14th Sunday of Ordinary Time: COLLECT (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005

In the Washington Post of 17 June, concerning the recent plenary meeting of the conference of bishops of the USA, there is a report concerning a vote on a liturgical translation issue: “The bishops defeated an attempt to replace a popular part of American liturgy – ‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.’ — with a translation from Latin.  Speaking for the bishops’ liturgical committee, Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., said the three lines do not connect to the congregation and come from 20th-century song lyrics with no Latin origin, unlike other acclamations.  Opponents of the changes said the words are popular and the sentiments heartfelt. Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, pointed out that other lines are not well translated and told his brethren that American Catholics should be allowed to settle into familiar prayers during a time of uncertainty in the church.  Not to do so, Egan said, could leave the impression that ‘everything is up for grabs.’”   It should be known that Card. Egan, for many years an official of the Roman Rota, is an accomplished Latinist.

On my return to the USA from Rome I found letters you sent by snail-mail.  Last March PF of CA wrote (edited): “Deo volente this coming August I’ll be 90 years old et Deo gratias!  …  I want to add my feeble voice to the many who have commended you for your instructive and inspiring work….  I studied Latin and Greek in the early thirties in Italy in the then called ‘Ginnasio’.  Your column has opened up the gates of my memory.  Expressions like ‘deponent and ablatives’, long forgotten and buried in my fading memory, came to the fore like Virgil’s rari nantes in gurgite vasto.”  Thanks, PF, for the very kind letter.  Obviously the formation in your “ginnasio” (from Greek gymnasion, our “high school”) served you well since you can still quote Virgil’s Aeneid I, 118.  And, PF, if you like deponents and ablatives, today’s Collect has a treat for you.

AB of ON in Canada sent a missive with enclosures about the so-called “Anglican Use”.  Some Anglican/Episcopal clergymen were received into the Catholic Church, a few together with their flocks.  Rome granted them the use of a version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer modified and conformed to the theological and sacramental needs of the Catholic Church.  Thus, these converts to the Church are able to maintain their rich tradition of texts and music while enjoying unity with the Roman Pontiff.  Frankly, dear readers, they are much to be envied: they don’t have ICEL liturgical texts.   We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble by adopting those Anglican texts for our vernacular liturgies.  However, it is best that we not leap to swim in that vast Virgilian whirlpool of a topic.  Instead, we turn now to today’s Collect which in the 1962 Missale Romanum is on the 2nd Sunday after Easter. 

COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus, qui Filii tui humilitate iacentem mundum erexisti,
fid
elibus tuis sanctam concede laetitiam,
ut, quos
eripuisti a servitute peccati,
gaudiis facias p
erfrui sempiternis.

Centuries before St. Pius V’s 1570MR and subsequent 1962MR of Bl. John XXIII the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary indicates an earlier version existed for the Sunday after the Octave of Easter: Deus, qui in filii tui humilitatem iacentem mundum erexisti, laetitiam concede <fidelibus tuis>, ut quos perpetuae <mortis> eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias sempiternis perfruere.   NB: perfruere is an infinitive; even though perfruor is deponent (infinitive: perfrui) active forms appear once in a while in Latin.   Because the words in < > were illegible or missing in the manuscripts, they were supplied by the editor of the Gelasian, Leo Cunibert Mohlberg.  This is all super picky, I know, but it is important for what the prayer really says in its newer version in the Novus Ordo.  More about that later.

In the meantime, let’s think laterally.  The last phrase of the Collect reminds me of other well known Latin prayers.  For example, the Salve Regina traditionally concluded with the Collect from the votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin celebrated on Saturdays: “Grant us your servants, we pray you O Lord God, to enjoy perpetual health of mind and body, and, by the glorious intercession of blessed Mary ever-Virgin, may we be delivered from present sorrow and enjoy everlasting happiness (aeterna perfrui laetitia).”  The themes here are similar to today’s Collect in that there is a shift from sorrow to joy through God’s providential gift.   Moreover, when the priest vested for Mass for centuries he said special prayers as he put on each vestment.  When putting on the alb, the symbol of our baptism, he would pray: “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, so that having been made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy everlasting joys (gaudiis perfruar sempiternis).”  There is similar vocabulary in the other vesting prayers, which could once be found posted in every sacristy in the world.  I use them daily and I hope other priests do as well.

My hook for these last comments was the verb perfruor, one of a few famous deponent verbs used normally and classically with the ablative case: utor, abutor, fruor, fungor, potior and vescor.  In different periods of Latin these verbs could have active forms, as we saw above, and could also take objects in the accusative or even genitive.  In modern liturgical usage they are deponents and always get ablative “objects”.  Actually, these aren’t really objects, but rather a kind of instrument: e.g., vescor, “I feed myself from…”; fruor, “I get fruit/benefit from…”; etc.   A good grammar explains how these verbs work.  Latin Students: If you want a really good Latin grammar get the superb volume we lovingly call Gildersleeve & Lodge, or fully, Gildersleeve’s Latin Grammar (enlarged with the additional help of Gonzalez Lodge).   Basil L. Gildersleeve said, and this is true in the world of WDTPRS, “No study of literature can yield its highest result without the close study of language, and consequently the close study of grammar.”  Should we send copies of the Lewis & Short Dictionary and G&L to the worker bees of ICEL? 

