Rorate Caeli

The Prayers for the Feast of St Lawrence in the Post-Vatican II Liturgical Reforms

The martyrdom of St Lawrence, from the late 13th-century frescoes
on the walls of San Lorenzo ‘in Palatio’ at the Lateran

Today's feast of St Lawrence gives us yet another example of the differences, both great and small, between the prayers of the traditional and reformed Roman Rites. [1] The collect in the 1962 Missale Romanum (CO 960) reads as follows:

CO 960: Da nobis, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: vitiórum nostrórum flammas exstínguere; qui beáto Lauréntio tribuísti tormentórum suórum incéndia superáre.


(Grant us, we pray, almighty God, to extinguish the flames of our sins, just as you granted Saint Lawrence to overcome the fires of his tortures.)

This collect, well attested in forty-nine extant manuscripts from the eight century onwards, is universally used for St Lawrence, and almost always on his feast day itself (a handful of manuscripts use this oration on the vigil or octave). The only textual variation in this prayer is the addition of martyri after Laurentio, in five manuscripts.

On the other hand, the collect in the post-Vatican II Missale Romanum is a new composition, centonised from three pre-existing sources (two collects and one preface):

2008 MR: Deus, cuius caritátis ardóre beátus Lauréntius servítio cláruit fidélis et martýrio gloriósus, fac nos amáre quod amávit, et ópere exercére quod dócuit


(O God, giver of that ardour of love for you by which Saint Lawrence was outstandingly faithful in service and glorious in martyrdomgrant that we may love what he loved and put into practice what he taught.)

CO 1155: Deus, cuius caritatis ardore beatus Laurentius edaces incendii flammas, contempto persecutore, devicit, concede propitius, ut omnes, qui martyrii eius merita veneramur, protectionis tuae auxilio muniamur. 


(O God, giver of that ardour of love for you by which Saint Lawrence, having defied the persecutor, overcame the all-consuming blaze of the fire, mercifully grant that all who venerate the merits of his martyrdom may be defended by the help of your protection.)

Pref 735: VD: Praevenientes natalem diem beati Laurenti[i], qui levita simul martyrque venerandus, et proprio claruit gloriosus officio, et memoranda refulsit passione sublimis. 


(It is truly right and just: Anticipating the birthday of Saint Lawrence, who is venerated as both deacon and martyr, particularly outstanding and glorious in his duty, and whose sublime passion is a shining reminder [to us].)

CO 2549 (MR 543): Excita, domine, in ecclesia tua spiritum, cui sanctus Laurentius levita servivit, ut, eodem nos replente studeamus amare, quod amavit, et opere exercere, quod docuit.


(Rouse, O Lord, in your Church the Spirit whom Saint Lawrence the deacon served, so that, having been filled with the same [Spirit], we may strive to love what he loved and put into practice what he taught.)

The first source, CO 1155, is a collect universally used for St Lawrence, attested in twenty-nine manuscripts including the Gelesianum Vetus (n. 974) dating from the sixth century onwards. The second source is Pref 735, a preface for St Lawrence, attested in only three manuscripts, with one of these being the Leonine Sacramentary (n. 740). It is similar to two other extant prefaces (Pref 259 and 1660), which are both also used only for St Lawrence. The third and final source is CO 2549, which before the reforms of Pope Pius XII in Cum nostra hac aetate (23 March 1955) was the collect for the octave day of St Lawrence (17 August) in the Missale Romanum. It is extant in thirty-four manuscripts, dating from the eighth century onwards, and used for St Lawrence in all of these (in one manuscript, this prayer is duplicated and used for St Maurus).

At least, then, all of the source prayers used to compose the reformed Missal's new collect are associated with St Lawrence in the manuscript tradition. But this is where the positives largely end. As with many other orations in the post-Vatican II Missal, aspects of the source texts that could be seen as 'negative' were not kept by Coetus XVIII bis of the Consilium, the study group responsible for the reform of the prayers of the Roman Missal. The allusion to the way in which St Lawrence was martyred has been omitted from CO 1155 (edaces incendii flammas), as well as any notion of our needing, and pleading, for God's protection (protectionis tuae auxilio muniamur), and of persecution (contempto persecutore). In the collect of the 1962 Missal, we ask for our own vices to be extinguished (vitiórum nostrórum flammas exstínguere), just as St Lawrence in his martyrdom overcame the torture of the flames (tribuísti tormentórum suórum incéndia superáre), which clearly made this prayer doubly unsuitable in the minds of the reformers! 

