What Does the Prayer Really Say? 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
As I reported last week, on 15 September Msgr. Bruce Harbert, the Executive Secretary of the new and improved ICEL, spoke at the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C. The talk available is as a podcast on the internet. Msgr. Harbert addressed, inter alia, what “through” means in liturgical prayer. He looked at the Third Eucharistic Prayer. In the present translation we pray to the Father about Christ “from whom all things come” when in fact the Latin original says “through whom You bestow all good things upon the world” (my version, not his). Msgr. Harbert dealt with the theological issues involved in saying “through”, how we pray for graces “through” Christ Our Lord, how we receive all things “through” Christ. Our Latin prayers nearly all end, after a full stop and period, with the phrase beginning “Per Dominum nostrum…” or another phrase beginning with per, “through”. The seemingly odd punctuation indicates the way the prayer is to be sung, the different marks corresponding to patterns of changes of pitch. The odd punctuation reminds us that all good things come through Christ and all our prayers to the Father are also through Him. Msgr. Harbert’s short talk is worth your time. I remain much consoled by the presence of Msgr. Harbert in the control room of ICEL. He is a very sharp fellow.
DS writes via e-mail (edited): “First, thanks for your work on translations and explanations of the Latin prayers. Several years ago, I noticed there were things missing from our English translations – even based on my two years of high school Latin a long time ago.” Thanks, DS. If WDTPRS has helped you become more engaged with the prayers of Holy Mass, then the series is a success.
DS continued (edited): “I have a question apropos of the Italian missal, which you mentioned in your internet blog post of 24 September. In an article about the new ICEL translation of the Mass Ordinary in America magazine, Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, speaks of ‘the serious need for a new body of prayers written in elegant and contemporary English to accompany the current Missal. The Italians, for example, have Scripture-related opening prayers for the whole three-year cycle. The 1998 Sacramentary proposed by ICEL, which was rejected in no uncertain terms by the Vatican, contained equivalent prayers for the three-year cycle. We need them.’ I’m curious about the assertion that the Italian Missal has a ‘new body’ of collects for the three-year cycle. Can you shed any light on this assertion? The article has the tone of ‘well, the Italians did this, so why can’t we Americans?’ In general, the article seems to use any handy argument against the new translation, even though the article’s arguments strike me as internally inconsistent.”
Well, DS, prescinding from whatever any vernacular edition of the Missale Romanum might include today, on various occasions the Holy See has had to remind everyone simply to translate the liturgical books and to cease composing new prayers or making adaptations. The document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) on the norms for translation, Liturgiam authenticam, spells out the parameters of this work and they do not include composition of new prayers.
It always gets my goat that, rather than giving the official prayers a genuine chance, some folks want to cobble up novelties. How about actually using the book as it is for long enough to allow it to have an influence on the people of God before proposing adaptations? The Novus Ordo may have gone into force in Advent of 1969, but have we really seen it implemented properly yet? You can make the case that it hasn’t. If WDTPRS has demonstrated anything, it is clear by now that the prayers of the Missale Romanum in the editions of the Novus Ordo have a rich content. Sure, some of them have been resected a bit and subsequently lack the punch of their ancient counterparts. Nevertheless, until they have been translated properly and put into use for a sufficient period, all this chat about needing a new body of prayers is ill-advised. As far as the Italian Messale Romano is concerned, the edition I have with me here in the USA (where I am as I write) has no new body of Collects for the three-year cycle. I will double check a newer edition. In any event, the norms of Liturgiam authenticam apply to all language versions, including Italian. The Italian translation is also being revised.
We must move along to this week’s “Prayer over the gifts” as it is sometimes called.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Suscipe, quaesumus, Domine,
sacrificia tuis instituta praeceptis,
et sacris mysteriis,
quae debitae servitutis celebramus officio,
sanctificationem tuae nobis redemptionis dignanter adimple.
Since I used above a couple column inches to laud the prayers of the Novus Ordo, you may find it a bit ironic that today’s prayer is clearly a patch job of bits and pieces of ancient prayers in the Veronese Sacramentary. The phrase tuis instituta praeceptis is from a prayer for the month of April, debitae sevitutis celebramus officio is from one in August, and sanctificationem tuae nobis redemptionis is from July.
