Friday, July 02, 2021

The Most Ancient Roman Prayers of Diaconal Ordination

We continue our series on the ancient ordination prayers of the Roman Rite with those for the diaconate; the first article in this series gives an explanation of the oldest source in which they are attested, the so-called Leonine Sacramentary. In this manuscript, the prayers for diaconal ordinations are placed immediately after those of the episcopal ordination rite (numbers 948-51 in Mohlberg’s critical edition). Under the header “Benedictio super diaconos – the blessing upon deacons”, there are four orations, but no rubrics that accompany them to indicate the ceremonies with which they were said. Unlike the episcopal ordination, they are not accompanied by a Mass formula.

Domine Deus, praeces nostras clementer exaudi: ut quae nostro sunt gerenda seruitio, tuo prosequaris benignus auxilio; et quos sacris ministeriis exsequendis pro nostra intellegentia credimus offerendos, tua potius electione iustifices. – Lord God, mercifully hear our prayers, that Thou may kindly attend with Thy aid to the things which will (or ‘must’) be done by our service; and those whom we believe should be presented (lit. ‘offered’) in accord with our understanding (i.e., of their character) for the performace of sacred ministries, may Thou justify all the more by Thy election.

Oremus, dilectissimi, Deum Patrem omnipotentem, ut super hos famulos suos, quos ad officium diaconii uocare dignatur, benedictionem gratiae suae clementer effundat, et consecrationis indultae propitius dona conseruet. – Let us pray, most beloved, God the Father almighty, that He may mercifully pour forth the blessing of His grace upon these His servants whom He deigneth to call to the office of deacon, and favorably preserve the gifts of the consecration granted (to them).
His Excellency Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, saying the oration “Oremus, dilectissimi”, during a diaconal ordination at the FSSP Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, Nebraska, on March 30, 2019. (Photo from the wesbite of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary.)
In the very next witness to the Roman ordination rites, the Old Gelasian Sacramentary, ca. 700 AD, the order of these two prayers has been switched, and they have some slight variations in wording. Roughly 80 years later, in the Gellone Sacramentary, they have been united into a single exhortation, and thus joined, pass into the medieval ancestor of the Pontifical of Clement VIII. (These changes will be explained in detail later in this series.) The following prayer, on the other hand, dropped out of use quite early, and is only found in the Leonine Sacramentary.

Deus, conlator sacrarum magnifice dignitatum, quaesumus, ut hos famulos tuos, quos ad officium leuitarum uocare dignaris, altaris sancti ministerium tribuas sufficienter implere, cunctisque donis gratiae redundantes et fiduciam sibi tuae maiestatis adquirere, et aliis praebere facias perfectae deuotionis exemplum. – O God, the great giver of sacred dignities, we ask that Thou grant to these Thy servants, whom Thou deignest to call to the office of the Levites, suitably to fulfill the ministry of the sacred altar, and cause them who abound in all the gifts of grace to gain boldness from (their service to) Thy majesty, and furnish to others an example of perfect devotion.

The fourth prayer, which is very long, was later transformed into a preface, and appears as such in the Pontifical of Clement VIII, with a few other changes. Again, the details of these later changes will be explained further along in the series. (The letters in parentheses are Mohlberg’s editorial correction of spelling mistakes in the manuscript.)

Adesto, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, honorum dator, ordinum distributor, officiorumque dispositor; qui in te manens innovas omnia, et cuncta disponis per verbum, virtutem, sapientiamque tuam, Iesum Christum Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, sempiterna providentia praeparas, et singulis quibusque temporibus aptanda dispensas. Cuius corpus aeclesiam tuam caelestium gratiarum varietate distinctam, suorumque conexa(m) discretione membrorum, per legem totius mirabile(m) conpagis unitam, in augmentum templi tui crescere dila(ta)rique largiris; sacri muneris servitutem trinis gradibus ministrorum nomini tuo militare constituens, electis ab initio Leviti filiis, qui mysticis operationibus domus tuae fidelibus excubiis permanentes, hereditatem benedictionis aeternae sorte perpetua possederent. Super hos quoque famulos tuos, quaesumus, Domine, placatus intende, quos tuis sacrariis servituros in officium diaconii suppliciter dedicamus. Et nos quidem tamquam homines divini sensus et summae rationis ignari, horum vitam quantum possumus aestimamus. Te autem, Domine, quae nobis sunt ignota non transeunt, te occulta non fallunt. Tu cognitor peccatorum, tu scrutator es animorum, tu veraciter in eis caeleste potes adhibere judicium, et vel indignis donare quae poscimus. Emitte in eos, Domine, quaesumus, Spiritum sanctum, quo in opus ministerii fideliter exequendi munere septiformi tuae gratiae roborentur. Abundet in eis totius forma virtutis, auctoritas modesta, pudor constans, innocentiae puritas et spiritalis observantia disciplinae. In moribus eorum praecepta tua fulgeant, ut suae castitatis exemplo imitationem sanctae plebis adquira(n)t, et bonum conscientiae testimonium praeferentes in Christo firmi et stabiles perseverent, dignisque successibus de inferiori gradu per gratiam tuam capere potiora mereantur.
Folio 211r of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD, with the prayers “Oremus, dilectissimi” and “Adesto, quaesumus” in the rite of diaconal ordination. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048.)
Be present, we ask, almighty God, the giver of honors, the distributor of orders, and dispenser of offices; Who abiding in Thyself, renew and dispose all things through Thy word, Thy power and Thy wisdom, Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord; and by Thy everlasting providence, prepare and dispense what is fitting for each particular season. Whose body, Thy church, adorned by a variety of heavenly graces, and joined together in the distinction of her members, and united by the wonderful law of the whole structure, Thou grantest to grow and to spread for the increase of Thy temple; establishing that the service of sacred duty should serve Thy name in a threefold grade of ministers, having chosen from the beginning the sons of Levi to abide as faithful sentinels over the mystical workings of Thy house, and possess by perpetual lot the inheritance of eternal blessing. Peaceably do Thou also look, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on these Thy servants whom we humbly dedicate to the office of the diaconate, for the service of Thy holy places. And we indeed as men, knowing not the divine judgment and supreme understanding, appraise their lives as best we can. But what is unknown to us eludes Thee not, o Lord, hidden things do not deceive Thee. Thou art the knower of sins, Thou art the searcher of souls; thou canst truly bring heavenly judgment among them, and give what we ask even to the unworthy. With a heavenly discernment that never faileth, Thou art able to penetrate the mystery of their lives, wash away the faults that have crept into their souls and grant them to do all things which it behooveth them to do. Send forth upon them, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the Holy Spirit, by Whom they may be strengthened with the gift of Thy seven-fold grace for the faithful performance of Thy ministry. Let there abound in them the form of all virtue, mild authority, constant modesty, the purity of innocence and the observance of spiritual discipline. In their conduct let Thy precepts shine forth, so that the people may follow, in holy imitation, the example of their chastity; and bearing before them the good testimony of their conscience, may they persevere firm and steadfast in Christ, and by worthy successes deserve to rise by Thy grace from a lower grade to higher things.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: