Lenten Lament: Parce Domine

They may not be up-beat, but they are definitely some of my favorite chants. I’m talking about the traditional Latin chants used in the Roman Rite during the penitential and preparatory season of Lent. I call them “Lenten laments”, and I would like to share a few of them with you over these next 40+ days. (Hey, it might get me to blog more frequently… what bloggers do you know who are giving up not blogging for Lent?)

For each lament, I’ll provide the Latin text, a rather literal translation, and then my attempt at a flowing translation (either one that rhymes or that adheres to the meter of the Latin… maybe both).

The first lament of the season is Parce Domine. This chant, “Spare, O Lord”, comes from Joel 2:17, which you probably recall hearing on Ash Wednesday:

Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?'”

Here is the chant (an antiphon with verses) in Latin:

R. Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo; ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.
(Spare, Lord, spare your people; lest you be angry with us forever.)

1. Flectamus iram vindicem, ploremus ante Judicem;
clamemus ore supplici, dicamus omnes cernui.
(Let us bow before the avenging wrath, let us weep before the Judge;
let us cry out with words of supplication, let us speak, all falling prostrate.)

2. Nostris malis offendimus tuam Deus clementiam;
effunde nobis desuper remissor indulgentiam.
(By our wickedness we have offended your clemency, God;
pour forth pardon on us from above, forgiver.)

3. Dans tempus acceptabile, da lacrimarum rivulis
lavare cordis victimam, quam laeta adurat caritas.
(Giving us an acceptable time, grant, in the rivers of our tears,
to wash [our] hearts’ sacrifice, enkindled by joyful charity.)

4. Audi, benigne Conditor, nostras preces cum fletibus
in hoc sacro jejunio fusas quadragenario.
(Hear, benign Creator, our prayers, with lamentations,
poured forth during this holy fast of forty days.)

5. Scrutator alme cordium, infirma tu scis virium;
ad te reversis exhibe remissionis gratiam.
(Kind searcher of hearts, you know [our] bodily weaknesses;
to those returning to you, show the grace of forgiveness.)

Here is my translation which can be sung to the Latin chant’s melody:

R. Spare Thy people, Lord; spare thy people kneeling here before Thee;
lest Thy anger stay upon us forever.

1. To our knees we fall before Thy wrath, weeping tears of true contrition;
crying out in supplication, we call to Thee with sorrowful hearts.

2. By our sins we have offended Thee, transgressing upon Thy mercy;
pour down upon us from on high Thy gracious pardon, merciful One.

3. Cleanse the off’ring of our hearts, O Lord, in our tears and Thy charity:
now is the day of salvation, now is a most acceptable time.

4. O benign Creator, hear our prayers, bend Thine ear to our lamentations,
in this season of penitence, this holy Lent of forty days.

5. O, provident searcher of the heart, Thou Who know’st our ev’ry weakness;
grant Thy grace of forgiveness to those returning unto Thee.