Epiphany: Post communionem

What Does the Prayer Really Say? Epiphany

We come now to Twelfth Night, which this year is really Eleventh Night, since Epiphany (from the Greek for “manifestation”) is now commonly transferred to a nearby Sunday. We are still in Christmastide, that marvelous opportunity to reflect on certain mysteries of the life of the Lord. In fact, there is a threefold mystery unfolded in the time of Epiphany, which is a very ancient feast, far older in observance that Christmas itself. In the time following Epiphany (its own liturgical season before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council), the Church explored different revelations or manifestations of the divinity of Christ, especially in the Gospel readings on the Sundays after Epiphany. The antiphon for second vespers of Epiphany, recalled three manifestations of Christ’s divinity as occurring on this day: “Tribus miraculis ornatum diem sanctum colimus: hodie…We solemnly observe this day ornamented with three miracles: today the star led the magi to the manger; today wine was changed to water at the wedding; today Christ desired to be baptized by John in the river Jordan so that He might save us, alleluia.” This is why the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is so close to Epiphany. Epiphany once had its own octave and was in many places a Holy Day of Obligation, both of which have, alas, departed per aliam viam, “by another road”.

There are some exquisite customs for this day including a special blessing of chalk to be used in hallowing homes. The chalk is used to mark the lintels of the doors in the format 20 + C + M + B + 03. Veterans of WDTPRS will instantly remember last year when CM wrote that CMB stood for Christus Mansionem Benedicat… “May Christ bless this house”. Well, it didn’t and doesn’t. These are the initials of the three magi (even though Scripture doesn’t count them, much less name them, and some ancient authors thought there were as many as 24, but I digress). Then JB of LA in CA wrote snail-mail denouncing me for writing C+M+B on doorways since the old Rituale Romanum provides the names as Gaspar (G not C), Melchior et Baltássar! As young people are wont to say these days: “Whatever”. In many places Epiphany is the time to give gifts and eat King Cake and Lamb’s Wool. Make some now while turning to our task at hand.

The first thing we observe when looking up our prayer in the new 2002 editio typica of the Missale Romanum is that there is now a new vigil Mass of Epiphany with its own texts. There was no vigil in the 1962, 1970 or 1975 editions. The introit for the vigil Mass, Surge, Ierusalem (cf. Baruch 5:5 and Isaiah 60:1-6), seems to have no precedent in either the Tridentine or Novus Ordo books. Thus, since there is no chant for the introit a schola cantorum would have to make substitutions or, I suppose, put together a chant on the text from an older existing melody. That is how things were ever done, of course. Recycling is nothing new to the Church, be it in texts, architecture, art, theology, (scandals), or music. Which reminds me of a story I once heard. You might all know about the great Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes in France where the best Gregorian chant books are produced by pontifical mandate. Once upon a time, during the renewal of the books after the Council, a visitor came to the Abbey eager to see what was going on and how the monks went about their business editing the new liturgical chant volumes. The Abbot was quite pleased to show him around. Entering a large and bright work studio, the visitor saw many things both wondrous and curious. There were great manuscripts of the most ancient provenance from which the scholar monks did their research for the precise notes and phrases of each melody. There were great reference works, including the esteemed Lewis & Short Dictionary. There were many well-seasoned monks hard at work at their tables, reading, writing, creating and setting type. There was, however, one monk who was off by himself in a corner. Upon further examination our visitor discerned that he was intently and painstakingly cutting and pasting tiny slips of paper into precise patterns on a page. Impressed with what must have without question been a labor of monumental import, our visitor asked the Abbot for insight into who he was and what was his clearly precious work. “Oh yes,” quoth the venerable divine in a low tone, “this is Brother Frodobertus. He composes the new chants.”

POST COMMUNIONEM – Ad Missam in die
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Caelesti lumine, quaesumus, Domine,
semper et ubique nos praeveni,
ut mysterium, cuius nos participes esse voluisti,
et puro cernamus intuitu, et digno percipiamus affectu.

This prayer was once the Postcommunio of the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord observed on 13 January according to the 1962MR unless it happened that the day coincided with the first Sunday after Epiphany, in which case the feast of the Holy Family was celebrated.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father,
guide us with your light.
Help us to recognize Christ in this eucharist
and welcome him with love.

As much as I hate to pick on the lame duck ICEL versions, this is less than good. I think we can do better without even trying to make a smooth and elegant version suitable for Mass.

