21st Sunday of Ordinary Time: SUPER OBLATA (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

One of my favorite blogs Laudator Temporis Acti provides amusing daily fare.  Recently the blogger cited Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (Ch. 2) and I had to share it with you.  It reminds me of the attitude I encounter rather often in my work:

Mr Vladimir, arranging his cravat, observed him in the glass over the mantelpiece.

“I daresay you have the social revolutionary jargon by heart well enough,” he said contemptuously. “Vox et. . . You haven’t ever studied Latin — have you?” “No,” growled Mr Verloc. “You did not expect me to know it. I belong to the million. Who knows Latin? Only a few hundred imbeciles who aren’t fit to take care of themselves.”

Oh yah?  Well, let us once again compare the Latin original of the today’s Super Oblata, called sometimes the “Prayer over the gifts”, and compare it with the lame-duck ICEL version and see what happens.  

Today’s prayer is strikingly different in style from what we have seen hitherto.  It is of new composition for the Novus Ordo edition of the Missale Romanum, though an element of it can be found in the 1962MR in the Secret of the votive Mass pro Ecclesia unitate… “for the unity of the Church”.

SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Qui una semel hostia, Domine,
adoptionis tibi populum acquisisti,
unitatis et pacis in Ecclesia tua
propitius nobis dona concedas.

The Latin of this prayer is not terribly challenging.  The dense Lewis & Short Dictionary says that semel is an adverb meaning “once, a single time” and also in a succession it equals primum, primo “the first time, first”.  The verb acquiro means “to add to, to get or acquire”.  Unus, a, um can mean either “one” or “a single”, “sole”.  This is not the adverbial unā, meaning “in one and the same place, at the same time, in company, together”.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O Lord, who acquired for Yourself a people of adoption
by a single victim sacrifice offered once only,
graciously grant to us the gifts
of unity and peace in Your Church.

When you work directly with the Latin texts of our prayers for Mass, and have a knowledge of the Latin version of the Scriptures (yet another good reason for priests to say the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass in Latin), you start recognizing in the prayers references to biblical passages.  These are rarely apparent in the lame-duck ICEL versions.  Even if you can’t immediately identify the phrase at the basis of a line in a Latin prayer, you get the sense that it was biblical and so you can start searching for it.  For example, that adoptionis populum acquisisti instantly sent me running to consult Scripture because of two familiar phrases, one Pauline and the other Petrine: adoptio filiorum Dei and populus acquisitionis.  Let’s look into these.

WDTPRS has examined adoptio in the past.  You might recall that adoptio is “adoption” in the sense of “to take as one’s child.”  Paul says adoptionem filiorum Dei … “adoption of the sons of God” in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome which translates the Greek (h)uiothesia. The noun (h)uiothesia, occurs five times in the New Testament (Rom.8:15,23; 9:4; Gal.4:5; Eph.1:5). This compound noun means “placing as a son”. Being a “son” or a “daughter” of God through the adoption won for us by Jesus Christ has enormous consequences for how we face the vicissitudes of life.  Paul wrote to the Romans (8:15): “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” The Christian, integrated into Christ and His Church, can with confidence invoke the Father in time of need.  God hears our prayers not as a stranger God, but as a loving Father.  

A note is in order about Latin filii or “sons”.  Filii can be equally “children” rather than just “sons” according to the literal meaning.  Latin masculine plurals, depending on the context, can include females even though the form of the word is masculine.  In Latin, the masculine is inclusive.  So, we can say in English “adoption of children” and not just “of sons” without getting into anything too eerie.  

We can get some help to understand the phrase populus acquisitionis from 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race (populus a[d]cquisitionis), a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (RSV).  In the Church’s liturgy we find this phrase still in the Gregorian chant Communion antiphon of Thursday in the Octave of Easter, though in the newer Vulgate we find populum in acquisitionem; it is even cited obliquely in the new 2002MR’s GIRM 5… “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (RSV).  If we look back at the Greek original for this we find laòs eis peripoíesin (the noun peripoíesis from the verb peripoiéo) which by studying similar words in Eph 1: 14, 1 Thess 5:9, and 2 Thess 2:14 gives us the sense of a people acquired or redeemed, much as someone would buy a slave to set him free.  We Christians, however, become the “possession” of God in a new way.  We are not redeemed to be slaves, but rather as sons and daughters.

