Per ipsum… “By Him” or “Through Him”?

Protestantized MassIn the Traditional Latin Mass, the Roman Canon comes to a close with the Minor Elevation and Final Doxology wherein the priest prays the Per ipsum in a low voice:

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria.

In my hand missal (publisher: Baronius Press, 2009), the Per ipsum is translated in English as follows:

By Him, and with Him, and in Him, is to Thee, God the Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory, world without end.

Following this, the priest then either speaks aloud or sings, “Per omnia saecula saeculorum.” To this, the server (schola or choir) responds, “Amen;” thereby giving assent, on behalf of the faithful, to all of the preceding prayers of the Canon.

In the official English translation of the Novus Ordo, the priest elevates the Host and Chalice following the so-called “Eucharistic Prayer;” praying the Per ipsum aloud as follows:

Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.

To which, all of the faithful respond with what is commonly called the “Great Amen.”

Clearly, there are some noteworthy differences between the two. First, the Per ipsum in the Traditional Roman Rite is prayed by the priest in low voice, whereas it is prayed aloud in the Novus Ordo (and nearly always facing the people).

More importantly for our purposes, the Novus Ordo prayer in English reads, Through Him…, as opposed to By Him…, as it is translated in the Baronius hand missal.

Is there a difference? Perhaps I am overthinking the matter; aware as I am of the “reformers” deliberate effort to impart a Protestant flavor to the Novus Ordo, but I would say yes, there is a difference, and a rather profound one at that. Readers can decide for themselves.

When the contrast between these two translations first caught my attention, I spoke with several traditional priests about it and discovered that, unlike Baronius, certain other publishers of Latin Mass hand missals also translate the words “Per ipsum” as “Through Him.” I was surprised – at least initially – to find that this is true even of hand missals that were published prior to the Council and the advent of the Novus Ordo.

Before we attempt to make sense of these facts, let’s consider how, if at all, Through Him differs from By Him in a theological sense.

It seems to me that the latter expression communicates much more clearly the reality that it is Jesus Christ the High Priest Himself  who offers His Body and Blood to God the Almighty Father at Holy Mass; i.e., the perfect Sacrifice of the Altar is truly being offered By Him.

By contrast, the expression Through Him seems to suggest that it is we – be this understood as the priest, the faithful, or both – who are the primary offerers of the Sacrifice; with Our Lord’s role being that of an intercessor.

One of the priests with whom I spoke (a native English speaker) consulted his Latin-English dictionary and confirmed that per can be translated as either by or through; i.e., both are correct. Furthermore, he takes the position that the English words by and through mean essentially the same thing.

The website, however, captures the nuanced difference between the two words rather well. It defines “by” to mean “through the agency, efficacy, work, participation, or authority of,” whereas it defines “through” to mean “by the means or instrumentality of; by the way or agency of.”

With this in mind, one would have to conclude that while these words can perhaps be used interchangeably, it is not always fitting to do so inasmuch as “through” can suggest instrumentality; in the present case, intercessory action as opposed to direct action, which the word by necessarily captures.

I believe that this nuanced understanding of these words is well-applied to the translation of the Per ipsum.

Evidently, the publishers of the Baronius hand missal also believe that through and by are not truly interchangeable when applied to the theology of the Mass, or at least not profitably so in that setting.

On close inspection, one discovers that the Latin word per, which occurs frequently in the Mass, is consistently translated by the publisher as through; the solitary exceptions being the Final Doxology that follows the Minor Elevation, which we have already discussed, the Supplice te rogamus, and the priest’s prayer after the proclamation of the Gospel, both of which we will consider momentarily.

A number of prayers in the Mass conclude with the phrase, Per Christum Dominum nostrum; that is, Though Christ Our Lord. In each instance, it is clear that Christ is acting as intercessor; presenting our intentions to God on our behalf, as in the Nobis quoque peccatoribus, which is said just before the Minor Elevation. 

Now let’s consider the exceptions.

Following the Gospel, the priest prays Per evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta, which is translated, “By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out.” [Emphasis added]

This particular instance does not seem especially relevant to the present study as the word by is not used in a literal sense; i.e., it is understood that our sins are not blotted out by the words of the Gospel themselves directly, per se, but it is in embracing, believing and living according to them that makes this possible in Christ.

