What Does the Prayer Really Say? Second Sunday of Lent – Station: St. Mary in Domnica alla Navicella
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
Traditionally during this last week we would have had the Quatuor Temporum Quadragesimae…the Ember Days of Lent. The beginning of the four seasons of the year were marked by Ember Weeks, during which Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday were days of fasting and abstinence. Ember Week occurred after the first Sunday of Lent, after Pentecost, after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and after the third Sunday of Advent. According to pious tradition the Ember Days in December were introduced by the Apostles as a preparation for the ordinations which occurred during that month. According to St. Leo The Great in the fifth century, the summer Ember Days were being observed during the octave of Pentecost and the autumn Ember Days in September. St. Jerome, in his commentary on the eighth chapter of Zachary, thought that the Ember Days were modeled on the Jewish custom of fasting and abstaining four times during the year. Also according to tradition, on this Sunday the Church reads the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration. The Lord reveals something of His divine nature so that His chief apostles will be better able to bear the horror of His Passion. The voice of the Father is heard: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to Him.” This passage helps us to understand our collect today.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Deus, qui nobis dilectum Filium tuum audire praecepisti,
verbo tuo interius nos pascere digneris,
ut, spiritali purificato intuitu,
gloriae tuae laetemur aspectu.
The sound of the two words intuitu… aspectu is quite agreeable.
O God, who commanded us to listen to your beloved Son,
deign to nourish us interiorly with your word,
so that, once (our) spiritual view has been purified,
we may rejoice in the sight of your glory.
First, let us contend with the form pascere. This could come from either of two verbs: the active pasco and the deponent pascor. Our handy Lewis & Short Dictionaries inform us that they both mean the same thing: “drive to pasture, feed, attend to the feeding of, nourish, maintain, support.” Students of Latin will see instantly that this form can be many things, including various singular second person forms like the future active indicative, present passive imperative, or present passive indicative. Here pascere is simply a present active infinitive that goes with digneris: deign to nourish us. Digneris is from dignor, a deponent verb meaning to “deem worthy or deserving.” With an infinitive as its object it means “to regard as fit, becoming, worthy or one’s self; to deign.” I suppose we could say here, “regard it as a thing worthy of you to nourish us.” I, however, am sticking with my “deign” even though most of us are not walking around saying “deign” to each other very much at present, though perhaps such courteous, even courtly speech would be an improvement over the way we hear people address each other and even God nowadays.
We need to look briefly at these “seeing” words intuitus and aspectus. Aspectus has both active and passive connotations, and so refers to both the power of sight and the thing seen. It is the sense of sight, the act of seeing a thing, or the appearance of the thing itself. It can by extension mean, “mien, countenance.” Intuitus seems to derive from intueor and means “a look, a view; respect, consideration.” You will be familiar with intueor from one of the verses of the great hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas Adoro Te Devote.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor; Deum tamen meum te confiteor. fac me tibi semper magis credere, in te spem habere, te diligere.
I am not looking at the wounds, like Thomas; I am nevertheless professing faith that you are my God; make me always more to believe in you, have hope in you, love you.
Intuitus is here with spiritalis. Also, this is an ablative absolute construction having a participle of a past tense, the perfect. We are noting herein a condition that must be accomplished before we can have what is spoken of next. So, we could take this ablative absolute clause to mean one of two things. First, our intuitus spiritalis could be our own ability to see clearly into the state of our soul must be purified, as if it were a lens that needed to be cleaned so that we can have a more perfect view. Also, it could be the spiritual panorama within us itself, a spiritual panorama which God is looking at too, one that needs to be purified so that His eyes are not offended. This is why I choose to say, “once our spiritual view has been purified,” for that gets at both these possibilities. St. Bonaventure wrote about how Thomas looked through the visible wounds and saw the invisible wound of love. Lent is a time for gaining spiritual “in-sight” into the Love that died and rose for us, transforming us into what He is: risen, living, glorious. This necessarily requires a close examination of our lives to see whom it is we have placed at the center.
In other offerings of WDTPRS I have mentioned that gloria, in early Latin writers such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose and in early liturgical texts, means far more than simple fame or celebrity or splendor of appearance. Our Latin liturgical gloria is the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Latins also translated doxa with the words like maiestas and claritas. It has to do with man’s recognition of God as God and the acknowledgment of the salvation won for us by Christ, crucified and risen. At the same time this “glory” is a power of God that transforms us into what He is.
Consider that the Word of God, from all eternity, is the perfect image of the invisible Father. We are made like that image, according to it, visible images of the invisible image. In the Incarnation the Word becomes flesh, the perfect visible image of the invisible God. This perfect Image came into the world to save us from our sins and to reveal us more fully to ourselves. He gives us the ultimate “in-sight” into who we are and who we are to be. In Jesus’ Transfiguration the three apostles see something of the perfect image. This is a sight that transforms them. One remembers how Moses was transformed and how his face shown with light after his encounters with God in the cloud of His glory (Heb. shekina) when it descended on the tent/tabernacle. (The shekina remains with us in our churches architecturally even now: more than the presence lamp it is the veil covering the tabernacle, or the baldachino, over it that is the sign of the presence of the Lord, just as the cloud of God’s glory that covered the tent made by the People of God in the forty years in the wilderness.) Clearly the sight of God is something that only God controls. Similarly, it is something that requires profound preparation.
In our collect, we invoke the memory of the Transfiguration. Then we ask God to nourish us interiorly with the Word, the Son, who comes to us at Mass in Scripture and Eucharist. This interior presence of the Word purifies our interior spiritual landscape and readies us for the Beatific Vision which will transform us.
One of the purposes of a season of penance is interior purification. By giving up things that are good, we take control of our appetites and passions in preparation for what is to come. We experience a liturgical diminishing in Lent so that Easter can be more joyful. Since only the pure may enter into the Beatific Vision, in order to have the joy of heaven, we must be purified of our attachments to sin and perfected in love. This purification must begin in our earthly lives and, provided we die in the state of grace, may continue purgatory. In our collect we acknowledge this necessity of purity before seeing the face of God. Our collect today points to the reason why we are taking on ourselves the yoke of penance. At the same time, our seeing the Lord and the Lord’s own image (intuitus/aspectus) transform us and make us better able to bear the burden. Perhaps a good supplement to a lenten discipline this year would also be frequent visits to a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for perpetual adoration. As Richard of St. Victor said: “Love is the eye and to love is to see.” Look upon Him who was pierced for us and let Him transform your spiritual landscape. He is waiting for us both within and without.
God our Father,
help us to hear your Son.
Enlighten us with your word,
that we may find the way to your glory.