Furthermore, the petition in the new collect, that we may love what St Lawrence loved and put his teaching into practice (fac nos amáre quod amávit, et ópere exercére quod dócuit) has been greatly abbreviated from its source text. CO 2549 asks that God rouse his Holy Spirit in his Church and fill us with this same Spirit, just as St Lawrence was; only with this basis of the Lord's divine grace can we possibly strive to love what St Lawrence loved and practice his teaching. Yet the first half of this petition has gone missing in the reform, with the consequence that the new prayer asks for the same result as its source, but not for the means of divine grace by which we might be made able to follow St Lawrence's teachings and love as he loved. The new prayer is thus doubly-weakened: not only does it lack any allusion to the way in which St Lawrence was martyred, it also does not ask for the particular divine grace of being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

It should also be pointed out that the use of a preface to compose a collect, even as loosely as has been done in this instance, would seem to go against one of the principles of Coetus XVIII bis - that the "proper literary genre" of orations be preserved. [2]

The unfortunate and frustrating thing is that the reform didn't have to be like this. Schema 287 (De Missali, 50) of Coetus XVIII bis, dated 11 April 1968, gives a draft of the prayers for the Proper of Saints, according to the reformed General Roman Calendar proposed by Coetus I at that point. [3] In p. 24 of the schema, the already-existing prayers for St Lawrence in the 1962 Missale Romanum are kept intact - collect, secret/super oblata and postcommunion - with the suggestion that the collect could be changed or provided with another optional text, in this case from the Gelesianum Vetus:

GeV 975: Deus, mundi creator et rector, qui hunc diem in levitae tui Laurentii martyrio consecrasti, concede propitius ut omnes qui martyrii eius merita veneramur, intercessionibus eius ab aeternim gehennae incendiis liberemur.


(O God, creator and ruler of the world, who this day have hallowed the martyrdom of your deacon Lawrence, mercifully grant that all who venerate the merits of his martyrdom may, by his intercession, be liberated from the eternal fires of hell.)

This prayer (CO 1274 a) is extant in a total of twenty-seven manuscripts, and is used as a collect for St Lawrence in twenty of these, with the other seven manuscripts using this oration for various other saints. It was, perhaps, too much to expect that a prayer which mentions the eternal fires of hell (ab aeternim gehennae incendiis liberemur) would make it through the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms!

Fra Angelico, "St Lawrence Distributing Alms to the Poor",
c. 1447-49, now in the Vatican Museums

As for the other prayers, the secret of the 1962 Missal (CO 69 A) would be carried over into the reformed Missal, but with some changes:

CO 69 A: Accipe, quǽsumus, Dómine, múnera dignánter obláta: et, beáti Lauréntii suffragántibus méritis, ad nostræ salútis auxílium proveníre concéde


(Accept, we pray, O Lord, the gifts worthily offered to you, and, by the interceding merits of Saint Lawrence, grant that they become a help to our salvation.)


2008 MR: Súscipe propítius, Dómine, múnera in beáti Lauréntii celebritáte lætánter obláta, et ad nostræ salútis auxílium proveníre concéde.


(Receive with favour, O Lord, the offerings we joyfully make on the feast day of Saint Lawrence and grant that they become a help to our salvation.)

CO 69 A is used as a secret/super oblata for St Lawrence in thirty-four manuscripts dating from the sixth century, including the Leonine Sacramentary (n. 759). [4] The mention of the "interceding merits" (suffragántibus méritis) of St Laurence was removed by Coetus XVIII bis, just as the petitions for the intercession of other saints were removed by the group from many other prayers in the Proper and Common of Saints. There is no precedent for this, or the other smaller changes, in the manuscript tradition of this prayer.

For the postcommunion prayer, once again the oration in the 1962 Missal (CO 5251 E) was taken up into the reformed Missal, [5] with changes:

CO 5251 E: Sacro múnere satiáti, súpplices te, Dómine, deprecámur: ut, quod débitæ servitútis celebrámus offício, intercedénte beáto Lauréntio Mártyre tuo, salvatiónis tuæ sentiámus augméntum. 


(Nourished by these sacred gifts, we humbly implore you, Lord, that the office of dutiful service which we celebrate may, by the intercession of Saint Laurence your Martyrbring us an increase of your saving grace.)

2008 MR: Sacro múnere satiáti, súpplices te, Dómine, deprecámur, ut, quod in festivitáte beáti Lauréntii débitæ servitútis præstámus obséquium, salvatiónis tuæ sentiámus augméntum.


(Nourished by these sacred gifts, we humbly implore you, Lord, that the homage of dutiful service, which we render on the feast of Saint Lawrence, may bring us an increase of your saving grace.)

Yet again, any mention of the intercession of the saints has been removed from the reformed prayer. Yet again, this and the other changes have no basis in the manuscript tradition. [6] This is a pattern we can see time and time again in the post-Vatican II liturgical reform - a reform which was (and still is!) claimed to be a "restoration" [7] but, under more detailed scrutiny, in large parts turns out to be nothing of the sort.