The remaining exception is by far the more informative. Following the consecration, the priest prays:

Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: iube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae: ut quotquot, ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filii tui, Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. [Emphasis added]

In English:

We most humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high, in the sight of Thy Divine Majesty, that as many as shall partake of the most holy Body and Blood of Thy Son at this altar, may be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen. [Emphasis added]

Here, we see that the central action, as requested in the prayer, is to be directly accomplished by the holy Angel. And yet, the prayer – the plea itself – is being submitted to Almighty God through Christ, who acts in this instance as intercessor. In this, we find that the two actions, each denoted by the Latin per, are translated by the publisher with sharp specificity; i.e., mindful of the fact that by and through are not always profitably treated as if interchangeable.

To be perfectly clear, it is helpful to note what St. Thomas Aquinas taught with respect to the Supplices te rogamus. He writes:

The priest does not pray that the sacramental species may be borne up to Heaven; nor that Christ’s true body may be borne thither, for it does not cease to be there; but he offers this prayer for Christ’s mystical body, which is signified in this sacrament, that the angel standing by at the Divine mysteries may present to God the prayers of both priest and people… (Summa, III, Q. 83, art. 4, Reply to Obj. 9.)

In other words, the Angelic Doctor is telling us that the offerings of which this prayer speaks concerns the Church Militant and the intentions that are offered by her members in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

This distinction is crucial in order for one to understand that the Minor Elevation is unique inasmuch as it pertains to the offering – not simply of a prayer or an intention – but the Body and Blood of Christ to the Almighty Father; an action accomplished Per ipsum, that is, by Him; not simply through Him.

It is indeed the case, as Aquinas makes plain, that our prayers and sacrifices – joined to the perfect Sacrifice of Christ made present on the Altar – are also offered to God the Almighty Father at Holy Mass. This, we can say, does indeed take place through Him in an intercessory way, and the remainder of the Per ipsum accounts for this with the words et cum ipso, et in ipso – in English, and with Him, and in Him.

As such, it seems to me that those hand missals that use the English translation Through Him, and with Him, and in Him are guilty, not only of redundancy, but far worse as the omission of the word by leaves an opening for misunderstanding as to what is actually taking place in the Mass.

Prior to the advent of the Novus Ordo Missae, this danger was not exactly the clear and present one that it is in our day thanks to the Protestantized rite of Paul VI. This perhaps explains why some pre-conciliar publishers at times used the less-than-ideal translation Through Him…; i.e., the theology of the Mass was plainly taught and much more widely known then, and not the source of confusion that it is today.

As for the bastard rite of Paul VI, was the choice of through Him over by Him in the English text merely incidental, fifty-fifty proposition that could have gone either way?

I don’t believe so for a moment. Though Him is perfectly acceptable to Protestants – the same that the “reformers” were at great pains to placate – whereas by Him is most certainly not in keeping with their liturgical sensibilities. Indeed, deliberately avoiding the latter accomplishes precisely what Cardinal Ottaviani noted of the rite elsewhere; namely, “the priest’s position is minimized” (cf Ottaviani Intervention). Far more injurious to all concerned, the Lord’s position is minimized in the process as well.

One notes that following the Per ipsum, spoken aloud by the priest in the Novus Ordo, is the so-called “Great Amen.”

This serves to give one the impression that the faithful, every bit as much as the priest, are offering the Sacrifice of the Altar to God; thus not only blurring the line between those actions that are proper to the priest and those that are proper to the people, but also between those which are purely human and those that are carried out by Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

Let us not be naïve: This was, after all, the very purpose of the so-called liturgical reform; to craft a rite that would be acceptable to the heretics, who cannot bear the theology of the Mass as a true and propitiatory Sacrifice offered by a priest who acts in persona Christi.

And why should those of us who are steeped in the Traditional Latin Mass concern ourselves with the failings of the Novus Ordo?

First and foremost, because souls are at stake, but also because the Novus Ordo is very much like a contagion that is capable of infecting even those who are sincerely determined to remain faithful to Catholic tradition. Other than those who, by the grace of God, have never been exposed to the Novus Ordo and have known only the Traditional Latin Mass, many of us – priests included – likely still carry some Protestant residue left over from the bitter “new Mass” experience.

So, the next time you assist at the Traditional Latin Mass, regardless of what your hand missal might say, be mindful of the reality that the Body and Blood of Christ is being offered, not so much through Him, as by Him; with the priest at the altar acting in persona Christi.

Ad Majórem Dei Glóriam!