Time for an Oratio Imperata


Almighty, everlasting God, in whose hand are the powers of the world and the government of every kingdom, look to the Christians who need Thy help, and by the power of Thy right hand, break those heathen peoples who rely upon their own barbarity. Through our Lord.

How many readers of Vultus Christi remember the use of the Oratio Imperata in times of tragedy, calamity, and war? Matters Liturgical (Reverend Joseph Wuest, C.SS.R., 1944) gives the following:

The authority to prescribe Collects for the Church Universal resides in the Pope; in the bishop, for his own diocese. Religious superiors cannot prescribe Collects without the permission of the bishop Ordinary of the place.

All priests, secular and regular, including strangers, celebrating Mass in any church of the diocese, even of exempt religious, are obliged to say the Collect prescribed by the bishop of that diocese in all Masses except those of Requiem.

What would some of these Orationes Imperatae be?

For Protection Against the Heathen For the Healing of Schism In Time of War For Peace In Time of Pestilence Against Persecutors and Evildoers In Time of Famine In Time of Earthquake For Rain For Fine Weather To Avert Storms Against Cattle Plague

In flagrant contradiction with a professed concern to treat pastorally of the needs of the modern world, and in spite of a marked fondness for multiple liturgical options, the framers of the 1969 Missale Romanum of Paul VI brutally eliminated even the possibility of a second Collect in times of grave need. Article 54 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says laconically: "There is always only one collect used in a Mass".

I have, more than once, in grave and tragic circumstances, suggested that a second Collect would be suitable. The very notion met with gasps of horror on the part of Novus Ordo rubricists: "But such a thing is not permitted. It cannot be done".

I am familiar with all the alternative proposals: "But, Father, we must compose a special petition for the General Intercessions"; or "Father could say a few words at the beginning of Mass"; or the ladies of the Altar Guild could say a decade of the Rosary before Mass for the special intention".  Fussing with the General Intercessions — not a good idea on the best of days — usually produces something that is wordy, moralising, and addressed more to the people than to God. Father's "few words at the beginning of Mass" are rarely characterised by the"great sobriety and self-control" that Edmund Bishop sees as the genius of the Roman Rite. I have nothing against a decade of the Rosary; in fact I am in favour of decades of decades of the rosary at any time of the day or night. It remains, however, that the simplest and most traditional way of addressing an urgent need for prayer in times of tragedy or public catastrophe is the appropriate Collect, the Oratio Imperata. Even in the Novus Ordo, it is, I think, high time to shake off the narrow and "unpastoral" constraints of the "one Collect" law and begin to pray in organic continuity with those who, in centuries past, met aggression, cruelty, and barbarous incursions with the prayer of the Church.