Lenten Prayers from the Gelasian Sacramentary

Here are my first offerings on this blog for this Lent, coming from these prayers, ‘collects’ in form, from the Gelasian Sacramentary, a seventh- or eighth-century sacramentary (sacrament book) of the Roman rite, traditionally attributed to the fifth-century Pope Gelasius I (r. 492-492) and one of Cranmer’s sources for the Book of Common Prayer. First:

Concede nobis, omnipotens Deus, ut per annua quadragesimalis exercitia sacramenti et ad intelligendum Christi proficiamus arcanum, et affectus eius digna conversatione sectemur. Per.

Grant to us, Almighty God, that through the annual exercises of the Lenten sacrament we may both make progress to understanding the mystery of Christ and follow after his compassion with a worthy conversion. Through our Lord Jesus who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I felt this collect more suited to my Protestant readership than the following:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui nobis in observatione ieiunii et eleemosynarum semine posuisti nostrorum remedia peccatorum, concede nos opere mentis et corporis semper tibi esse devotos. Per …

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast placed the curatives for our sins for us in the observance of fasting and the seed of almsgiving, grant that we may be always devoted to you by the work of mind and body. Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Either way, the emphasis of these prayers, despite the second one calling fasts and almsgiving ‘nostrorum remedia peccatorum’*, is on the effect and purpose of Lenten discipline. Amongst the Orthodox communions and traditional Roman Catholics, as well as the Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Christians represented in these prayers, the Lenten discipline is/was the abstinence from certain foods — animal products and olive oil — in the forty-day period before Easter.

Today, many of us have some other Lenten discipline instead: abstaining from chocolate/sweets, coffee, alcohol, Facebook, blogs that annoy us; or perhaps taking on something: fasting once a week, studying a book of the Bible in depth, reading a particular spiritual book (perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book), or maybe going to a midweek service at our local church.

The purpose of these disciplines, whether traditional or modern, is to draw us to Christ. The first prayer above is for greater understanding of the mystery of Christ — a mystical and theological request — and for a greater conversion into his likeness (equally mystical and theological, frankly). The second prayer is for endless devotion to God. Sound requests, if you ask me.

Let us keep them in mind on this Lenten journey to Easter.

*For which there is, I believe, a disturbing (to us Prots) biblical precedent discussed by Pope Leo I in his sermons on fasting.


4 thoughts on “Lenten Prayers from the Gelasian Sacramentary

  1. “For which there is, I believe, a disturbing (to us Prots) biblical precedent discussed by Pope Leo I in his sermons on fasting.”

    Oh no! I was hoping to hear differently re Pope Leo I. (If I’m not mistaken, I believe you are studying his writings quite a lot, as part of your doctoral work.)

    I enjoy your blog, and share your interest and enthusiasm for the ancient church.

    • I have to confess I’m slightly hazy on the Leo reference (it could have been another Father? I think it’s Leo), but somewhere (OT Deuterocanonical books?) there is a reference in the Bible to almsgiving as removing sin.

      One of the endless difficulties people had historically was what to do about sin after baptism — this solution was to give to the poor.

      To do Leo full justice, I know that he preaches mostly about being justified by trusting in Christ and God and believing on Him. But, like most pre-Luther Christians, he does not separate the ongoing Christian life from the work of salvation. And really, it depends what we mean by ‘salvation’, anyway!

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