What Does the Prayer Really Say? 1st Sunday of Lent – Station: St. John Lateran
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003
As the seasons change and the world whirls its course through the cosmos, we return now to the beginning of the liturgical cycle of Lent and Easter. As is proper before a great feast the Church gives us a time of salutary penance. Our vestments will be purple, our decorations stark if we are attentive to the meaning of the season: no flowers, no instrumental music. It is time to fast and to pray, to give alms and to examine our consciences in the desert.
The season Quadragesima or Lent is so important that each day has its own proper prayers for Mass as well as its own “station”, a very ancient tradition. As we have explained in the last two years in these WDTPRS articles, from time immemorial on 84 days (Ember Days, Sundays in Advent, pre-Lenten Sundays (Septuagesima, etc.), great feasts like Pentecost) the clergy and people of Rome would “collect” together at an appointed ecclesia collecta church for preliminary prayers (perhaps the origin of collecta for the opening prayer of the Mass, at the ecclesia collecta). Then they would march in procession singing litanies and other chants to meet the Bishop of Rome or his deputy at a different “stopping” church nearby and participate in the “station” Mass (from Latin statio). In Rome a confraternity dedicated to the cult of martyrs now maintains and revives this beautiful tradition. Before the Second Vatican Council the names of these station churches were printed in the Roman Missal before the text of Mass each day. Quite often the prayers and texts for the daily Mass subtly referred to the patron saint of the church where they were said, or to some historical event associated with the place. The station tradition was once observed throughout the world and people could gain indulgences by visiting churches designated by the bishop of the place where they lived. The little book called the Ordo, published every year and containing practical information about what Mass is to be said each day, still cites the practice of the stations and recommends their observance. In the Latin 1970MR, it is strongly recommended (valde commendatur) that this Roman custom be maintained, at least in larger cities. This is represented in stronger terms in the newest 2002MR.
In our Lenten articles I will be adding a bonus: the 2002MR has put back into use the ancient “prayer over the people” or Oratio super populum. This was delivered after the Post communion prayer. Before the final blessing and last Gospel, the congregation was invited to bow their heads for the oration/blessing. Once again those who attend the Novus Ordo have this back after a decades long hiatus.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Caelesti pane refecti,
quo fides alitur, spes provehitur et caritas roboratur,
ut ipsum, qui est panis vivus et verus, esurire discamus,
et in omni verbo, quod procedit de ore tuo,
This prayer is a new composition for the 1970MR Novus Ordo. The attentive listener picks up references to Matthew 4:4 (qui respondens dixit scriptum est non in pane solo vivet homo sed in omni verbo quod procedit de ore Dei) and John 6:51 (ego sum panis vivus qui de caelo descendi).
According to the astonishingly complete Lewis & Short Dictionary, the verb reficio (whence derives refecti) means, “to make again, make anew, put in condition again; to remake, restore, renew, rebuild, repair, refit, recruit” and thence refectus , a, um, is “refreshed, recruited, invigorated”. In a seminary or ecclesiastical institution a dining room is called a “refectory”. The verb proveho signifies “to carry or conduct forwards, to carry or convey along, to conduct, convey, transport, etc., to a place” and “to go, proceed, advance, move, drive, ride, sail, etc., to a place” and “to carry on, along, or forwards, to lead on; to promote, advance, exalt, raise”. Alo is “to feed, to nourish, support, sustain, maintain” and esurio “to desire to eat, to suffer hunger, be hungry, to hunger.”
Having been renewed by heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope advanced and charity strengthened,
we beseech, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Him, who is the bread living and true,
and we may be able to live,
by every word which proceeds from thy mouth.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you increase our faith and hope,
you deepen our love in this communion.
Help us to live by your words
and to seek Christ, our bread of life.
The origin of the Oratio super populum is quite complex and hard to pin down. Turning to Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann’s monumental two volume The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development we find a history of this prayer at the beginning of the section concerning the close of the Mass (II, pp. 427ff). Something Jungmann emphasizes that caught my attention is the fact that we are at a “frontier” moment, the threshold of the sacred precinct of the church and the world. When properly formed we want the influence of our intimate contact with the divine to carry over into the outside world. The use of this prayer is very ancient, found in both the Eastern liturgies of Syria and Egypt and in the West. Unlike the Postcommunio, the object of the prayer is not “us”. Instead, the priest prayers for and over the people, not including himself as he does in the prayer after Communion. By the time of Pope Gregory the Great this was only in the Lenten season, probably because this is perceived to be a time of greater spiritual combat requiring more blessings. Indeed it was extremely important for those who were not receiving Holy Communion, as was the case of those doing public penance before the Church, the ordo poenitentium. How important was this prayer to the Romans? In 545, when Pope Vigilius (537-55) was conducting the station Mass at St. Cecilia in Trastevere, troops of the pro-Monphysite Byzantine Emperor Justinian arrived after Communion to take the Pope into custody and conduct him to Constantinople. The people followed them to the ship and demanded “ut orationem ab eo acciperent… the they should receive the blessing prayer from him”. The Pope recited it, the people said “Amen” and off went Vigilius who would return to Rome only after his death.
