What Does the Prayer Really Say? 4th Sunday of Lent – Roman Station: Basilica of the Holy Cross in Ierusalem
I received via e-mail a note from SM (slightly edited): “As a reader (of The Wanderer), I enjoy your column. It is both instructive and well written. As a two year old Traditionalist now, I realize that I (still have much to learn) but feel in my heart that the Mass of our Fathers is vastly superior in every way to the Novus Ordo Mass. For the first time ever, I actually look forward to going to Mass. No longer do I need to dread the chattering people, the foisted handshake of peace or the constant focus on ‘we’ over Jesus. My question to you is this: Why do bishops everywhere suppress this Mass? What are they so terrified of? (Pope) John Paul called for a generous use of this Mass but was ignored by all. What gives them the right to do this? I really feel that we Traditionalists are persecuted. But maybe that is because (the bishops) are afraid of us.”
Thanks, SM, for your heartfelt note. Nowhere in the rubrics of the Novus Ordo are people directed to “chatter” or do any of the annoying things we are likely to see in parishes. The Novus Ordo, when implemented with the proper spirit of obedience and harmony with Tradition, is as “reverent” as any celebration of the older form of Mass you would want to attend. Be fair to the rite, even when it is abused. Have some bishops “persecuted” people who want more traditional liturgical expressions? Probably. More and more bishops, however, are warming to the 1962 Missale Romanum. Many are trying to get their liturgical houses in order. Last week I wrote about Bishop Slattery in Tulsa. I don’t think bishops are “afraid” of traditionalists. Some traditionalists have been pretty rude to quite a few bishops. Rudeness rarely gets you what you want from a bishop or a priest. St. Francis de Sales (+1622) said “Always be as gentle as you can and remember that one catches more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.”
This is what I call a “nickname Sunday” (like Gaudete in Advent). These nicknames often come from the first word of the Introit antiphon. Today it is “Rejoice!” which signals the coming joy of Easter. During Lent we are to omit flowers, decorations and instrumental music, except organ but only to sustain congregational singing. This liturgical austerity is relaxed a little on Laetare Sunday in anticipation of Easter. This is one of two Sundays when rose-colored (rosacea) vestments can be used.
In Latin we say repetita iuvant (“repeated things help”) and so I will repeat the explanation for rose vestments. The Roman station for Laetare Sunday is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, wherein are deposited the relics of Cross and Passion brought back to Rome by St. Flavia Iulia Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine (+337). It was the Bishop of Rome’s custom on Laetare Sunday to bless roses made of gold to be sent to Catholic nobles. Therefore, this Sunday was also called Dominica de rosa or “Rose Sunday”. Eventually rosacea vestments came to be used on Laetare Sunday at the Basilica of the Holy Cross when the Pope came for the station Mass. From that basilica rosacea spread to the rest of Rome on the same day and, by close analogy, on Gaudete in Advent. When St. Pius V (+1572) promulgated the Roman Missal in 1570, rose became the rule for the abovementioned Sundays everywhere in the world. During the iconoclastic 70’s and 80’s rose vestments were trash-canned far and wide together with black and anything looking even slightly traditional. Today, however, rose vestments are again for sale in religious goods stores. Rose and black and things traditional are returning Easter-like from the tomb! Write to me and let me and your fellow WDTPRSers know if you saw rose on this Laetare Sunday.
Our austerely joyful Super oblata or “Prayer over the gifts” was not in the Roman Missal before the Novus Ordo, but its slightly different predecessor is in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary as the Secret for the 4th Sunday of Lent subtitled “second scrutiny”.
Should we try something different this week? Let’s have some commentary on today’s prayer before we look at its vocabulary, structure and literal translation. To start our exercise, bend your mind around this image. We who are rejoicing are nonetheless beseeching. We are happy beggars.
For our sins we truly deserve damnation. God’s eternal remedy to the damnation we deserve causes us simultaneously to bend ourselves over as humble supplicants and, to raise our hands and hearts heavenward as we rejoice in our good fortune and God’s mercy. Our grateful humility prompts us to beg the Lord to continue His gracious work in us, to make us capable of venerating the gifts properly, and also to make them known to others. We wish others to share in the salvation He has so kindly made possible so that our joy may be increased.
Now put yourself in church at Holy Mass. For weeks now the sanctuary has been bare, stripped in Lenten mortification. Purple has been our visual theme. The liturgy is “dying” until it rises at Easter. Today some bright flowers bedeck the high altar, the only altar, around which the well-trained boys serve in cassock and surplice. The organ was played, sparingly, but well. Father’s sermon was solemnly amusing, spiritually insightful and comprehensively brief, but in a moving way. The echo of the Gregorian chant chased the fragrant incense tendrils aloft into the vaults. You helped to make sure the collection was generous. On the altar’s mensa glittering gold vessels now stand holding your gifts, the hosts and the wine with its water drops. The priest, all draped in rose over white linen, has turned around to face you. For your sake and that of Holy Church he calls upon you to unite your sacrifices to his. Hundreds of voices together with yours rise from the packed nave upward to God in pursuit of the chant and the incense. The priest turns back to face the liturgical East. Silence falls. He opens his hands and sings.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Remedii sempiterni munera, Domine, laetantes offerimus,
ut eadem nos et fideliter venerari,
et pro salute mundi congruenter exhibere perficias.
