The Prayer over the Offerings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

by Alan Griffiths

The Prayer over the Offerings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter reads:

Ascendant ad te, Domine, preces nostrae
cum oblationibus hostiarum,
ut, tua dignatione mundati,
sacramentis magnae pietatis aptemur.
Per Christum …

For this, the new text gives:

May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.
Through Christ our Lord.

It seems to be a feature of the current English translation that the aspirational ‘may’ is often used where the Latin uses an optative subjunctive (I think that’s what it’s called). In English, it would be more correct to say ‘Let our prayers …’ as the rising of the prayer is more a matter of God’s condescension than our aspiration, important though that is. To my ear, ‘may’ sounds like a commonplace of motivational speaking!

The final two lines are opaque. What exactly does ‘conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love’ mean? The translator has tried to paraphrase the Latin where there seems to be no need to do so. Aren’t we simply asking that God will make us ready to offer and receive the mysteries?

Dignatio denotes something like ‘gracious kindness.’ ‘Graciousness’ is not an easy word to speak or hear, as in the 1960’s UK Intercessions response: ‘Lord, graciously hear us’ which someone once said sounded like a den of vipers hissing. Would ‘kindness’ not do here?

Future revisers of the Missal might think in terms like these:

Let our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that, being purified by your kindness,
we may be made ready for the sacraments of your great love.
Through Christ …

Or even this:

Let our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that we, being purified by your kindness,
may be made ready to receive
the sacraments of your great love.
Through Christ …

Fr. Alan Griffiths is a priest of of Portsmouth Diocese, UK.

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28 comments

  1. “conformed” is operative. In other words, we humble ourselves to be shaped. Not very popular amongst those who want to shape us . . . here below.

  2. 1973 and 1998 for the sake of comparison:

    1973:
    Lord,
    accept our prayers and offerings.
    Make us worthy of your sacraments of love
    by granting us your forgiveness.

    1998:
    Lord,
    let our prayers and offerings rise before you,
    that we whom you have cleansed in baptism
    may respond worthily to the mystery of your great love.

    I don’t have time to comment why right now as my wife and I are moving house, but my preference is with the current translation.

  3. tua dignatione mundati — made pure by your recognition, or by your acceptance

    the word “graciousness” in the clumsy new translation is not supposed to mean kindness but “being graciously accepted”

    1. @Joe O’Leary – comment #3:

      Thank you for that. I will look up ‘dignatio’ and see what it yields. Yes we have a lot of clumsy stuff in the new translation, which is why we need this sort of debate on elements of it. No one person has all the answers, certainly not myself!

      A. Griffiths.

  4. Possibly: “May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord, together with these sacrificial offerings, so that we may be purified by your graciousness and conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.”?

    I am not able to translate the Latin into English. Like the vast majority, I think, of English speaking priests, I am trying to make sense of a somewhat awkward-sounding prayer. I can’t vouch for the ‘accuracy’ of this proposal according to the norms of LA.

    “Graciousness” is a word that, I think, does not carry the meaning intended by the translators. Understood as “excellence of manners or social conduct,” this word conveys right or acceptable behaviour. Is “by your grace” or “through your gift of grace” a better way to render this idea in English? I am asking honestly…

  5. 1998 hands down. The mention of baptism is an improvement over the Latin original. (Why don’t we, sometime with graciousness, actually criticize the Latin orations themselves and suggest improvements where they might harmonize better with the three-year Lectionary and the liturgical season?)

    And by the way, anybody want to tell me why an associate pastor,with whom I work, insists on blessing the baptismal font water four times on a weekend just because the MR3 tells him to do so?

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #5:
      Todd, why not have him only bless the water to be used for the sprinkling in a separate vessel? New water would be prepared for each Mass.

      1. @Jeff Rice – comment #9:
        In my church’s architecture, I might wonder why. The font is fifteen feet from the presider’s chair. The sacristy sink is a good sixty feet away. Also, it’s Easter. There’s something of a disconnect, an impoverishment of liturgy, for the font to be ignored just to get a clunky, too-long prayer into the mix.

