Commentary on Eucharistic Prayer II

Ed. note: The following originally appeared in New Blackfriars, a periodical edited by the Dominicans of the English Province, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author, Fergus Kerr, OP, who is also the editor of the journal.

“Without real necessity, successive revisions of translations should not notably change the previously approved vernacular texts of the Eucharistic Prayers which the faithful will have committed gradually to memory,” according to Liturgiam Authenticam (§ 64), issued in 2001 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, the rationale for the new translation of the Roman Missal. Priests, who have celebrated Mass in English since 1974, though unlikely to be envisaged at this point in the CDW instruction, may perhaps include themselves. For those who have Eucharistic Prayer II by heart, for example, the changes do not always seem really necessary. Indeed, in the light of the CDW document on how to translate from Latin into the vernacular, the revisions turn out sometimes to be idle tinkering, and not always closer to the original.

Eucharistic Prayer II, as approved in 1974, opens as follows: “Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness, / Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy.” The Latin runs: “Vere Sanctus es, Domine, fons omnis sanctitatis. / Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica.” Compare the revised text: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness, / Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

The revision sticks to the Latin order, in the sense that “Lord” moves to the middle of the first line. The vocative “O,” not in the Latin, presumably makes the language more “sacral” as the CDW instruction desiderates. The word “fountain” gives way to “fount.” In Lewis and Short, the first meaning of fons is “spring,  fountain, well-source.”  Why the cardinals and their language experts, gathered in some high-ceilinged Vatican salone, changed to “fount,” we shall never know. Powerful enough in sixteenth-century verse — “Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears” (Ben Jonson) — the word “fount” has long since decayed into pseudo-poetic diction.

On the other hand, if the image of the fountain is curtailed, the new translation retrieves that of the dew. Why the experts in Washington DC, who created the 1974 text, left out the dew, is another mystery. Perhaps they felt it would evoke the wrong associations: “Like the dew on the mountain, / Like the foam on the river, / Like the bubble on the fountain. /Thou are gone, and for ever” (Scott) — suggesting something fleeting and impermanent. In Latin ros means “dew”: “dewfall” and, for that matter, the “sending down” of the Spirit, are not word-for-word translations. Not really a natural English expression, the dewfall refers, in some American regional dialects, to the time in the evening when the dew appears. Taken literally, ‘Spiritus rore tui’ translates as ‘by the dew of your Spirit’— which means that this graphic, rather challenging, metaphorical identification of the Spirit with the dew is dissolved into a simile: ‘your Spirit . . . like the dewfall’.

Translation never pleases everyone. The most notable change in Eucharistic Prayer II comes in the phrase “We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you” — “gratias agentes quia nos dignos habuisti astare coram te et tibi ministrare” — which now runs: “giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” Of course astare means “stand at or near (someone),” and then via “stand by” comes to mean “assist.” Since only the priest should be standing at this point, “stand” has been replaced with ‘be’— rather a colorless word in English but perhaps we are meant to inject a bit of existentialist-ontological oomph.

Funnily enough, in the anaphora in the early third-century Apostolic Tradition, from which Eucharistic Prayer II was created, the text runs: “to stand before you and to serve as your priests” (my emphasis). A century later, at the First Council of Nicaea (held in 325), Canon XX goes as follows: “Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this Holy Synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one’s prayers to the Lord standing” — a decree which has long been ignored in the West by Catholics but which remains in force in the ancient Churches of the East (they think it appropriate to stand, except on penitential occasions, if you believe in the Resurrection). It’s more than just translation that never pleases everyone.


45 responses to “Commentary on Eucharistic Prayer II”

  1. Sandi Brough Avatar
    Sandi Brough

    And, of course, dew doesn’t fall. Great, now our prayer is scientifically wrong. Just another in a long string of humiliations for us.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      In this case, I don’t share your concern, Sandi.

      It’s important to name the many problems in the new translation forthrightly. But I don’t think we should fall into literalism in the name of scientific accuracy. Dewfall is a poetic image. That’s enough for me. Genesis 1-2 is not scientifically accurate, but I’m glad we keep reading and hearing that beautiful poetic language as it is.


