WDTPRS: Secret for Votive Mass of Mary on Saturday: a densely-packed lovely little theological gem

IngresThis morning’s Mass included a prayer I’ve said numberless times over the last nearly 20 (in a few days) years.  In the traditional Roman calendar today the priest can say a Votive Mass of Holy Mary on Saturday, Sancta Maria in Sabbato.  There are several formularies for this Votive Mass, depending on the season of the liturgical year.

Very often priests will say certain Votive Masses on certain days of the week.  For example, Monday – Trinity, Tuesday – Holy Angels, Wednesday – St. Joseph, Thursday – Christ, High Priest, Friday – Sacred Heart, Saturday – BVM.  There are lots of variations.

The Secret for today’s Votive Mass is a densely-packed lovely little theological gem:

Tua, Domine, propitiatione,
et beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione,
ad perpetuam atque praesentem haec oblatio
nobis proficiat prosperitatem et pacem

This is not an ancient prayer, in that it does not go back to the earliest centuries of the Christian experience.  Even the notions it expresses suggests that it comes from a later period.  However, it is in quite a few English medieval manuscripts, including those of Benevento (11/12 c.), Canterbury (11 c.), Milano (9 c.), Sankt-Gallen B (9 c.), among others.  So it goes back to least the 9th century and seems to have made its way north over time.

Propitiatio in its fundamental meaning meanings and “an appeasing, atonement,  propitiation”.  The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise also gives us a view of the word as “favor”.  This makes sense.  God has been appeased and rendered favorable again towards us sinners by the propitiatory actions Christ fulfilled on the Cross.  We have faithfully (?) renewed these through the centuries in Holy Mass.

By Your propitiation, O Lord,
and by the intercession of ever virgin Blessed Mary
may this sacrificial offering be useful for us
unto perpetual and present prosperity and peace.

By Thy gracious mercy, O Lord,
and by the intercession of Blessed Mary ever Virgin,
may this oblation avail us
for peace and welfare both now and for evermore.

This prayer did not escape the reforms of the Consilium unscathed.  The last part was hacked off and another piece glued on: Tua, Domine, propitiatione, et beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione haec nostra obtineat oblatio, ut Ecclesia tua fidelium numero crescat, et iugiter fulgeat ubertate virtutum.

Nice prayer, but an example of the rampant tinkeritis which dominated the Conciliar reformers.

The concept of propitiation is central to this Secret, and indeed the prayer leads off with it with a focus on the first word “YOUR”.

Prayer of propitiation is a begging for God to be appeased and show us mercy because we are sinners and for mitigation of the punishments we justly deserve for our sins both in this world and temporal punishment in the next.  Propitiation is distinguished from impetration (from Latin impetro, “to accomplish, effect, bring to pass; to get, obtain, procure, especially by exertion, request, entreaty”).  Impetration is an appeal to God’s goodness asking for spiritual or temporal well-being for ourselves or others.

So, whereas by impetratory prayer we beg God for benefits, by propitiatory prayer we beg Him more specifically for the benefit of mercy and forgiveness.

So, our densely-packed Secret has the marks of a prayer of both propitiation and impetration.

Throughout the ages people have raised the question of whether or not it makes any sense to pray to God at all, given the fact that – if God is truly God – then he is omniscient and utterly eternal, not limited by past, present or future.  There is no thing that has happened, is happening or could happen that God does not know.  God is entirely simple in His perfection and wholly unchangeable.  He orders all things to their proper end, which is what we call divine providence.  Since God’s will and His knowledge and being are the same, what God knows will come to pass must of necessity come to pass.

Does it make any sense or any difference to offer prayers to such a God?

Various solutions to this problem have been proposed over the centuries.

Among the ancients some held that human affairs are not ruled by any divine providence and so it useless to pray and to worship God at all.  Others held that all things, even in human affairs, happen from necessity, whether by reason of the immutability of divine providence, or through the compelling influence of the stars, cosmic or physical forces, or what have you.  This view similarly eliminates the utility of prayer.  Others held that divine providence indeed rules human affairs and things do not happen of necessity. They thought that God and His providence is changeable, that His will is changed by our prayers and rites of worship.

What we as Catholics have to do, in figuring out what to pray and how, and even why to pray at all, is account for the usefulness and effectiveness of prayer in such a way as to avoid imposing fatalistic necessity on human affairs and also not to imply that any aspect of God is changeable.

We have to ask God for things without treating Him as if He were a cosmic concierge.

St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) looks into whether it is a fitting thing to pray to God (STh II, IIae, q. 83, a. 2) saying,

“In order to throw light on this question we must consider that divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed. Now among other causes human acts are the causes of certain effects. Wherefore it must be that men do certain actions, not that thereby they may change the divine disposition, but that by those actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition: and the same is to be said of natural causes. And so is it with regard to prayer. For we pray not that we may change the divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give,’ as (St.) Gregory (the Great) says (Dialogues).”

The same applies to begging for God’s mercy (propitiatory prayer), which we can do with confidence.

In His earthly life Jesus demonstrated that our petitions are effective.

He was moved by His Mother at Cana to change water to wine, by the Syro-phoenician woman to exorcise her daughter, by the Good Thief to remember him in His Kingdom, and many others.  We know that the intercession of saints can obtain favors from God.  We were taught to pray to God the Father by God the Son Himself.

