What Does the Prayer Really Say? 2nd Sunday of Lent – Station: St. Mary in Domnica alla Navicella
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
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During the week after the 1st Sunday of Lent we would have observed the Ember Days of Lent. “Ember” derives from Anglo-Saxon ymbren, “a circuit or revolution (from ymb, “around”, and rennen, “to run”), the annual wheel of the sun.” Winter, spring, summer and autumn all had their Ember Days. These days of fasting and abstinence on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday fell during the weeks after the first Sunday of Lent, after Pentecost, around the time of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September, and after the third Sunday of Advent (more or less St. Lucy’s day, 13 December). There is a medieval couplet in rather degenerate Latin about the times they fell rendered in archaic English that is just about as bad: “Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” Rood is Middle English for a Crucifix. Whitsunday is Pentecost, from Old English hwita sunnandæg, “white Sunday” for the color of vestments once used for that feast. The Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Leo the Great (+461) and St. Jerome (+420) spoke of this custom, which perhaps stemmed from a Jewish practice of fasts at different times during the year. As far back as Pope Gelasius (+496) Ember Days were often auspicious for ordinations.
Do you recall my observation that during the “strong” liturgical seasons the ICEL translations tended not to be quite as bad as those during Ordinary Time? I take it back. Today’s collect is a new composition for the Novus Ordo based on a precedent in the ancient Spanish Liber Mozarabicus Sacramentorum.
COLLECT – ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God our Father,
help us to hear your Son.
Enlighten us with your word,
that we may find the way to your glory.
LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
Deus, qui nobis dilectum Filium tuum audire praecepisti,
verbo tuo interius nos pascere digneris,
ut, spiritali purificato intuitu,
gloriae tuae laetemur aspectu.
In other offerings of WDTPRS we have see that gloria, in early Latin writers such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose and in liturgical texts, points to more than fame or splendor of appearance. Our Latin liturgical gloria is the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Latins translated these concepts also with words like maiestas and claritas. Gloria has to do with man’s recognition of God as God. At the same time gloria is a characteristic of God which will transform us throughout eternity.
The form pascere could come from two verbs, the active pasco and the deponent pascor which the unrivaled Lewis & Short Dictionary says mean the same thing: “drive to pasture, feed, attend to the feeding of, nourish, maintain, support.” Here pascere is simply a present active infinitive with digneris. Digneris is in turn from dignor, a deponent for, “to deem worthy or deserving.” With an infinitive as its object (pascere) it means “to regard as fit, becoming, worthy of one’s self; to deign.” Rather than go through the wordy, “regard it as a thing worthy of you to nourish us” we can stick with “deign” or sometimes “vouchsafe”. Under the old translation norms, made obsolete by the issuing of Liturgiam authenticam in 2001, ICEL systematically avoided words indicating distinctions between the statuses of persons. Concepts like “majesty” (maiestas), “servant” or “handmaid” (servus, famulus, famula), begging (quaesumus), etc. were expunged by ICEL even though in the Latin prayers they were unavoidably integral to their content. The new draft translation in preparation does not avoid these concepts, so inherently important for a healthy Catholic’s spiritual life. The vocabulary of the prayers reinforces that this covenant we are in with God is not a contract between equals: He is Almighty and eternal, we are lowly and mortal. We do well to beg, to plead a supplicants before His majesty, not as cowed slaves terrified of a harsh master, but with the reverential awe of children looking at authority with the eyes of truth. Our prayers should help us to see who we are and who we are not.
In today’s prayer we have a strong reference to our senses of hearing (audire) and of seeing (intuitus, aspectus) both physically and also inwardly, spiritually. The voice of God the Father spoke at the Transfiguration commanding us to listen to His beloved Son. We listen to Jesus and look at what He does, both in the pages of Scripture and through His continuing presence in the Church. Christ’s words which we hear and His deeds which we see, both save us and teach us who we are.
This brings us to the “seeing” words intuitus and aspectus. Aspectus has both active and passive connotations, that is, the sense of sight, the act of seeing a thing, or the appearance of the thing itself. Aspectus can mean, “mien, countenance”, how something “looks”. Think of Henry V in Shakespeare’s play inciting his soldiers before battle to “lend the eye a terrible aspect” (III, i). Intuitus derives from intueor and means “a look, a view; respect, consideration.” You know intueor from a verse of the great hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas Adoro Te Devote: “I am not looking (intueor) 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.” That hymn, to the hidden divinity of the Eucharist, also sings, “ex auditu solo tuto creditur’ only “by hearing” is the doctrine of the Real Presence believed “safely”, since sight, touch and taste can deceive us.
