So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Orate Fratres • Meaning and Mystery

The Orate Fratres is a beautiful and simple prayer packed with meaning and mystery. It's brevity and our repetition of it each week leaves it prone to our lack of attention, and thus our intention can become tenuously attached to its recitation. Our prayer before Mass might be that God may grant us the grace to pray the Mass with our whole hearts and minds and, with each ritual gesture we make, that we might more fully surrender our lives to Christ for love of God and neighbour.

In praying the response, we attach our offering of our lives, our sufferings and prayers to the priest's prayer made on our behalf to God.

In hearing the priest's invocation to pray and by praying the response, one cannot help but acknowledge that something momentous is about to occur, i.e., the consecration of the bread and wine which becomes at the hands of the priest the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ - true God and true man. Later in the Liturgy, the people sing or say the "Amen" in response to the priest's chant Per Ipsum (Through him, with him and in him... .), thereby acknowledging and accepting the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and offering our adoration which is due to God alone. We affirm our immersion in the profound mystery of Christ's Sacrifice and submit to all that Christ has done and is doing for us. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!

Monsignor Steven J. Lopes, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, presents a concise (6 minutes), thorough, orthodox and beautiful instruction on the Orate Fratres.

Orate Fratres (Missale Romanum 2002)
146. Returning to the middle of the altar, and standing facing the people, the Priest extends and then joins his hands, and calls upon the people to pray, saying, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren). The people rise and make the response May the Lord accept the sacrifice, etc. then the priest, with hands extended, says the Prayer over the Offerings. At the end the people acclaim, Amen.
An audio recording of the priest's introduction and people's prayer can be found HERE.

Click on the image below to enlarge and chant along!

In former days... . The following citation regarding the Orate Fratres in the older form or Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass is from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Orate Fratres
The exhortation ("Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the Father almighty") addressed by the celebrant to the people before the Secrets in the Roman Mass. It is answered: "May the Lord receive the sacrifice from thy hands to the praise and glory of his name, and for our benefit also and for that of all his holy Church." The celebrant adds: "Amen". The form is merely an expansion of the usual Oremus before any prayer. It is a medieval amplification. The Jacobite rite has an almost identical form before the Anaphora (Brightman, "Eastern Liturgies", Oxford, 1896, 83); the Nestorian celebrant says: "My brethren, pray for me" (ib., 274). Such invitations, often made by the deacon, are common in the Eastern rites. The Gallican rite had a similar one (Duchesne, "Christian Worship", London, 1904, 109). The Mozarabic invitation at this place is: "Help me brethren by your prayers and pray to God for me" (P.L. LXXXV, 537). The medieval derived rites had similar formulæ (e.g. "Missale Sarum", Burntisland, 1861-3, 596). Many of the old Roman Secrets (really Offertory prayers) contain the same ideas. Durandus knows the Orate Fratres in a slightly different form ("Rationale", IV, 32). A proof that it is not an integral part of the old RomanMass is that it is always said, not sung, aloud (as also are the prayers at the foot of the altar, the last Gospel etc.). The celebrant after the "Suscipe Sancta Trinitas" kisses the altar, turns to the people and says: Orate fratres, extending and joining his hands. Turning back he finishes the sentence inaudibly. At high Mass the deacon or subdeacon, at low Mass the server, answers. The rubric of the Missal is: "The server or people around answer, if not the priest himself." In this last case he naturally changes the word tuis to meis.


  1. In regards to the Roman Missal's "Order of Mass with the Participation of a Single Minister" beginning on page 598, I see that in the Introductory Rites the Confiteor is changed to read in the singular, saying "I you my brother" omitting reference to sisters when the priest is celebrating with only one minister. However, I noticed when I turned the page, that the Missal then re-instates the use of the plural invitation, "Pray Brethren (Brothers and Sisters)" during the Liturgy of the Eucharist just after the washing of hands, even though the assembly is only the Priest and the single minister.
    Could you tell me why the Roman Missal instructs in this way, rather than adapting the Orate Fratres to those present as the Missal does during the Confiteor? Is the issue theological or merely customary or something else?

    Thank you so much for any help you can provide.

    1. I have the Confiteor you mentioned occurring on p.747 (#3) and the "brethren" passage in the Orate Fratres on p.750 (#18) of the Missal. That said, you have rightly raised an interesting distinction that merits clarification.

      The first instance, i.e., the Confiteor, in which the singular occurs makes sense because only one minister is present. Recalling that only the priest and minister are present, on earth as it were, and are confessing, the use of the singular makes sense. There is no need for our brothers and sisters in heaven to confess, so they are not called upon.

      The use of the plural in the Orate Fratres makes sense since the prayer is directed to all (in heaven and on earth) who are present and praying at the Mass. Hence, the priest calls on (all) the brethren (sisters and brothers), members of the Church Militant (in this instant the one other person present, i.e., the 'minister') AND the entire Church Triumphant (our brothers and sisters enjoying the beatific vision), to pray that my (i.e., his/the priest's) sacrifice and yours (that of the one 'minister' present) may be acceptable to God.

      So, yes—the issue is theological.

      I hope that helps.
      Catholic Sacristan

  2. A very reasonable answer. Thank you. You must be using the Australian or other English Edition, as I am using the American. I should have clarified, my apologies. One more follow up question, if you will. The Previous English Translation of the Roman Missal that was in use since the 1970s, had both the Confiteor and the Orate in the masculine singular (So I guess it would be the Ora Fratre?). So for 35 or so years, was the English Missal theologically incorrect, or was something else going on?

    Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Nathan.

      The short answer to your questions is: yes.

      Yes, the earlier translators of the 1970s English Missal gave us a highly inaccurate English translation of the Latin.

      Partly due to a rush to publish the Missal in the vernacular, and partly due to a methodology (or ideology) in play at the time called Dynamic Equivalency (DE) that was employed by ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), the 1970 translation might be better described as a paraphrase. DE, because it permitted personal theological bias to enter in, tended to produce paraphrases of the Latin text. The 1970 Sacramentary (Missal) was quite a loose product.

      The 1970s Sacramentary (Missal) reflected, among many biases, an aversion to culpability (Ooo, we shan't take responsibility for our sins!) and formal liturgical language. Thus, most prayers were highly truncated versions of the original beautiful Latin prayers. For example, in the 1970s DE version, the Latin of the Confiteor—"...mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,..." etc.—was reduced to a thin remnant of the original.

      Furthermore, the English DE texts were colloquial to the point of being trite babble. In some cases, the texts were so poorly translated that some Collects bordered on heresy. Ouch! Thankfully, those prayers are properly translated in the new Missal so as to avoid any confusion.

      In a word, the 1970s texts were impoverished, stripped of accuracy and deeper meaning.

      As you may already know, under a reformed ICEL, guided by the Vox Clara committee, the latest version of the Missal is the result of the method known as Formal Equivalency, which respects the literal meaning of the Latin original. The renewed English translation of the Latin Missal presents not only a more formal style of language that is worthy of the Liturgy, it is, in many ways, much, much more accurate that the earlier paraphrase.

      In light of the much better method of translation known as Formal Equivalency, the example you cite is one among many such distortions that cannot be justified.

      Apologies for the digression into a chat about methodologies.

      Thanks for the great questions, Nathan!


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