Orate fratres is the incipit of a request for prayer that the priest celebrating Mass of the Roman Rite addresses to the faithful participating in it before saying the Prayer over the Offerings, formerly called the Secret. It thus corresponds to the Oremus said before the Collect and the Postcommunion, and is merely an expansion of that shorter exhortation. It has gone through several alterations since the Middle Ages.
The full text of the priest's exhortation is: Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem (Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father).
This exhortation is a reminder to the people that the sacrifice being offered is not the priest's alone but theirs also ("my sacrifice and yours").
The words of the exhortation are the same as in the editio princeps of the Roman Missal issued by Pope Pius V in 1570. At a later stage, editions of the Tridentine Roman Missal introduced a rubric absent in the original, directing the priest to say the Orate fratres exhortation with his voice "raised a little" (voce paululum elevata). A proof that it was not an integral part of the old Roman Mass is that it is always said, not sung, aloud, like the Tridentine Mass prayers at the foot of the altar, last Gospel etc. Adrian Fortescue remarked: "Certainly nowhere is the whispered voice so anomalous as here, where we address the people. If the Orate fratres were an old integral part of the Mass, it would of course be sung loud."
The rubric in the Tridentine editions of the Roman Missal directs the priest, if not already facing the people, to turn to them, say "Orate, fratres" in a low voice while extending and joining his hands, and then turn back to the altar while reciting the rest of the invitation inaudibly. It is the only occasion when those editions tell him to turn back to the altar by completing a clockwise 360° turn, unlike the other occasions, when according to the same editions, he reverses his turning to the people.
The limitation of the voice and the silent recitation of most of the request for prayer was removed in the 1970 edition. A rubric that remains directs the priest, when making the request, to stand at the middle of the altar, facing the people, and to extend then join his hands. In the editions since 1970 this is the second occasion during the celebration of Mass on which he is explicitly directed to face the people. In earlier editions it was the third occasion.
The people respond to the priest, saying: Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis, ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae (May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church).
The original Tridentine Roman Missal included the word "Amen" as an integral part of this response at the end and directed that the whole response ("Amen" included) be said by "the bystanders or else by the priest himself" (Circumstantes respondent: alioquin ipsemet sacerdos). Later editions removed the "Amen" from the response and directed the priest to say the "Amen" himself in a low voice (submissa voce). In the rubric it added "the server or" before "the bystanders" (Minister, seu circumstantes respondent: alioquin ipsemet Sacerdos). Since 1970, editions of the Roman Missal assign the response to the people or, in Masses celebrated without the people, to the server, and speak of an "Amen" at this point only in response to the Prayer over the Offerings.
The response of the people emphasizes both the distinction and the similarity between the priest's sacrifice at the altar and that of the faithful.
The Jacobite rite has an almost identical form before the Anaphora; the Nestorian celebrant says: "My brethren, pray for me". Such invitations, often made by the deacon, are common in the Eastern rites. The Gallican rite had a similar one. The Mozarabic invitation at this place is: "Help me brethren by your prayers and pray to God for me". The medieval derived rites, such as the Sarum Rite, had a similar formulation. Many of the old Roman prayers over the offerings contain the same ideas.
- Roman Missal [Third Typical Edition (Liturgy Training Publications 2011)
- Adrian Fortescue, "Orate Fratres" in Catholic Encyclopedia 1911
- Pius Parsch, The Liturgy of the Mass, Rev. Frederic C. Eckhoff, trans. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1949), 182
- 2002 typical edition of the Vatican Roman Missal
- 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal
- ICEL (official) English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. The earlier (1973) ICEL translation has "our sacrifice" in place of "my sacrifice and yours".
- Rev. D. I. Lanslots, Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of the Mass, (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1897), 145-148.
- Facsimile published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 1998 (ISBN 88-209-2547-8), p. 299
- Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (Longmans, Green and Co. 1912; reprinted Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2003), p. 312
- Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, VII, 7
- The Mass of the Faithful
- Definitive ICEL translation. The earlier (1973) translation omitted the word "holy".
- John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary