Monday, February 08, 2021

In Defense of Multiple Orations

This and other photos: Missale Romanum editio VI juxta typicam Vaticanam, New York, 1947
In each Mass, there are three very important prayers familiarly grouped as the “orations”: the Collect, which comes near the beginning; the Secret, said silently just before the Preface to the Canon; and the Postcommunion, said after the ablutions. For centuries, it was the custom for priests to say or to sing more than one set of orations at Mass. (This carried over into Lauds and Vespers as well.) The rubrics often told the priest which additional prayers to use. For example, in Advent, from the first Sunday, the pre-1956 Missal prescribes the addition of a second collect of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a third collect for either the Church or for the Pope, although if there are saints to be commemorated, their prayers would be used instead. On Sundays, too, saints would be commemorated instead of simply ignored.

To give a sense of how this would work in practice, let’s take Sunday, June 30, 2019. I choose this day because it is a typical Roman “constellation”: the Third Sunday after Pentecost, in the Octave of the Sacred Heart and of the birth of St. John the Baptist, but also the commemoration of St. Paul, who is always accompanied by his fellow Apostle St. Peter. So the priest at Mass would say or sing five Collects: Sunday’s, followed by St. Paul, St. Peter, the Sacred Heart, and St. John the Baptist.

Paul Cavendish, master of the 1939 rubrics, offers a primer for adding votive collects beyond those required for the day. The commemorations of occurring saints are almost always done with the exception on Doubles of the First Class. Other than of occurring saints, the general principle is that the seasonal and ad libitum commemorations are done only on days of Semidouble and Simple rank. There are some exceptions, but on any day of these two lowest ranks, there have to be at least three orations at Mass. For most of the year, the third is specified by the season, either for the church or the pope (for about 2/3 of the year) or the prayer for the living and the dead (in Lent: the third prayer is ad libitum after February 2, but is for the church or pope before the Purification, during the time after Epiphany and in Septuagesimatide). If it were a feria per annum, for example, a priest could not choose simply to omit the second and third orations, even when the last was an open choice — he still had to choose some set of third orations to add. Doubles of any grade are the most festive and do not add these extra orations.

Essentially, these are the principles that had been in place since Trent up to 1955, with tweaks here and there (and not taking into account the orationes imperatae, which have their own requirements). The rules for the “seasonal collects” are described in chapter IX of the pre-1960 Rubricæ generales of the Missal, a translation of which is found at the end of this article. They remained unchanged from 1570 until 1960 — a period of almost four centuries.

Prior to 1955, the maximum number of Orations at a low Mass on simple days was five or seven (depending on circumstances).[1] In 1955, this number was reduced to three, and mandatory prayers of the season were abolished. In 1960, the possibility of additional orations was reduced still further, and done away with altogether for most Sundays of the year. All this was done in pursuit of streamlined rational simplicity. The end game was the Novus Ordo, which never has more than one set of orations per Mass.

But should we not ask why the custom of praying several orations arose to begin with? What role did it play? What we have lost by its unceremonious abolition?

It seems to me evident that this custom was the way in which the Roman rite expanded the urgency and comprehensiveness of its petitions, making room for the needs of the priest and of the community, for special occasions or seasons or devotions. For example, at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a town that was devastated by earthquakes a few years ago, the monks will still at times add the orations against earthquakes at their private Masses. Other priests may pray for the gift of charity, the gift of continence, or the gift of tears. Sometimes a celebrant will add a Collect for his parents, for a friend in need, for peace in time of war, or for the unity of the Church; for people in authority and those under their charge, for those in temptation or tribulation, or for help against persecutors and evildoers; for rain or fine weather, to avert storms, to beg for a good harvest or to beg the lifting of a plague. Thus, a wise and controlled liberty, solely drawing on fully-formed prayers hallowed by centuries of use, allowed for responses to personal and local needs.

