I was delighted that in the 2002 Missale the tradition of the “Prayer over the people” was revived in Lent. This is an important custom.
Now that we have the new, corrected translation on the way, we can look at these prayers.
The origin of the Oratio super populum is 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.
ORATIO SUPER POPULUM:
Super inclinantes se tuae maiestati, Deus,
spiritum compunctionis propitius effunde,
ut praemia paenitentibus repromissa
misericorditer consequi mereantur.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
Gratiously pour out, O God, a spirit of remorse
upon those bowing themselves to Your majesty,
so that they may merit mercifully to obtain
the rewards promised to penitents.
NEW, CORRECTED VERSION:
For the dismissal, the Priest stands facing the people and, extending his hands over them,
says this prayer:
Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God,
on those who bow before your majesty,
and by your mercy may they merit the rewards you promise
to those who do penance.
Through Christ our Lord.
As we begin our lenten observance, like a soldier on the march, on a mission from your great Captain, be sure you have your objectives clearly defined. Get clear in your head whatever strategies and tactics will win for you your prize.
REMEMBER! Daily LENTCAzT!