Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miserere nostri, Domine: quia peccavimus tibi

Now that the new translation is about to be fully implemented, one hears the second form of the Penitential Act in a more faithful version than formerly – for the Latin is:

V/. Miserere nostri, Domine.
R/. Quia peccavimus tibi.
V/. Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam.
R/. Et salutare tuum da nobis.

and the new English thereof is:

V/. Have mercy on us, O Lord.
R/. For we have sinned against you.
V/. Show us, O Lord, your mercy.
R/. And grant us your salvation.

(In both cases, I have added the versicle and response marks for clarity.)

But whence cometh this text?

The second versicle, used for perhaps a thousand years and more in the preparatory prayers at Mass, is of course from Psalm 84, but the first, while it sounds Scriptural, doesn't occur anywhere word-for-word in Holy Writ.

Initially, it does remind one of the words of the Lenten chant Attende, Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi (which, while not directly from Scripture, are hallowed by centuries of use, and have quite a nice tune to which they are sung – a pity they weren't simply inserted into the Mass if such an alternative to the Confiteor was actually necessary).

The nearest echoes I have found are as follows.

Baruch 3:2, especially in the Vulgate (still the official Latin version when the Novus Ordo Missæ was drawn up), is quite close:

Audi, Domine, et miserere, quia Deus es misericors: et miserere nostri, quia peccavimus ante te.

(In the Neo-Vulgate, as I call the Nova Vulgata, the allusion is obscured, as the phrase quia Deus es misericors: et miserere nostri is omitted, presumably because it is not in the Hebrew, and came into the Latin via the Septuagint through the process know as dittography, whereby the first phrase is redoubled. Also, the Neo-Vulgate changes the last two words of the verse into in conspectu tuo.)

Now as to finding exact verbal correspondences, the versicle is the same as those first few words of Psalm 122(123):3, Miserere nostri, Domine; whereas the reponse instead comes from the end of Jeremias 14:20, quia peccavimus tibi (in both cases, the words are the same in the Vulgate and New Vulgate).

Why was such a strange pastiche composed and inserted?  Well, evidently the second versicle, Ostende nobis, Domine, was found worthy, and simply lifted from the versicles said by the priest at the conclusion of the prayers at the foot of the altar in the Extraordinary Form, but the versicle preceding it in that liturgy, Deus tu conversus, was evidently found "not quite suitable".  Hence, the reformers made up a "better" one themselves.  How curious.


Kate said...

One shouldn't assume it 'isn't in the Hebrew' because it doesn't appear in the Masoretic Text that has come down to us.

The earliest complete manuscript of the Masoretic Text dates from the ninth century AD, and all the evidence suggests that it underwent one or two recensions, not least in the second century AD as a direct reaction to Christianity (the classic example is Psalm 21, where a reference to 'they pierced his hands and feet' was replaced by an obscure refernce to lions!).

By contrast the Septuagint was an officially authorized text, widely used in Palestine at the time of Our Lord as well as across the Empire, and we have a well-attested to manuscript tradition dating back to the pre-Christian era.

Differences between the two can be the result not just of differences between the two languages or translator license (which actually seem to be extremely rare depending on the book of the Bible concerned), but more often seem to be the result of:

1) Copying errors and omissions - inevitable when everything had to be hand written;

2) Different interpretations of the Hebrew - early Hebrew had no consonants and no word groupings, so could be very ambiguous. The Septuagint represents an interpretation that had some official backing and widespread use until the second century AD however...

3) different manuscript traditions - different versions of texts recorded and passed down (not surprising given oral transmission of some texts), of which the Septuagint is arguably more likely to have drawn on the 'official' version (at least until the new versions of the Hebrew Scriptures produced as part of the Jewish reaction to Christianity, which also involved dumping a number of books of Scripture which lent too much support to Christians, took off...).

CG said...

Joshua, I would look no further than Psalm 50 (51), simply shifted from singular to plural:

Miserere mei Deus
. . .
. . .
. . .
Tibi soli peccavi

and Deus changed to Domine to match the second V/. and give a better rhythm.

After all, if I recall correctly this psalm is said daily at Lauds (including Sundays in penitential seasons).

Joshua said...

Psalm 50 was/is said daily at Lauds according to the Monastic Breviary, and daily at Lauds on Lenten and Advent ferias and so forth in the 1962 Breviary. In the modern Divine Office - which I imagine is the one most commonly used today by members of the Roman Rite, even if, as is notorious, few of the clergy read their Hours - it is said every Friday at Lauds.

I see the argument:

(Ps 50, v. 3)
Tibi soli peccavi... (Ps 50, v.6)

being pluralized to Miserere nostri, Deus, [quia] tibi... peccavimus, and then rearranged and edited to become Miserere nostri, Domine, quia peccavimus tibi

-but I don't buy it. By that standard, any two phrases in any psalm could be stitched together, pluralized, and reworded (!), and that would count as a quotation!!!

John F H H said...

I was going to mention Psalm 50(51), but CG beats me to it. This V & R also puts one in mind of the parable of the prodigal son.
Kind regards,
John U.K.