What Does the Prayer Really Say? 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2002
It is time again for some of your feedback. RG of IA writes via snail-mail: “I’m sending this via “snail-mail”, as you referred to the time-honored postal system in your July 4 column. This subtle (albeit trite) reference causes continued financial stress for my son. He is a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Poster System…. Mail box bombs, anthrax scares, and 110 miles of gravel roads are burdens enough.” RG… I fully accept your expression of concern for your son. I would respond to what you wrote. First, the epithet “snail-mail” did not originate with me or my columns: this term has been around for a long time. Also, I sincerely do not think that “snail-mail” is derogatory. Considering the speed of electronic mail, or e-mail, everything else other than telepathy or divine locutions, move pretty slowly. Second, I have a high sense of admiration for the efforts of letter carriers. This is an ancient and honorable profession. The ancient Romans made great use of the services of the tabellarius who also made his appointed rounds. Third, it is interesting to see how the methods of communication in our modern world are simultaneously reflecting who we are and how we talk to each other as well as shaping the same. There is a great deal to be said for the written word… written in the sense of ink on paper or incisions on surfaces. There is something elegant and personal about the material offerings of written words. The pre-recorded “You have mail” file on your computer may amuse, but it cannot satisfy the sense like the sight and feeling of the cool and smooth written envelope, with its stamps, return address, and extension in space as it is held in the hand. At any rate, RG, there is nothing derogatory about the term “snail-mail.”
We continue this week in our project to inspire you to write elegantly crafted “snail-mail” to the members of the Vox Clara (VC) committee established to work with the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) and ICEL in the rapid and proper development of new English language liturgical translations as well as revision of existing translations according to the norms established in the CDW’s document Liturgiam authenticam (LA). We should be willing to express encouragement concerning their challenging work. Here is the next pair of addresses, which bring us now to a total of 6 of the 12.
Most Reverend Justin F. Rigali
Archbishop of St. Louis
4445 Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108-2497 USA
Most Reverend Oscar H. Lipscomb
Archbishop of Mobile
P.O. Box 1966
400 Government St.
Mobile, AL 36633 USA
Be sure to keep your letter brief and kind, reassuring the bishop of your prayers and hopes for improved and faithful translations. We must always be keenly aware of the extremely difficult vocation that bishops are charged with. Do not seek to contribute to their burden by bitterness in this important matter: be positive and hopeful.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Propitius, Domine, quaesumus, haec dona sanctifica,
et, hostiae spiritalis oblatione suscepta,
nosmetipsos tibi perfice munus aeternum.
This week’s Super Oblata prayer, called also the “Prayer over the gifts”, was in the 1962MR as the secret of Monday within the Octave of Pentecost. Take note, Latin students, of the ablative absolute hostiae spiritalis oblatione suscepta.
In your mercy, we beseech you, O Lord, sanctify these gifts
and, as the offering of this spiritual sacrifice is received,
perfect us ourselves into an eternal offering worthy of you.
You might remember that we something quite similar not too long ago in the super oblata of Trinity Sunday (which is very close to the traditional Roman calendar’s Monday in the Octave of Pentecost): Sanctifica, quaesumus, Domine Deus noster, per tui nominis invocationem, haec munera nostrae servitutis, et per ea nosmetipsos tibi perfice munus aeternum.
Most of the vocabulary of this prayer is straightforward and common in liturgical contexts. We might review, through our consultation of the never-dusty Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary, the finer points of perfice which is an imperative of perficio. Perficio, perfeci, perfectum is the source of the English word “perfect”. It means fundamentally, “to achieve, execute, carry out, accomplish, perform, dispatch, bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete.” Thus it is “to make perfect’ and also “to bring about, to cause, effect; with ut.” Having an imperative form in the prayer, it means “to achieve, execute, carry out, accomplish, perform, dispatch, bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete.” While it is acceptable for us to say “make us an eternal offering” it would be nice to bring along more of the impact of perficio’s “completing” and “perfecting” sense. In a way, that nosmetipsos emphasizes this. The enclitic –met can be added to pronouns for a measure of emphasis: nosmet: “we ourselves”.
The vocabulary of this prayer reminds me of a passage in the New Testament:
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. (domus spiritalis sacerdotium sanctum offerre spiritales hostias acceptabiles Deo per Iesum Christum) 1 Peter 2:1-5
This passage is found in the context of a series of imperatives presented to Christians for the sake of their new life and new identity. The first imperative (1 Peter 1:13) is a command to live in hope of the coming of Christ. The second (v. 15) is to live a holy life in the midst of the world. The third (v. 17) is for the Christian to have the proper fear of God rather than of prevailing things of the world. The fourth (v. 22) is that is proper love of others. The fifth (1 Peter 2:1-10) concerns how we are to long for spiritual nourishment so that we can mature in our Christian lives and vocations. We find here images of human growth, as in infants being fed on milk so they can grow into adulthood, and the building up of a dwelling… and not just a dwelling, but a “spiritual dwelling/house”, or a “temple”, and thence into a priesthood. This is a fundamental element of Christian life: it stresses the communal dimension so critical to authentic Christianity as opposed to the “me and Jesus” attitude of some evangelical and fundamentalist “Bible Christians”. Though all these images of our passage are simultaneously express different angles of the same body of Christ, the Church, we see a logical movement from growth as an individual (infant) to a community (temples are for groups, not merely individuals) into a priesthood (integrating the action of the community of Persons, the Trinity).
His Eminence Josef Card. Ratzinger, in his wonderful book A New Song For The Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996) presents a reflection on the imagery of “living stones” which, though applied in his book mainly to seminary formation and priesthood, nevertheless is applicable to every Catholic in every walk of life, particularly today. His Eminence writes:
The goal is the house; what precedes it are the stones – living stones in the case of a living house. The fact that our verse talks about building in the passive voice is part of this: Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. Our thirst for action requires that we translate such words without exception into the active voice: Let us build the kingdom of God, the Church, new society, and so forth. The New Testament sees our role differently. The construction manager is God or the Holy Spirit. We are the stones – for us building means being built. An old liturgical hymn for the construction of a church describes this graphically; it speaks of the blows of the curative chisel, the thorough treatment with the master’s hammer, and the right assembly of the pieces through which the blocks of stone finally grow together into the great building of Jerusalem. This touches on something very important: building means to be built. If we want to become a house, we – each and every one of us – must accept the fate of being cut and carved. (pp. 163-164)
Perhaps we can hear our prayer now and hear some new things. First, given our current contemporary context wherein we are awaiting the preparation of new and better liturgical translations, we Catholics yearn for good and rich nourishment so that we, as individuals and as a Church, can deepen our relationship with Christ and thereby make our proper contributions to the world around us. In the liturgy we receive “pure, spiritual milk” and more. Personally, I want more than the non-fat or 2% we have been given so far in our translations. Second, no matter what we think of the translations, we are still receiving an inestimable gift in Holy Mass. We ought to strive to live up to what Christ Himself imposes on us all: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled and then come offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
We must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.”
“If we want to become a house, we – each and every one of us – must accept the fate of being cut and carved.”
make holy these gifts,
and let our spiritual sacrifice
make us an everlasting gift to you.