What Does the Prayer Really Say? 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
Last week I shared some material from Prof. Robert Louis Wilken’s article “The Church’s Way of Speaking” in the current issue of First Things (August/September 2005 – No. 155). I want to revisit that article for some of his closing thoughts about how the Church’s language, especially her language of worship, must be true to her teachings and contrast with secular trends. At the end of his piece Wilken writes, “For too long Christianity has relinquished its role as teacher to society. Instead of inspiring the culture, it capitulates to the ethos of the world. The Church must rediscover herself, learn to savor her speech, delight in telling her stories, and confidently pass on what she has received. Only then can she draw people away from the coarse and superficial culture surrounding us into the abundance of life in Christ. … Let the Church call attention to what is peculiar to herself, not to presumed notions about what is meaningful or intelligible or relevant to contemporary society. A robust Christian witness can only be forged by drawing on the fullness of Christ, as known through the Spirit of the Church.” (p. 31).
What Prof. Wilken is talking about fits hand in glove with the purpose of this WDTPRS series. In our work we have seen how the Church herself, in the document Liturgiam authenticam (LA) establishing norms for the new vernacular translation of Mass, deals with matters of inculturation. In fact LA, the fifth instruction on the proper implementation of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, followed organically from the fourth instruction Varietates legitimae which concerned itself precisely with inculturation.
An important principle must be adhered to in everything having to do with inculturation which, when properly pursued, is good and desirable. The principle is this: in the ongoing, simultaneous and dynamic exchange taking place between the Church (through her members) and the world (which must be shaped according to Christ’s mandate) what the Church has to give in the exchange must always have logical priority over what the world has to give. That is to say, the Church forms people who in turn create and shape and form a culture and society. Subsequent to that formation, a culture and society becomes the blossoming garden of things which are good and true and beautiful. These good and beautiful things are then brought back to the Church who reintegrates them into herself. So, the Church enriches all of her members who in an ongoing way continue to shape the world. Both “directions” of this exchange are active simultaneously, but the Church’s contribution must have logical, if not chronological, priority. The “genius” of a Christian culture such as that of Baroque Rome, once formed as a Christian culture, enriched the whole Church in countless ways. If what “the world” has to give in the exchange is given logical priority over what only the Church has the ability to provide, then both society and the Church become serious disjointed.
The Church today is conscious of this logical priority. In the abovementioned LA we read: “5. Indeed, it may be affirmed that the Roman Rite is itself a precious example and an instrument of true inculturation. For the Roman Rite is marked by a signal capacity for assimilating into itself spoken and sung texts, gestures and rites derived from the customs and the genius of diverse nations and particular Churches both Eastern and Western into a harmonious unity that transcends the boundaries of any single region.” We should revisit LA in the next weeks to remind ourselves and the powers that be (who read this column) of what it says. Friends, there are influential people in the Church who want to scuttle the new English translation reflecting the norms laid down by the Holy See.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis,
da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis,
id desiderare quod promittis,
ut, inter mundanas varietates,
ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
This same Collect is for the Monday of the Fifth week of Easter and also in the 1962MR on the Fourth Sunday after Easter. In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary you find it on the Third Sunday after the close of Easter. All those long eeee sounds produced by the Latin letter i are marvelous. Note the nice parallels: id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis as well as ibi…sint corda and ubi…sunt gaudia. In the first line the genitives unius…voluntatis are elegantly split by the verb efficis. A master made this prayer.
The pages of our opportunely situated Lewis & Short Dictionary divulge that varietas means “difference, diversity, variety.” It is commonly used to indicate “changeableness, fickleness, inconstancy.” I like “vicissitude.” The adjective mundanus, a, um, “of or belonging to the world”, must be teased out in a paraphrase. Efficio (formed from facio) means, “to make out, work out; hence, to bring to pass, to effect, execute, complete, accomplish, make, form”. Voluntas means basically “will” but it can also mean things like “freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination” and even “disposition towards a thing or person”.