Two words in the prayer, gaudium and laetitia, can be rendered into English with the same word “joy” and variations.  We don’t want to give undue emphasis to the different sorts of “joy” possible with different words.  However, the chock-full L&S states that gaudium refers mostly to a joy which is interior whereas laetitia suggests a joy having outward expression.   To confuse matters, L&S also says that gaudium in the plural (as it is in our prayer) can also be “the outward expressions of joy”.  In a supplement to the L&S, A. Souter’s Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. we discover that gaudium is “everlasting blessedness” while laetitia is simply “prosperity”.  So, in Souter we still uncover something of the spiritual versus material distinction explained by L&S.  A. Blaise in Le Vocabulaire Latin des principaux thèmes liturgiques imply that laetitia and gaudium are pretty much the same thing.  The dictates of ancient rhetoric (and this prayer is quite ancient) required a copia verborum, a richness of vocabulary, so as to avoid boring repetition.  Nevertheless, each word gives us “joy”, but with shades of meaning.  Perhaps a solution is found in L&S’s saying that “like our joy, for an object which produces joy, a cause or occasion of joy”.  For us who, raised up from our sins, die in God’s friendship, the object which will produce joy is, in this world the state of grace and a clean conscience and, in the next life, the Beatific Vision and Communion of Saints.

L&S indicates that erigo means “to raise up, set up, erect” and also analogously “to arouse, excite” and “cheer up, encourage.” The verb iaceo (in the L&S find this under jaceo) has many meanings, such as “to lie” as in “lie sick or dead, fallen” and also “to be cast down, fixed on the ground” and “to be overcome, despised, idle, neglected, unemployed.”  Humilitas is “lowness” In Blaise humilitas has a more theological meaning in the “abasement” of the God Incarnate who took the form of a “slave” (cf. Philippians 2:7).  Blaise refers to this Collect in the entry for humilitas.

Our Collect offers us an image material creation like an enervated body, wounded and weakened by sin, lying in the dust from whence it came.  In the sin of our first parents all creation was wounded and, as we see everyday, the harmony that there ought to have been between the rest of material creation and man its steward has been damaged.  It is almost as if creation, including us, is bound and captive by an enemy who has beaten him down to the ground and enslaved him.  God then comes as liberator.  He rouses us from being prone upon the ground.  He grasps us, pulling us upward out of sin and death.  He aims us again toward the joys possible in this world first and then definitively in the next, if only we can get back to our feet.  Our Savior, the Son, came in humility to rescue us in our wretchedness.   We have seen before in our prayers the pattern of descent and ascent, of exit and return.   Before the Resurrection there is the Passion.  Before exaltation there is humiliation.  The descent, exit, Passion and humiliation bring an even more exalted joy which will embrace the entirety of man in both soul and body, the interior and the outward human person.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O God, who raised up a fallen world by the abasement of Your Son,
grant holy joy to Your faithful,
so that You may caus
e those whom You snatched from the servitude of sin
to
enjoy delights unending.

As mentioned above, today’s Collect is nearly the same as one found in the 1962MR.  However, whereas the 1970/2002MR version says quos eripuisti a servitute peccati the 1962MR says quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus, that is, “whom you have snatched from the perils of everlasting death”.  A polemical but highly interesting little booklet called The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass (TAN 1991) by Anthony Cekada compares the 1962MR version of this Collect with the 1970MR version.  Cekada opines that the redactors of the Novus Ordo intentionally eliminated from the Latin the concept of damnation and substituted the “less threatening idea of deliverance from the ‘slavery of sin’” (p. 14).   Cekada is probably right, though I respectfully respond that “servitude of sin” is fairly terrifying for someone who is spiritually aware.  Perhaps understanding “raised up a fallen world” in the sense of liberation prompted the change from “eternal death” to “servitude of sin”.  Christ’s “abasement” and later “raising” freed us from future death and present enslavement in sin.  In His resurrection we were raised up to the joy (present and future) of being God’s faithful ones.   Think what you want about the change in emphasis in the Latin text, the newer Collect is a fine prayer and we have the right to hear what it really means.  Instead, on Sunday you will hear the lame-duck version from…

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father,
through th
e obedience of Jesus,
your s
ervant and your Son,
you rais
ed a fallen world.
Fr
ee us from sin
and bring us th
e joy that lasts forever.

If we are going to be required to have a vernacular liturgy we have the right as Catholics to hear what it really says through a good and accurate English translation.  

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2 Responses to 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time: COLLECT (2)

  1. Don Marco says:

    O God, who by the abasement of your Son
    have lifted up a fallen world;
    grant to your faithful a holy gladness,
    so that having delivered us out of the servitude of sin,
    you may give us to taste fully of joys that never end.

  2. Séamas says:

    What I don’t like about the “Christ has died, etc.” (besides that it’s not in the Latin, and besides that I think the Mystery of Faith as Acclamation interrupts rather than adds to this most sacred part of the mass), is that Christ is right there on the altar, yet we are speaking past Him.

    In the other acclamations, we speak TO Him– “Dying you destroyed our death, Rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in Glory.”

    In the former, we are speaking as if He isn’t there–we talk about Him, rather than to Him.