What Does the Prayer Really Say? 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
During their plenary meeting in Los Angeles last week the American bishops voted overwhelmingly to approve a new English draft translation of the ordinary of the Mass, their (and our) magnum opus et arduum. There was no high noon shoot-out at the corral, as many foresaw. The bishops got vote over quickly. I am sure they were aware they needed to provide us with a demonstration of unity, much in the same way the cardinals in the 2005 conclave elected Pope Benedict XVI. To their credit the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy (BCL) made the division of recommended changes and things to be rejected ahead of time. “But what”, you ask, “did they recommend? What did the bishops actually vote to approve? They voted on the ICEL translation, right?”
Before the vote the National Catholic Register (June 11-17, 2006) reported on the stated intentions of His Excellency Donald W. Trautman, the BCL Chair:
“I stand in favor of many amendments,” Bishop Trautman said. “I want as many amendments as possible in order to make this translation proclaimable and understandable. We’re not talking about hundreds of amendments, but we’re talking about a substantial amount to improve the texts to make them conform to the wishes of Vatican II.”
Someone could respond that it was a command, not a “wish” of Vatican II that Latin should be retained as the language of Holy Mass and that the vernacular might be used occasionally. It was a command, not a “wish” of Vatican II that no changes be made unless for the true good of the Catholic people. It was a command, not a “wish” of Vatican II that… well… you get the idea. We ought to read the texts of the Council’s documents instead of referring to its “spirit”.
In any event, after the vote Bishop Trautman said, “I’m pleased that the text has been significantly amended. That made an important difference for me.”
Imagine my shock.
And So It Came To Pass that the bishops voted to approve a battery of adaptations and amendments (read emendations) to the translation and then, once those were approved, they voted to approve the amended and adapted translation. The amended and adapted translation is now Rome bound. The next move belongs to the Congregation. Despite any hesitation we might harbor about a text which pleased His Excellency the Chair, I am sure you are as grateful as I am that the bishops moved decisively on this issue. Eppure, si muove, as Galileo might say were he a WDTPRS reader.
If you are in any way anxious about those amendments to the ICEL text, remember that the USCCB draft is a proposal, a request. The Holy See can approve it, refuse it or emend it. If the Congregation deems that the proposed draft does not adhere to the norms, it will act accordingly. The important thing is that the Holy See can finally move forward. We hope Rome will work with swift diligence. The clock ceaseth not its tick.
What would be an example of an adaptation made by the USCCB? The bishops asked Rome to consider the inclusion of the memorial acclamation “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”, which is not in the Latin Missale Romanum at all. What about an emendation? They rejected ICEL’s new wording in the Creed which was the more accurate and far more engaging “consubstantial with the Father” (“consubstantialem Patri”) in favor of the older lame-duck ICEL version “one in being with the Father”. The reasoning was that “consubstantial” is too hard.
Similarly, despite the fact that we all know what “dew” is (the stuff on the grass in the morning), on the recommendation of the Chair, the bishops voted against the more accurate rendering in the epiclesis of the Second Eucharistic prayer “therefore make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit” as being too hard. Bishop Trautman said, “It’s a literal translation, and it doesn’t mean anything to Americans…. The ‘dew’ of your Spirit — what does that mean?” In response, the witty Executive Secretary of ICEL, Msgr. Bruce Harbert riposted that he didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like “dew”. “I think there is dew in America,” Msgr. Harbert said, “I saw some the other day.”
Dew has long been a symbol of the Holy Spirit. While people might not know that now after decades of the old ICEL version and little in the way of traditional sacred music and catechesis, we could start by explaining the images, rather than explaining them away.
Still, as Bishop Trautman said in his NCReg interview, he thought the proposed translation from ICEL had “too many complicated words, as well as sentences and phrases that are too long.” Furthermore, they were concerned that texts which are different might upset people.
On the other hand, would many rejoice? I stipulate that some people will be inconvenienced by a change and irritated at what they will be asked to hear. That forces a question. Are the Catholic people not inconvenienced by being denied what the Catholic Church has really established in its official texts? I think so. I take as a case in point an amendment the USCCB made to the ICEL’s first choice, the abovementioned “consubstantial”.
