A Prayer for the Internet from the 1946 Roman Ritual? Sure, and It’s Wonderful!

121114The old Roman Ritual was (is) a magnificent collection of blessings and prayers. It had some of the most amazing little blessings of things it would never occur to you to find in such a collection. For example, among other more common blessings of statues, religious medals, and so forth are blessings, often elaborately laid out, for things like a seismograph, a typewriter, a printing press, a fishing boat, a fire engine, a stable, medicine, a well, a bridge, an archive, a lime kiln, a ship, an automobile, mountain-climbing equipment, and an electric dynamo.

Thankfully, the old ritual is still able to be used since, as many priests will attest, the current “Book of Blessings” issued back in the 1990s is all but useless. It is also improperly named, since there are really no blessings to be found in it. It is all rooted in a rather narrow notion of blessing that seeks to bless the user of (or someone walking nearby?) an object, but not the object itself.

It is an odd theology to say the least, especially for the Catholic faith, which is so incarnational and seeks to sanctify things as well as the people who use them. But I’ll let the theologians debate this. As a pastor, I (as well as most of my brother priests) know that people want their things blessed, and they are looking for that sign of the cross, that holy water, those words somewhere in the rite that actually ask God to bless the thing. The old Roman Ritual does this, and does it well. It also has good prayers that go beyond the mere act of blessing and seek to put the object in God’s wider plan of sanctity for us.

In the old ritual, there is a remarkable prayer for a telegraph—yes, a telegraph. It quite elaborately laid out psalms and antiphons, but I will only present here the prayer of gratitude at the end, just before blessing it with Holy Water.

To my mind, it is also perfect as a prayer, expression of gratitude, and blessing when using a computer or for the extended “cloud” of our computers, otherwise known as the Internet. The prayer is both thrilling and fitting. It is a minor masterpiece if you ask me. Though written sometime prior to 1945, and likely after 1830, its basic structure fits well what we do now with the Internet. There is probably one word that needs changing, and perhaps you can help by suggesting another word.

But without further drumrolls, here is the prayer, first in its Latin original, and then translated by Rev. Phillip Weller:

Deus qui ámbulas super pennas ventórum, et facis mirabília solus: concéde, ut per vim huic metállo índitam fulmíneo ictu celérius huc abséntia, et hinc álio praeséntia transmíttis; ita nos invéntis novis edócti, tua grátia opitulánte, prómptius et facílius ad te veníre valeámus. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.

O God, who walkest upon the wings of the wind, and thou alone workest wonders! By the power inherent in this metal, thou dost bring hither distant things quicker than lightning, and transferest present things to distant places. Therefore grant that, instructed by new inventions, we may merit, by thy bounteous grace, to come with greater certainty and facility to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sign of the Cross + and sprinkling with Holy Water.

Magnificent. It almost paints a picture in the mind as the words go forth. Yes, such beauty and a picture of the swiftness of information going hither and yon, like lightning, or as on the wings of the wind! And may indeed this wondrous tool serve to draw us closer to God and not be corrupted by sinful curiosity, hostility, defamation, profanation, or pornographic and prurient temptations.

One word, “metal,” may need adjusting. What word would you suggest? Perhaps simply “computer” will work, but more is in mind: the whole Internet and “cloud” are part of what we are grateful for and ask blessings for. But of course we may not be in a position to bless the whole Internet, and our blessing or prayer of gratitude is only to be directed to our computer, our one portal to the vast communication network. Anyway, this is just a thought.

But I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Encourage your priest to get a copy of the older Roman Ritual. For many years now, it has been my custom to use it instead of the Book of Blessings.

This video of the history of the telegraph reminds us that the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse was “What hath God wrought?” This almost seems to have influenced the prayer in the ritual!

27 Replies to “A Prayer for the Internet from the 1946 Roman Ritual? Sure, and It’s Wonderful!”

  1. Thanks for the post. I was just looking at the variety blessings and Votive Mass prayers included in the Roman Missal (1962), which is a treasure trove. I don’t think the telegraph prayer was among them.

    I have owned two iPads, the original and its replacement a mini with Retina display, and have always carried them everywhere. And both devices I have gotten priests to bless because I use them so much in church. They are such excellent tools for my faith. I use IPieta for prayers and spiritual reading, the divine Mercy app to view the image while praying the chaplet, Universalis for following along in Mass, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours when I make time for that. I feel that having the blessing on the device has helped me avoid temptations which are so easy to find when connected to the ‘net. This prayer would be a good one for this use because these devices are really just fancy telegraphs, communicating in a silent morse code through the ether.