    2. Paul Robertson Avatar
      Paul Robertson

      …and gather as rime on this precious chalice…

      Facetiousness aside, I absolutely love the dewfall image. It belted me half off my seat the first time I heard it and I thought “maybe this translation isn’t as bad as I first thought.” Of course, within 20 seconds, all of the joy of that image has evaporated. Like dew in the sunshine.

      It’s not all bad. Just 98% of it.

      1. Claire Mathieu Avatar
        Claire Mathieu

        I agree. Most of the changes I hear at Mass are unpleasant. Once in a while, I hear something that I like. And there are a few that are deeply offensive.

        I hope Pope Benedict soon travels to an anglophone country so that he says Mass in English and gets to see it for himself what it’s like.

      2. John Drake Avatar
        John Drake

        Gotta disagree, Claire. 100% of the changes I hear are delightful!

      3. Cody C.  Unterseher Avatar

        The dewfall imagery is much improved over the “Grey Book” — “Let the dew of your Spirit fall upon these gifts. . . . ”

        The fear of homonyms, I believe, won out in this case.

    3. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      And that as relevant as critiquing sunrise and sunset. Go ahead, but it’s a silly argument.

      Btw, anyone remember the line from the very very popular song, “…like the first dewfall on the first grass…”?

      1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        What a barbarism to compare Eleanor Farjeon who brightened up our childhood, with Pell-Moroney et al!

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        I merely was providing a counterpoint to the implied notion that “dewfall” is an unheard-of neologism in English usage. It’s not. I don’t carry much of a brief for the new translation principles, but inaccurate or misleading critiques of it are not part of the solution – they merely exacerbate the problem. A verbose form of “WHAAAAAAAH” is still colicky, and does not advance improvements, however much it may make some of us feel better. I can’t stand the constant stream of colic from the right, and I am not terribly patient about it with my progressive fellowship either.

  2. Padre David Poedel, STS Avatar

    Most of us Lutherans stand during the Eucharistic Prayer….but that is mostly because the protestants that were in our parishes before we Evangelical Catholics were called to our parishes did not have the foresight to have them installed.

  3. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    “Since only the priest should be standing at this point”

    Is this true for all English-speaking communities? It’s not envisioned by the GIRM, except in local adaptations. Saying “should be” makes it sound universal.

    1. Sean Whelan Avatar
      Sean Whelan

      Certainly not anymore in the Gaylord Diocese, Rita!

  4. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    Excellent comments from Fergus K about idle tinkering and th pseudo-poetic “fount”. The way most of these tinkerings also spoil the rhythm and movement of the prose, creating a general drippiness and disorientation, is a further deleterious effect.

  5. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    What is “delightful”, John Drake, about “are in your presence” instead of “stand in your presence”?

  6. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    What is delightful about “we acclaim: ‘Holy..’”?

  7. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    Why is “fount” delightful?

  8. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
    Fr. Jim Blue

    What I like about EPII is the preface coda which provides a beautiful alternative to the oft repeated preface coda in the VC2010.

    For most of this week we have been using the EP’s from ICEL1998 and it seems to be going rather smoothly. The assembly is basicaly focused on their mass cards which do not contain presider’s parts; so there have not been any problems with the prayer being policed.

  9. Rob Spaulding Avatar
    Rob Spaulding

    Today I had the privilege of leading the celebration of the Eucharist in a local nursing home. Sadly, that only happens once a month. As we gathered and shared stories of the month past, I reminded those assembled that some parts of the mass had been retranslated and we would now respond, “and with your spirit.” I was not yet sure how or whether we would attempt the other revised dialogues.

    Not 10 seconds after practicing, following the sign of the cross, the simple greeting, “the Lord be with you,” was met with a nearly unanimous, “and also with you.” At that point I knew, we would not be using the new translation (at least for the dialogues) in this worshipping assembly. Yes, I suppose I could have brought the beautiful pew cards with me and left this assembly to spend the rest of their worshipping life reading their responses. Maybe that is what I should have done.

