the outside world.  The use of this prayer is very ancient, found in both the Eastern liturgies of Syria and Egypt and in the West.  

Unlike the Postcommunio, the object of the prayer is not “us”.  Instead, the priest prayers for and over the people, not including himself as he does in the prayer after Communion. 

By the time of Pope Gregory the Great this was only in the Lenten season, probably because this is perceived to be a time of greater spiritual combat requiring more blessings.  Indeed it was extremely important for those who were not receiving Holy Communion, as was the case of those doing public penance before the Church, the ordo poenitentium.  

How important was this prayer to the Romans?  In 545, when Pope Vigilius (537-55) was conducting the station Mass at St. Cecilia in Trastevere, troops of the pro-Monophysite Byzantine Emperor Justinian arrived after Communion to take the Pope into custody and conduct him to Constantinople.  The people followed them to the ship and demanded “ut orationem ab eo acciperent… the they should receive the blessing prayer from him”.  The Pope recited it, the people said “Amen” and off went Vigilius who would return to Rome only after his death.

Super inclinantes se tuae maiestati, Deus,
spiritum compunctionis propitius effunde,
ut praemia paenitentibus repromissa
misericorditer consequi mereantur.

This seems to be of new composition, though utilizing some snips from the older, corresponding prayer in the 1962MR.

We looked into this prayer HERE and some of you readers gave your versions:

O God, graciously pour forth a spirit of compunction
upon those bowing themselves to Your majesty,
so that they may merit to obtain
the rewards promised to penitents

Let’s also have a look at the corresponding prayer in the older, traditional Missale Romanum:

Inclinantes se, Domine, maiestati tuae,
propitiatus intende:
ut, qui divino munere sunt refecti,
caelestibus semper nutriantur auxiliis.
misericorditer consequi mereantur.

I found this prayer in ancient books such as the Liber sacramentorum Augustodunensis as the Postcommunio of the Mass for the Station at San Gregorio (Thursday after Ash Wednesday).

Having been propitiated, have regard
for those bowing themselves to You majesty, O Lord:
so that, those who have been refreshed by the divine gift,
may always be nourished by heavenly helps,
and may merit, mercifully, strive after them.

When creating the Novus Ordo on their desks the cutters and snippers of Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium obviously wanted to keep something of the prayer from the pre-Conciliar Missale in their new version.

Under the other entry, I suggested some of you might offer translations of the prayers.  Since I have done that here, how about offering your views on the differences of content between the older prayer and the newer.

Remember: We are very glad that the Oratio super populum is once again part of the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum.  But let’s have a look at what the prayer really says, since we will be seeing it in the new translation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Discipulus Humilis says:


    Your translation:

    O God, graciously pour forth a spirit of compunction
    upon those bowing themselves to Your majesty,
    so that they may merit to obtain
    the rewards promised to penitents.

    I didn’t know what to do with “misericorditer”, but my agnostic suitemate recommends “rewards mercifully promised”. Does that work?

  2. Discipulus Humilis says:

    Sorry, posted the preceding without reading directions.

    It seems to me that the 1962 version petitions the Lord to “have regard” while the 2002 makes the more specific request for a “spirit of compunction”. The latter seems especially appropriate for the season.

  3. anthtan says:

    My parish priest didn’t use the prayer. He just gave an ordinary blessing. 8-(

  4. anthan: Don’t be too hard on the priest. These “prayers over the people” are so far only in the LATIN edition of the 2002MR. They are not in the older English books. We need to wait for the new translation before most priests will have these.

    BUT… priests can always use the Latin!

  5. Blackfriar says:

    That’s true, Fr Z. However, there is something a priest can do in this regard now saying Mass in English, because the Missal does contain 26 “Prayers over the People”. Two of these are for saints’ days: many of the rest are suitable for Lent. Unfortunately, they are not printed out for each day of Lent – they are all collected together just after the Solemn Blessings – but I have used them for many years now each Lent. I completely agree, though, that the re-introduction of a special Oratio Super Populum for each day of Lent (albeit ‘ad libitum’) in the 2002 Missal is a good thing, and look forward to seeing them in the next English Missal. I’m sure they will be more widely used then.

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