What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fifth Sunday of Lent – Station: St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
Now called simply the Fifth Sunday of Lent, this day is traditionally called First Passion Sunday. Those who use the newer calender know Palm Sunday as Passion Sunday. However, this was and remains the beginning Passiontide for those who observe the traditional Roman calendar. It was also known as Iudica Sunday, from the first word of the Introit of Mass (from Ps 42/41) and sometimes Repus, an abbreviation of repositus, the equivalent of absconditus or “hidden” from the veiling of the Crosses and other images in churches on this day. The veiling once took place during Mass at the words in the Gospel "Jesus hid Himself" but the veiling was later transferred to the evening before after Vespers. In Germany this day was called Schwartzer Sonntag…Black Sunday. Traditionally in the Church’s liturgy several things took place on Passion or Iudica Sunday: the “Iudica” psalm was no longer said in the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria was no longer said. In an earlier offering I mention how during Lent the Church experiences deepening liturgical deprivation and finally death. We loose things all during Lent. Music and flowers disappear. The “A Word” is not said before the Gospel. Today the statues and images are draped in purple and there is no more Gloria said at the end of prayers such as collects (at least traditionally). After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed to another place and the altar is stripped. Bells are no longer rung and are replaced with wooden noise makers. On Friday there isn’t even a Mass. And the whole Church comes back to life gloriously at the Vigil of Easter, in the dark of night. This whole process reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory so as to save us from our sins. But He did this also to teach us who we are. We must learn to connect ourselves with the Church’s liturgy in which these sacred mysteries are given to us once again. By our baptism and active receptivity we become participants in the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Quaesumus, Domine Deus noster,
ut in illa caritate, qua Filius tuus
diligens mundum morti se tradidit,
inveniamur ipsi, te opitulante, alacriter ambulantes.
The final assonantal cadence of this collect is very nice: alÃƒÂ¡criter ambulÃƒÂ¡ntes.
We ask, O Lord our God,
that in that love by which your Son,
loving the world, gave himself over to death,
we may ourselves be found to be walking swiftly while you help us.
Our vocabulary today is not terribly challenging, with the possible exception of optiulor in that ablative absolute construction. The indispensable Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that optiulor means “to bring aid; to help, aid, assist, succor.” Also, a reminder about ablative absolute is not without merit. Remember that an ablative absolute is a tricky thing to render in English. There are five main kinds of ablative absolute: with present, future and perfect participles and with adjectives or nouns. Where did this construction come from? It gets back to our constant problem of Latin lacking forms/endings. Lack of forms means that words/endings must fill many different functions. In Latin, for example, there is no present participle “to be” … sum (i.e., the equivalent of English "being"). If it existed it might look like essens, essentis (actually, this developed in Medieval Latin in some philosophical writing, but that doesn’t concern us here). Sum also has no perfect participle futus, a, um. Perfect participles are passive and it is impossible to construct a passive of the verb "to be". For example, you can say “I am happy” in the active present, but you can’t say "happy is being been by me". You can get around this lack of present participle by omitting sum and using ablative absolutes. Most people translate an ablative absolute with some construction like (in the case of the one in the collect today) “with you helping”. Although this can be done, I avoid that “with”: it can be confused with the use of ablative for accompaniment or instrumental means. I prefer using a finite verb paraphrase and a word like “after, since, because, when.” This grammar business is no doubt electrifying for most of you. Look at it is a lenten penance and keep reading. I give you this to show that putting these Latin prayers into a smooth English requires some thought and effort. If your working ability to use Latin actively and well is thin or shaky, the result will be clunky or errant translations. We need good and experienced Latinists to produce an English Sacramentary (can’t we call it a Missal?) based on the new Latin edition of the Roman Missal which is coming soon. They must be skilled and faithful. Pray for that! But let us leave our riveting grammar for the time being.
In our collect, similar to those of Advent, we have again an image of motion, of a pilgrimage. The Church is on the road. Taking a page from St. Augustine, it could be said that we the baptized, the Body of the Mystical Person, journey constantly with the Lord, the Head, toward Jerusalem: the Jerusalem of our own Passion and the New Jerusalem of our Resurrection. One whole Mystical Christ is on a lenten journey. Christ in us and we in Him again travel that road marked out each year by Holy Mother Church and her duly ordained shepherds. We must strive to unite ourselves in heart, mind and will with the mysteries expressed in the liturgy.
In his Lenten Message for this year our Holy Father wrote:
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mk 10:33). With these words, the Lord invites the disciples to journey with him along the road that leads from Galilee to the place where he will complete his redemptive mission. The road towards Jerusalem, which the Evangelists present as the crowning point of Jesus’ earthly journey, is the model for the Christian who is committed to following the Teacher on the Way of the Cross. Also to the men and women of today are asked by Christ to “go up to Jerusalem”. He insists on this, particularly in Lent, a propitious time for self-conversion and for finding full communion with Him, intimately taking part in the mystery of his death and resurrection.
Lent, therefore, represents for believers the opportune occasion for a profound re-examination of life. In the contemporary world, alongside the generous testimonies of the Gospel, there are baptised who, in the face of the demanding appeal to set out “up to Jerusalem”, offer indifferent resistance and sometimes even open rebellion. There are situations in which the experience of prayer is lived in a somewhat superficial way, in a way that the word of God does not penetrate into life. Even the Sacrament of Penance itself is thought by many to be insignificant and the celebration of Sunday Liturgy only as a duty to be fulfilled.”
Later in that same message, the Pope cites the great Father of the Church, the “golden-mouthed” St. John Chrysostom, who “commenting on the teaching of Our Lord on the way to Jerusalem, recalls that Christ does not leave the disciples ignorant of the struggles and sacrifices that awaited them. He underscores that to renounce the “I” is difficult. However it is not impossible when one is able to count on the help of God granted us “through the communion with the person of Christ” (PG 58, 619 s).”
Father, help us to be like Christ your Son,
who loved the world and died for our salvation.
Inspire us by his example, who lives and reigns….
It gets a little tiring to see phrases like Domine Deus noster reduced to “Father”. Okay… we know that this collect is addressed to the First Person of the Trinity. But, could they not perhaps have let us think it through?
For weeks I have griped a bit about ICEL’s constant use of “help”. In our collect today we clearly refer to God helping us. I have no problem at all with the idea that God “helps” us. What I want to avoid, and I am not convinced that the ICEL prayers do, is the suggestion that we can really do what we are praying about on our own but it would be great if God would give us a hand now and then. I think the Latin collect avoids what some might consider even a slight Pelagian tint when talking about God’s “help.” In the Latin we read “in that love by which your Son, loving the world, gave himself over to death.” In the ICEL prayer we want to be “inspired by his example.” It just seems to me that the ICEL prayer does not go far enough. Sure, Christ and His love is our perfect “example.” But the Latin prayer seems to connect us far more intimately with that love, to the extent that God’s “help” is Him providing that we do all we do in a deep unity with Christ’s own love. We are so in unity with Him that we become Christ-like in love. His love lives and works in and through us. It is ours and we are Its. That is more than an example for imitation.