        With our other clergy, I have no problem suggesting they skip the text entirely. Our pastor already does it.

        Jeffery, As for the Advent Wreath, I alter the blessing for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Masses to be more explicitly directed toward the people. Unfortunately, I take the Roman Missal a little more seriously than the Book of Blessings. But there are days when I wonder.

        MR3: what a lost potential for good tranformed into a monument to stuffy politics.

  6. I too prefer “Let” to “May” for the same reason: it emphasizes God’s agency in the matter (He lets our prayers rise), rather than our hope (may our prayers rise).

    I don’t think “Lord, hear us / Lord, graciously hear us” sounds particularly aspy at all. Perhaps it no one can say it in time with anyone else, all you’ll hear is a bunch of sssssss…

    I’ll admit the meaning of “purified by your graciousness” is not readily made clear — graciousness in what way? Graciousness in His receiving of our prayers and oblations, would be my first guess.

    And “conformed to…” does not make me think of “made ready for…”; my first impression (reading the prayer here this morning) was that it referred to the result of receiving the sacrament, rather than our being-made-ready to receive it.

    P.S. I thought a paraphrase was more than just swapping one word for another (regardless of how many times one does so). On the other hand, “that God will make us ready to offer and receive the mysteries” is a paraphrase.

  7. What does this prayer really mean? I even looked at Fr Z to see if I could find a clue!

    My guess at the intent is something like:
    Dignify our prayers and sacrificial offering [when they rise up to you]
    So that they are appropriate fulfillment of our duty to your great Sacrament.

    I do not think it apt but the groveling tone is very close:
    Let our unworthy offerings rise up to you and be purified by your majesty
    So that our inept efforts will be worthy of your great sacrament.

    I could be completely wrong to read it this way. I chose dignify as an echo of “rise up”, opposite the motion of graciousness coming down to us. (though dignify is a cognate of the Latin) And the dutiful aspect of pietas seems missing from the other translations. But I also change the focus of the prayer from us to the offerings, which seems right for a prayer over the offerings, and that could be incorrect.

  8. Here is the text as voted on by the bishops and submitted to Rome:

    Let our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
    together with the sacrificial offerings,
    so that, purified by your gracious kindness,
    we may be conformed to the Sacraments of your mighty love.
    Through Christ our Lord.

    Todd, does the same priest bless the Advent Wreath 4 times on a weekend?

  9. Doesn’t dignatio have the sense, via dignor of the Greek ἀξιόω, “think or deem worthy”? Think of the moment the assembly shouts, ἄξιος!, “He is worthy!” at an ordination. We are purified because God declares that we are; just as when he says, “let there be light!” there is light. Or recall Isaiah 6.7, “Look, this has touched your lips, your guilt has been removed and your sin forgiven.”

    JL Austin tried to teach us How to Do Things with Words; God has only to speak, and it is so.

    If this is an accurate reading of dignatio then the following might work:

    Lord, let our prayers and offerings rise up to you,
    so that, purified because you say that we are,
    we will become ready to receive the sacrament of your great love.

    Is it dreadfully inaccurate to render the subjunctive aptemur as a future indicative? I don’t think so. Moods (modalities) don’t move that easily between languages – some have explicit optatives, some have explicit jussives, many do not. And let’s not forget the variety of hortative verb forms; Wikipedia lists the adhortative, exhortative, suprahortative, dehortative, inhortative, infrahortative, and several flavours of cohortative. English has all sorts of ways of expressing hopes, desires and statements about how the world ought to be. The deontic modality in English is rich and varied.

    We are always paraphrasing, no matter how rigidly we attempt to apply the bizarre rules of Liturgiam Authenticam. There is no translation without paraphrase. “What does the prayer really say?” cannot be answered, because it is a silly question.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #11:

      Is it dreadfully inaccurate to render the subjunctive aptemur as a future indicative? I don’t think so.

