What Does the Prayer Really Say? 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003
In that bastion of commonsense The Wall Street Journal (6 Aug 2003) I read a review by Charlotte Allen of the New York Times (called by one bishop I know “Hell’s Bible”) religion columnist (and past editor of Commonweal) Peter Steinfels’ new rather liberally oriented tome A People Adrift: the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in America (Simon & Schuster). Ms. Allen, while saying that Steinfels is speaking sympathetically of some issues about which most conservatives are usually quite concerned, makes some good observations regarding Mr. Steinfel’s book and his comments about “ghastly innovations” including “insipid music, architectural overhauls that have transformed parish churches into sterile auditoriums, and translations of the Latin liturgy into dumbed-down and even ungrammatical English. (My own favorite: “the glory and honor is yours.”) “ Ms. Allen might need to make a review. That should have been “all glory and honor is yours”, which is equally ungrammatical. Nevertheless, her point is well taken.
JP writes with a question: “As a reader of your articles from the first one published in The Wanderer almost 3 years ago, I was wondering if in addition to consulting Lewis & Short, do you also consult Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin to see if any new meanings/nuances maybe at work in the prayers of the new Roman Missal? Or is there some other reference you use instead of Stelton for that purpose? The reason I ask is that Lewis & Short covers (I think) Latin usage only up until the time of Augustine, whereas most of the prayers of the Roman Missal were written after that point (including some written relatively recently, ca. 1970). I would think that there may be other meanings/nuances intended by the authors of the prayers that were not in use until after Augustine and I was just wondering how you take that into account when writing your articles.” Thanks for the question. First, L&S actually covers authors to around A.D. 600 including the Christian poet Venantius Fortunatus. Second, Leo F. Stelton’s handy little Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995 – DEL) has a preface by Stelton saying that “this book is not intended to be a research dictionary”. Rather, it is a “practical manual for seminary students once they have completed introductory courses in the Latin language” and that it might be useful also for laypeople. So, DEL is helpful for the beginning student for a quick consultation. As such its entries do not include citations showing the word in contexts, thus also keeping the size of the volume down.
I often consult, as you have seen, the Latin Vulgate, both the older and the newer, as well as Greek lexical tools, such as Lampe’s great dictionary of Patristic Greek when I make a connection between a phrase in a prayer and something from the New Testament or from the Fathers. Also, JP, the L&S is a research dictionary available in virtually every library as is Andrews, ed. Harper’s Latin Dictionary. A new Latin dictionary founded on the translation of Freund’s Latin-German lexicon. Rev., enl., and rewritten by Charlton Lewis and Charles Short (1907). It is in one manageable, though large, volume and it is relatively cheap at $175 brand spanking new. Other than that, I do not regularly consult other Latin dictionaries. [NB: This is no longer the case now. I also consult Souter and two dictionaries edited by Blaise, mentioned below and some others as well.] I consult my memory and experience, however, from years of reading later Latin texts in various fields. My experience is that, in the main, if you have a good grasp of Latin the one volume L&S will give you virtually everything you need. The 40,000 word entry Oxford Latin Dictionary (P.G. Glare, ed., 1968) is very large format, quite expensive (new $295) and limited to classical texts only extending to the end of the 2nd century A.D. Forcellini’s Totius latinitatis lexicon (1858-1887) is in 10 volumes and rare. The many volume Thesaurus linguae latinae or TLL (1900+) is still in the works, is huge, and not easy to get to. There are some Latin etymological dictionaries which I have looked at when I was near a library that possesses them. Useful (and hard to get and expensive) are A. Blaise, Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs du moyen-âge. Lexicon latinitatis medii aevi, praesertim ad res ecclesiasticas investgandas pertinens (1975) and C. du Fresne, seigneur Du Cange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis. 5th. ed. by Favre, 10 vols. (1883-1887). On the other hand L&S includes very useful etymological information, so Blaise and Du Cange are overkill. [NB: An opinion I have revised somewhat over time.]
L&S is better suited for the rough and tumble work we do in WDTPRS each week and it is entirely available online through the good folks at Tufts University in the USA running the awesome Perseus Project with mirror sites at Chicago, Oxford and Berlin (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/). [NB: Recently the entire Tufts project has been revised and extended. The site, with its mirrors, is fast and amazingly useful.]
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Plenum, quaesumus, Domine,
in nobis remedium tuae miserationis operare,
ac tales nos esse perfice propitius et sic foveri,
ut tibi in omnibus placere valeamus.
In the 1962MR this was the Postcommunio of a votive Mass for the consecration of a bishop. How it got here, I am not sure.
