What Does the Prayer Really Say? Sixth Sunday of Easter
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
This week brought a development relating very much to the purpose of WDTPRS . The Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a document over the signature of its Prefect, Jorge A. Card. Medina EstÃƒÂ©vez, entitled Liturgiam authenticam… on The Use of Vernacular Languages in The Publication of the Books of The Roman Liturgy. It is the Fifth Instruction “For the Right Implementation of The Constitution on The Sacred Liturgy of The Second Vatican Council” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Art. 36).
In the weeks to come we must look closely at this document’s indications to those who translate liturgical texts. In a nutshell, Liturgiam authenticam (LA) establishes clear norms. LA also gives a theological “key” to understanding the norms: a proper understanding of both inculturation and “active participation.” The Church is saying that the liturgy shapes her members. Therefore, the Church must help them to “full, conscious, and active participation” for the sake of their “continual formation (LA 1)” That said, “the Roman Rite itself is a precious example and an instrument of true inculturation” The idea is this. The Church shapes and forms people through the liturgy. In order for that formation to accord with the mind of the Church, the vernacular texts must be faithful to the original content the Church has given. Through the formation given to her members, the Church then gives the content of her teachings and spirituality to the whole of the world: inculturation. Inculturation is, of course, a two-way street: the Church and the world give to each other in a dynamic interchange. But for inculturation to be authentic, what the Church gives must be logically prior to what the world gives back to the Church, not the other way around. While it is true that individual peoples and the geniuses of different cultures contribute magnificently to “enfleshing” the Church in this place or that epoch, even more significant is how the Church, and therefore Christ, first shapes that culture and the genius of that people. Translations are therefore critically important.
This document is a true gift. It firmly requires that translations of liturgical texts adhere faithfully and strictly to the meaning of the Latin original. It speaks to the issues of inclusive language, vocabulary, a sacred liturgical “style”, saying and signing the prayers aloud, facilitating memorization of the orations for the sake of private prayer. It underscores the usefulness of alliteration and assonance, imagery, parallelism, meter, rhythm, lyrical and poetic elements,…beauty. In essence, if I may be so bold, this new document lays down in official form the principles which WDTPRS has been adhering to all along. These principles were always clear. But they are now clear in black and white. Let’s go on to this week’s “oration” (cf. LA 5), a…
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Fac nos, omnipotens Deus, hos laetitiae dies,
quos in honorem Domini resurgentis exsequimur,
affectu sedulo celebrare,
ut quod recordatione percurrimus
semper in opere teneamus.
Notice that we refer here to the Dominus resurgens, the “rising Lord.” The prayer says resurgentis (genitive case of the present active participle) rather than resurrecti (perfect passive participle). Also, I love the rhythm of that very first line when sung. We see here also the choice to put dies (“day”) in the masculine rather than feminine. Dies can have either gender. In the famous sequence for the Requiem Mass we hear Dies irae, dies illa (which is feminine).
Almighty God, cause us to celebrate these days of joy
which we have been accomplishing in honor of the rising Lord
with an zealous affection,
so that we may grasp in deed
what we are traversing in remembrance.
The great Lewis & Short Dictionary discloses that exsequor means “to follow to the end, pursue, follow” and also “to perform, accomplish, fulfill.” Affectus means “A state of body, and esp. of mind produced in one by some influence, a state or disposition of mind, affection, mood: Love, desire, fondness, goodÃ¢â‚¬â€˜will, compassion, sympathy.” Sedulus, a, um, the adjective, means “busy, diligent, industrious, zealous, careful, unremitting, solicitous, assiduous, sedulous.” Another possibility is that we have here an adverb: sedulo. That would give us something like, “cause us zealously to celebrate with affection”. From what I understand, it is now sometimes considered “okay” to split infinitives. This must be in keeping with the shift in lexicographical theory in the last decades that now commands dictionaries to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. At any rate, splitting an infinitive would be handy in a case like this: we are trying to get the impact of an adverb – “cause us to zealously celebrate with affection.” That split infinitive thing makes me shiver a bit, but I digress …. Percurro means “to run through, hasten through; to pass through, traverse, run over, pass over or along.” It has two possible perfect forms: the reduplicated form percucurri and percurri. Thus, here we have either the indicative in the present or the perfect. Given that we still have some time to go before Ascension, I am giving this a present meaning. Teneo has connotations of “to grasp” both in the physical and intellectual senses. Recordatio is “a recalling to mind”. It is related to the verb recordor, “to think over, call to mind, remember.” Literally, it connotes bringing something back to the heart (cor).
help us to celebrate our joy
in the resurrection of the Lord
and to express in our lives
the love we celebrate.
