In the traditional Roman calendar, this Sunday, the 1st after Epiphany, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.
The 1570 Missale Romanum does not have the feast of the Holy Family. I believe devotion to the Holy Family really took off in the 17th century, especially in French speaking regions. Pope Leo XIII seems to have introduced the feast for Canada in 1893 and Benedict XV gave it to the whole Latin Church in 1921.
COLLECT (Holy Family – 1962MR):
Domine Iesu Christe, qui Mariae et Ioseph subditus, domesticam vitam ineffabilibus virtutibus consecrasti: fac nos, utriusque auxilio, Familiae sanctae tuae exemplis instrui; et consortium consequi sempiternum.
Subdo, which according to the thick Lewis & Short Dictionary is “to bring under, subject, subdue”, gives us subditus, a, um, “subject”. Consortium comes from the preposition cum (“with”) and sors (“any thing used to determine chances”). Sors is further applied to offices that are gained by the casting of lots and methods like drawing straws. It means, then, “fate, destiny, chance, fortune, condition, share, part.” It thus means also a “community of goods” and by extension “fellowship, participation, society.”
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, while subject to Mary and Joseph, consecrated domestic life by unutterable virtues, cause us, by the help of them both, to be instructed in the examples of Your Holy Family, and to attain eternal fellowship.
A consortium is a situation in which you have “cast your lot” with a group. You share a common outcome or fate. At the end of the Roman Canon we hear consortium when we pray to participate in the reward given to great martyrs. Consequor is “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing.” It also means, “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey” and “to reach, overtake, obtain”. Consequently, it follows, consequor means “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal.” Exemplum is first and foremost “imitation, image, portrait; transcript, copy” and then it is in legal terms a case or cause to be imitated or followed in our behavior, a “precedent”.
Our prayers today taken all together present themes of imitation and instruction: exemplum… instruo… imitor… consequor.
SECRET (Holy Family – 1962MR):
Placationis hostiam offerimus tibi, Domine, suppliciter deprecantes: ut, per intercessionem Deiparae Virginis cum beato Ioseph, familias nostras in pace et gratia tua firmiter constituas.
This prayer was revised somewhat but largely retained in the Novus Ordo for the Feast of the Holy Family. To my mind, the newer version gives more emphasis to St. Joseph. However, this is not an ancient prayer.
Placatio means “a pacifying, appeasing, propitiating” especially of the immortal gods. In our prayer today we might choose a word like “atonement” or even “reconciliation.” Deprecor is not just “to pray”, but “to pray earnestly.” Firmiter is the adverb of firmus and can be “firmly, steadily, lastingly, powerfully.” Because of the beseeching tone of the prayer and the concept of intervention, I will use the word “powerfully.” When you, gentle reader, go through this vocabulary you might try substituting some of the alternative meanings to see how that will affect the prayer. You will see why translating the liturgy is not an easy task and why we must pray for all involved.
We offer You this sacrifice of appeasement, O Lord, humbly in earnest prayer, so that, by the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God with blessed Joseph, you may establish our families powerfully in grace and peace.
This is spoken by the priest, our mediator with God and alter Christus, at the moment our offerings (spiritual and material) are on the altar in anticipation of the divine act of transubstantiation.
All we are and all our hopes and desires should be united with the frail hosts, the still wine.
What we receive in return, particularly through making a good Holy Communion, allows us to fulfill our vocations in the world and transform it around us.
It is fitting that we should use the language of bowing, implicit in suppliciter.
We must use the physical posture of bowing down, folding ourselves face down before God, folding and bend our knees to beg Him to form and shape our families. As the family in general goes, so goes society.
But what do we find in prosperous countries?
Legal abortion, growing legalization of euthanasia, same-sex marriages, high divorce rates, young women disposing of newborn infants in garbage cans, scientific experimentation on living human beings, the dreadful prospect of cloning. The concept of the family is breaking to pieces.
It is good to pray that God might be appeased.
POSTCOMMUNIO (Holy Family – 1962MR):
Quos caelestibus reficis sacramentis, fac, Domine Iesu, sanctae Familiae tuae exempla iugiter imitari: ut, in hora mortis nostrae, occurrente gloriosa Virgine Matre tua cum beato Ioseph; per te in aeterna tabernacula recipi mereamur.
The Novus Ordo retains the first part of this prayer, though it is shifted to address God the Father, rather than the Son, and the last part eliminates the discomforting reference to death.
O Lord Jesus, cause those whom You are restoring by the heavenly sacraments to imitate the models of the Holy Family without ceasing, so that, in the hour of our death, as the glorious Virgin Mother rushes with blessed Joseph to meet us, we may merit to be received by You in the eternal dwelling place.
The verb occurro means “to run up to, run to meet”. The word tabernaculum in ancient Roman religious language is a tent outside the City were the auspices were observed before holding a comitia. In the Old Testament book of Numbers a tabernaculum is the “meeting tent”. In liturgical language it seems interchangeable with habitaculum or mansio. I think we have an echo here of Luke 16:9: “And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity: that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings (recipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula)” (Douay).
Today’s imitation vocabulary underscores that we are not without help in his life. We are part of a family, earthly and heavenly, already realized but not yet fulfilled. Christ chose to participate in a family when He began to save us and teach us who we are. Great work goes into the noble vocation of being a member of a family. We must imitate and practice the exempla offered us in the Holy Family, the lives of our extended heavenly family of saints, the good efforts of people around us. By imitation and practice we develop virtues. We build ourselves, with God’s help, into holy individuals and families, and thereby we begin to prepare eternal dwelling places.
Those who have religiously oriented families know this. So do those who do not have families. Often they know this with the bitterness of loneliness.
Perhaps you could extend your family bond around someone you know who has no one else.
Our proximity to Christmas and Epiphany urges us to consider the Divine Infant King’s little manger crib of rough wood. The wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of His saving Cross. His self-emptying was a sacrifice which made His saving Sacrifice possible. He cast His lot with us. As He was dying, Our Lord guided His Mother, a widow about to lose her only Child, to a new family bond with John, about to be orphaned in a spiritual sense by His Lord’s death.
Christ bound them together into a new family, a family of charity, a family of Blood, though not of blood: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:27 RSV).
This is a Christian imperative. These are Christ’s saving exempla to be imitated.