Saturday 11 June 2011

Interpolations in the Traditional Catholic lections for Mass

In the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, there is the very interesting article that says "In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See." I’ve read some people arguing that this means that the reading is to be done at the sermon as at present. As for the edition, any approved Bible – but please God, do not let the USCCB impose the NAB on us!

I don’t want to really get into a discussion of that issue (although personally, I feel there is a great weight on the side of a single vernacular reading and not reading before the sermon). I merely want use it as the springboard for an interesting aspect of the Traditional liturgy.

One thing perhaps some people don’t realize is that the Traditional lectionary does not always reproduce the biblical passage exactly. There are interpolations sometimes. The first type is a simple one: the incipits. The usual incipits [there are few exceptions] are as below.

Gospels begin with "In illo tempore"[At that time]. Old Testament readings begin with "Haec dicit Dominus [Deus]" [Thus says the Lord (God) a goodly phrase I remember from my KJV days] if they are from the prophets. If they are recounting a historical incident or a narrative then "In diebus illis" [in those days]. The Acts of the Apostles and Revelations use the same incipit. Epistles from St. Paul most often with "Fratres" [Brothers]; those of a more pastoral nature such as to Timothy and Titus with "Carissime" [Dearly beloved] Those of St. Peter, James and John – the so-called Catholic Epistles - with "Carissimi" [Dearly beloved]

The incipits are often expanded to give the wider picture or the context, or even in some cases, provide allusions. I’m sure some people may be familiar with them. For example, the famous Gospel of the BVM "In illo tempore: loquente Iesu ad turbas, extollens vocem quaedam mulier de turba dixit illi" [at that time, (as) Jesus was speaking to the crowd, lifting up her voice a certain women from the crowd said to him..."]

The initial part "At that time, (as) Jesus was speaking to the crowd" is not in the original text. It is added to provide the 'scene' as it were. There are of course others: In illo tempore... dixit Iesus turbis Iudaeorum [Jesus said to the crowd of Jews]... "dixit Iesus turbis Iudaeorum, et principibus sacerdotum parabolam hanc" [Jesus spoke to the crowd of Jews and chief priests this prable]... "dixit Iesus Simoni Petri" [Jesus said to Simon Peter]... "dixit Iesus dicipulis suis" [Jesus said to his disciples] and so on.

There are also such additions in the Epistles. One particular one caught my attention this time, with all the controversy over the Good Friday prayer. It is the prayer of Jeremiah but in context is clearly meant to form an allusion to the Passion of Christ. Which probably explains the interesting beginning "In diebus illis, dixerunt impii Iudaei ad invicem" [In those days the impii Jews said to one another - I’ve purposely left impii untranslated. You'd say impious but for for some reason, the hand missals I checked [all before '58] give the translation as wicked.

That’s incipits, there are also conclusions though these are rarer. A common ending to prayers, which is seen especially in the readings from the OT, such as of Jeremiah, in the Traditional lectionary in Lent is "Dominus Deus noster" [(O) Lord our God] or "Domine Deus meus [(O) Lord my God]. One ending to some of the readings from the Pauline Epistles is “in Christo Jesu Domino nostro" [in Christ Jesus our Lord].

But one of the biggest "stitches" is in the passage "Ecce Sacerdos Magnus". Some may be familiar with this which is a famous responsory sung for Episcopal visitations, and important Episcopal and Sacerdotal functions. It also has an expanded for as an Epistle for assigned for many saintly popes and bishops and is the Epistle of the Common of Bishop Confessors. My hand missal informs me that is is from Sirach 44:16-27; and 45 3-20. Quite a broad ascription for so short a passage. But that’s because it isn’t exactly the passage. The interesting thing is how the Bible text is reproduced. Regrettably I can’t find out how to do side by side tables, so hopefully you will be content with highlighting. The boldened text is the phrases taken directly from Scripture or extremely close to it. The unboldened text is inserted. The lection is as follows:

Ecce sacerdos magnus, qui in diebus suis placuit Deo, et inventus est Justus : et in tempore iracundiae factus est reconciliation. Non est inventus similes illi, qui conservavit legem Excelsi. Ideo jurejurando fecit illum Dominus crescere in plebem suam Benedictionem omnium gentium dedit illi, et testamentum suum confirmavit super caput ejus. Agnovit eum in benedictionibus suis : conservavit illi misericordiam suam : et invenit gratiam coram oculis Domini. Magnificavit eum in conspectu regum : et dedit illi coronam gloriae. Statuit illi testamentum aeternum, et dedit illi sacerdotium magnum : et beatificavit illum in gloria. Fungi sacerdotio, et habere laudem in nomine ipsius, et offerre illi incensum dignum in odorem suavitatis.