These Collects, moreover, expressed and inculcated devotion to Our Lady and the saints, including the patron saint of the church in which the people are gathered for prayer. I remember my first introduction to the riches of the additional Collects in a visit to Norcia, when I assisted at an early morning Low Mass. The celebrant added the orations “To implore the intercession of the saints” (appointed for after the Purification until Ash Wednesday and during the Time after Pentecost — translation from the St. Andrew Daily Missal, 1945 edition, p. 1712):

Collect. Defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all dangers of mind and body; that through the intercession of the blessed and glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, together with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, mercifully grant us safety and peace, that all adversities and errors being overcome, Thy Church may serve Thee in security and freedom. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son…
Secret. Graciously hear us, O God our Savior, and by the virtue of this sacrament protect us from all enemies of soul and body, bestowing on us both grace in this life and glory hereafter. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…
Postcommunion. May the oblation of this divine Sacrament both cleanse and defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, Thy blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, blessed N. [titular saint of the church], and all the saints, render us at once purified from all perversities and freed from all adversities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

The prayers translated below are found on the left page
To give another example, here is a translation of the second set of orations appointed to be said from Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday (ibid., p. 1713):

Collect. O almighty and eternal God, Who hast dominion over the living and the dead, and art merciful to all whom Thou foreknowest will be Thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech Thee that they for whom we have purposed to pour forth our prayers, whether this present world still detains them in the flesh or the next world hath already received them divested of their bodies, may, by the intercession of Thy saints and the clemency of Thy goodness, obtain pardon and full remission of all their sins. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son… 

Secret. O God, Who alone knowest the number of the elect to be admitted to the supreme felicity of Heaven, grant, we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of all Thy saints, the names of all who have been recommended to our prayers and of all the faithful, may be inscribed in the book of blessed predestination. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Postcommunion. Let us pray. May the sacraments which we have received purify us, we beseech Thee, O almighty and merciful Lord; and through the intercession of all Thy saints, grant that this Thy sacrament may not be unto us a condemnation, but a salutary intercession for pardon; may it be the washing away of sin, the strength of the weak, a protection against all dangers of the world, and a remission of all the sins of the faithful, whether living or dead. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever. R. Amen.

Quite apart from the obvious value of praying for intentions like these on a regular basis, one cannot fail to note the extraordinary beauty and profound theology of these additional orations, where the lex orandi expresses with incomparable luminosity the lex credendi on the predestination and intercession of the saints.

This practice of multiple collects was the daily liturgical equivalent — on a smaller scale, of course — of the Good Friday intercessions, which, let us recall, are not in the form of a Byzantine litany, much less in the form of the Novus Ordo “prayers of the faithful” or General Intercessions, but rather take the form of a series of petitions announced and then prayed for with Collects. The intercessory element survived in the orationes ad libitum and the orationes imperatae, obviating the need for an artificially constructed “prayer of the faithful” or “general intercessions.” Once again, we see that the Roman tradition in its Tridentine maturity already contained within itself the resources it needed for bringing before God the needs of the celebrant, the local community, the larger world, or certain categories of people. It was already all there. It was only after those resources had been hacked out under Pius XII and John XXIII that the Consilium discovered a “lack” that had to be filled with a pseudo-antiquarian modern invention.

A significant benefit of leaving room for multiple orations is the way in which it permits the temporal and sanctoral cycles to interpenetrate and harmonize as it were effortlessly, without great loss suffered on either level. Sundays may be privileged, but they do not exclude the saints; the saints, too, receive our devotion, but not at the expense of the ferial prayers of Advent and Lent.[2] When the Novus Ordo brutally reduced orations to a single set per Mass across the board, it introduced for the first time an outright opposition between the temporal and sanctoral cycles, an either/or that is highly uncharacteristic of the Catholic both/and. Rather than a great conjunction where two planets draw near in our vision without being in danger of actual collision, the insistence on a single set of orations bespeaks a tunnel-vision incapable of taking in the breadth of revelation, Church history, and the ebb and flow of seasons.

Far too many treasured orations of the Roman rite effectively disappeared from the prayer of the Church due to the shortsighted postwar reforms, particularly those contained in the 1960 code of rubrics, which, let us be candid, marks a significant rupture with the Tridentine inheritance — a sort of dry run for principles that would be applied with still further ruthlessness in the 1969 missal and its code, the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani. The recovery of multiple Collects — initially three, but eventually a larger number, of which five may be a good ceiling — will therefore certainly become a more familiar feature in our churches, as priests rediscover the once and future Roman Rite.

I express my thanks to several Facebook friends (you know who you are) for your help with navigating rubrical details and understanding when and how the rubrics changed in the twentieth century.

An illustration from Bussard-Kirsch, The Meaning of the Mass (CUA, 1942)


(Translation of Chapter IX of the pre-1960 Rubricæ generales of the Missale Romanum, by Gerhard Eger, originally published on Canticum Salomonis.)

