18 September 2017

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.


Woody said...

Subito! And may the eminent Cardinal Prefect permit use of Divine Worship: The Missal everywhere.

John Vasc said...

The words: "totius huius noctis insidias tu a nobis repelle propitius" seem to me to chime perfectly with the lines in the old Compline hymn ("Te lucis ante terminum") that beg God:
"Procul recédant sómnia
et nóctium phantásmata"

For surely you are stretching your translation 'more than somewhat', Father? That prayer ("totius..." etc) does not ask for the night to be repelled, it asks for the *snares* [or *ambushes*] of the night to be repelled or warded off. (And there'd be no point in asking for that protection post hoc, at matins.)

What those snares/ambushes consist in, for the chaste, particularly in a monastic context, is alluded to in the lines I've quoted from the Compline hymn; and and just who is going to be doing all the snaring and ambushing is clear from the lines:
"hostémque* nostrum cómprime,
ne polluántur córpora."

*i.e. the Evil Enemy.

Matthew Roth said...

Having made the mistake of wandering at night, I assure you that Visita is not odd at all, and I thank the monks like those at Norcia who offer their evening and night prayers for those in the darkness.