Reading the Roman Missal, Part 2: Oblation

by Erin Brenner on July 19, 2012

The Roman Catholic Church updated its missal last fall, and early reviewers worried the new translation wouldn’t be easily readable by most churchgoers.

Those worries have largely proven unfound, but a few items have caught my attention as needing more explanation or as just plain odd. Last week, we took apart the term consubstantial. Today, I’ll look at oblation.

Oblation

Oblation occurs in the first and third of the four Eucharistic prayers the priest can choose to say during the Mass. From the regular first Eucharistic prayer (there are variations for different holy times):

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.

Oblation, says The American Heritage Dictionary, means “the act of offering the bread and wine of the Eucharist; something offered, especially the bread and wine of the Eucharist.” Unless you’ve studied Latin or etymology, this term isn’t easy to break down. It traces its history from the Middle English oblacioun and the Old French oblacion and ultimately to the past participle of Latin’s offerre, “to offer.”

Oblation isn’t any more common than consubstantial. It’s found just 26 times in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which contains 450 million words from 1990 to 2012. Results are distributed among academic publications, books, magazines, newspapers, fiction, and speech, yet in the newspaper and magazine results, oblation is part of a name, such as Oblation Papers & Press (a print shop) and Meringue Oblation (an art show)

Worse, though, the text it’s buried in averages a grade level of 17.7 (graduate school). On the plus side, oblation is part of the priest’s lines; the congregation prays along with him. All the same, if these prayers are written at such a high level, few people will be able to follow along with full understanding. It’s more likely that they’ll zone out during this part of the Mass. I’d rather see the Eucharistic prayers written for an easier understanding than flowery language.

Next in the series: the problem of passive voice.

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