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admin / June 24, 2016

Exclusive interview: Dr Lauren Pristas

Aurelio Porfiri

In my articles I talk a lot about the liturgy. This happens not only because liturgy is one of my interests, but because I strongly believe (as the Church as always believed) that the liturgy is the summit and the source of our Christian life, Culmen et Fons. The crisis in today’s Church is a crisis of the liturgy; or the crisis of the liturgy is the cause of the situation in today’s Church? It is not easy to give a straight answer but what is certain is that liturgy has undergone a deep crisis and there is still no clear way out.

I think would be important to rediscover the richness and beauty of the liturgy, looking at some parts of it. For example, maybe we don’t pay much attention to the Collects, the prayers recited from the priest in behalf of the assembly. We should pay attention because they are not only beautiful prayers, but very often jewels of refined literature. Probably the greatest expert on this topic is Dr Lauren Pristas. Dr Pristas is a Professor of Theology at Caldwell University (USA). She has obtained her degrees from Caldwell University, Immaculate Conception Seminary, University of Delaware and Boston College. She has authored several books and articles dealing with the Latin collects of the Roman Missal.

Why have you become interested in Liturgy?

My interest arose naturally, I think, simply from being a Catholic.  From an early age I understood that the Church’s prayer is my own and ought to be my own in a personal way. 

You seem quite concerned in your studies about the Collects of the Roman Missal.  Why are you particularly interested in this.

I was asked to do some translating for a religious order.  The work included translating proper Mass orations.  In the course of this work, I came to a deeper appreciation of the character and riches of the collects, and I also discovered that not all the collects in the Vatican II missal came, as I had previously thought, from earlier missals. During the course of translating Mass texts from Latin to English, I became aware that some of the proper orations of this one particular religious order had been edited for inclusion in their Vatican II books.  I also saw that, in certain instances, newly composed texts replaced orations formerly assigned to particular celebrations.  Upon investigating, I learned that these things were true of the orations in the Missale Romanum also.  Many of the collects in the Vatican missal come directly from the pre-Vatican missal – that is, the exact same text is used in the same setting on the same day in both missals.  Other collects come from ancient sacramentaries; still others are new compositions.  Further, many of the collects that were taken from earlier books were edited, and many newly composed prayers are woven from words or phrases taken from two or three ancient orations.  These last may include newly composed phrases as well.  The collect is the true proper prayer of the liturgical day.  It praises God in a way that is specific to the day and seeks graces from him that correspond to the feast or day being celebrated.  On Sundays and major feasts the collect of the day is prayed both at Mass and at several hours of both the Divine Office (pre-Vatican II) and the Liturgy of the Hours (post-Vatican II).  The fact that the collect is repeated in the Church’s formal prayer over the course of the day gives it particular importance – for the more often prayers are devoutly prayed, the more likely they are to shape the minds and hearts of those who pray them.  I became particularly interested in the collects because of their singular importance and because many changes had been made to the corpus of collects in the post-Vatican II reform of the Sacred Liturgy. 

Some scholars (for instance, I think of a book by Lorenzo Bianchi on the translations of the prayers for the new missal) are concerned that the translations of the Missal of Paul VI somehow reflect also relevant changes in worldview and, in some way, in Theology.   What do you think about this?

There are two distinct areas of scholarly investigation that are often conflated or confused.  One is the study of the Latin texts of the typical editions of the Vatican II liturgical books; the other is the study of the vernacular translation of these same texts.  My work deals only with the Latin texts of the typical editions of the Tridentine and Vatican II missals.  I have never written about vernacular translations.  The problem that Bianchi notes, of vernacular translations departing from the original in order, perhaps, to appeal to modern persons, has been addressed by Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 instruction on “the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman Liturgy.”  This document replaces Comme le prévoit, the 1969 instruction “on the translation of liturgical texts for celebrations with a congregation.”  Liturgicam Authenticam, unlike Comme le prévoit, requires that all official vernacular translations of Roman liturgical books be formal correspondence renderings made directly from the Latin originals.  The translation liberties that Bianchi notes are no longer permitted.   