ORATIO SUPER POPULUM (2002MR)
Super populum tuum, Domine, quaesumus,
benedictio copiosa descendat,
ut spes in tribulatione succrescat,
virtus in tentatione firmetur,
aeterna redemptio tribuatur.
Yes, this has the verb tento instead of tempto. Don’t think that the Italians slipped into Italian in the preparation of the 2002MR. Latin tento = tempto which means basically “to handle, touch, feel a thing”. Also, it means “to try the strength of, make an attempt upon, i.e. to attack, assail” and then “to try; to prove, put to the test; to attempt, essay a course of action”. Succresco, a rare verb, means “to grow under or from under any thing; to grow up”. Please note that the Oratio super populum was not given on Sundays, but on weekdays of Lent. I did not find this prayer amongst the Oratio super populum prayers during Lent. However, something about this prayer tugged at the sleeve of my memory. I found its source in the 1962MR on Good Friday in the so-called “Mass of the Pre-sanctified” as the first of three “thanksgiving” prayers. The 2002MR version was edited and scrambled, but the1962MR is unmistakably the basis for the newer version: Super populum tuum, quaesumus, Domine, qui passionem et mortem Filii tui devota mente recoluit, benedictio copiosa descendat, indulgentia veniat, consolatio tribuatur, fides sancta succrescat, redemptio sempiterna firmetur. We do have a new idea in the newer prayer, however, in the word virtus, which is “manliness, manhood, i. e. the sum of all the corporeal or mental excellences of man, strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; worth, excellence, virtue” which also means “moral perfection, virtuousness, virtue” and “military talents, courage, valor, bravery, gallantry, fortitude”.
MY LITERAL RENDERING:
Upon thy people, O Lord, we beg thee,
let a plentiful blessing descend,
so that hope in time of trouble may grow up,
valor in time of temptation may be strengthened,
and eternal redemption may be granted.
I really wish I could say for virtus, “the virtuous strength and courageous fortitude befitting soldiers of Christ in this Church Militant” but, given that this is the beginning of Lent and it would be over-the-top wordy, I write “valor”.
Some quick news is in order. It may seem that Mr. John L. Allen, Jr. of the left-leaning NCR is the only good source of info these days about what is happening in Rome on the liturgical front. I am guessing that the reason he is so readily entrusted with inside news is that he is both respectful and somewhat objective in his reporting. His latest column The Word Form Rome (21 Feb 2003) reveals that the new directors of ICEL have met with the CDW and they had a good meeting. They hammered out some operating procedures and overhauled some statues and personnel. Mr. Allen includes a fascinating comment: “Though no details from the meeting were released, sources tell NCR that solutions more or less acceptable to all parties were reached. To some extent those compromises will give Rome the oversight authority it has been seeking…. While critics of the ICEL overhaul regard the congregation’s desire to vet staff and advisors as a Vatican power-grab, sources in Rome offer a different interpretation. It is important to protect ICEL from the various liturgical watchdog groups in the English-speaking world, they say, such as Adoremus and Credo, who go over the backgrounds of ICEL personnel with a fine-tooth comb. The process of granting a nihil obstat, from this point of view, is a means of insuring that the agency’s key personnel have no theological skeletons in their closet.” (Emphasis added.) “Theological skeletons”? Such as the desire to have the translation accurately reflect what the prayer really says? This is all very interesting stuff, to be sure. Note that Mr. Allen said, “sources in Rome” and not “in the Vatican” or “in the CDW”. I am guessing that in Mr. Allen’s conversations with interested parties floating around the City, many tried to put the best possible spin on these developments, which must be scary indeed for the old guard who gave us the 1973 version we examine in this column and the recently rejected translation of the lame-duck 1975MR. You might risk turning into “theological skeletons” by offering your Lenten fasting for all those involved in these difficult endeavors.