“While” is an unusual word in English. It can be used as a verb, a noun, an adverb, a conjunction, and even a preposition.
Most English translations of the final prayer of the Holy Rosary say “… grant that while meditating upon these mysteries of the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise….”
I know you’re a stickler for good translations, so I thought I’d ask you about the translation of the word “while” in that prayer. I don’t want that grace only WHILE I’m meditating on the mysteries. I want it all the time!
Is that a correct translation from the Latin? Is there a better one? When praying the Rosary by myself I usually say “by” instead of “while,” indicating that I hope that the act of saying the Rosary will effect within me the grace I’m requesting. Other times I just leave it out, as in “… grant that, meditating upon these mysteries…,” the preposition “by” being implied.
Words do have meanings, after all. What is your take on this very important question?
Thank you for all the good work you do!
Interesting question. And thanks for pointing out that “while” is also a verb! For those who live in Columbia Heights, I trust I don’t have to explain what a verb is. More on “while” as a verb later.
What does the Latin really say?
Deus, cuius Unigenitus per vitam, mortem et resurrectionem suam nobis salutis aeternae praemia comparavit: concede, quaesumus; ut, haec mysteria sacratissimo beatae Mariae Virginis Rosario recolentes. et imitemur quod continent, et quod promittunt, assequamur. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
I welcome this question, because it has pushed me to think of things I’ve never thunk before.
Let us confer with the flowers of Latinity in the mighty Lewis and Short Dictionary, and consult with the rain its pages let fall upon our dry topic.
Praemia can be “reward, recompense” or “advantage” or “booty”, as in the spoils of war, not the other thing. I rather like that booty image, as in spoils of war, given the imagery of the Easter Sequence Victimae paschali laudes, “Mors et vitae duello conflixere mirando: dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus… Death and life contended in that conflict stupendous: the Prince of Life, who died, deathless reigneth.” Christ’s divinely-bonded human soul, in the “duel” on Holy Saturday while His lifeless Body was in the tomb, descended to Sheol and “harrowed Hell”, that is, won the souls of the righteous who had died but who were awaiting liberation in the Savior. Soul-spoils of the drama-duel. I’d better move on before I start writing like Hopkins, and you start ‘a’sratchin’ your … head.
Comparo is a remarkably flexible in its mean. We get our “compare” from this. It can be “unite, couple, connect in pairs”, “match” in both the sense of check the equality of things or bring together in a contest. It can be “reflect on something by comparing it with another things” or “come to an agreement about differences”. And then it flows into a different vein, like, “to prepare something with zeal, to make ready”… which is closer to what we are looking for in comparavit. It is also, “arrange, establish” in the sense of customs and manners. And… here we are… “to procure what one does not yet possess or what is not yet in existence”. “To purchase, obtain”.
There are two verbs in Latin which look the same at first glance: recolo and recolo. You might be perplexed because those are the same. But no. They are really rĕcōlo, āre and rĕcŏlo, cŏlŭi, cuitum, 3. The first means, “strain again”, as in “I didn’t like the consistency of the yogurt, so I strained it again.” The second means, “to exercise or practice again”, “to resume”, as in “I won’t go back to my old way of life because I don’t want to spend eternity with all those Jesuits”. Another meaning, “to think over, reflect upon”. That’s the ticket here. This is, of course, a compound of re– and colo, means a range of things but, ut brevior, is also “care for, cherish, protect” and “honor, revere”. Re– gives the sense of repeated action.
Assequor is “to reach by pursing”, “gain, attain”, and in a transferred sense, “to attain to by an effort of the understanding, to comprehend”.
While you are an individual who asks, let us now unravel the every riddle of this prayer also for others who are here:
O God, whose Only-Begotten (Son) obtained for us the rewards pertaining to eternal salvation by means of His own life, death and resurrection, grant, we beseech (Thee), that we, right now reverently mulling over these mysteries by means of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may both imitate that which they contain and also attain to what they promise.
I use “mull” here to get that iterative sense.
That usually is rendered as…
O God, Whose Only-Begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life: grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating upon these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
I suppose we could use “as” but you can see that “while” works, because the time of the participle recolentes is “present”, which means that it is contemporaneous with the time of the verb quaesumus. Quaeso, I grant, can be simply a parenthetical insertion, as in “Tell me, prithee (I pray thee), what’s o’clock?” It is more than that here. It is plural, for one thing, and it is at the core of the prayer. “We beseech”, “we are beseeching”. It is really the main verb: “We are – right now – begging you, O God, that you grant… XXY”. “We beg that you grant that…”
It is true that, in a sense, the “life, death and resurrection” are mysteries “of the Rosary”. What really are “of the Rosary” are the elemental prayers: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be” etc. These prayers, in the order designated, the Rosary-order, are the means by which, while reciting them, our thoughts are busy hatchin’, we reverently ponder again and again the designated set of mysteries, which change, now this set, now that set. So the Rosary is the means by which we meditate upon the designated mysteries. We come to the end and then we walk, sit, kneel and, with the Rosary, think some more about what the mysteries “contain”. Their content is not just the dogmatic formulae which we profess, but also the deeper content, the very Person of Jesus Christ to whom the Rosary draws us.
You are perplexed by “while”. You yourself note how polyvalent it is. There is its essense the idea of duration of time, like the archaic use meaning “until”. There are present-ness, and continuousness and future-ness in what we are begging. If we only had a brain that could hold all the content of the Latin together in one pure concept, formulae and mystical Person: We want the life of Christ, Christ’s life, NOW, in our lives, even while we are praying and that it perdure into the future. We want the DEATH of Christ WHENEVER it is our time, docile in the face of whatever death God has designed, in trouble or in pain and we want the ongoing fruit of His Sacrifice. We want the Alpha and Omega FOREVER of the glory of the unending resurrection.
So, that traditional translation of the Latin prayer is not bad. It hits the important points without being ridiculous in its precision. If, in your private orisons, you decide to make little adjustment, that’s okay… but with one critical provision!
Say a Rosary for me, lest I be a failure in my vocation.
Lastly, again for those in Columbia Heights, while you have impatiently whiled away some time here while I have vivisected this prayer for a while, persevere while the end attained with an erstwhile example of “while” used as a verb.