Solemn Blessings for Advent

I raised this issue in an earlier post, but thought it might be appropriate to call our attention to it again. By faithfully following Liturgiam Authenticam‘s request for an English translation more formally corresponding to the underlying Latin, the translators of the Solemn Blessing for the Advent season present a text that did not call forth the congregation’s response of “Amen” last Sunday, even though I prepared them for it. In the case of the first two blessings, the problem was probably simply that the text doesn’t provide a “cue” that would trigger the “Amen”:

1) May the almighty and merciful God, / by whose grace you have placed your faith / in the First Coming of his Only Begotten Son / and yearn for his coming again, / sanctify you by the radiance of Christ’s Advent / and enrich you with his blessing.

2) As you run the race of this present life, / may he make you firm in faith, / joyful in hope and active in charity.

While the first blessing seems a bit verbose, Msgr. Harbert in an earlier post reminded us that these texts communicated more by sound than sense, and perhaps the translators have done a fine job of reproducing that effect in English (although I would tend to want to have “First Coming” balanced by “Second Coming” rather than “coming again” in oral communication). I very much enjoyed how the second text echoed the “run forth with righteous deeds” imagery of the Collect, although I wonder if the faithful who simply heard the text knew that the pronoun “he” referred to “the almighty and merciful God” or to “Christ” (who seems to be the source of the enriching blessing at the conclusion of the first text).

3) So that, rejoicing now with devotion / at the Redeemer’s coming in the flesh, / you may be endowed with the rich reward of eternal life / when he comes again in majesty.

This text is the most problematic for me. It seems to me to be a sentence fragment, the conclusion of the second text. I don’t know a way in which to proclaim this sentence fragment to elicit a congregational “Amen.” But perhaps as Msgr. Harbert suggested intelligibility is not the issue and the congregational “Amen” here is not so much an assent to a text proclaimed and understood as a ritual assertion of presence at an event.

I can say that I hope when the next English translation of the Roman Missal sees the light of day, if the Solemn Blessings are retained, that perhaps the directives for formal correspondence could be modified for these texts 1) to eliminate sentence fragments and 2) to add some “cue” words that would call forth the congregation’s “Amen” more readily.

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20 comments

  1. Just an observation: at our parish, the priest chanted the solemn blessings using the Collect tone, and it brought forth amens right on cue. Try that and see if it works?

  2. In the case of the first two blessings, the problem was probably simply that the text doesn’t provide a “cue” that would trigger the “Amen”:

    The usual cue would be the drop of a minor third following the last accented syllable? That is, the 2nd ferial tone of the old rite, which was used for the Oratio Super Populum of Lent.

    This is also the tone for the prayer of the Asperges… which also lacks a conclusion to cue the people.

  3. Oh, there you go trying to make sense of all this again! Surely by now we should all understand that making linguistic or grammatical sense simply doesn’t matter. . .

  4. I had two students approach me after our 10PM Mass to tell me that I had the wrong text for the blessing because of the fragment. When I told them that was what the Missal prescribed and that I didn’t compose these text, they laughed and said, “Who wrote these?” I smiled because at least they were listening!

    On another note, our students also responded to them when sung, but not when spoken.

  5. At least twelve, and probably more, of the 46 Solemn Blessings in our Missal are from the Supplementum Anianense to the Gregorian Sacramentary. These are the oldest in the Missal, and were probably used as the model for the newly-composed ones. They had their own tone, which is printed in Moeller’s Corpus Benedictionum. I’m sorry that I haven’t the books with me to enable me to be more precise. I doubt if it was ever thought in the Middle Ages that these texts (whose use was reserved to Bishops) would be spoken, not sung. Hence the problem with cues when they are spoken.
    The custom of interjecting ‘Amen’ in the middle of a minister’s sentence is common in many Christian congregations, though few Catholic ones.

  6. The simple answer is to chant them. There are supposed to be solemn. Rarely are any presiders able to say them with any change of inflection that might give anyone a cue.

