What Does the Prayer Really Say? 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
The offices of The Wanderer have not forwarded your snail-mail for a while, but here is some of your recent feedback via e-mail. W has written about the column and the WDTPRS internet blog (edited): “I was compelled this evening to send this quick note to say ‘Thank You’ for the wonderful work you are doing via WDTPRS. Fr. James V. Schall in his book On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs talks about the mystery of teachers we have not met. He has a penchant for recommending books that teach us ‘the truth of things as they are’. I consider your writing on the liturgy and Patristics mandatory for my understanding of the truth of things as they are. Thank you for being one of those teachers that I have never met but have affected me greatly.” Your note, W, is very gracious and I return the thanks. An objective of the WDTPRS series is to help get at the truth of the prayers as they are in the original Latin. Thanks!
MH of TX sent a long epistle. She made reference to the prayer I wrote for those who are involved in preparing the new English translation. Here is MH (edited): “We read your column in The Wanderer each week. We would not miss it! My husband and myself prayed daily your prayer for the Bishops’ meeting in Los Angeles. … Most Catholics are sick and tired of the banal language and prayers as well as what passes for music at our local parishes. It really lacks so much. … The sense of the sacred is almost gone. People have forgotten what is holy and how to act in the presence of Holiness. … I find it unbelievable that the USCCB think that Americans are so ‘dumbed down’ that we can’t even understand the word ‘consubstantial’. There is such a thing as the ‘dictionary’, if one is puzzled.” Yes, MH. We don’t need dumbed-down texts. Aside from the obvious point that “dumbed down” texts are “wrong”, they are also – and this might be even more important – simply uninteresting. They inspire nothing in the listener. There is little in them to engage the mind and provoke desire to seek greater understanding.
Fr. TJ of ND has written a lengthy note reacting to various translations points in the newly approved English draft. His comments are too extended for me to include here, but I will with happy self-interest share this (edited): “I just received and read through my entire latest edition of The Wanderer … I could not put it down because it had so much in there about the new translations for the Roman Missal in English. … Let’s hope for better days ahead with the upcoming improved translations of the Roman Missal into English. I always look forward to reading your column each week, and I thank you for sharing your insights and reflections, and all of the hard work you put into making the column.” Reverend and dear Father, you are welcome. Yes, the columns require effort, but I think they are bearing fruit in many places.
Yes, folks, the preparation of the new English translation is going forward. In the meantime, the new German translation is progressing nicely under the watchful eye of Joachim Card. Meisner and Ecclesia Celebrans (their version of the Vox Clara Committee). The Dutch version has also moved ahead. In June there was a meeting at the Abbey of Montecassino of the relevant committee of the Italian Bishops Conference for the conclusion of the first phase of the revision of the Italian translation (which needs a great deal less work than the English, I can tell you!). In these cases there is essentially no acrimonious debate. For the most part, those other translations are being revised for style rather than basic meaning and doctrine.
Here is this week’s so called “Prayer over the gifts”.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Deus, qui legalium differentiam hostiarum
unius sacrificii perfectione sanxisti,
accipe sacrificium a devotis tibi famulis,
et pari benedictione, sicut munera Abel, sanctifica,
ut, quod singuli obtulerunt ad maiestatis tuae honorem,
cunctis proficiat ad salutem.
A predecessor of this lengthy prayer, which is the Secret of the 7th Sunday after Pentecost in the 1962 Missale Romanum, was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary exactly as it appears today with the exception that the ancient version includes the genitive adjective “iusti” with Abel (which is indeclinable).