      Sure, the interpretation of the present subjunctive as a future indicative, or as a present indicative with an adverbial qualifier which denotes future action, is a fine option in English translation when available. I’ve picked a collect with munio (“defend”, “protect” etc.), since this word is extremely common in Roman collects as the first person plural present passive subjunctive muniamur. I’ve taken the collect for Trinity Sunday from the 1962 missal and have compared the Latin against the Book of Common Prayer 1662 to show one interpreter’s answer to this question.

      I have compared collects since the Prayer Book does not have secreta or super oblata prayers.

      MR 1962:
      Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui dedisti famulis tuis, in confessione
      verae fidei, seternae Trinitatis gloriam agnoscere, et in potentia maiestatis
      adorare Unitatem: quaesumus; ut, eiusdem fidei firmitate, ab omnibus semper muniamur adversis

      BCP 1662 [contemporary orthography]:
      “Almighty and everlasting God, who has given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee, that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities.”

      In particular, the Roman Latin reads: ut, eiusdem fidei firmitate, ab omnibus semper muniamur adversis. [bold for emphasis]

      Thomas Cranmer translated: “that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities.”

      Classical or classicized Latin grammar requires a subjunctive verb for the ut dependent clause. In modern English, the dependent clause “that” often takes the indicative. When Cranmer translated semper muniamur as “evermore defend us”, he reinterpreted the Latin present subjunctive as English present indicative. This is in keeping with the evolution of modern English grammar. The sense of future action is provided not by the verb alone, but semper, here interpreted as “evermore”. An adjoining Latin adverb often provides a future meaning to a Latin present tense. Similarly, an English translation can use the sense of this construction for good effect.

      The super oblata to which Fr. Griffiths refers might be easier to understand if the composers of the reformed missal included an adverb to clarify the meaning of aptemur. As seen, there is precedent for this construction in Roman liturgy. Jonathan’s suggestion of “become ready” for aptemur is a good strategy if an auxiliary adverb is not present in the Latin. I suppose an English translator could insert an adverb where it is not present in the Latin. I would not consider this bad form especially if the translation is not unduly paraphrased.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #13:

        In correction, the earliest Prayer Books directly written by Cranmer read “evermore be defended” for semper muniamur. Still, as Jonathan has noted, the question is not the translation of the active or passive voice but rather the tense and mood components. “defend us” for muniamur is sufficiently passive in my opinion, even if “be defended” is more directly passive.

        In clarification, I only contrast MR 1962 against various recensions of the BCP since the latter’s translation is often very close to the Latin. A difficulty in evaluating the Latin of typical postconciliar missals is difficult, as no stable vernacular translation lineage has yet been reached.

  10. Jonathan Day —

    It’s so good to see someone who appreciates J.L. Austin’s “How to Do Things with Words”. It should be required reading in all Freshman l0l English classes, and required a second time in all liturgy, law, theology, philosophy, logic, and psychology curricula. This little work tells us more about how words actually work than any other book I can think of.

    Yes, all translation is paraphrase. That is something the Curia has yet to learn.

  11. Dignatio means to regard with esteem — it is suggestive of the Pauline doctrine of justification — the fact that the 1973 translators replace this idea with “baptism” could stem from a phobia about sounding protestant…

  12. better: to deem worthy. We are purified because You have deemed us worthy. Consider John 13 “you are already pure because of the word I have spoken to you”.