    On a side note, isn’t it interesting that “Mayday”, which is a high holy day in the Communist religion, has pretty much replaced the distress signal which originated on the telegraph because it is so short and easy to remember in Morse Code: “Save Our Souls!”, that is ” . . . — — — . . . “

    1. “Mayday” isn’t a reference to the Communist celebration; it is a phonetic representation of “m’aidez,” which means “Help me” in French.

      1. Thanks for the etymology of “mayday”, which I do not doubt. Even so, May Day is yet a high holy day for Communists, and that call has largely replaced S.O.S as the international distress signal, mostly because voice communications have supplanted telegraphy. But that shift, I reckon, is emblematic of the trend towards the secularization of our culture, which denies the existence of souls in need of saving and a savior who can help.

    2. The signaling and detection of Code transmission is very different than Voice/microphonic transmission. SOS as a code distress signal originated in 1909 for telegraph signaling. Mayday is a voice distress signal and originated in 1925 in airtravel. The MorseCode SOS is very short and easy to send and decode by key or light even by novices, but it wouldn’t be readily detectible in a voice transmission with a noisy background. The US Coast Guard still uses the SOS today in light-signalling. Mayday signal originated in England, probably because most international air travel at the time (which was very little) was over the Channel between France and England—the verbal expression would be readily detectible by tower control in both countries and in Europe.

  2. Speaking for myself and quite a few others, i/we love having things we have blessed Msgr. Pope. The Latin Rite blessings are beautiful and possess a certain sacred power lacking in today’s more modern versions do. There are so many who vehemently disagree with this perception. But, last Saturday, this was proved to me personally, when i received the Anointing of the Sick, using the full Latin Rite, along with Confession and Communion in my home. Father Ashley Perry from St. Stephen, The First Martyr officiated. He blessed my home and myself several times during the Sacraments. And i felt them to the very core of my soul. So much so, i quietly cried throughout it all. To this day, i’m still feeling the effects from these Sacraments and blessings. As for a substitute for metal, would microchips be viable?

  3. I was thinking “circuits”, but then we need to account for wireless transfer of info as well. Perhaps “message transmitting devices” would be generic enough, if a little clunky.

  4. perhaps “medium” instead of “metal” (besides, it would reduce the evil “medium” (through whom spirits are called) to the level of a mineral or dust. I thought the word ” worst” should have been ” workest”…

  5. A quick comment on a wonderful article and comments above… Thank you all and God bless!

    Oh… What about ‘technology’ as the replacement?

  6. How about ‘device’? That would work for any of the plethora of things which connect to the internet (including smart thermostats) as well as telegraphs, and would work even if technology changes further

  7. “communication device” would be a good substitute for the word “metal.” At the end of the day, your computer, iPad, etc. are just tools. Sometimes we forget that.

  8. I wish I’d known this a few months ago. Our parish is in the second year of a process of scanning and digitizing our sacramental registers with a staff of volunteers and university interns. We did use one of the blessing in the newer book to dedicate our work area. When we were looking for a patron saint for the room, we found there;s still no patron saint for the Internet. After some consideration, we decided to name the area the “St Cloud Cyber-Space”, and attached this biography to the door:
    St. Cloud is the first and most illustrious Saint among the princes of the royal family of the first race in France. He was son of Chlodomir, King of Orleans, the eldest son of St. Clotilde, and was born in 522. He was scarce three years old when his father was killed in Burgundy; but his grandmother Clotilde brought up him and his two brothers at Paris, and loved them extremely. Their ambitious uncles divided the kingdom of Orleans between them, and stabbed with their own hands two of their nephews. Cloud, by a special providence, was saved from the massacre, and, renouncing the world, devoted himself to the service of God in a monastic state. After a time he put himself under the discipline of St. Severinus, a holy recluse who lived near Paris, from whose hands he received the monastic habit. Wishing to live unknown to the world, he withdrew secretly into Provence, but his hermitage being made public, he returned to Paris, and was received with the greatest joy imaginable. At the earnest request of the people, he was ordained priest by Eusebius, Bishop of Paris, in 551, and served that Church some time in the functions of the sacred ministry. He afterward retired to St. Cloud, two leagues below Paris, where he built a monastery. Here he assembled many pious men, who fled out of the world for fear of losing their souls in it. St. Cloud was regarded by them as their superior, and he animated them to all virtue both by word and example. He was indefatigable in instructing and exhorting the people of the neighboring country, and piously ended his days about the year 560.
    St. Cloud in his day embraced the Gospel rather than worldly power. He used the means at his disposal to bring it to others. May we do the same today through our work in preserving the sacramental history of our parish, archived now both in our parish registers and in the digital “cloud.”

