What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for Saint Jerome

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office of Saint Jerome (September 30):

Deus, qui Ecclésiæ tuæ in exponéndis sacris Scriptúris beátum Hierónymum, Confessórem tuum, Doctórem máximum providére dignátus es: præsta, quǽsumus; ut, eius suffragántibus méritis, quod ore simul et ópere dócuit, te adiuvánte, exercére valeámus.

Here is my translation:

O God who hast deigned to provide Thy Church with the greatest Doctor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, Blessed Jerome, Thy Confessor: grant we beseech thee, that by his supporting merits, with Thy help, we may have the strength to practice what he taught with both mouth and works together.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, Who wast pleased to give unto thy Church thy blessed Confessor Jerome to be unto her a great teacher in the way of expounding thine Holy Scriptures, be entreated, we beseech thee, for that thy servant’s sake, and grant unto us the strength to put in practice what he taught both by his doctrine and by his life.

There appears to be some clever wordplay on the words for “mouth” (ore) and “works” (ópere) where the prayer asks that we may practice what Saint Jerome taught using both. We are praying, in a manner of speaking, for the strength to “put our money where our mouth is” in matters pertaining to sacred doctrine, which is to say that our good words must be matched by our good works.

Saint Jerome famously saidignorantia Scripturae, ignorantia Christi est,” i.e., “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We learn from the lesson in the office of Matins today that Saint Jerome “conquered the wiles of the devil with works of devotion and continual reading and writing. Questions on Holy Scripture were referred for explanation to him as to an oracle, being sent to him from all over the world. Pope Damasus and St. Augustine often consulted him on difficult passages in Scripture because of his singular learning and his knowledge not only of Latin and Greek but also of Hebrew and Chaldaic. He translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew; and by command of Pope Damasus, he revised the translation of the New Testament to make it faithful to the Greek text and explained a great part of it.”

The result of all this work of translation and revision is known to us as the Latin Vulgate (the New-Testament portion of which may be purchased here, with an accompanying English translation).

It is no surprise, therefore that this great Doctor of Biblical Studies is recognized by the Church’s prayer as not just “a great teacher in the way of expounding thine Holy Scriptures,” but “the greatest Teacher [Doctórem máximum] in explaining the Holy Scriptures.” I’ll go out on a limb and say that Pope Benedict XV probably had this very oration in mind when he wrote, in Spiritus Paraclitus, that,

The Church venerates in Jerome the greatest doctor given her by heaven for the interpretation of Holy Scriptures.

Brother Francis wrote a wonderful article on Saint Jerome that I cannot recommend highly enough.

As the son of a librarian, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Saint Jerome is the patron saint of librarians, along with several other patronages (go here and scroll down a bit for a list).

Joos van Cleve, “Saint Jerome in His Study” (see here for the complete image)