OK, so they added a word or two. Big deal. Actually no. This is Sirach 44:16-27; and 45: 3-20. The first verse however, is actually from Sirach 50. The boldened text is the excerpts given in the Epistle reading.

Simon Onii filius sacerdos magnus qui in vita sua suffulsit domum et in diebus suis corroboravit
(Chapter 50:1) Enoch placuit Deo et translatus est in paradiso ut det gentibus paenitentiam. Noe inventus est perfectus iustus et in tempore iracundiae factus est reconciliatio ideo dimissum est reliquum terrae cum factum est diluvium testamenta saeculi posita sunt apud illum ne deleri possit diluvio omnis caro Abraham magnus pater multitudinis gentium et non est inventus similis illi in gloria qui conservavit legem Excelsi et fuit in testamento cum illo in carne eius stare fecit testamentum et in temptatione inventus est fidelis ideo iureiurando dedit illi semen in gente sua crescere illum quasi terrae cumulum et ut stellas exaltare semen eius et hereditari illos a mari usque ad mare et a Flumine usque ad terminos terrae et in Isaac eodem fecit modo propter Abraham patrem ipsius benedictionem omnium gentium dedit illi et testamentum confirmavit super caput Iacob agnovit eum in benedictionibus suis et dedit illi hereditatem et divisit ei partem in tribus duodecim et conservavit illis homines misericordiae invenientes gratiam in oculis omnis carnis Dilectus a Deo et hominibus Moses cuius memoria in benedictione est similem illum fecit in gloria sanctorum et magnificavit eum in timore inimicorum et in verbis suis monstra placavit glorificavit illum in conspectu regum et iussit illi coram populo suo et ostendit illi gloriam suam in fide et lenitate ipsius sanctum fecit illum et elegit illum de omni carne audivit eum et vocem ipsius et induxit illum in nubem et dedit illi coram praecepta legem vitae et disciplinae docere Iacob testamentum et iudicia sua Israhel excelsum fecit Aaron fratrem eius et similem sibi de tribu Levi statuit ei testamentum aeternum et dedit illi sacerdotium gentis et beatificavit illum in gloria et circumcinxit illum zonam gloriae induit illum stolam gloriae et coronavit illum in vasis virtutis circumpedes et femoralia et umeralem posuit ei et cinxit illum tintinabulis aureis plurimis in gyro dare sonitum in successu suo auditum facere sonitum in templo in memoriam filiis gentis suae stola sancta auro et hyacintho et purpura opus textile viri sapientis iudicio et veritate praediti torto cocco opus artificis gemmis pretiosis figuratis in ligatura auri et opere lapidarii sculptilis in memoriam secundum numerum tribuum Israhel coronam auream supra mitram eius expressam signo sanctitatis gloria honoris et opus virtutis desideria oculorum ornata sic pulchra ante ipsum non fuerunt talia usque ad originem non indutus est illa alienigena aliquis sed tantum filii ipsius soli et nepotes eius per omne tempus sacrificia ipsius consumpta sunt igni cotidie conplevit Moses manus eius et unxit illum oleo sancto factum est illi in testamentum aeternum et semini eius sicut dies caeli fungi sacerdotio et habere laudem et glorificare populum suum in nomine suo ipsum elegit eum ab omni vivente adferre sacrificium Deo incensum et bonum odorem in memoriam placere populo suo [the phrase in oderem suasvitatis is actually from Ephesians]

It’s a bit difficult to do the same with the English text but I’ve tried.

Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God, and was found just; and in the time of wrath he was made a reconciliation. There was not found the like to him who kept the law of the most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord made him to increase among his people. He gave him the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in His blessings; He preserved for him His mercy; and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory. He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him a great priesthood : and made him blessed in glory. To execute the office of the priesthood, and to have praised in His name, and to offer him a worthy incense for an odour of sweetness.
Sirach 44:16-27; and 45:3-20