My now somewhat soiled, but never dog-eared edition of the Lewis & Short Dictionary shows me that veneror means “to reverence with religious awe, to worship, adore, revere, venerate.” It can also mean “to ask reverently for any thing, to beseech, implore, beg, entreat, supplicate.” Congruo produces the adverb congruenter. Congruo has at its heart the concept of all the parts of a thing fitting together or being in harmonious agreement. Hence, congruenter is “agreeably, suitably.” A Latin remedium is “that which heals again; a cure, remedy” as well as “a means of aid, assistance, or relief.” It was even used of magical charms or amulets. Thus, even in its pagan usage there was an element of the spiritual in regard to healing and protection from ills.
Perficio, perfeci, perfectum is the source of the English word “perfect”. Perficio means fundamentally, “to achieve, execute, carry out, accomplish, perform, dispatch, bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete.” You can see how it signifies “to make perfect” and also “to bring about, to cause, effect”. It is often followed by an ut. Today we see an ut clause which governs two accusatives with infinitives distinguished by the classic et…et (“both… and”) construction.
Suppliciter is from supplex, which in turn derives from supplico meaning “to kneel down or humble one’s self, to pray or beg humbly, to beseech, implore, supplicate” and “to pray to or supplicate as a god; to pray, worship.” Forms of this word are very common in Latin prayers. We can get at their meaning by examining their roots. Supplico is formed from preposition sub plus the verb plico, “to fold, double up.” Someone who is supplex is in an attitude of prayer, bent or folded at the knees or waist.
Do these Latin words not remind you of what Holy Mass ought to be?
Bent down imploring, O Lord, we rejoicing people are
offering the gifts of the eternal remedy,
so that You will make us both to venerate the same faithfully,
and to show them forth for the salvation of the world suitably.
Let’s move quickly to the stale lame-duck ICEL version while what the Latin really says is fresh in your minds.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
we offer you these gifts
which bring us peace and joy.
Increase our reverence by this eucharist,
and bring salvation to the world.
“Bring us peace and joy”? Where did the concept of begging (exorantes) go? This version is so different from the Latin original that is seems almost to be an original composition and not something from the Roman Missal at all. You all know that in this WDTPRS we are not pretending to offer liturgically useful versions of the Latin prayer, but I would rather use our version than that ICEL prayer. Wouldn’t you? And yet, there are some bishops in the USA who are fighting claw and fang to slow the approval of the new English translation and circumvent Liturgiam authenticam, the document which indicates the norms for the translation. They want to keep things as they are. On a happier note, through The Wanderer and the WDTPRS blog on the internet we can consider carefully what Holy Church is attempting to give us in the original prayers.
We are also making room to examine the “Prayers over the people” which were reintegrated in the 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum for Sundays of Lent. In these prayers, which follow the Post Communion, the priest doesn’t refer to “us” or “we”. Rather, he seems to be speaking in his own voice rather than as part of the people for whom he is praying.
ORATIO SUPER POPULUM (2002MR):
Tuere, Domine, supplices tuos, sustenta fragiles,
et inter tenebras mortalium ambulantes
tua semper luce vivifica,
atque a malis omnibus clementer ereptos,
ad summa bona pervenire concede.
Defend, O Lord, Your humble ones, sustain the fragile,
and by Your light always enliven
those walking amidst the shadows of things that perish,
and also grant them, mercifully snatched away from all evils,
to attain to the highest of all goods.
Today’s “Prayer over the gifts” underscores our total reliance on God. He gives us the gift of an eternal remedy (remedium aeternum). The concept of a remedy is entirely abandoned in the ICEL version, so pay attention to the Latin. If the Latin talks about a remedy, implicitly there must be an illness, right? For what illness would we need an eternal remedy? Nothing other than the illness of sin, both original and personal. Sin’s infection would also be eternal but for God’s remedy. Sin mires us in the dark shadows of the mortally dangerous perishing things (mortalia) we hear about in the “Prayer over the people” at the end of Mass. Unless we are safely guided through these dangerous paths and out of our illness, we will surely be forever lost.
This is serious business for “Rejoice” Sunday, but Holy Mother Church always gives it to us straight. She always shows us a realistic view of life and the glory of our promised salvation without ever dumbing them down.