  13. gracious, when used in connection with God, always carries, for me, connotaions of His grace. So I would venture to disagree with Fr.Michael (comment #4 above) and find its use here appropriate.
    dignatio is problematic. L&S (not always reliable for liturgical Latin), almost sees it as a cognate for dignitas. I seem to recall readng somewhere that dignor in relation to God has special meanings – ‘deign’, condescend’? tho’ the latter today carries somewhat pejorative overtones. How much is the dignatio of God tied up an encapsulation of with his attributes, so beloved of the psalmist, of mercy, loving-kindness, great goodness [cf.Ps.51,i]?
    For aptemur, I like the idea of ‘making fit’, as in ‘fit for purpose’. (not as in current U.K. slang! 🙂
    Anyway, I offer my own version:
    “Let our prayers rise to you, O Lord, with these sacrificial offerings, that, cleansed by your gracious favour, we may be made fit for these mysteries of your great compassion. Through Christ our Lord”.
    Kind regards,
    John

    1. @John Henley – comment #18:
      John, I agree that, when WE hear “gracious” used in connection with God, we refer, almost without thinking, to “grace.” Our minds are attuned to the theological, so that is as it should be.

      When such prayers are heard, though, by those who minds are not so attuned, “graciousness” may not work as the translators (also theologically attuned) might have expected. In this case, “purified by your grace” or “purified through your gift of grace” or some such rendering that makes the reference clearer could be helpful.

      One of our mother’s oft repeated exclamations was “Goodness Gracious! Me Oh My!” so you can imagine where my mind goes when “gracious” is prayed!

  14. Jonathan,

    The question”what does it say?” is problematic, but I cited it because I cannot figure out how the parts of this prayer fit together. I am used to ‘A ut B’ implying some connection between A and B, but I cannot see a connection in the translations.

    Apparently this prayer comes from two (or more?) post communion prayers. Ascendat ad te from the mass “pro amico defuncto.” and another from the Ambrosian rite for the vigil of the Ascencion. (serendipitous discovery that I have not verified). The latter prayer:
    Exultationem condicionis humanae substanstiae respice deus,
    ut, tua dignatione mundati, sacramentis magnae pietatis aptemur.

    That makes sense, because the elevation of humanity with Christ is the foundation for our being perfected in dignity, but especially because that perfecting happened in and through the Eucharist we just received. The rising of our prayers and sacrificial offerings is not of the same order as the Ascension, though it is a nice idea if that were conveyed in the prayer. Instead we have a conclusion unconnected to the premise.

    Another element is blessing of the font which uses “magnae pietatis” and “sacramentatis”‘ which I assume is the source for 1998’s reference to baptism. That at least grounds dignatione in something, even if it is not the Ascension. But other problems rise up, ie which sacrament are we talking about here and why.

    I still have no clue what the ut connects, if it connects anything, or why a post communion prayer is the model for the prayer over the offerings. Maybe thay like the two halfs and did not know where else to put them? That btw is a comment not on translation, but on the composition of the prayer in Latin.

  15. Jim, please forgive me: I was not referring to your comment but to a well known website that claims to answer this question for all of the prayers of the Roman Missal. I think it’s fair to ask about the logical structure and meaning of the prayer (as you did), though by its very nature such a text will never have a single “real” meaning. I think it is silly to ask what it “really says”, because translation is inherently difficult. I tried to expand on this point here.

    I am not at all expert in the sources of these prayers. The first part of the prayer, Ascendant ad te, Domine, preces nostrae cum oblationibus hostiarum strikes me as an invocation, similar to Domine, exaudi nos, one that could precede almost any request. Hence the ut could legitimately be translated “and”, or even “that”: “With these offerings, Lord, we pray that…”. It isn’t clear that the first part of the prayer needs to be strictly connected to the second.

    The second part, according to Laszlo Dobzay, appears in the Ambrosian Missal for the Ascension (not the vigil); the complete prayer reads Exaltationem conditionis humanae substantis Conditor respice, Deus, ut, tua dignatione mundati, sacramentis magnae pietatis aptemur.

    That could be rendered, “Look upon the exaltation of the human condition, God our Creator. As we are purified by your word, may we be made ready to receive your great love in this sacrament.”

    Hardly literal, I know. But I never signed the Lit Auth oath against meaningful translation.