Do you think that the Collects of the Paul VI’s Missal are in continuity with the precedent liturgical tradition?

The corpus of collects in the Paul VI missal includes a great many collects from the Tridentine missal as well as from more ancient Latin liturgical books. Continuity is well-established by the presence of these prayers.

Can you explain briefly what was the structure of a classic Collect in the Pius V Missal?

The Roman collect or oratio is a prayer of petition expressed in a single, carefully-crafted, concise, prose sentence having a somewhat elevated rhetorical style.  It is a short prayer  which is prayed aloud on behalf of the assembly, and presents petitions that are general in nature as is fitting for prayer that is offered on behalf of many.  The brevity of the prayers is a mark of both humility and trust.   

Typically the Roman collect has two parts and invariably concludes with a Trinitarian formula that might be considered its third part.  The Trinitarian close is most often:  “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”  The two parts are the invocation and the petition.  The invocation, or direct address, opens the prayer.  It is followed by a tersely worded request, the petition.  Most usually collects are addressed to the Father whose attributes or deeds are praised.  Examples are:  “Almighty, everlasting God” or “Almighty, everlasting God, who govern things both in heaven and on earth,” or “O God, strength of those who hope in you.”  The manner of address provides the motive for the petition making the two parts of the prayer parallel in a subtle way.  Because God is almighty, we ask him to look upon our weakness and protect us (Dominica III post Epiphaniam); because he governs things both in heaven and on earth, we ask him to grant us his peace in our days (Dominica II post Epiphaniam); and because God is the strength of those who hope in him, we ask him to be present to our prayers and grant us the help of his grace (Dominica I post Pentecosten). 

This is but the briefest introduction.  Much else might be said about the form of the collects and the great many variations it accommodates.  You asked specifically about the structure of the collects of the Pius V missal.  It is important to note that there is no difference between the form or structure of collects in the Pius V missal and those in the Paul VI missals.  Indeed, the three collects cited in the preceding paragraph also appear in the Vatican II missals where they are assigned to Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Sunday II per annum, and Sunday XI per annum, respectively. 

One of your papers proposes policies of revisions for the Collects of the post Vatican II Missal.  What are the outcomes?

I think this question may arise from a misunderstanding.  In the Fall of 1966, the members of the Consilium approved policies which were to govern the revision of the orations of the new missal.  In one of my articles, “The Orations of the Vatican II Missal:  Policies for Revision,” I list these policies and discuss them [Communio: an International Catholic Review, 30:4 (Winter, 2003): 621-653].  In the same essay, I also present indications found in later Consilium documents and elsewhere that the revision policies changed or evolved over the course of the work.  All the revision policies discussed in the above-mentioned article pertain to the editorial work that went into producing the corpus of orations in the Vatican II missal.  I have never proposed policies for revising the collects of the Vatican II missal, nor would I ever do so. 

Thank you for clarifying for me on this specific issue. Who are the liturgical scholars that have influenced your studies?

I am not sure I know the answer to this.  Perhaps I should begin by explaining that I am not a liturgical scholar.  The principal focus of my doctoral studies was Patristic theology – more specifically, doctrinal development during the Patristic Period.  It is as a doctrinal theologian with some training in literature and literary analysis that I approach the collects.  While I cannot name liturgical scholars who have influenced my studies, per se, I sincerely hope that my reading of Saints Augustine, Leo, Gregory the Great, Cyril of Jerusalem and other church Fathers has formed the way I approach liturgical texts and treat both liturgical and theological subjects.   Further, I would name Romano Guardini and Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, as authors whose writings on the liturgical subjects I have read with much profit. 

What are other fields of investigation that you are exploring?

Nothing at the moment. 

What do you think of the current situation of the liturgy?

The liturgy is, of course, that of the Church, but – in the nature of things – it is always celebrated in a local community.  It is impossible for me to generalize. 

Who are the current scholars in Liturgy that you consider worthy to be followed closely?

I am sorry to say that I do not keep current with the literature.  The time I have, I tend to spend with the liturgical texts themselves (the orations, offices and so forth), rather than in reading books and following what is published in academic journals.  I do, however, keep an eye on the articles that appear at the New Liturgical Movement at