The example of the Lord being moved by His Mother at Cana, brings me full circle back to the points raised in the Secret.  We refer to God’s propitiation and Mary’s intercession.  She interceded to bring mercy, calm or peace to the banquet, and also a great benefit, a richness or prosperity in the form of wine at the beginning of a, hopefully, fruitful marriage.

Our prayer should be raised to God with humility and gratitude for what we know He has disposed in His divine providence.

He grants favors according to what from all eternity He has known about us, our needs and disposition.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Beautiful prayer and wonderful explanation. Thank you, Father.

  2. Luke says:

    Thank you for this, Father. How may I better dispose myself before entering into this type of prayer? Thank you in advance. [Go to confession frequently, obey the obligation of the Eucharistic fast, and pay attention during Mass.]

  3. JKnott says:

    My thanks as well Father. So beautifully expressed and made understandable. Prayer is everything and this is invaluable.

  4. Urget_nos says:

    Fr Z, what is the title and/or the artist of the icon at the top of this article, the one with Mary gazing at the Holy Sacrament on the paten. I have never seen that and would like to get a print of it for home. Thank you.

  5. bookworm says:

    The painting is “Virgin of the Eucharist” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). It is available at The Catholic Company and other art websites.

  6. q7swallows says:

    Since God’s will and His knowledge and being are the same, what God knows will come to pass must of necessity come to pass.

    Does it make any sense or any difference to offer prayers to such a God?

    I’d been struggling with this question for years. Finally, a priest solved it quite simply on a retreat. He said: “Jesus said, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’ OBEY Him!”

  7. oldCatholigirl says:

    Thanks you for the valuable meditation, Father. I am always glad when you shed light on, and/or remind me to contemplate a profound mystery, and I always want to express my appreciation, so you know that someone is listening. However, I don’t have anything brilliant to add, and I don’t want to waste your time with blather. Maybe you could set up some kind of a “thank you, Father” button for us inarticulates? I know the “Donate” button would fill the bill from your point of view, but I, alas, am rich only in gratitude ( and, hopefully, grace).
    Mary Conces

  8. quovadis7 says:

    Fr. Z,

    Wow. Incredible reflection, Father!

    Could & would you consider publishing a hardcopy volume of the multitudes of these amazing liturgical insights you have published over the years on your blog? They would be a treasure for Catholics to have in our libraries! If not for our benefit, think of how much your birds would benefit from the sales proceeds! ;-)

    Although this particular prayer is a rare exception, it seems to me that “propitiation” was deliberately de-emphasized by the Liturgical reformers – much to the detriment of the Catholic faithful, IMHO.

    But, Father, did you ever notice that “propitiation” has been radically de-emphasized in the newer Catholic translations of Holy Scripture also? It’s right there in black & white in the Douay-Rheims translation in Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, and 1 John 4:10; but, it’s nowhere to be found in the New Testament of the most commonly used New American, New Jerusalem, & RSV Catholic translations (they use expiation/atonement/reconciliation instead, which really don’t have the same connotation as “propitiation”).

    I think that the de-emphasis from using “propitiation” since the Council has horribly diminished the Catholic understanding (and what I believe used to be an inherent part of the Catholic identity) of how much our sins continue to inflame the wrath of God – after all, the primary traditional definition of “propitiation” is that Christ’s Perfect Offering “appeases the wrath” of His Father.

    Is there too much emphasis since the Council upon what we get from God despite our sins (i.e. His Mercy), rather than on how every one of our sins are an infinite offense to Him (i.e. since Our Lord must continually present in heaven His Perfect Sacrifice to the Father to appease His wrath toward our sins/sinfulness)?

    I think so.

    “Brick by brick” back to the traditional way our ancestors believed as Catholics!!!

    Thanks again, Father. Your efforts are greatly appreciated, despite our not telling you often enough….

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z. I struggle with some of this personally. Your explanation was very helpful.

  10. LaxMom25 says:

    Thank you Father. This was excellent insight and guidance.

    WRT the theme/attention for votive Masses for the different days of the week: Our family was disorganized with our evening prayers, trying to pray together *all* our special devotions. Last year, our 12-year old son, in reviewing and using Father Lasance’s “My Prayer Book,” devised a beautiful prayer plan for our family to use for our post-Rosary evening prayers which is very similar to the Votive Mass plan:
    Sunday – Holy Trinity
    Monday – Holy Ghost and Holy Souls in Purgatory
    Tuesday – The Holy Angels
    Wednesday – Saint Joseph
    Thursday – The Blessed Sacrament
    Friday – Passion and Sacred Heart of our Lord
    Saturday – The Blessed Virgin Mary
    For many of you, it might be obvious to organize one’s prayers like this, but for us it has been a great help for our family in focusing our prayers.

    Joy to you all!

  11. Father, I, too, want to express thanks for this meditation. Very powerful and moving. It is interesting to note that in older Anglican liturgies, the concept of “propitiation” is NOT omitted, though the “modern” translation uses “perfect offering” instead of “propitiation”.

    I have to admit that a got a chuckle of of this line: “We have to ask God for things without treating Him as if He were a cosmic concierge.” Well said!

  12. Dr. Eric says:

    Thank you for that explanation, Father.

Comments are closed.