Friday, December 9, 2011



I’d like to follow up last week’s post about the new English translation of the mass by reflecting briefly on one of my favorite changes so far, a particular metaphor that for some reason was omitted from the first translation of Eucharistic Prayer II but appears in the new one. Originally, you remember, the first paragraph of the Eucharistic Prayer II read:

Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.
Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy,
so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

but the new translation reads,

You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The image of the Spirit’s descending “like the dewfall” has become an immediate favorite of mine.

Eucharistic Prayer II is based on a third or fourth century anaphora in a document called the Apostolic Tradition. When the post-Vatican II church used this ancient “anaphora” (canon of the mass) as the basis for a new Eucharistic Prayer, the word “dewfall” was imported from a seventh or eighth century text in the Gothic Missal, an example of how varied sources have contributed to the Catholic liturgical tradition over the centuries.


In the arid land of Israel, especially in the dry months, dew was a major source of moisture and therefore life for all vegetation. Not surprisingly, then, Old Testament writers use the metaphor of “dew” fairly frequently. For instance, in Hosea the Lord says:

I will be like the dew for Israel:
he will blossom like the lily;
He will strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and his shoots will go forth.
His splendor will be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like Lebanon cedar
(Hos 14:5, NAB)

Notice how the dew causes plants to take root and blossom grow in strength and beauty.

Then the psalmist compares the pleasantness of life in community to dew falling on a mountain, a sign of God’s blessing in this psalm:

How good and how pleasant it is,
when brothers dwell together as one!
Like fine oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,
upon the collar of his robe.
Like dew of Hermon coming down
upon the mountains of Zion.
There the LORD has decreed a blessing,
life for evermore!
(Ps. 133:3).

Finally, in Isaiah the Lord asks the heavens to bring down the dew of righteousness in these words:

Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above,
like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down.
Let the earth open and salvation bud forth;
let righteousness spring up with them!*
I, the LORD, have created this
(Is. 45:8).

Of course, we moderns know that dew doesn’t fall from the sky but condenses on the ground, yet the metaphor is still a powerful and beautiful image. It has a more dynamic sense in other languages where “dropping like dew” is a single-word verb. Just as in English “rain” can be used as a verb (“It is going to rain”), so in Latin you can also say “It is going to dew (rorare).” In fact this is exactly the verb that was used when the above passage from Isaiah inspired the Latin Advent veriscle:

"Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum.
Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem"

(“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just one,
Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior").

This little verse was assigned in various places in the Advent liturgy to ask the heavens to send forth the savior like life-giving dew. It is also the first line of the beautiful Advent hymn, “Rorate Coeli.”


In the past few days I've been asked to pray for a couple of little children whose father committed suicide, for someone addicted to drugs, for someone diagnosed with cancer. So, when I pray the “new” Eucharistic Prayer II these days, I’m conscious that I’m leading the community in a prayer for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the bread and wine "like the dewfall" so that just as those desert flowers draw life from the dew, all of us, especially those experiencing the sufferings of the desert in their lives, may draw new life and beauty and nourishment from the presence of the Spirit of God in the assembly and in the bread and wine on the altar.

So, I hope that whenever you hear Eucharistic Prayer II from now on, you too will be encouraged and inspired by the words “like the dewfall” and draw strength from this rich and ancient phrase and its image of flowers blooming in the desert -- a symbol of Advent hope at any time of the year!

A REQUEST: If you enjoy reading about my experiences with the new English translation of the mass, please let me know in the "comments" space so that I can decide if it's a worthwhile direction to pursue at least now and again in this blog. Let me know what you think.



  1. I do like the comments and interpretations of the new translation especially the history of the Mass. Thank you Father!

  2. Thanks for this wonderful insight on the new translation-"like the dewfall." Such a prayerful call to open one's heart to change.
    Would enjoy more blogs in this area, but I love all your blogs.
    Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB
    Sacred Heart Monastery
    Cullman, AL

  3. I enjoyed your elaboration on the new Mass translations and would like to hear more. I find the new wording refreshing--especially the beauty evoked by the metaphor of the dewfall when I first heard it. In addition to the responses the congregation is to recite, I would like to hear more about protocol. Many individuals gesture a lot. What is the proper etiquette? I have heard that one is not to emulate the priest (i.e., raising up of hands).

  4. Thank you. "Dewfall" appeals to my heart too... because I think about how the dew actually happens: a co-operation of the life and warmth of the earth interacting with the "heaven" of the air. (life-giving water in the air)
    In some translations of the bible, maybe KJV, Genesis 2:6 is about a mist going up from the earth at creation--- spmehow I lump all these things together in my head and feel very satisfied with using this in our eucharistic prayer