“Consubstantial” is one of those hard words. We can’t see here the whole history and theology of this word which in Latin was coined very early by Tertullian (Against Hermogenes 44) to convey the meaning of Greek homoousios. Homoousios was the hard won term emerging from the theological war with the Arians over whether or not the Son was also divine, also God like the Father, and how. While every human expression will be lacking, homoousios (consubstantialis) was chosen to express how the Son is “of one substance” with the Father. The Son, a different Person from the Father, shares the same divine nature. Thus, the Son is neither another god (polytheism) nor a different “mode” of the Father’s way of being God (modalism).
Complaints are often made that the older ICEL version “one in being with the Father” risks the heresy of modalism. The simplistic expression sounds as if the Son shares “being” pure and simple. “Being” is far too comprehensive a category for a Creed. The alternative to “being” is “non-being”. All things which God created have “being”. “Being” without further distinction doesn’t allow for diversity of Persons or of operation.
You might object, “But Father! But Father! You’re saying that people in the pews have to be metaphysicians in order to pray!” No, I’m not! Leaving aside the philosophy and theology lessons, the simplistic version (apart from being wrong) forecloses on further thought or consideration. By eliminating a traditional and accurate technical term, as hard as it is, and opting instead for something simplistic you kill reflection. By dumbing it down you slam door on understanding. People don’t have to be theologians or metaphysicians, but they do have to think. The pretense that we can’t understand words or long sentences during Mass guarantees that we won’t even think about the content of the prayers. We should be able to think about these hard things as well as expect Father’s good explanations.
Can we move along now to our so-called “Prayer over the gifts” for this week? This was in the ancient Veronese or “Leonine” Sacramentary for July, though not in a pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Deus, qui mysteriorum tuorum
dignanter operaris effectus,
ut sacris apta muneribus fiant nostra servitia.
Let’s try cracking the tricky nut of plural servitia (from servitium) first by hammering it with our hefty Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary. The noun servitium concerns the condition of being a servant or slave (“servitude”). Concretely it means “a body of servants, the class of slaves.” In this prayer we find plural nostra servitia. L&S tells us that Livy (2, 10, 8) uses the plural servitia for “servants as individuals” as if it were servi, “slaves.” While helpful, this doesn’t get us where we need to go, since the Latin then sounds like we are about to sacrifice the choir members… which… on second thought…. But, no. As nutty as those songs they make us listen to might be, we can’t very well do that, can we. Whacking the shell of servitium with the weighty book of Christian Latin Blaise/Chirat gets us to the meat of the word. Under servitium, Blaise/Chirat cites this very prayer! Servitia means the service rendered by the ministers of the cult, of the liturgical worship. In saying “our services” the priest is talking about his own actions at the altar. Servitia is a cultic word, not a social justice term.
O God, who do favorably work the effects
of Your sacraments,
grant, we beseech You,
that our cultic acts may be made suitable for these sacred gifts.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
through your sacraments
you give us the power of your grace.
May this eucharist
help us to serve you faithfully.
Today’s ICEL version will cause nearly all WDTPRSers to fear a heart attack. What is that word I see? Could it be… the “G-Word”? Yes, folks, “grace” makes a cameo appearance in the lame-duck ICEL version. The exquisite irony of this is, of course, that the word for “grace” does not appear in the Latin. I happily grant that the effect God works in us is grace. I accept readily that “mysteries” are “sacraments” (in Latin the words are nearly interchangeable). I even rather like the “Lord God” touch, though the Latin only says Deus. But, those nice touches aside, is this what the prayer really says? Let’s try it another way.
A SMOOTHER BUT STILL CLOSE TRANSLATION:
O God, who graciously work in us
the effects of Your sacraments,
grant, we beseech You,
that our services at this altar may be rendered by You fitting for these sacred gifts.
St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) wrote in his prologue to On the Holy Spirit, “nostra enim servitia, sed tua sunt sacramenta.” The verb is missing in the first part. I think we can supply the plural sunt. Here is Ambrose:
18. … Ours the ministry, but Yours are the sacraments. It is indeed not man’s place to confer divine things, but it is, O Lord, your place and that of the Father, as You said through the prophets, saying: “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy.” This is, in a foreshadow [in typo], that heavenly dew, that freely given rain shower, as we read: “Setting apart a freely given rain, your inheritance.” For the Holy Spirit … is not subject to any foreign power or law, but is the Arbiter of His own freedom, dividing all things according to the authority of His own will, to each, as we read, severally as He wills.