What Does the Prayer Really Say? Third Sunday of Easter
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
We are well into the Easter season now. By reconnecting us with the Vigil liturgy, our collect today stresses some elements of the mystery of Easter that we should keep firmly in mind through the whole Eastertide season.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Semper exsultet populus tuus, Deus,
renovata animae iuventute,
ut, qui nunc laetatur in adoptionis se gloriam restitutum,
resurrectionis diem spe certae gratulationis exspectet.The genitives, adoptionis…resurrectionis… gratulationis, give the end of this collect a very cohesive feeling.
O God, let your people always rejoice,
now that the youth of their spirit has been renewed,
so that, he who now rejoices that he has been restored in the glory of spiritual adoption
may await the day of the resurrection in the hope of sure thanksgiving.
Notice that we have a rather elegantly scrambled word order in the second part of the collect: qui nunc laetatur in adoptionis se gloriam restitutum, the infinitive esse being understood… laetatur se restitutum (esse) in gloriam adoptionis. The slightly odd wording puts a special emphasis on the word gloria. This elegant and poetic word order also gives some weight to a connection I will make to another famous Easter Latin prayer. But first some vocabulary, as usual.
Adoptio of course is “adoption” in the sense of “to take as one’s child.” We find the phrase adoptionem filiorum Dei … “adoption of the sons of God” in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (Romans 8,23; Gal 4,5; Eph 1,5). Gratulatio means “a manifestation of joy; a wishing joy, congratulation; a rejoicing, joy and also “a religious festival of joy and thanksgiving, a public thanksgiving.”
Now for the connection I mentioned above. Our collect today makes me wonder if there is not a conscious attempt on the part of the Church, now that Easter and its octave have passed, to remind us of the stupendous moment of the Easter Vigil. Perhaps this prayer tries to recapture something of that joy. Maybe we are being reminded that in the Easter season Easter itself is truly being extended. I guess at this possibility because of the words exsultet and adoptio. I will explain. On the Vigil of Easter the great hymn of the diaconate was sung, the magnificent Praeconium Paschale or Exsultet. Composed perhaps as early as the fifth century and maybe in parts going back to St. Ambrose himself, this hymn (or lucernarium) came into the Roman tradition through a ninth century addition to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentary. After the preparation of the Paschal candle and the procession to the sanctuary, dressed in his dalmatic the deacon asks a blessing from the priest/celebrant as if he were about to read the Gospel. He incenses the Paschal candle, or “Christ Candle” as it is often called. He begins the hymn much as if he were singing a Preface (Sursum corda! “Up with your hearts!”) He invites the vast array of heavenly angels to join him in praising Christ symbolized in the candle that is lit at the beginning of the Vigil liturgy. This is a long text: sung at a normal pace the Exsultet is about ten minutes in duration. It has many beautiful and evocative images. In the medieval Church, the text was written out elegantly on long parchment rolls, with large beautiful pictures painted on it depicting the mysteries and imagery being sung. They were painted upside down, so that as the deacon sang and unrolled the scroll over the back of the ambo, the people could see the images right-side up. The text is a long meditation on the candle as it symbolizes Christ, risen gloriously, and how He has saved humanity from sin. The famous phrase O felix culpa is found here, “O happy fault that merited so to have so great a redeemer.” Also, many times the hymn refers to the amazing nature of the night itself, during which Christ rose. There are constant contrasts of light and darkness. One of the images of meditation in the Exsultet concerns the flame of the candle itself: the wax which nourishes the divided and yet undiminished flame of the candle is identified as the work of bees. Above I explained that adoptio is a “spiritual adoption” in the sense of the effects of baptism making us members of the risen Christ and children of the loving Father. Adoptio is also used in a transferred sense, as The Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us, for the “admission of a bee into a new hive.” This is a classical Latin usage. However, we must remember that these prayers, Christian though they may be, come forth from a deep culture formed and permeated in great part by two thousand years of Latin literature. The well-read will remember images and interesting usages of words from classical literature and weave them into what they compose in a conscious way. This connection with the roots of Western literature is all the more reason to provide the English speaking faithful with truly accurate and beautiful translations of the Latin prayers in the Missale Romanum.
God our Father,
may we look forward with hope to our resurrection,
for you have made us your sons and daughters,
and restored the joy of our youth.
This prayer touches themes found in the Latin. I think it might be deficient in eliminating what I consider a necessary reference to glory. Of course, in the Latin prayer, the word gloria is clearly present. But gloria, which I have explained in previous offerings of WDTPRS, is also that dynamic transforming power by which God will make us more and more “godlike” in the life to come. Easter is very much about gloria. Christ reigns now in glory because of the resurrection. We can share that glory because He is risen.
Another thing that might be worth mentioning is a possible connection between the theme of restored “youth” and the Psalm that the priest would say always at the beginning of Mass: Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam…. “I will go unto the altar of God, of God who makes my youth joyful.” In baptism we are made members of Christ’s own mystical Person. While there is a clear qualitative distinction between the priesthood of the ordained priest and that of the baptized laity, this idea of youthful and renewed priesthood is part of our Easter joy. All of us, ordained and lay, each in our own way must in the manner of a priest offer our spiritual sacrifices to the Father, uniting them to those of Jesus our High Priest. In Him, we therefore already share that eternally youthful life that will never age. We will one day be risen and glorious, with glorified bodies that will not know age or deficiency and will reflect the beauty of the purified soul. Easter and indeed our own baptism anticipate this glory. I do not think I would have eliminated the concept of glory from the English translation.
Pray during this Easter season for our bishops, the members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and all those to whom making translations has been entrusted.