What Does the Prayer Really Say? Easter Sunday – Station: St. Mary Major
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
Regular correspondent HE writes via e-mail: “Your Easter 2004 column on the Exsultet strikes me as perhaps your most beautiful single WDTPRS offering.” Thanks, HE. That article is archived on the WDTPRS website. There are downloadable audio versions of the Exsultet. Imagine: some (most?) people have never heard the Exsultet sung in Latin.
The acerbic Diogenes of Catholic World News recently quipped on the web (Off The Record 5 March): “Let’s not forget the rarest and most stingily endowed of all aesthetic gifts, that of making beautiful prose translations from ancient languages. The 16th century Anglicans had it in freakish abundance, but there are no Coverdales or Cranmers in the intervening years. Here and there you’ll find a melodious passage in the contemporary English renderings of the Bible or the Mass, but for the most part hearing them proclaimed is like eating dry spackle with a spoon, and the new Lectionary has clunkers that cause real pain — vivid, biting-on-a-bad-tooth pain. Ironically, liturgical and biblical translations are not only the commonest aesthetic failures but also the hardest of all aesthetic failures to undo. A blessed hour might see a terrorist with a car bomb erase an architectural eyesore, but an ICEL Sacramentary, alas, is a gift that keeps on giving.” And it looks like ICEL’s wretched lame-duck Sacramentary is going to give for a while longer. Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., the ubiquitous fair-minded Rome correspondent of the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter was told by Chicago’s Archbishop Francis Card. George, a member of the Vox Clara Committee and also of the retooled ICEL, that the translation will need another three years. (Insert “drumming fingers” sound here).
Meanwhile, you will regurgitate that the champion of liturgical license and inclusive language His Excellency Donald W. Trautman, Bishop of Erie (aka “the Erie Bishop”) was elected chairman (chairperson? chairunit? chairone?) of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy. The editor of First Things Fr. Richard John Neuhaus opines (February 2005) about that election making the same points WDTPRS is wont to make: “The liturgy committee, like most committees of the conference, has little real power, but Trautman’s election signals a direction, and the committee can obstruct and delay Roman reforms. Between those who in public prayer prefer the formal ‘We humbly beseech you, Almighty God’ and those who prefer the ever-so-spontaneous ‘Lord, we’re just here to tell you,’ and between those who think the Mass is about the Real Presence of Christ and those who accent deeply meaningful interactions among his Really Awesome People, the bishops wanted to find a middle ground. So they went with the spontaneously klutzy and deeply meaningful.”
In sharp contrast, the marvelous website for active and retired Marines, oo-rah.com, has a nice bit about what Semper fidelis means. On the surface, the motto refers to the fact that the Marines have never mutinied as well as the fact that they are fiercely loyal to each other. However, after talking about the usefulness and universality of Latin, oo-rah also notes that Latin makes the motto more meaningful (slightly edited): “What is left unsaid in the motto is also notable. The phrase is ‘Always faithful’. It isn’t ‘Sometimes Faithful’. Nor is it ‘Usually Faithful’, but ‘Always’. It is not negotiable. It is not relative, but absolute. Who is always faithful, though, and to what, exactly are they faithful? Interestingly, the simplicity of the phrase and the calculated neglect to specify its parameters seems to strengthen it. Marines pride themselves on their straightforward mission and steadfast dedication to accomplish it. Things do not need to be spelled out for them; they know what it means and what to do about it.” Folks, the norms provided by the Holy See in Liturgiam authenticam require that the translations be beautiful, accurate and faithful. But in order to determine what the Latin really says, the translators must themselves be faithful! I want the Marines to take over ICEL. “Get on that deck you translator and give me twenty-five Collects!” Maybe Marines could spell things out while drilling them in the First Declension. OO-RAH!
We have come to the high point of the Church’s liturgical year. Each year the Church sacramentally re-presents the history of our salvation from creation to Second Coming together with the earthly life of the Lord from conception and birth to death, resurrection and ascension. Our baptism makes us capable of participating at Mass with active receptivity for everything being done for us by Christ, the true principle actor in the in Holy Mass. Lent prepared us. The Sacred Triduum was observed: the priesthood was celebrated, the Eucharistic Christ was reposed and the altar stripped, the Passion was sung and the Cross kissed. Our liturgical death was complete. Then in the evening, in some places even at midnight, the solemn Vigil began. Flowers, instrumental music, white and gold vestments return after a long drought of ornamentation. The Exsultet rings out next to the Christ-like Paschal candle, burning bright in the shadows. Baptismal water is blessed. We once again sing Alleluia. Catechumens are received or baptized, some also being confirmed. The receive Christ for the first time in the Eucharist. On Easter day we hear the Sequence Victimae paschali laudes about Christ the “Victor King” and His duel with Death. The Church and her children are renewed in the promise of the resurrection. Since Christ has risen, we may also rise.
