Of all the "modifications" in the recently introduced English Missal, the most discussed word among laity and clergy seems to be the reference to the "dewfall" in Eucharistic Prayer II.
The irony of this situation is that "dewfall" is not simply a poetic term inserted by the recent translators. It is, in fact, the very word, correctly translated, for the authentic Latin of Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Missal; namely, rore. (The nominative is ros, used by both Caesar and Vergil.)
My edition of Pope Paul VI’s promulgation of The Order of Mass, The Roman Missal, dated 6 April 1969, reads as follows in the above context: Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica…(No. 74, Prex Eucharistica II). The accompanying rubric directs the priest to extend his hands over the bread and wine: Iungit manus, easque expansas super oblata tenens…
Somehow, the 1973 translation of the 1969 Missal totally ignored the original text in this regard. Thus, the 1973 English Mass read: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy…" Accurately rendered into English, the 1973 Mass text should always have read: "Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…"
This mistranslation is especially puzzling because it occurs in the section of Mass that is technically known as the epiclesis. The term, epiclesis, borrowed from the Greek, means a "calling upon the Father to send the Holy Spirit" (i.e., to sanctify the offerings of bread and wine).
Why was the word "dewfall" used in the 1969 Latin Missal, and why was it ignored (apparently) by the English translators in 1973? I readily admit that I cannot find the definitive answer. Although I have put together an enormous theological library over the past 50-plus years, I cannot possibly retain copious source materials that haven’t even been published, such as the minutes of meetings and fragments of correspondence collected by committee members – data that may be stored somewhere in Vatican archives (or perhaps not). What I can write, to move this study toward some resolution, is to emphasize that, in the final analysis, the focus should be on the Church’s official approval. In this case, the Church did ratify the 1973 English version of the 1969 Latin Missal.
But, at least one other key question remains; specifically, why the metaphor "dewfall"? From the published sources that I do have in my library, "dewfall" calls to mind several well-known Biblical references, especially the story of Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). Indeed, Gideon’s miracle, which pales before that of transubstantiation, mysteriously points to the Mass. (See A Commentary on the Prefaces and the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Missal by Msgr. Louis Soubigou; trans. Rev. John A. Otto; Liturgical Press, 1971. I have found this volume most helpful in trying to understand the revised Missal.)
Of course, this whole discussion of "dewfall" occurs in a study of Eucharistic Prayer II. But Eucharistic Prayer II (or Anaphora II, Canon II) is fascinating for other reasons. One is that it is inspired by the historic Canon of St. Hippolytus of Rome, who died a martyr in the lead mines of Sardinia. Dating from the beginning of the third century, it was originally composed in Greek, and is readily available as such on the Internet. It is so ancient, in fact, that it takes us back to a time when even in Rome the Mass of the Roman Rite was offered not in Latin but Greek.
Ironically, St. Hippolytus is sometimes referred to as the first "anti-Pope" – an anachronism, surely. Somehow he allied himself with factions in the early Church that could be described as ultra-restrictive – "more Catholic than the Church" is the contemporary description. But he was a Christian at heart, and was eventually arrested by the Roman authorities for his faith. The sentence pronounced by a judge was the terrifying Ad metalla – literally, "to the lead mines" [of Sardinia]. There, enclosed in darkness and forced into heavy labor, he met the authentic Pope, likewise condemned to die, and was reconciled with the Church. My recollection is that Blessed Pope John XXIII noticed St. Hippolytus’s statue outside of Rome, and ordered that it be returned there.
The original Canon of Hippolytus, which, like other ancient documents, appears with some textual variations (even Shakespeare’s dramas do the same), serves as a significant ecumenical medium today. For example, it has been introduced into college courses studying the history of religions, and is used by some churches as a basis for prayer.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor ofThe Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.