*   *   *

If I may be permitted a final, more personal, observation: In recent weeks, after the cruelty of Traditionis custodes, I have seen various people claim that the faithful who are strongly attached to the traditional Roman Rite should be satisfied with the celebration of Mass according to the reformed Missal and Lectionary, in Latin, ad orientem, and with Gregorian chant. The logic seems to be that, as such a Mass would look very much like the usus antiquior, it should be more than acceptable to us (if it looks like a duck, etc.). Indeed, such claims have been bolstered by the accompanying letter of Pope Francis to the worldwide episcopate, in which he writes:

Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite...

If only this were true! If only the 'experts' of the Consilium had not taken it upon themselves to move, chop up and edit prayers with centuries of constant use in the liturgical tradition! Instead, the more one examines the differences between the two missals, the more difficult it becomes to avoid the (in)famous conclusion of Rev Fr Joseph Gelineau, S.J.: “the Roman rite as we knew it exists no more. It has gone. Some walls of the structure have fallen, others have been altered; we can look at it as a ruin or as the partial foundation of a new building...” [8] 

Today's feast of St Lawrence provides another good example of why improving the ars celebrandi of the reformed Roman Rite, although praiseworthy and necessary, is not enough. The differences between the traditional orations and the post-conciliar novelties are wide and deep. Where, for today's feast, can we find the "elements of the Roman Rite"? Its collect has completely vanished, replaced with a substandard combination of three other source texts. Its secret and postcommunion prayers have been changed in ways unknown in the liturgical tradition. How did "the good of the Church genuinely and certainly require" these alterations and innovations (SC 23)? How do the changes in today's feast give the sacred rites of the Church "new vigour to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times" (SC 4)? 

Sadly, in this pontificate, we now know that there will be no answers provided to these questions. We are, apparently, expected to fideistically check our brains in at the door of the Second Vatican Council, lest we (according to Francis) "doubt the Council... and, in the final analysis... doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church." Yet, as Dom Alcuin Reid has recently written

Questioning the continuity of the modern liturgical books with liturgical tradition, and with the sound principles laid down by the Council is not denying the Council or its authority. It is, rather, to seek to defend the Council from those who distorted its stated intentions.

The critical study of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms continues. The faithful attached to tradition aren't going anywhere. And the traditional Roman Rite in all its fullness isn't going anywhere, Deo volente


[1] As in previous posts of this nature (for example, this one), reference will be made throughout to E. Moeller, J.M. Clement & B. Coppieters ‘t Wallant (eds.), Corpus orationum (CCSL 160-160M; Turnholt: Brepols, 1992-2004), abbreviated to CO, and E. Moeller (ed.), Corpus praefationum (CCSL 161-161D; Turnholt: Brepols, 1980-81), abbreviated to Pref.

[2] See Schema 186 (De Missali, 27), 19 September 1966, p. 3: “Placetne Patribus ut unicuique orationi in missali exstanti vel inserendae, restituatur character suus proprius et originalis?”

[3] Specifically, the reformed calendar as it was in Schema 225 (De Calendario, 14), 18 April 1967. The calendar would go through a couple more drafts with various changes, additions and deletions until its final promulgation in March 1969

[4] Note that this oration is given two other 'groupings' in the Corpus orationum. In CO 69 B, this secret/super oblata is used in thirty-seven manuscripts for St Anastasia; in CO 69 C, it occurs in ten manuscripts as a secret/super oblata for various other saints. There is some manuscript overlap between these three groups.

[5] This prayer has five other 'groupings' in the Corpus orationum, and in every instance it is used as a postcommunion oration. CO 5251 A comprises five early manuscripts, in which intercedénte beáto Lauréntio Mártyre tuo is omitted: in the Leonine Sacramentary, it is used on the feast of Ss Hippolytus and Pontian, while in the other four manuscripts it is used on Palm Sunday. CO 5251 B is made up of forty manuscripts, in which the prayer is used for St Sebastian along with, in four of them, St Fabian. CO 5251 C is a group of twenty-eight manuscripts, where this oration is used for Ss Tiburtius and Valerian. In the twenty-five manuscripts of CO 5251 D, it is used for Ss Marcellinus and Peter. Lastly, CO 5251 F is a group made up of fifteen manuscripts where this prayer is used for various other saints.

[6] Note that, in 2008 MR, this postcommunion is duplicated in the Common of Holy Men & Women, Mass formulary I.B.2, where Laurentii is replaced with the name of the saint being celebrated and, rather oddly, præstámus obséquium is replaced with celebrámus offício as in the original source text! (Perhaps this is an editorial oversight?)

[7] For example, the rather questionable assertion of Pope Paul VI in the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum (3 April 1969): "particular care has been taken with the orations, which have not only been increased in number, so that new prayers respond to the new needs of these times, but also the most ancient prayers have been revised to accord with the ancient texts."

[8] Joseph Gelineau, The Liturgy: Today and Tomorrow (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), p. 11.