    1. We’ve always chanted the solemn blessings too and indeed it helps the congregation to know when to chant their “amen.” It also helps to make sure the cantor and/or choir know ahead of time to lead the amen–the same would be true if spoken, someone should lead it and eventually all will join, but there certainly needs to be a voice inflection of some kind at the end of the blessing to cue the congregation to speak the “amen” if it is not sung.

  7. The solemn blessing did not work spoken at my parish, either, despite the priests having studied and practiced them aloud the week prior. I will suggest we try chanting them. And I know that one of our weekend-assisting priests simply will not do so under any circumstance. So if they only work when chanted, they will either often not work, or will not be used. A pity.

  8. I am blessed to go to an African American Catholic parish in Seattle. There, the solution comes via inculturation, instead of the ritual text or rubrics. (Please don’t stone me.) The “call and response” form many of our prayers and music means that assembly ALWAYS knows when to reply.

    The presider ends each prayer with an “Amen?” to which the assembly replies with a loud affirming “Amen!”

    It always works. And it proves again to me the beauty of the catholicity of the Catholic Church.

  9. Thanks for the suggestions. I’ll probably chant these texts from now on to elicit the “Amens.” I’m aware of the practice of interjecting “Amens” in the middle of a liturgical text from the Mozarabic Lord’s Prayer (where the congregation chants “Amen” after each of the petitions, if I remember correctly). I think the problem for me is that there doesn’t appear to be a lot of consistency in these Solemn Blessing texts: sometimes all three texts are complete thoughts (sentences), sometimes two of them are, and if I remember correctly at least one of them stretches a complete thought over all three texts. We don’t seem to do the same thing for other texts in the OF of the Roman Rite.

  10. Amen to both Fr. Joncas and Msgr. Habert’s brief history. Whatever the history – we would benefit from a consistent cue and education for presiders.

  11. After reading these comments what I am hearing is:

    1. the assembly will only know when to say amen if the presider stops singing?

    2. there is no chance the assembly will understand the prayer when spoken?

    Just asking!
    Peace.

  12. Chuck, you’ve got the advantage here, I think.
    Sometimes (in the Great Beforehand, prior to RM3) one of our presiders would, in times of anticipated confusion, end the segment of a blessing with “Let the church say…” at which point even those still sleeping in the pews would rise to the occasion. But now, who knows? Chant works for me.

  13. I’m making an effort with the new Missal to learn the “Solemn Tone” as given in place throughout the order of Mass. I wanted to use the Solemn Blessing, and eventually found the “Solemn Tone” version in the Appendix. It even used the Advent blessing as the example which really helped. Chanting the blessing worked very nicely on Sunday as everyone knew from the cadence at the end to sing Amen. I think it was worth the effort to learn the chant, so I’ll keep working on it and offer it as a potential solution.

  14. The sensible presider, faced with a text that has faulty English syntax, edits it unobtrusively on the fly. Stuff the temple police.

  15. Siobhan Maguire
    At one time in my career, I had the privilege of worshiping with Fr Ed Foley, whose preaching and presiding reputation is known by many here.

    He is not African American as in the anecdote above, of course, but it was his habit when reciting the solemn blessings RM1974 to prompt the assembly’s first Amen with “Let the Church say ‘Amen.'”

    After the second text, he would say, “And the Church says …”.

    A cue was not needed for the third Amen, probably because of the structure of the text, or perhaps because we were pre-primed.

  16. All the formal, prepared presidential texts of the liturgy are mean to be chanted (using the appropriate tone which varies according to the text: Gospel tone, Preface tone, etc) and so there is then no difficulty in knowing when or how to respond. We clerics and religious easily get into the habit of reading/recigin lots of liturgical texts (such as long readings in the Office of Readings) without preparation and in such a way that our unpreparedness doesn’t show too much. But it does in fact show when a reading, collect or other similar text which is recited comes across as a series of unrelated phrases without any clear conclusion. Even spoken, a solemn blessing unfamiliar to a congregation should elicit the “Amens” at the right place once they know Amens are due at some stage – and without turning the blessings into instructions for kindergarteners.

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