In the ICEL version just what we are “celebrating” (which we do a lot – here we have that same word twice), is not entirely clear. We are celebrating the “our joy” and then later “our love.” The Latin says we are celebrating “days of joy in honor of the rising Lord.” In Latin we celebrate with sedulus affectus (or at least affectus sedulo (adv.)). Also, the aspect of “remembering” has been expunged. While there is none of the poetry of the original in this rendition, it does however get at the dimension of expressing concretely what we are celebrating. This is important. Doing something because of what Christ did is clearly important in both versions of the prayer. I regret that ICEL forgot the memory aspect: it is important in understanding what the prayer really says.
The concept of memory could stand a bit of examination. Allow me to get a bit theological. Last week our collect explored the logical sequence of redemption and its resulting freedom culminating in our adoption as God’s own children and thus being admitted to an eternal inheritance (redemptio – libertas – adoptio – hereditas). In this week’s collect, we seem to have a response on our part, as children, to the great God who freely did all that for us. In a way, we might say we have a kind of narrative going on from week to week in the collects, each week’s Mass announcing certain aspects of what is central to this liturgical season. In our collect we now call all these things, these gifts from God, to mind (heart – cor). These gifts are so important that they must also summon forth from us a concrete response in the here and now. I call to mind the lines of T.S. Eliot in “Little Gidding” from the Four Quartets:
This is the use of memory:
For liberation – not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.
St. Augustine explores memory (memoria) in different ways. He makes a connection between memoria and recordatio in a letter to his childhood friend and fellow convert Nebridius (ep. 7). In classical literature Cicero identified memory as something that set us apart from beasts (Tusc. disp.). For Augustine, memory was a place of encounter between the self and God in what he calls beata vita, the “blessed life” (which can refer to the happiness that comes from unity with God in this world and in the next). When looking for ways to explain and explore the Trinity and see its reflection mirrored in man himself, Augustine hypostasizes memory, intellect and will, making memory to correspond to God the Father. For the great Doctor, memory was also the locus of the self as well as the faculty that connects the here and now with the past and future. In this sense memory is a sort of “vanishing point”, constantly slipping away into the past. But it also where the self and God and are found together. In way, God is the only one who keeps us from vanishing into something even less than a memory.
When we are at Mass, we as a Church do at the command of Christ what Christ commanded us to do: do this in memory (commemoratio) of me. Through Christ, who is Alpha and Omega, living and glorious yesterday, today and tomorrow (as the priest declares when preparing the Paschal candle at the Vigil and which burns in the sanctuary when this prayer is being sung), the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord are really and truly present sacramentally in the here and now even though they took place at a specific point in time many centuries ago. At Mass the Lord is not only risen, but He is also (sacramentally) rising: we receive the Dominus resurgens. Because Christ is the principle actor in the liturgical action, our liturgical commemoration is more than a simple “remembrance of things past.” The rising of the Lord (which some say is symbolized by the reuniting of the Body and Blood when the priest drops the small particle broken from the Host back into the chalice) means that we also, while we journey toward Him in this earthly life, are rising in Him. We are living in a state of “already but not yet.” We are risen, rising, and about to rise all at the same time. When we celebrate the Easter cycle of days commemorating these mysteries, in gratitude we seek to bring by the power of this Christ-informed faculty of “calling to mind” a new dimension to all that we do and say here and now. Our good works, performed by the baptized in charity and willed, conscience unity with Christ, are simultaneously our acts and His acts. Christian “commemoration” is enfleshed in many ways. So, placing ourselves at Christ’s service in the service of others (hopefully doing the same but most often not), we find a kind of freedom from past, present, and even the future that is not otherwise humanly attainable.
Thus, we celebrate the mysteries of Easter sedulo affectu…with zealous, industrious affection… with busy love.