The Association For English Worship in 1985 put out an examination of the Prayers of the Roman Missal comparing two different English versions, ICEL and their own. Here is the AEW version of the Collect: “O God, by whom alone the faithful are made one in mind and heart, grant us to love what you command and to long for what you promise, that so, amid the changes and chances of this mortal life, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” In the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer of 1662 they hear on the Fifth Sunday in Lent: “O almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise, that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.” You have to love that!
O God, You who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will,
grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command,
to desire that which You promise,
so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world,
our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.
Let us revisit that id…quod construction. We could simply say “love that which you command,” or “love what you command”, but to me that seems vague and generic. Of course, we must love everything God commands, but the feeling I get from that id…quod is closer to what the Anglican version expresses: “love the thing which you command… desire the thing which you promise.” This seems more concrete. We love and desire God’s will in the concrete situation, this concrete task. A challenge of living as a good Christian in “the world” is to love God in the details of life, especially when those details little to our liking. We must love him in this beggar, this annoying creep, not in beggars or creeps in general. We must love him in this act of fasting, not in fasting in general. This basket of laundry, this paperwork, this ICEL translation…. Hmmm…, didn’t I say it was a challenge? God’s will must not be reduced to something abstract, as if it is merely a “heavenly” or “ideal” reality. “Thy will (voluntas) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
help us to seek the values
that will bring us lasting joy
in this changing world.
In our desire for what you promise
make us one in mind and heart.
WDTPRS prays that the new ICEL will avoid the catch-all hyper-verb “to help.” I cannot make myself think that “help us” unlocks for us the mystery of our total reliance on God. God does more than “help”. And what happened in this version to loving God’s commands? How do “commands” become “values”? Did no one in Rome, ICEL or the episcopal conferences see a problem in the phrase “lasting joy in this changing world”? The Latin says that “the world” is fickle (mundanas varietates). It cannot give us the “lasting” joy to be found only in the life to come. This ICEL version makes me want to scream.
More about the slippery word “values”. We should make a distinction between values and virtues. To my mind, values have an ever shifting subjective starting point while virtues are rooted in something objective and meaningful. In 1995 Gertude Himmelfarb wrote in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values: “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’” Rem acu tetigisti! In this post-Christian, post-modern world the term “values” seems to indicate little more than our own self-projection. I suspect this is at work in the lame-duck ICEL prayer with its “help us” and the excision of God’s commands and promises. Can the word “values” be rescued, interpreted properly? Not in the defunct ICEL’s wretched version. Could “values” be used in future prayers? Perhaps.
The late John Paul II spoke about “values” in his speeches and writings, but in contrast to the way “values” are commonly understood today. For example, in Evangelium vitae 71 we read (emphasis added): “it is urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote.” How does that wash with the stem-cell research debate and the “values” of human life and scientific advancement being discussed today? In the 1985 letter to young people Dilecti amici 4, John Paul II taught: “Only God is the ultimate basis of all values…. in Him and Him alone all values have their first source and final completion… Without Him – without the reference to God – the whole world of created values remains as it were suspended in an absolute vacuum.” Our Latin Collect today is a prayer for God to grant that His will be the basis of our values in concrete action, not in abstractions or mere good intentions.
Care with the word “values” must reflect the present growing awareness of the Church’s growing conflict with relativism. Benedict XVI has already spoken eloquently and more than once about the threats we in the Church face from religious/secular relativism, the reduction of the supernatural to the natural, caving in to “the world”. “The world” has its Prince who still dominates it until Christ the King comes again. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2 – RSV). Christ put His Apostles on guard about “the world”: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). When what “the world” has to give is given preeminence over what God has to give through His Church, we have the crisis Pope Paul VI described on the ninth anniversary of his coronation (29 June 1972): “da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio… through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God”. Today’s Collect, properly translated, is a spiritual safeguard for the vicissitudes of “the world”.