18 December 2022

Lighten our darkness ...

Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord: and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.

This prayer comes from Anglican Use Evensong, and had originally been the concluding prayer of the Sarum Compline. Here is the Sarum original:

Illumina, quaesumus, Domine, tenebras nostras: et totius huius noctis insidias tu a nobis repelle propitius.

In other words, Cranmer, as his custom was, expanded propitius to by thy great mercy and insidias  ['ambushes'] to perils and dangers. the ambushes of this whole night thus became all perils and dangers of this night. 

Just as Cranmer padded and expanded, lest his vernacular version of the prayer be finished before the worshippers had quite realised it had started, so, through the Middle Ages, this prayer had already grown in the Latin. Here is the version in the 'Gregorian Sacramentary', with those words crossed out which were subsequently added.

Illumina, quaesumus, Domine, tenebras nostras: et totius huius noctis insidias tu a nobis repelle propitius.

But what will really surprise you is the Heading a little way above it the 'Gregorian Sacramentary'.


Gracious! It was apparently a collect for the Dawn!! It did not ask for God to protect us through the darkness of this night; it asked God to push away (repelle) the dangerous darkness of night. Look back at the Latin text!

[It may be that I am wrong. Another prayer in this section does look like a late evening prayer, so perhaps the Heading is erroneous. Illumina is certainly an evening prayer in the 'Gelasian Sacramentary'. But this exercise may serve to remind us how things are not always what they seem!]

When I am Cardinal Prefect of the CDW, I shall permit all who have Anglican Previous to use this prayer instead of Visita nos; which seems to be just a trifle odd when not used in a Religious House.


Fr Edward said...

How did the Latin BCP translate the Cranmerian prayer?
Perhaps it might get a bit of trad mileage.

Unknown said...

This collect also serves as the conclusion of Compline in the Norbertine Breviary in an extended form.

Illúmina, qæsumus, Dómine Deus, ténebras nostras: et totíus hujus noctis insídias, tu a nobis repélle propítius; et pacem tuam nostris concéde tempóribus. Per Dnm.

Like in many non-curial Offices, although this is always the standard collect of Compline, on certain high-ranking feasts, the collect of the feast also ppears and precedes it, the two being said under one conclusion. The same goes for Prime.

Greyman 82 said...

Interesting insight into the history and development of the third collect at Evensong. When I was a Cathedral chorister in the 1970's, it rather puzzled me when in June, before 4 o'clock in the afternoon, we were praying "Lighten or darkness .. perils and dangers of this night" when there were nearly six hours of daylight remaining. I do admire the sublime prose of Thomas Cranmer, even though he was a heretic.

Expeditus said...

Similarly being safely brought to the beginning of this day at 10 or 11am Matins!

Greyman 82 said...

Expeditus: good point. I'd forgotten about thanking God for that at 11.30 a.m., not long before noon, at Choral Matins.

Zephyrinus said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke.

We all look forward very much to when you become Cardinal Prefect of the CDW.

In Domino

Pope Zephyrinus II.

Little Black Sambo said...

The Latin BCP also has "repelle". It is the same as the Sarum text above, except for the insertion of "Domine Deus".