  16. The final line of this prayer, ‘sacramentis magnae pietatis aptemur’ is not only Ambrosian – it occurs in Veronese Sacramentary 181.
    The verb ‘apto’ occurs in 18 distinct texts in the current Missal.
    With a noun in the dative, it can denote preparing a person for something that is to happen, for instance:

    ‘Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray,
    to make these offerings’ (Prayer over the Offerings for the First Sunday in Lent)

    ‘so prepare their hearts
    for the reward of eternal happiness’ (Post-Communion for Easter Tuesday).

    It can also denote making somebody suitable for a current reality, e.g.

    ‘that he may give us a mind pleasing to you
    and graciously conform us to your will’ (Collect for Thursday in the 7th Week of Easter).

    And it can also denote conforming somebody to a reality from the past, though the official translation does not handle this well. For instance:

    ‘Grant us, Lord, we pray,
    to be rightly conformed to the paschal mysteries’
    (Collect for Friday in the Fifth Week of Easter, my translation – the official version is syntactically opaque.)
    The prayer is asking that the celebration of Easter, nearly 5 weeks ago, may continue to shape our lives.

    ‘Grant, we pray, O Lord,
    that we may be rightly conformed to these offerings we have brought’ (Prayer Over the Offerings for October 7, my translation. The Latin here has a past tense ‘oblatis’, which the official translation has turned into a present.)

    Similarly, Veronese 97, which has not found its way into the Missale Romanum, asks in a Prayer after Communion that we may be suitably conformed to these mysteries (‘his muneribus convenienter aptari’).

  17. So, in the prayer under discussion, which occurs no fewer than 6 times in Eastertide, are we to understand the ‘sacramenta magnae pietatis’ as being in the past, present or future?
    We should be aware that ‘sacraments’ is an inaccurate translation of ‘sacramenta’, since our notion that there are seven sacraments did not take hold until the scholastic period. ‘The sacred signs of your great love’ would better convey the sense of the Veronese text.
    My inclination is to see that phrase as a reference to the celebration of Easter. It is a feature of the 1970 Missal that the Paschal celebration and its effect on the newly initiated is recalled throughout Eastertime. In this respect, the 1970 euchology, renewed by a return to the early Sacramentaries, contrasts strongly with that of the 1570 book.

    1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #25:

      This prayer is specifically associated with the Ascension, which is a part of Easter but has its own significance, eg exultatione condicionis humanae substantiae mentioned in the original prayer in the Ambrosian and Veronese sources. If that is the sacrament celebrated, the mystery of our human substance ascending to heaven in Christ, the only sign of it in this prayer is the initial word “Ascendat ad te”.

      As I said earlier, it is a wonderful idea. Our prayers and sacrificial offering ascend to heaven in Christ, joining our human substance to Christ’s heavenly presence. But I do not think the current Latin really expresses the idea of the original, and leaves sacrament hanging, defined in a post scholastic way as the Eucharist or maybe Baptism.

      My paraphrase:
      May our prayers and sacrificial offering ascend to you Lord, that, cleansed by your Presence, we may be more fit for the great love revealed by your Ascension.

      Nb I was wrong earlier about it being a post communion prayer. It is a super oblata, in the Ambrosian a super sindonem, prayer over “the shroud” that covers the offerings. I love that image too, the shroud left in the tomb at Easter now, at the Ascension, resonates with the garment Elijah left behind for Elisha, both signs of our humanity blessed by God to be signs of his continuing presence with us.

  18. I offer my thanks to the linguists – I stand in awe of your aptitude and erudition. And I mean that most sincerely!

    The non-linguist in me is made to wonder, however, if this very discussion, and those of similar form, does not incline a few hearts to consider the benefits (blessings?) of prayers written originally in the vernacular languages……..

  19. I thought the reference to baptism in the 1973 translation might reflect catholic phobia of the justification-by-faith overtones of dignatio, but of course it is prompted by the word mundati — cleansing naturally evokes baptism, especially in a paschal context.

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