The Graces

Because few current students have any knowledge of Latin, and because we are often asked what the Graces actually mean, the Latin Graces and their translations into English are given below.

A sheet of paper discovered in a drawer in the Old Library has the first two Latin Graces printed on it, with a handwritten note:

The following Graces were used for the first time on Shrove Tuesday Feb 17, 1863. They were read by the Senior Scholar T.E. Isherwood.

There is a lively debate amongst those who care about such things concerning the correct punctuation of the Latin Graces. In the interests of historical accuracy, the punctuation below is that used (errors and all) on the sheet referred to above.

Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua,
quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi,
et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti
tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Bless, O Lord, us and your gifts,
which from your bounty we are about to receive,
and grant that, healthily nourished by them,
we may render you due obedience,
through Christ our Lord.

The words Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi are recorded as a blessing as early as the eighth century. This phrase, and variations on it, are used as a pre-prandial grace at many Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The second part, after et concede etc, and variations on it, occurs only at some Cambridge colleges.

Gratias tibi agimus, sempiterne Deus,
quod tam benigne hoc tempore nos pascere dignatus es,
benedicentes sanctum nomen tuum
pro Reginis, Fundatricibus nostris caeterisque Benefactoribus,
quorum beneficiis
hic ad pietatem et studia literarum alimur,
petimusque ut nos, his donis ad tuam gloriam recte utentes,
una cum illis qui in fide Christi decesserunt,
ad coelestem vitam perducamur,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Deus, salvam fac Regem/Reginam atque Ecclesiam.
We give you thanks, eternal God,
that so kindly at this time you have deigned to feed us,
blessing your holy name …
… for the Queens, our Foundresses, and our other Benefactors,
by whose benefits …
… we are nourished here towards piety and the study of letters,
and we ask that we, rightly using these gifts for your glory,
together with those who have died in the faith of Christ,
may be brought to the life in heaven,
through Christ our Lord.
God preserve the King/Queen and Church.

The last Grace is almost never used. A simpler English after dinner Grace is now said:

For these and all his mercies,
for the Queens our Foundresses and for our other Benefactors,
God's holy name be blessed and praised.
God preserve our King/Queen and Church.

The above wording (with King instead of Queen) was adopted in June 1949. Until then, the wording had been:

For these and all his mercies
God's holy name be blessed and praised,
for our Foundresses and Benefactors …
God preserve our King and Church.

This same grace was noted in 1903 but having the final line with word order:

For God preserve our Church and Queen.

It is the custom that Graces are said only at Formal Hall during Full Term and at a few other special meals. The pre-prandial Latin Grace is said by a Scholar (or, formerly, Exhibitioner) from amongst the undergraduates. The post-prandial English Grace is spoken by the person presiding (the President or the senior Fellow) at High Table.

When the Fellows dine together in the absence of students, shorter graces are used.

Before dinner
Benedictus benedicat. May the Blessed One give a blessing.
After dinner
Benedicto benedicatur. Let praise be given to the Blessed One (if you believe Benedicto is dative); or
Let a Blessing be given by the Blessed One (if you believe Benedicto is ablative).

Written around the top of the walls of the Old Hall as a decorative border is another Grace. It is taken from the Book of Psalms, Psalm 145 vv. 15–16, and was painted around 1875. It is commonly in use at other Cambridge Colleges, but has not, to my knowledge, ever been used as a Grace at Queens’. When used at other Colleges, it is often followed by the first two lines of the Benedic Domine Grace given above, although there are some variations of word order.

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine:
et tu das escam illorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord:
and you give them meat in due season.
You open your hand,
and fill every living thing with blessing.

Written above the Oriel Window in Old Hall is another Grace, again painted around 1875:

Benedictum sit sanctum nomen Domini
pro Reginis fundatricibus nostris caeterisque Benefactoribus.
God's holy name be blessed
for the Queens our foundresses and other Benefectors.

Further reading

1863: Gratiarum Actio. [wording of new Graces]

1903: “Saying Grace” historically considered, and numerous forms of grace … , by Henry Lancelot Dixon. (OCLC 10554176)

1950: Visit of the Patroness, in Queens’ College 1948–​1949, p. 4.

1992: The College graces of Oxford and Cambridge, by Reginald H. Adams. (ISBN 978-1-870882-06-4)