Sunday, August 05, 2007

Thank You. Have Mercy.

These men are offloading the fish they caught off Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1937, which would be immediately shipped to New York City.

In 1937, men still routinely went out and pulled fish out of the ocean in small dories out of Provincetown. Many still rowed out towards "The Banks," as they called Georges Bank. Georges Bank is a raised area of seafloor about 50 miles offshore Cape Cod where all the fish are, or were.

The prayer of the mariner: "Oh Lord, the sea is so great and the ocean is so small," is more than an abstraction to a dory fisherman. After all, no boat is big enough not to fear the ocean, and there are things that swim in the ocean bigger than their craft. I always found it interesting that the prayer asks for nothing; it is a barefaced recognition of facts, a pure acknowledgment of the merciless nature of the world that gives you everything, at the risk of everything.

The fishermen in Provincetown were all Portuguese then, more or less. Their descendants are everywhere here in Southcoast Massachusetts. I am not of them, though I know them a little. It is the Sicilian fishermen I know. You can have their prayer, if you like.

The Sicilian Mariner's Prayer

O Sanctissima O Piissima
Dulcis Virgo Maria
Mater amta intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

Tota pulchraes O Maria
Et macula non est in te
Mater anmata intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

Sicut lilium inter spinas
Sic Maria inter filias
Mater amata intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis

In miseria in angustia
Ora Virgo pro nobis
Pro nobis ora in mortis hora
Ora ora pro nobis

I don't think it needs a translation, really. They are all the same, more or less. I am not a fisherman. The prayer suits me fine, though. What other does a man need?

Thank you. Have mercy.


tjl said...

"Sicut lilium inter spinas."

What a lovely image. Suddenly I'm back in third grade, with Sister Gertrude leading the class in a hymn to the Virgin. As you say, Sippican, we didn't understand the words, but we knew what it meant.

Anonymous said...

Paula, the rectory housekeeper, sang that hymm every morning at 6:30 mass when I was sooo young. Brings back pleasant memories.


Harry said...

You can thank St. Jerome for the Latin formulation "Sicut lilium inter spinas", and Catholic tradition for the application of the phrase to Mary. But the phrase was written long before and in Hebrew. It's from Songs of Solomon 2:2

SippicanCottage said...

"Lovely" and "pleasant." My work here is done.

I like when Harry drops by because he knows things I don't.