Cambridge students drop Jesus from mealtime prayers

Published 16 May 2009  |  
Students at Newnham College, Cambridge, have removed references to Jesus in a prayer of thanks before formal dinners and have introduced a secular "prayer" to be said in its place.

Traditionally students said grace in Latin and gave thanks to Jesum Christum dominum nostrum (Jesus Christ our Lord).

Now, however, students will give thanks saying, "Pro cibo inter esurientes, pro comitate inter desolatos, pro pace inter bellantes, gratias agimus" - or "For food in a hungry world, for companionship in a world of loneliness, for peace in an age of violence, we give thanks", reports the Daily Mail.

The change, which was approved by students last week, has been criticised by Mary Beard, a fellow of Newnham College, as an insult to the Latin language.

"The undergraduates' rewrite was a classic case of disguising a load of well meaning platitudes in some posh dead language, which was actually an insult to that dead language," reports the Daily Mail.

"Could we imagine getting up and saying this in English? No. Well don't say it in Latin then."

The grace, which was first introduced by art historian Jocelyn Toynbee, is said every week at the college's formal dinner, where students at the women's only college are required to wear black gowns.

Terri Apter, a senior tutor at the college said, "The college is non-denominational – this means that the matter of faith or no faith is a matter for the individual … The person presiding over a college dinner has discretion over whether to say grace in Latin or English, and which grace to use.

"There is no question of the original grace being banned by the college. A group of students merely asked for an alternative."

The Bishop of Ely, Dr Anthony Russell responded to the move saying, "Clearly this is a matter for Newnham to decide … There are a great variety of formal graces within the university."

The new grace has not yet been used and was found in English on the internet. The students then translated it into Latin for use in the college.

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