IX. On Collects

1. On double Feasts only one Collect is said, unless another Commemoration is to be made, as said above.

2. On semidouble feasts occurring from the Octave of Pentecost until Advent, and from the Candlemas until Lent, the second Collect is A cunctis, and the third ad libitum.

3. On semidouble Feasts occurring from the Octave of Epiphany until Candlemas, the second Collect is Deus, qui salútis, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or Deus, ómnium fidélium for the Pope.

4. On semidouble Feasts from Ash Wednesday until Passion Sunday, the second Collect is of the Feria, and the third A cunctis.

5. On Semidoubles from Passion Sunday until Palm Sunday, the second Collect is of the Feria, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope.

6. On semidouble Feasts from the Octave of Easter until Ascension, the second Collect is Concéde nos of Our Lady, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope.

7. On semidouble feasts occurring within Octaves, the second collect is of the Octave, and the third the one placed in second place within the Octave.

8. During the Octaves of Easter and Pentecost, on Masses of the Octave only two Collects are said, one of the day, and the second Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope.

9. During other Octaves, and on fasting Vigils (except the Vigil of Christmas and of Pentecost), three Collects are said, one of the day, the second of Our Lady, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope. But during Octaves of Our Lady, and on the Vigil and during the Octave of All Saints, the second Collect is Deus, qui corda of the Holy Ghost, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope.

10. On Sundays occurring within Octaves two Collects are said, one of the Sunday, and the second of the Octave. On the Octave day, only one Collect is said, unless another Commemoration is to be made.

11. On Sundays three Collects are said, as assigned in the Ordinary, except on the Sundays otherwise noted.

12. On simple Feasts and Ferias per annum, unless otherwise noted three Collects are said, as on Semidoubles, or five, or even up to seven ad libitum.

13. On Ember days and when several Lessons are read, these several Collects are said after the last Collect before the Epistle, as is noted in the Proper de Tempore of the Missal.

14. In votive Masses said solemnly for a grave matter or for a public cause of the Church, only one Collect is said. On a Mass for Thanksgiving, however another Collect is added, as noted in the proper place. In other votive Masses, however, several Collects are always said, as on simple Feasts.

15. On votive Masses of Our Lady the second Collect is of the Office of the day, and the third of the Holy Ghost. But when the Office of Our Lady is said on Saturday, the second Collect is of the Holy Ghost, and the third Ecclésiæ tuæ or for the Pope. On votive Masses of the Apostles, the Collect of Our Lady Concéde nos is said in place of the Collect A cunctis.

16. If, when several Collects are said, there should occur a Commemoration of some Saint, the Commemoration is said in second place, and the third Collect is the one that was otherwise in second place.

17. Let the following arrangement be observed for the conclusion of Collects. If the Collect is directed to the Father, it concludes Per Dóminum nostrum, etc. If to the Son, Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre, etc. If the Son is mentioned at the beginning of the Collect, it concludes Per eúndem Dóminum nostrum, etc. If the Son is mentioned at the end of the Collect, it concludes Qui tecum vivit, etc. If the Holy Ghost is mentioned, at the conclusion one says: In unitáte ejúsdem Spíritus Sancti, etc. Let the other things be also followed in the saying of Collects that are said above in the Rubric on Commemorations.

[1] Denis the Carthusian comments on why the tradition specified an odd number of Collects: “When the counter-greeting of the people is done, Et cum spiritu tuo, the priest pours forth prayers for the people and for himself [the Collects]. And it is said in the Rationale Divinorum Officiorum [of Durandus] that the numbers of prayers is always odd in number, that is, one, because of the unity of the divine nature; or three, because of the mystery of the Trinity; or five, because of the five wounds of Christ; or seven, because that is the total number of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Nor ought there be more than this [seven], without a very special and serious reason, because Christ did not exceed this number of petitions.”

[2] In like manner, the custom of multiple orations for Sundays kept fresh the memory of older liturgical strata. For example, when Trinity Sunday was imposed on the First Sunday after Pentecost, or the Holy Family on the First Sunday after Epiphany, the dominical orations would still be said, instead of being shuffled off to the nearest available feria (as occurs with the 1962 missal). “No Collect left behind” was the wise policy of our forefathers. It hardly needs to be added that all of the considerations in this article apply, perhaps even moreso, to the Divine Office. In the old office of Lauds and Vespers, there would always be a commemoration of the lesser occurring feast or season, with its Benedictus or Magnificat antiphon, versicle, and Collect. In the new Liturgy of the Hours, the intertwining between temporal and sanctoral has been eliminated with barbaric totality.

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