The context of that passage from 1 Peter was a series of admonitions, indeed imperatives, presented to Christians for the sake of their new life and new identity.  Our phrase populus acquisitionis falls in the context of the fifth of those admonitions (1 Peter 2:1-10), namely, that we are to long for spiritual nourishment so we can mature in our Christian lives.  We grow like infants into adulthood, built up into a temple, and thence into a royal priesthood.   The image Paul uses harks to how a parent gives milk to an infant child to foster his growth.  God gives also richer solid food as we mature, that is, as we can handle it.  And we can handle it as we grow and we need it for our life.
 
In our prayer today I sense a conceptual movement.  We move from being slaves to being sons.  We start as infants and then mature into a people of priests who belong entirely to God.  Consider also the phrase unitatis et pacis and see what it brings to mind.  A quick consultation of a Biblical concordance takes us to another Pauline text, Ephesians 4:1-6:

I therefore, the prisoner in the lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (servare unitatem spiritus in vinculo pacis).  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Paul, speaking in the manner of a prisoner or a slave, uses the word vinculum to describe the “bond of peace”, the “link of a chain”.  Because we belong to the Church integrally and truly by our baptism, Paul’s description is to be extended to us.  Turning our attention back to how we participate at Mass, today’s prayer is in the context of the offertory.  At this moment we are readying what is necessary (including ourselves) for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Merciful God,
the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ
made us your people.
In your love,
grant peace and unity to your Church.

Do we find the content of the Latin prayer in the lame-duck ICEL version?  Does it pay to know Latin?  You decide.

Let me ask you.  What would the last thirty some years have been like if we had had better translations all along?  What would our Church be like today had the mandate of the Council to maintain Latin been obeyed?  Would we have a different sense of our identity as Catholics?  Would those things have helped us better influence the society we live in?  Would we be better prepared to handle the pressures of daily life?  Would so many people, including clergy, have been acquiescent in the face of popular cultural trends and the destruction of our education system?  I think much of what we see going on today could have been averted.  We can’t know anything for sure, but I have little doubt that things would have been very different indeed.   This is because I believe that the true Actor at Mass is Christ Jesus the High Priest.  Mass is effective and nourishing.  Had things been in better shape, Catholics would be different today.  Lex orandi, lex credendi!  The way we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe.  

There is no question that faithful church-going Catholics are in many places receiving nourishment and graces from the liturgy they participate in.  I am thinking about all this again, however, because of an experience I had this week.  I was called upon to preach at a Solemn Mass for the feast of the Assumption celebrated in the cathedral of Camden, New Jersey, using the 1962 Missale Romanum.  The level of intense and grateful participation at that Mass was remarkable.  The large number of well-behaved and happy children was thought provoking.  The way people dressed was exemplary.  When it was time to make responses and sing, they raised the roof.  I am also thinking of my home parish of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota where Holy Mass is celebrated often in Latin using the Novus Ordo.  In the last thirty years, some thirty men have been ordained from that one parish and many young men from St. Agnes are in the seminary.  In each case, the respective books are followed carefully, the preaching is solid, and everything is done with the sort of love that inspires care, on the part of the sacred ministers, and fervent attention on the part of the congregation.

Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic lives.  It deserves the best and so do we.  If Mass must be celebrated in the vernacular, and apparently it must, then we need good translations which are accurate and beautiful.  This is especially important for critical texts in the Mass, such as consubstantialis in the Creed and pro multis in the consecration of the Precious Blood.

To grow into serious committed Catholics capable of making an impact on society, we need all that the Church desires to give us.  We adults could if necessary get by on baby food alone.  We could, if necessary, survive on milk and some nearly predigested veggies, but we would not thrive.  Would we be able to do our work well?  Could we respond with zeal and vigor to God’s will in our lives, having been fed only on such pabulum?  A new translation is in preparation.  More satisfying nourishment will come, God willing, through our beautiful prayers in a new translation, which will increase our yearning for the perfect food, containing in Itself all delight.

A SMOOTHER WDTPRS VERSION:
O Lord, who adopted for Yourself a People
by the Sacrifice offered once and for all time,
graciously grant us the gifts
of unity and of peace in Your Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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