  9. If I may be allowed to inject a little humor:

    The varied list of items included in the Roman Ritual (a seismograph, a typewriter, a printing press, a fishing boat, a fire engine, a stable, medicine, a well, a bridge, an archive, a lime kiln, a ship, an automobile, mountain-climbing equipment, and an electric dynamo) brought to mind a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which King Arthur and his crew bring out a hand grenade, housed within some sort of ceremonial box. They then proceed with a rather long prayer (from the “Book of Armaments”) in which they ask for God’s blessing on “…this, Thy holy hand grenade…so that with it we may blow Thine enemy to tiny bits, in Thy mercy”

    Here’s a link to the sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ashgP4YMdJw

    I was a huge Monty Python as a teenager (when their television show was in its heyday)!

    1. Love the video! I realize there will be some here who view it who will find it offensive. But humor is often exists on the edges, and we need to learn to laugh at ourselves, just a bit. And there and have been excesses in the way we pray. One of the beauties, in fact, of Roman collects, is their terse beauty. They do not needlessly multiply words. The spoof here is more on English prayers from The book of common prayer which have a rather Shakespearean quality: Beautiful, but excessive. It is an excess that I personally love, but realize that it is open to being spoofed

  10. Gibbons Burke: “Mayday” has nothing to do with Communist holidays. It is actually “M’aidez!” or “Help me!” in French. It is easy to say and easy to understand over the radio.

  11. It is significant that the prayer says “the power INHERENT in this metal”. Man could only invent such a machine because God had already created metal, which is able to conduct electricity, without which man would have never succeeded.

    Perhaps ” silicon”?

  12. Why not use the word “tool” ? Perhaps this will remind us that the computer and internet are indeed, meant to be used as tools, and not time-wasters. {grin}

    Comments are interesting! I thought SOS came from Save Our Ship! rather than save our souls. I remembered the difference between Mayday (much older than Communism — it’s the old Celtic Beltane, the opposite end of the calendar from Samhain) and “m’aidez”.

    Why shouldn’t we bless our tools and belongings? I recently purchased a new car; our associate Pastor from Ghana used the Latin, and blessed every square inch of that thing. Under the hood, the dash, the steering wheel, the tires, the spare, the key, even the St. Raphael medal I hung from the mirror. I appreciated his thorough work — especially the key. Perhaps now I will pester St. Anthony much less than I used to!


  13. 1946 version:

    “O God, who walkest upon the wings of the wind, and thou alone workest wonders! By the power inherent in this metal, thou dost bring hither distant things quicker than lightning, and transferest present things to distant places. Therefore grant that, instructed by new inventions, we may merit, by thy bounteous grace, to come with greater certainty and facility to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    1973 ICEL Version:

    Bless this thing, whatever it is, Oh God. Thanks, Dude.

  14. I tried to update this prayer as best as I could. Please forgive me if it sounds bad.

    O God, You alone are capable of working wonders! With the power inherent in this technology, you bring distant things near, and transfer near things to distant places. Therefore grant that, by using this technology, we may merit, by your bountiful grace, to come to greater knowledge and love of You. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Thank you for this blog.

  15. This brings to mind an episode of “Bless Me Father”, an English comedy about an Irish pastor of an English church in the early fifties. The assistant, Fr. Neil, was assigned the duty of blessing a parishioner’s parakeet. Not finding a “parakeet” blessing, he used the blessing for an airplane from the Roman Ritual.

  16. Here’s my suggestions. Replace the world “metal” with “device” and if you are blessing all connecting devices within a building or office and want to include the Internet, replace “metal” with “network.”

  17. Yes, that is a beautiful blessing.

    This brings a question. Was the original blessing intended to bless both the telegraph device and the wire over which the message was carried? This brings a prior question. Can a priest bless that to which he isn’t present? For example, is the ability to bless limited to that which is in eyesight or that to which the holy water can reach? EWTN claims that if one hears on radio or sees on tv a blessing pronounced live the person receives the blessing, but he doesn’t receive the blessing if he sees or listens to a recording of the blessing. I suppose they are right.

    I’d leave it as “metal” if it was understood as a blessing for just the computer or device and change it to “air and metal” if it is intended to include the pathways along which information is carried.

  18. I just passed the prayer for the telegraph ( computer) to our IT person who is struggling with our parish upgrade.
    We prayer it together. Thanks.

  19. H. I. M. J.

    Charles, could you tell me if this particular blessing is reserved for Ordinary (bishop, or provincial) because I have
    this Ritual in digital form (pdf) and I’ve read in it one specific note which says: there are blessings reserved for the Pope (P) and for the Ordinary (p).

    This blessing of telegraph is said to be reserved for p ( ordinary).

    And for example – the blessing of the Medal of St. Benedict is said to be reserved for the P (Pope) 🙂

    Thank you for you answer.

    God bless you!

    fr. Nikola

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