Simon the high priest, the son of Onias, who in his life propped up the house, and in his days fortified the temple (Chp 50) Enoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise, that he may give repentance to the nations. Noe was found perfect, just, and in the time of wrath he was made a reconciliation. Therefore was there a remnant left to the earth, when the flood came. The covenants of the world were made with him, that all flesh should no more be destroyed with the flood. Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and there was not found the like to him in glory, who kept the law of the most High, and was in covenant with him. In his flesh he established the covenant, and in temptation he was found faithful. Therefore by an oath he gave him glory in his posterity, that he should increase as the dust of the earth, and that he would exalt his seed as the stars, and they should inherit from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. And he did in like manner with Isaac for the sake of Abraham his father. The Lord gave him the blessing of all nations, and confirmed his covenant upon the head of Jacob. He acknowledged him in his blessings, and gave him an inheritance, and divided him his portion in twelve tribes. And he preserved for him men of mercy, that found grace in the eyes of all flesh. Moses was beloved of God, and men: whose memory is in benediction. He made him like the saints in glory, and magnified him in the fear of his enemies, and with his words he made prodigies to cease. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, and showed him his glory. He sanctified him in his faith, and meekness, and chose him out of all flesh. For he heard him, and his voice, and brought him into a cloud. And he gave him commandments before his face, and a law of life and instruction, that he might teach Jacob his covenant, and Israel his judgments. He exalted Aaron his brother, and like to himself of the tribe of Levi: He made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him the priesthood of the nation, and made him blessed in glory, and he girded him about with a glorious girdle, and clothed him with a robe of glory, and crowned him with majestic attire. He put upon him a garment to the feet, and breeches, and as ephod, and he compassed him with many little bells of gold all round about, That as he went there might be a sound, and a noise made that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people. He gave him a holy robe of gold, and blue, and purple, a woven work of a wise man, endued with judgment and truth: Of twisted scarlet the work of an artist, with precious stones cut and set in gold, and graven by the work of a lapidary for a memorial, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And a crown of gold upon his mitre wherein was engraved Holiness, an ornament of honour: a work of power, and delightful to the eyes for its beauty. Before him there were none so beautiful, even from the beginning. No stranger was ever clothed with them, but only his children alone, and his grandchildren for ever. His sacrifices were consumed with fire every day. Moses filled his hands and anointed him with holy oil. This was made to him for an everlasting testament, and to his seed as the days of heaven, to execute the office of the priesthood, and to have praise, and to glorify his people in his name.
[the English does not indicate the difference in his; the Latin refers to two - Moses and God] He chose him out of all men living, to offer sacrifice to God, incense, and a good odour, for a memorial to make reconciliation for his people.

Amazing, isn’t it, the things one can find in the Traditional Missal. It's like a liturgical history puzzle. Perhaps a little ungainly as Bugnini thought, but maybe that's where the attraction and 'charm' is.

First published in February, 2008
Since which time the Instruction Universiae Ecclesiae has said: "26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular."


  1. A good point. It raises the question of what editions could be used to translate the lections. Usually in my experience the priest uses a hand missal, which solves that problem.

    NB however there is a difference between 'approved translations' and 'translations approved for liturgical use'. There are many Catholic editions of bibles, and hand-missals with the Nihil Obstat, but few have been approved for use in the liturgy. If the reading in the vernacular is to be part of the liturgy, and not an add-on to the sermon, then they would need approval for use as liturgical texts.

    Translations of the EF lectionary approved for liturgical use do not, as yet, exist.

  2. Joseph Shaw, your own point is very valid, that approved is not approved for liturgical use, just as a litany may be approved for private use but not for public use.

    However, one question is what translations were used 'before the flood'.

    If there was a translation approved for liturgical use in each Diocese (and I think it was Boylan in Dublin), then surely that is the translation approved for use in the EF. Otherwise, if an approved translation was used in 1962, and not necessarily one approved for liturgical use, then may we follow that practice?

    Does the use of the vernacular at the Altar constitute a liturgical use while the use of the vernacular in addition does not?

    Does that mean that the old customs for an (approved) extra-liturgical practice do not apply to an entirely distinct modern innovation in the 1962 Missal?

    Why is the Holy See making changes to the 1962 Missal without the consultation promised in Summorum Pontificum or the proper instructions for how the changes should be carried out. Shades of Bugnini!

    God bless you!

  3. So much for the 1962 line. The traditional liturgy becomes a perpetual workshop once again. How sad it is to see indult Catholics become Motu Proprio Catholics - of the personal initiative of the Pope. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote against liturgical innovation by Papal fiat but Pope Benedict XVI is very comfortable with changes that he sees as "rational". We're back in a new Enlightened age of liturgism. Where is the new resistance going to come from?

  4. Fascinating stuff. Don't understand most of it but I get the point. ;-x

  5. I joined your site in respect of the ecclesiastical interiors that you had included. I've been going through the site this weekend. I wonder is there something you could do to highlight this aspect of your site, which is almost unique and the more valuable because it is so closely focussed on a few selected areas. The posts on the interiors associated with Newman are excellent, although I think we have all seen images of them elsewhere. The roman basilicas are some of them new to me at least. The churches in Ireland are all new to me and I think a quite uniquely valuable collection, which you would do well to bring to a wider audience.

  6. I have heard the "in illo tempore" thing a lot but it never really struck me as a significant characteristic. You've made me reconsider that. It is really interesting to see just how much restitching there is going on. It's amazing really. It must have been done with great care to produce something as perfect as the traditional Missal. It also says to me that although the people think the liturgy is an immovable object the clergy have always thought it is the springboard for changes.

  7. Once again I think that this post was simply too long for the point that it was trying to make.

  8. I don't know that the posts are to long but I think that it covers something very complicated in a very good way.