    During the celebration, I was struck multiple times by the furled brows and looks of confusion as I did my best to pray the new orations and lead the Eucharistic Prayer. (EP II).

    While I have certainly struggled in the last days in the local parish, this was a new experience. I’m still not sure what I’ll do when I return in January. I am embarrassed to admit that in all my work of preparing, personally and for our diocese, not once did I imagine the faithful I would worship with in the nursing home.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Rob, do the sensible thing: keep your current missal.
      You clearly have great sensitivity to your congregation in this environment.
      Why let a daft ruling from elsewhere compromise the relationship you have built up with your people?

      1. Sandi Brough Avatar
        Sandi Brough

        No, don’t keep a stupid “missal,” keep the Sacramentary!

  10. Sean Whelan Avatar
    Sean Whelan

    John Drake :

    Gotta disagree, Claire. 100% of the changes I hear are delightful!

    Phew, well, John Drake loves it all, incorrect translations and heresies included. I guess we can raise the Mission Accomplished banner at Vox Clara headquarters!

  11. Fergus Kerr Avatar

    May I add that of course I have heard that Vox Clara opted for ‘dewfall’, fearing that ‘dew’ might be heard as ‘due’ or ‘Jew’; it’s not an expression I have ever heard in England or Scotland but I have heard it may be found in North America; I know that it occurs in Romantic poetry as for instance in ‘The Witch of Atlasy’ by P B Shelley.

    1. Billy Kidd Avatar
      Billy Kidd

      In the wildly popular song, Morning Has Broken, which has certainly found its place at various Lauds over the years, Cat Stevens’ lyric contains the lines, “like the first dewfall on the first grass.”

    2. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      Fergus, you are right to point to the possibilities for mishearing “dew” as other words. The one you have not mentioned, perhaps because it would be American English to pronounce it in this way, is “do.” As in “do-do.” The resulting scatalogical associations would cause embarrassment and a twitter among the youth of the parish. This surely was noted, if only privately, and seen as something to be avoided.

      Pronouncing dew as “dyew” is what would lead to the “due” and “Jew” mistakes in hearing.

      Dewfall is a time. Dew is what is meant by the Latin text.

      Fr. Anthony says it’s good for ICEL to use poetic license, but if we consider the fact that they have screwed up the bees in the exsultet because of fastidiousness over the question of whether or not the queen bee actually produces wax, we’ll see that scientific scrupulosity lives and reigns in other departments.

    3. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


      Except that dewfall is not limited in usage to a temporal meaning.

      And dewfall avoids the mondegreens you cite….

      1. Sean Whelan Avatar
        Sean Whelan

        Pathetic how we are trying to justify this term when it isn’t even the proper translation of the Latin, per the magnificent LA document.

        IMHO, dewfall is not as beautiful or lovely an image as fountain. You don’t sit on the front porch and say “My gosh, I just saw the dewfall!” It’s a gradual thing. The imagery of a fountain, water pouring forth, splashing, flowing, is far more beautiful and powerful.

        Honestly, the more I hear these texts proclaimed, the more I want to go someplace else. And this is only week 3!

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        You are confusing the FONS, which appears earlier in the prayer, with the RORA. The first is a fountain or fount; the latter has to do with the falling of dew, which is an echo of the manna in the Sinai (cf Numbers 11:9).

      3. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay

        Psalm 133 speaks of the dew descending onto Mt Hermon, probably the source of the English concept of dewfall first attested around 1620.

        Dew falls as much as night falls, day breaks, the sun rises etc.

        IIRC the Jordan River flows from a fountain at the base of Mt Hermon, so the dew falling upon the mt is the origin of the Jordan. Is dew a broader term in Hebrew, that would include all precipitation? Rain, snow etc?