Miseratio means “a pitying, pity, compassion, commiseration”. In the Roman Canon we hear the phrase (which we reviewed just last week) “secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum sperantibus”. L&S tells us that a remedium is “that which heals again; a cure, remedy; a medicine” and, logically therefore, “a means of aid, assistance, or relief; a remedy.” Curiously, a form of remedium is only twice found in the Latin Vulgate, and both times in Tobit (cf. vv. 6:7; 10:4). I would point out that the last time we saw remedium in one of our prayers was for the Super oblata of the 4th Sunday of Lent. In that prayer remedium appeared also with the verb perficio, as it does today. Perficio, perfeci, perfectum is the source of the English word “perfect”, meaning “to achieve, execute, carry out, accomplish, perform, dispatch, bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete.” Thus it is also “to make perfect’ and also “to bring about, to cause, effect”. It is often constructed with ut and the subjective following, as it is in our prayer.
About our ut and subjunctive construction today. Please notice those words tales and sic. To make sense of all this think in these terms: we are asking God to make us “such” or rather, “the kind of person” who will, as a result, do x,y, or z. We want to be aided, warmed and cherished (foveri is a passive infinitive) by Him in such a way (sic) that there is a consequent result. The result follows in the ut clause.
The verb foveo signifies in its basic meaning “to warm, to keep warm”. By extension it means “to cherish, foster any thing”. Interestingly, when applied to physical things and, for example, diseases it can be “to foment (whether with warm or cold remedies).” I think we have all heard tales (or maybe some of you readers have experienced yourselves) the various remedies of yesteryear. If you had “the grip” you would be smeared with a poultice or a cataplasm of something like hot goose grease. Then you would be wrapped up to bake under so many blankets that you felt rather like a combination of St. Lawrence and St. Margaret Clitherow. It is interesting that foveo is used in relationship with remedium. Concerning other physical things, foveo is used for holding a child on one’s lap, or staying warm while wintering in a military camp. In regard to mental things, foveo is as you might suspect, “to cherish, caress, love, favor, support, assist, encourage”.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord may this eucharist increase within us
the healing power of your love.
May it guide and direct our efforts
to please you in all things.
We entreat you, O Lord,
work in us the complete remedy of your compassion,
and graciously make us to be the sort of people, and also to be supported in such a way,
that we are able to please you in all things.
When I hear this prayer I make a couple strong connections. My first connection is with the priest’s prayers at Holy Mass. I mentioned above the link in the word miseratio to the Roman Canon, the only “Eucharistic Prayer” in the Latin Church for a very long time, and the one I use nearly always. Also in the Mass prayers the priest says the word “remedium”. After his own Holy Communion and that of the faithful (in other words seconds before he recites this Post communion prayer), as the server pours the first bit of wine into the chalice for the ablutions in order to break the substance of the last drops of the Precious Blood that may have pooled at the bottom, the priest says in the newer form of Mass as in the older: “O Lord, grant that what we have taken by mouth may be received with a pure mind and heart: and that from a temporal gift it may become for us an eternal remedy (remedium).”
I also am struck by the imagery of illness and remedy. Christ is the great physician of our souls. In His Sacrifice we have obtained the remission of our sins, the greatest sickness we can ever have. By dying He destroyed our death earned by sin. By rising He restores our life and the hope of a glorious resurrection. In His own Person, then, we have the perfect remedy for everything that ails us, whether it be original sin or its unreconstructed effects, or our actual sins. In the slightest fragment of a consecrated Host we have the price of every sin ever committed or to be committed. In the slightest drop of the Precious Blood is the elixir of eternal life. They are the full and perfect remedy (plenum remedium) by which God perfects us.
The words foveo and remedium together in this prayer are very evocative. There come to mind the old remedies of heating and anointing. Think of our prayer today as coming from a time when there was no central heating, before modern medicine, when a chill might mean the death knell. Imagine that we, as weakened and sick children are being given, in Holy Communion, precisely what we need to make us whole again, to become the sort of people (tales) we ought to be. In our Communion, God is, in a sense, anointing us yet again with a burning hot remedy. Since the Council we speak often of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) whereby we become Christians in a fuller and fuller way. In two of the sacraments we are literally anointed on the exterior of our bodies. In the Eucharist we are perhaps being “anointed” from within. By the hands of the priest, alter Christus, He anointed us on our breasts and our backs at our baptism with the Oil of the Catechumens saying (in the old fashioned way of things by which most of you readers were baptized), “I anoint you with the oil of salvation, in Christ Jesus our Lord, so that you may have everlasting life”. Just after the baptism itself, God anoints us through the priest with Holy Chrism, saying “May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has given you a new birth by means of water and the Holy Spirit and forgiven all your sins, anoint you with the Chrism of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord, so that you may have everlasting life.” In Confirmation we were anointed in the forehead with Holy Chrism in the Holy Ghost as the bishop (or priest) said: “I sign you with the sign of the Cross and I confirm you with the Chrism of salvation”. These sacraments must not be allowed to go dormant within us. We must cherish them and keep them active.
In a good Holy Communion, God – the only effective remedy – is wrapping us up in His love, drawing us onto His lap, healing us, and keeping us warm in the winter of this world.