The valuable Lewis & Short Dictionary helps us to crack open some of the vocabulary. For example, differentia means “a difference, diversity.” For those of you who are reviewing your Latin or studying it for the first time (and there are more and more of you) the verb sanxisti is from sancio, which is “to render sacred or inviolable by a religious act; to appoint as sacred or inviolable” and mostly of legal ordinances or other public proceedings, “to fix unalterably; to establish, appoint, decree, ordain; also, to make irrevocable or unalterable; to enact, confirm, ratify, sanction”. Thus we find a common pairing in Latin of lex (not Lex Luthor) and sancire, as in sancire legem (“to ratify a law”), sancire lege (“to ratify by law”), and lex sancit (“law decrees or ordains”). I like “ratify” in this context because it has a conclusive sound to it. The legal terminology of this prayer, in the context of “sacrifice”, together with the word differentia juxtaposed to unum hints to us that we will see a contrast of the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law under the Old Covenant and the once-for-all-time Sacrifice of Christ forming the foundation of the New Covenant.
O God, who by the perfection of one single sacrifice
ratified the diversity of victim offerings prescribed by the Law,
receive now a sacrifice from the servants devoted to You,
and sanctify it by means of a blessing the like of that wherewith the gifts of Abel were blessed,
so that what individuals have offered to the honor of your majesty
may profit unto salvation for all.
Under the old Covenant the People were reconciled and purified in God’s sight through the ritual sacrifice of animals. These sacrifices had to occur over and over again because no sacrifice of that kind could make satisfaction for our sins or repair the chasm opened between God and man. Complete and superabundant satisfaction was made in the Sacrifice of the Cross.
Because of what Christ did, once and for all time, never again would there be need for a bloody sacrifice. The fruits of His Sacrifice extend forward into eternity and also backward into the past even to the first sin of our first parents. Thus, the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross embraces all the bloody sacrifices of the Mosaic Law. Whatever efficacy those previous ritual sacrifices the Father commanded the People to offer would have had, they had in only anticipation of the unique Sacrifice of the Cross of Jesus Christ. This is why our prayer says that the Sacrifice of Christ “consecrated” or “ratified” (sancio) the “diversity” of sacrifices of the previous dispensation “in perfection”.
Fundamentalist Protestants falsely think that Catholics are trying to “sacrifice Christ over and over again” during Mass. Catholics have never believed that, of course. Holy Mass is the same Sacrifice of Christ, not an additional sacrifice. Christ’s Sacrifice need not be, indeed cannot be repeated! Holy Mass is the renewal, the re-presentation of His Sacrifice.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we lovingly offer back to the Father in an unbloody way what was accomplished in a bloody way once for all time upon the Cross of our salvation. Christ, at the same time both Victim and Priest, who is the true actor in the Mass is offering Himself to the Father in a sacramental way. Sacramental reality is just as real as historical reality. In the Mass the Lord applies the fruits of His unrepeatable Sacrifice to us who are present and to those for whom Mass is being offered, living or dead. We are not trying to repeat the historic Sacrifice of Christ which took place at a specific moment in time. That is impossible and, in any event, unnecessary. Christ’s work is perfectly accomplished already. What we do now we do because of Christ’s command: we renew His Sacrifice in an unbloody and sacramental way. Holy Mass truly is the one and same Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, no less real than the event of 2000 years ago.
Holy Mass, Christ’s true Sacrifice, deserves the very best from us regarding those things that pertain to our human achievements and contributions. While all lenses have their flaws and inevitably distort what they aim at, however slightly, a cloudy or dirty or chipped lens does not allow any light to pass, much less a proper image. Better translations will permit us to benefit evermore from what Christ does for us at Holy Mass.
FREER BUT STILL ACCURATE VERSION:
O God, who in a unique and perfect Sacrifice
embraced and surpassed the manifold victim offerings
under the Law of the Old Covenant,
accept now this sacrifice from us Your devoted servants,
and sanctify it with a blessing like unto that whereby You hallowed the gifts of Abel,
so that what each person here has offered in honor of Your majesty
may further the salvation of all.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
bring us closer to salvation
through these gifts which we bring in your honor.
Accept the perfect sacrifice you have given us,
bless it as you blessed the gifts of Abel.
While important progress has been made on the new translation for the Ordinary of Mass, much needs to be done for the proper prayers. Compare the 1973 ICEL version and the two WDTPRS versions. Even though we make no pretense here of preparing liturgically sound translations, what sort of version would you like to have during Mass? Pray and write letters accordingly.