  12. Fergus Kerr Avatar

    Sorry about the tyoo: ‘The Witch of Atlas’:

    And when the whirlwinds and the clouds descended
    From the white pinnacles of that cold hill,
    She passed at dewfall to a space extended,
    Where in a lawn of flowering asphodel
    Amid a wood of pines and cedars blended,
    There yawned an inextinguishable well
    Of crimson fire—full even to the brim,
    And overflowing all the margin trim.

  13. Fergus Kerr Avatar

    Sorry about the typo: ‘The Witch of Atlas’:

    And when the whirlwinds and the clouds descended
    From the white pinnacles of that cold hill,
    She passed at dewfall to a space extended,
    Where in a lawn of flowering asphodel
    Amid a wood of pines and cedars blended,
    There yawned an inextinguishable well
    Of crimson fire—full even to the brim,
    And overflowing all the margin trim.

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Thanks, Fergus! It’s good to be reminded that “dewfall” as a poetic designation of time can be inspiring, unlike the way it’s ab/used in EP II.

  14. Ann Riggs Avatar
    Ann Riggs

    I confess to ignorance about the letter of the current GIRM and/or the rubrics in RM3, but it is my understanding (and experience) that outside of the U.S. it is customary for the assembly to stand after the institution narrative. So people really ARE standing at that part of EPII. The U.S. Bishops (I believe) were granted permission to have everyone continue to kneel.
    This is one place where literal translation is NOT observed, in favor of a particular notion of reverence. It’s almost always priests — who never have to kneel — who tell us that kneeling is more reverent; but if so, why isn’t there a provision for the priests to kneel? I prefer the Eastern practice — eucharistic prayer is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving and calls for a standing, celebrating assembly.

    1. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      Yes, this insistence upon kneeling, yet reason for the east to bash those “heretical Latins” for thwarting the decrees of the Council of Nicea”.

    2. Paul Robertson Avatar
      Paul Robertson

      My experience in the various parishes in England where I have lived is that the assembly kneels for the whole EP, and again from the Agnus Dei until people start to go up for Communion. Then, some will kneel, some will sit. Same upon returning from Communion.

      In Scotland, there’s rather more kneeling, but it’s five years since I lived there, so I’ve forgotten exactly what the timings are. I do know that I was hideously embarrassed when I first moved up, because the priest said “Let us pray”, and I stood while everyone else in the room knelt. Oops.

  15. Mark Miller Avatar
    Mark Miller


    From the Book of Common Prayer: page 18 ( 1928)
    A Prayer for the Clergy and People

    “. . . Send down. . . the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. . . “

  16. Dunstan Harding Avatar
    Dunstan Harding

    Claire Mathieu :

    I agree. Most of the changes I hear at Mass are unpleasant. Once in a while, I hear something that I like. And there are a few that are deeply offensive.
    I hope Pope Benedict soon travels to an anglophone country so that he says Mass in English and gets to see it for himself what it’s like.

    It might well be the first time the pope has actually had a chance to see what’s in this missal since he was presented with the ceremonial editions.
    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

  17. Fergus Kerr Avatar

    Thanks Karl for reminding me about ‘Morning has broken’:
    Sweet the rain’s new fall,
    Sunlit from heaven,
    Like the first dewfall
    On the first grass;
    Praise for the sweetness,
    Of the wet garden,
    Sprung in completeness
    Where his feet pass.

    Eleonor Farjeon’s popular children’s hymn, as Gerard notes, composed in 1931 to a wonderful Gaelic melody. Is this Vox Clara’s source? Or what about the recording by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam as he now is) which reached number six on the US pop chart in the early 1970s?

  18. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    No problem with dew for me.

    Dew precipitates out of the atmosphere. The water is always there, around us, unless our air handling systems have sucked it dry like a desert.

    There’s an interesting reflection on this whole thing once you ponder the natural process by which dew forms on objects cooler than their surroundings. I’d attach that sort of symbolism more to people than objects, however.

  19. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    “Fire Watch” , the epilogue to Thomas Merton’s journal The Sign of Jonas (1953) is regarded as among the most powerful and eloquent of his writings. It ends with the image of the morning dew.