COLLECT – LATIN TEXT (2002MR) ad Missam in die:
Deus, qui hodierna die, per Unigenitum tuum,
aeternitatis nobis aditum, devicta morte, reserasti,
da nobis, quaesumus,
ut, qui resurrectionis dominicae sollemnia colimus,
per innovationem tui Spiritus in lumine vitae resurgamus.
Today’s Collect, which has roots in the Gelasian Sacramentary, starts out like the Latin Collect in the 1962MR, but finishes differently. I like the repeated sounds of the re- as in reserasti…resurrectionis…resurgamus. Also, in the first part of the prayer, there is a repeated er sound: hodierna… per… aeternitatis… reserasti. In the second part listen to the assonance on the vowel i, pronounced like the English double “e” as is see.
And now… precious moments with the Lewis & Short Dictionary. Aditus, us is “an approach” or “going to” in the sense of movement, but it is also leave or permission to approach as well as the place through which one approaches. Reserasti is a shortened form for reseravisti. That a tells us that this is not resero, sevi (“to sow or plant again”) but is rather from resero, avi, atum meaning “to unlock, open, disclose, reveal”. My version of “unbarring the gate” is a bit more poetic than “open the way” but this is a rather solemn moment. Colo is complicated. It means “cultivate” in a huge variety of meanings such as, “to cultivate, take care of a field”, “abide, stay in a place, dwell”, “bestow care upon a thing”, “to dress, clothe, adorn”, “to cherish, seek, devote one’s self to”, “to regard one with care, i.e. to honor, revere, reverence, worship.” The core idea of “taking great care” gives us our meaning of cultivation, in the sense of agricultural care as well as cultural care. This is where we get our Latin word cultus, meaning “worship” as in English “cult”. The Vatican Congregation is called “pro Culto Divino … for Divine Worship”. Sollemnia is neuter plural of sollemne and refers to something rare and therefore important. Sollemne comes from sollus, that is, totus-annus, something that takes place every year. Its first meaning is thus “yearly, annual”. Hence it means solemn annual religious rites and festivals. Innovatio is defined in L&S as “a renewing, an alteration, innovation.” Dominicus, a, um is an adjective, “lordly, pertaining to lord”. The Latin term for Sunday is dies dominica, “The Lord’s Day” while in Italian it is domenica and in French dimanche. So, in our Collect resurrectio dominica literally means “lordly resurrection” but in English we say “the Lord’s resurrection.”
O God, who today, death having been conquered,
unbarred for us the gateway of eternity through Your Only-begotten,
grant us, we beg,
that we who are reverently observing the solemn annual rites of the Lord’s resurrection, may through the renewing of Your Spirit rise again in the light of life.
Since ancient times at Easter we Christians renew our profession of faith as one transformed people. We have passed through death to new life in the waters of baptism. In the ancient Church catechumens had a long period of preparation before their admittance to the sacred mysteries of the Mass. They were permitted to attend the reading of Scripture and sermon but they were sent out before the Eucharistic part. At the Easter Vigil the catechumens “give back the faith” by reciting their profession of faith standing before the congregation. Then the doors were opened to them. Anointed, baptized and clad in white linen robes, they were permitted to stand within the sanctuary, the cancelli or “closed off” area, reserved to the bishop and priests. They participated in the Eucharistic part of Mass for the first time.
The newly baptized were called infantes, for they were like new born children in the Church. St. Augustine (+430) used everyday imagery when comparing that sacred area, the sanctuary, to a threshing floor. The fatherly Augustine, so concerned about the meanings of the mysteries, taught the white-robed infantes that not only are the bread and wine transformed, people are too. Many kernels of wheat are made into one loaf, many grapes one wine. Grain and grapes are changed by us. Wine and bread are changed by God. We are changed by them when we receive them back. Using agricultural images Augustine taught these new Christians about mysteries during the whole period from Easter to Pentecost. He was especially concerned that they see themselves as a transformed people deeply, intimately connected to the Eucharist: “Estote quod videtis, et accipite quod estis… Be what you see and receive what you are” (s. 272,1). He would compare the new Christians to wheat – grown, harvested, ground, formed, baked through the agency of others, prepared for the Eucharist. Who we now are requires a new way of living: God plants new Christians to be wheat sprigs (spicas) not thorns (spinas). Augustine told the newly baptized they were now new tender shoots in the fields of God, “irrigated by the fountain of Wisdom, drenched with the light of justice.” Our Collect today also refers to our future when we will be drenched in the “light of life”, in the very sight of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
How we need a Church-wide liturgical catechesis! We urgently need Mass celebrated in such a way that we can sink into it, grow from it, rest in it, be nourished by the mysteries the Church sacramentally re-presents in it for us. Mass not just play-acting or simple remembering: it is about Life itself. Everything we do and say during Mass has meaning. The words and actions shape and teach us. What we do and say must conform to the Church’s guidelines, not our own whims or imaginative gimmicks. How we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe. So, reading this, say now a prayer of gratitude to God for Holy Mass. Pray for bishops and priests. And pray also for the speedy preparation of a faithful English translation.
May you and yours have a blessed and grace-filled Eastertide.