And as always when we do this, we want to know just what those words really mean. You know where to find the meanings too. Our vocabulary is fairly straight forward. We could review intuitus, related to the verb intueor, meaning, “a look, view” and thus also, “respect, consideration”. In his Eucharistic poem Adoro te devote St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor, Deum tamen meum te confiteor:… ”I do not view your wounds as Thomas did, nevertheless I profess You to be my God”. Moer about intuitus below. Affectus, which we have seen before, is from the complicated verb aff- or adficio and means many things. It is apparently not used as a substantive. In order to understand what is happening with this word, we need to look at another derivative of afficio: the noun affectio. Briefly, affectio is “The relation to or disposition toward a thing produced in a person by some influence” and “A change in the state or condition of body or mind, a state or frame of mind, feeling (only transient, while habitus is lasting).”

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O Lord, we beg you,
go before us always and everywhere with heavenly illumination,
so that we may discern with a pure regard the sacramental mystery,
of which you desired us to be participants,
and perceive it with a worthy disposition.

At first glance, you will see immediately a reference to the miraculous star that led the Magi to the Christ Child: “go before us with a celestial light (lumen).” There are also verbs of perceiving and discerning in our prayer (cerno…percipio). We have the image of some in a journey through a dark place who needs both light and also sharpened senses so that he can make the best use of that light lest he lose his way and himself in the losing. Think of the way that Dante is led from the chaos of his life to the light of reason through the allegorical figures sent to guide his way out of the symbolic “dark wood.” Think of the way, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, light is always a sign of grace aiding those in dire need, such as when the light of a special star captured in a vial illuminates a dark path for Frodo and Sam as they are trying to carry their horrible burden, the Ring, into Mordor as an act of pure self-sacrifice. We pray for light from above, “heavenly” light. Our prayer today offers a metaphor for our interior journey to Christ. We need graces and lights from above in order to find our way or, as the case may be, find our way back out of the darkness into which we may have fallen. We must therefore consider further the verb praevenio. This signifies, “to come before, precede, get the start of, to outstrip, anticipate, to prevent; to come or go beforehand (late Lat.).”

The word praevenio will remind us right away of the theological distinction made when speaking of actual graces. You recall that God gives us habitual grace, also called sanctifying grace. This is in us as a habit is in us, in a stable and abiding manner. Actual graces are given to us according to our needs here and now, in this or that circumstance. Theologians identify in this category of actual graces something called gratia praeveniens, or “prevenient grace” and sometimes even “preventing grace” (defined by the Council of Trent, cf. Session VI, ch. 5 – we will leave aside for the sake of brevity the erroneous use of this term in some Reformation theologians). God made us with a free will, though that will is now wounded from the effects of original sin. When we are in need, especially when we have fallen into habitual sins and our will has little strength to extricate ourselves from our dark path, God gives the actual grace that, in a sense, “goes before” other graces, such as the actual graces we can receive, such as the sacramental graces from a good confession and absolution. He helps us to repent and be strong to confess before we take action. He does not constrain or bypass our will, but strengthens and cooperates with it through a freely given gift. We find examples of preventing or prevenient graces in the pages of Scripture as, for example, with a reluctant person hears the voice of God (e.g. Jeremiah or the person described in John 6:44). The patristic formula that describes this is Gratia est in nobis, sed sine nobis, that is, grace (as a vital act) is in our soul, but it does not comes from the soul; it is an salutary coming immediately from God (cf. St. Augustine De grat. et lib. arbitr., 17, 33).

When we consider the prayer from this light, we see also a new possibility in intuitus, which is more than just a physical sighting of a thing coming to view. The same Augustine says, “’The mind, when directed towards intelligible things in the natural order, according to the disposition of the creator, sees them in a certain incorporeal light which is sui generis, just as the physical eye sees nearby objects in corporeal light” (cf. De Trinitate 12,15,24). This has to do with spiritual sight in an analogy with physical sight. Grace, then, illumines the soul in such a way that we can discern and perceive clearly spiritual realities, hidden from the sight of the body’s eyes. At the time of Holy Communion it is good to bring to mind what we should have learned in catechism: sacraments are outward signs sensible to the body’s senses that confer invisible grace, perceived only with the eyes of the soul illuminated by grace, both habitual and actual. Think of the moment in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus sees the wealthy young man who has kept the commandments. In the Vulgate we read: “Iesus autem intuitus eum dilexit eum…Jesus looked at/perceived him and loved Him.” Jesus was doing more than just look at the fellows face. We can read much in the face of someone else. We can often perceive falsehood or trustworthiness. In this moment, Christ saw through to the depths of this young man’s soul. He saw with a different sight the spiritual reality and state of the man before Him. God sees us always in this way. We asked Him in this prayer to grant us a sharing in His life (grace) so that we can look back at Him in the moment of Communion and see Him with spiritual eyes. This is an anticipation of how we hope to see Him face to face in the life to come.

Epiphany: Post communionem
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Response to Epiphany: Post communionem

  1. What do you call a dinosaur that smashes everything in its path?
    Tyrannosaurus wrecks.