    The prose poem describes his journey as the watchman, touring the monastery each night. His ascent from the depths of the monastery into the belfry is the story of his life, of his community, and the history of salvation A beautiful composition of Christian imagery, e.g. of paradise, and the fire which will come someday. Since the ascent is an ascent upon the Cross to death and eternal life it can be related to the Mass.

    It ends with the following paragraphs which could be understood as a meditation on transubstantiation, the Cross and the Bread.

    The Voice of God is heard in Paradise.

    “What was vile has become precious ..(remainder of paragraph omitted)
    What was cruel has become merciful.. ..(remainder of paragraph omitted)
    What was poor has become infinite.. ..(remainder of paragraph omitted)
    What was fragile has become powerful.
    I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance, and within what was not, I am”.

    There are drops of dew that show like sapphires in the grass as soon as the morning sun appears, and leaves stir behind the hushed flight of an escaping dove.

    These words directly echo Wisdom 11:22-12:1

    Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things

  20. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Greek Dictionary drosos,. dew, pure water, other liquids including blood, anything tender like the young of animals (lamb?)

    Latin Dictionary ros, dew, moisture, rain

    The first image of dew in Scripture is that of Blessing (paradise)

    Gen 27:28 “May God give to you of the dew of the heavens, and of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine.” (Isaac Blesses Jacob)

    Deut 32:2 May my instruction soak in like the rain, and my discourse permeate like the dew, Like a downpour upon the grass, like a shower upon the crops The beginning of the end of the Torah

    Deut 33:28 Israel has dwelt securely, and the fountain of Jacob has been undisturbed In a land of grain and wine, where the heavens drip with dew.

    Ps 133:3 Like precious ointment on the head, running down upon the beard, Upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe. Like dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the LORD has lavished blessings, life for evermore!

    Song of Solomon 5:2 I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil; I heard my lover knocking: “Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one! For my head is wet with dew, my locks with the moisture of the night.”

    Perhaps a part of the problem of “translating” this scriptural image is the fertile, sexual, life giving nature of the blessing image.

  21. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    The second image of dew in Scripture is that of Salvation. Besides the manna in the desert, it is connected to the images of a saving remnant, rising from the dead, and the vindicating judgment of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace.

    Ex 16:13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. Moses told them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat
    Num11:9 At night, when the dew fell upon the camp, the manna also fell.

    Judges 6:37 I am putting this woolen fleece on the threshing floor. If dew comes on the fleece alone, while all the ground is dry, I shall know that you will save Israel through me, as you promised.” (Jason and the Fleece)

    Micah 5:6 The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples, Like dew coming from the LORD, like raindrops on the grass, Which wait for no man, nor tarry for the sons of men.

    Zechariah 8:12 for it is the seedtime of peace: the vine shall yield its fruit, the land shall bear its crops, and the heavens shall give their dew; all these things I will have the remnant of the people possess.

    Isaiah 26:19 But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth.

    Daniel 3:50 and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it. The fire in no way touched them or caused them pain or harm.
    Daniel 3:64 Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.
    Daniel 3:68 Dew and rain, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.

    Part of Merton’s implicit image is that of the monks praising God in the fiery furnace of the summer church by day slipping into the paradise night of sweat and dew. The fiery furnace of the monastery anticipates the judgment that will one day descend upon the monastery, the church and humanity. Merton wrote this, of course, as SAC bombers with perhaps nuclear weapons flew over his monastery. The Firewatch Epilogue is dated July 4, 1952 although typed out on July 5th in his journal.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


      Thank you so much for the extended visit with the Scriptural allusions to dew.

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        Your are welcome. I knew that you in particular would appreciate them.

        Hopefully the Word will raise the minds and hearts of many above the text.

        And, of course, I could not resist doing this all by means of Merton’s masterpiece, which provides an eloquent use of the imagery, hardly irrelevant to our times.

    2. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      Thanks, Jack. The Judges’ reference is to Gideon and the fleece.

  22. Fergus Kerr Avatar

    Wonderful, Jack: many thanks.

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