Today I found the delightful rhyming prayerbook called The Lay Folks’ Mass Book. It was written in Middle English, exists in several parallel manuscripts (each a little different in dialect and hence in phonetic spelling), and basically is a wonderful little work of devotion for normal people.
The scholarly notes are in Victorian Insult the Papists mode, as they spend time trashing their ancestors for ignorance, superstition, et al. Basically, they can’t get over the fact that it’s not a missal, and that it’s Catholic. Sigh.
For my money, this was meant for somebody who more or less understands what’s going on in the Mass when, even if they don’t know every word or have more than tags of Latin. Certain reference points are given, to help the reader keep on track. There are also prayers, which are clearly intended not to take the place of the Mass prayers, but rather to keep the person meditative and deep inside the Mass before them. (Or in the case of rhyming translations, to help join one’s prayer more directly to that of the Mass. The participation level is not more but different; the prayerbooks help people to approach participation from all sorts of angles.) The intent is to help the reader focus more on the Mass, and most of all, the Sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on Calvary. At the end of the book, the author encourages the reader to learn the prayers by heart so they won’t need the book (except maybe to check the reference points on when the priest does this or that).
I didn’t see any prayers in there that wouldn’t be just as appropriate as reflections and meditations for someone at a contemporary Mass. The major difference is that now most people come up with their own vague reflections and ways to concentrate, spontaneously, whereas books back then were full of helpful suggestions. So folks nowadays tend to think there’s something wrong with them if they can’t concentrate on every instant, or alternately, give up on paying much attention to Mass at all.
(I am glad to say that nobody ever told me that I was supposed to keep my mind explicitly on every syllable of Mass at all times and never ever do any free-range prayer to God, as some idiots reportedly do say. I think these people avoid being smacked over the head only because nobody can believe that such clueless words are actually being emitted from their mouths.)
Here’s a prayer before Mass, translated/transliterated into modern English:
“God, for Thy goodness,
at the beginning of this Mass
grant all that shall it hear
of conscience be clean and clear.
Lord, save the priest that shall it say
from temptations today,
that he be clean in deed and thought,
that evil spirits annoy him not,
that he fulfil this Sacrament
with clean heart and good intent.
“First, principally to Thine honor
that Sovereign are of all succor;
and to Thy mother, maiden clean,
and to Thine saints all together.
“And all that hear it to their souls’ health,
Thou, help them with Thy grace and Thy wealth;
and all that we have in mind
(sib or any friend of any kind).
“And Lord, grant them for this Mass
from all their sins, forgiveness;
“And rest and peace that lasts forever
to Christian souls that have passed away;
and bring us to joy without end;
and to us all Thy succor send. Amen.”
Here’s a translation and expansion of the Gloria:
“Joy be unto God in Heaven
with all kinds of mirth that men may tell;
and peace on earth unto all men
that rightwise are, and of goodwill.
We love Thee, God almighty,
and as we bless Thee busily,
we worship Thee as is worthy,
and make joy to Thee more and less.
We thank Thee, God, for all Thy grace,
for the great joy that Thou has.
Our Lord, our God, our King heavenly,
our God, our Father almighty.
Our Lord, the Son of God from Heaven,
Jesus Christ, comely to call on,
our Lord, Lamb of God, we name Thee
and Son of God Thy Father free.
Thou that takes away the world’s sin,
have mercy on us, more and mind.
Thou that takes away the world’s wrack,
our prayer in this time, Thou take.
Thou that sits on Thy Father’s right hand,
with mercy help us lying here.
For Thou art holy, made of none
but of Thyself, and Lord alone.
Thou art the Highest, of wisdom most,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Ghost,
dwelling with the Father of Heaven
in more joy than men may tell.
Unto that joy, Jesus, bring us
through the prayers of Thy mother. Amen.”
The Early English Text Society did a nice job on the actual presentation, and they also included some very cute bits and pieces of other works.
The grace before meals is nice:
God, that his bread brake
at his Maundy, where he sate
among his apostles twelve —
May He bless our bread and our ale
that we have and have shall,
and be with us Himself.