In the prayer spiritali purificato intuitu is an ablative absolute construction with a perfect participle. Our intuitus spiritalis could be our own ability to see clearly into the state of our soul as if our intuitus (“insight”, “view”) were a spiritual lens that needed to be cleaned so we might have a more perfect “view”. Otherwise intuitus could be the spiritual landscape within us, the “view” God sees, how we “look” to Him and by our own inspection or introspection how we look to ourselves. The word “view” gets at both angles of intuitus (the power to see and that which is seen). “Insight” would tend to favor just one possibility in intuitus. The English cognate “intuition” suggests the wrong connotation from common usage, that is, “sudden insight” or “good guess”.
Both how we see and what is seen in us, our “spiritual view”, must be purified (purificato) so that God is not offended (cf. Habakkuk 1:3) God and neighbor must see His image in us. We must see His image in ourselves and others if we are going to treat them with the charity He commands. We must look past the imperfections of the flesh, the wounds caused by sin and see the intended reality. St. Bonaventure (+1274) wrote about how Thomas the Apostle looked through the Lord’s visible wounds and saw His invisible wound of love. Lent is a time for gaining spiritual “insight”, getting a proper “view” of the Love who died and rose for us, thus transforming us into more perfect images of who He is: risen, living, glorious. This necessarily requires a close examination of our lives to see and also to hear what or whom we have placed at the center of our lives, in His rightful place.
The Word of God, from all eternity, is the perfect image of the invisible Father. We are made according to that image. In the Incarnation the Word became the perfect visible image of the invisible God. This perfect image, Jesus, came into the world to save us from our sins and to reveal us more fully to ourselves. He gives us the ultimate “view” or “insight” of who we are and what we are to do. In the Transfiguration the three apostles see something more of Jesus’ perfect image and it is a sight that transforms them. Remembers how Moses was transformed by and how his face shown with light after his encounters with God in the cloud of His glory (Heb. shekina) when it descended on Mt. Sinai or the tent/tabernacle (cf. Exodus 33:7ff; 34:29ff). A symbolic shekina remains in our churches even now: more than a red presence lamp a baldachin or a veil covering the tabernacle is the true sign of the Real Presence!
By tradition, the Church reads the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration on this Sunday. In His Transfiguration the Lord reveals through our humanity some little glimpse of His divine nature so that His chief apostle Peter, with John and James, will be able to bear the horror of His Passion. The voice of the Father is heard to command: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to Him” (Mark 9:7). Our Collect today recalls the Transfiguration and then asks God to nourish us interiorly with the Word, the Son (who comes to us at Mass in Scripture and the Eucharist). The interior presence of the Word purifies our interior spiritual landscape and readies us for the Beatific Vision which will transform us forever. The way we “look” here on earth (“look” at our neighbors and “look” to our neighbors) prepares us for what we will behold in heaven.
This season of penance is for our interior purification. By giving up good things, we take control of our appetites and passions. We experience deprivation before fulfillment. There is a liturgical diminishing in Lent so that the Easter liturgy can be even more joyful. Only the pure may enter into the Beatific Vision (cf. Ps 24:23-24; Rev 21:27). In our earthly lives we must be purified of attachments to sin and perfected in love. This purification begins during life and, provided we die in the state of grace, may continue purgatory. In our Collect we acknowledge this necessity of purity in order to see the face of God. Our Collect today points to the reason we are taking on 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 of penance.
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.
Perhaps one thing we can all do during Lent is practice using what I call “resurrection glasses”, that is, trying to see people as God intends them transformed in the resurrection. Even the most annoying people might look different to us through “resurrection glasses”. Also, this is a year especially dedicated to the Most Holy Eucharist. Perhaps a good supplement to our Lenten discipline would be frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament exposed for perpetual adoration. (There is an special indulgence for doing so this year.) Richard of St. Victor (+1173) wrote, “Love is the eye and to love is to see.” Look upon Him who was pierced for our sake. He will transform your spiritual landscape. He is waiting to be seen both within and without.