Sunday, 6 October 2013

Latin prayer of the week: Asperges me


In this series on prayers in Latin we should know by heart, I've now looked at all those contained in the Compendium to the Catechism (I think!), so I thought for the last few weeks of this Year of Faith I'd look at some of the other key prayers which we should know, starting with a few using the psalms.

Psalm 50, the Miserere, is one of those psalms that it is really useful to know, firstly as it is the most important of the penitential psalms, so worth knowing as a way of expressing contrition.  But sections of it are also used liturgically in various contexts, such as at the Asperges before Mass and after Compline (in a monastery).

Accordingly, today a quick look at the first few verses of Psalm 50, particularly in the context of the prayers used before Mass.

The Asperges ceremony

The Asperges, or sprinkling of the congregation with holy water, is technically an  option in the Mass of Paul VI on Sundays and Solemnities, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it used in that context outside a (reform of the reform) Papal Mass.  That is unsurprising really, given the Novus Ordo's seeming desire to present itself as the liturgy of the saved, rather than of sinners.


It is an ancient tradition though, one taken over from Jewish ceremonies of Atonement, and shared still with the Orthodox.

Taking place before any other prayers for Mass, it nicely sets the scene, as the Catholic Encyclopedia points out:

"Its object is to prepare the congregation for the celebration of the Mass by moving them to sentiments of penance and reverence suggested by the words of the fiftieth psalm, or by impressing on them that they are about to assist at the sacrifice of our redemption as suggested in the psalm used at Easter time."

The text used for most of the year is as follows:

ASPERGES me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.   Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.  V.  Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.  R.  Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.  Amen.  Ant: Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

V.  Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam. 

R.  Et salutare tuum da nobis. 

V.  Domine, exaudi orationem meam.

R.  Et clamor meus at te veniat.

V.  Dominus Vobiscum.

R.  Et Cum Spiritu tuo.

Oremus.

EXAUDI nos, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de caelis; qui custodiat, foveat, protegat, visitet, atque defendat omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo.  Per Christum Dominum nostrum.  R: Amen

A translation:

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Ps:  Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.  V.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.  R.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.  Ant: Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed; Though shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

V.  Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy. 

R.  And grant us Thy salvation. 

V.  O Lord, hear my prayer.

R.  And let my cry come unto Thee.

V.  The Lord be with you.

R.  And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.

GRACIOUSLY hear us O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God; and vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from Heaven to guard, cherish, protect, visit, and defend all those that are assembled together in this house.  Through Christ our Lord.  R: Amen

The verses in context

It is useful, I think, to look at the context for the psalm verses, from those around them, for they make clear that God's mercy requires our repentance, but also tells of the reasons for our hope:

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam; et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.  Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me.  Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meum contra me est semper. Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci; ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum, et in peccatis concepit me mater mea. Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti; incerta et occulta sapientiæ tuæ manifestasti mihi. Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.  Auditui meo dabis gaudium et lætitiam, et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

And here is the Knox translation of them:

Have mercy on me, O God, as thou art ever rich in mercy; in the abundance of thy compassion, blot out the record of my misdeeds. Wash me clean, cleaner yet, from my guilt, purge me of my sin, the guilt which I freely acknowledge, the sin which is never lost to my sight.  Thee only my sins have offended; it is thy will I have disobeyed; thy sentence was deserved, and still when thou givest award thou hast right on thy side.  For indeed, I was born in sin; guilt was with me already when my mother conceived me. But thou art a lover of faithfulness, and now, deep in my heart, thy wisdom has instructed me. Sprinkle me with a wand of hyssop, and I shall be clean; washed, I shall be whiter than snow; tidings send me of good news and rejoicing, and the body that lies in the dust shall thrill with pride.

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