I don’t get it either. With all the gorgeous prayers from various ancient Latin sacramentaries at our disposal, was it really necessary to cobble a new one together like that? Wait! I am having a vision of the scene back in the 1960’s….
In a dark room lined with metal jammed bookshelves and cabinets stuffed with files of notes, an articulated lamp strains with its stingy 40 watts to produce a pool of light on a paper stacked table. The rolling chair supporting a bespectacled cleric, squeaks as he shifts. His scrambled gray hair is thinning and during the night he must have tugged the collar of his too-long worn cassock open around his skinny neck. Monsignore is a professor at a Roman university and a prized consultant for Annibale Bugnini’s Consilium. Monsignor has drunk the Kool-Aid. He riffles the pages of good-ole Leo Cunibert Mohlberg’s edition of the Sacramentarium Veronense with rapt attention, occasionally jotting down phrases on slips of paper. His consultation complete, he squeaks forward to the table. Uttering a prayer to the Holy Ghost, he begins to slide the slips around. He rearranges them, and gazes, and tries again, substituting now this one and that one in practiced curves until, … EUREKA! a new Super Oblata emerges ouija-like from out the depths of research and inspiration. “Hmmm “heÃƒÂºreka”, perfect of heÃƒÂºrisko….”, he mumbles and drags closer the manual typewriter he scrimped to purchase, lo many decades ago, for his doctoral dissertation on the dative case in the Liber Sacramentorum Augustodunenis. Clack, clackity, ding, zzzip… clack clack, he whacks together his new prayer footnoting the source references for a future edition of the fontes of the Missale Romanum. One day WDTPRS readers will need them on a weekly basis. “Grazie, O Signore!” he beams at the framed print of the Crucified Jesus on the wall over his little metal framed bed. The tiny window suggests the approaching dawn, but zeal for the Council consumes him. “Now, what to do with the Twenty-Eighth Sunday?” he muses. Scanning a shelf, his red-rimmed eyes linger over yellowing notes on the Gregorian Sacramentary.
Okay, okay. Sarcasm aside, today’s prayer deserves to be judged on its merits. Let’s not be overly prejudiced by its questionable paternity. Frankenstein’s poor monster was misunderstood too, right? Just because this prayer was snipped and stitched together on a table, must we brandish our liturgical torches or pitchforks in high dudgeon and chase it toward the cliff? Let’s find out what it really says and then make some conclusions. Vocabulary and the grand Lewis & Short Dictionary will help.
The verb adimpleo is “to fill up, to fill full” and thus means also “to fulfill (as a promise, prediction, duty), to perform”. Officium is “that which one does for another, a service, whether of free will or of (external or moral) necessity”. L&S elaborates that officium is “A voluntary service, a kindness, favor, courtesy, rendered to one whose claim to it is recognized; while beneficium is a service rendered where there is no claim”. If that weren’t enough, officium is a “ceremonial observance, ceremony, attendance (on a festive or solemn occasion)” together with “an obligatory service, an obligation, duty, function, part, office”. That is how it comes to mean the position that an “official” holds, as in “high office”. Priests, in fulfilling their obligations to prayer the Church’s official prayer each day “say their office”. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it is known today, was called the “Holy Office”, and is still housed in the “Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio”.
REALLY LITERAL TRANSLATION:
Receive, we beg you, O Lord,
the sacrifices instituted at your commands,
and by the sacred mysteries,
which we are celebrating from the duty of owed service,
worthily bring to fulfillment for us the sanctification of your redemption.
This prayer digs into an important point of consideration for any Catholic Christian. God lovingly rewards us when we perform our duty (officium) in life according to His plan. In this life He gives us graces. In heaven we will have splendid and eternal rewards. Today’s prayer connects God’s rewards with sacrifice (sacrificium) and duty (officium) on our part. If we know that we have duties and must make sacrifices, especially in renewing the once-for-all-time Sacrifice of the Cross during Holy Mass, we can be confident that there will be rewards. Rewards are also from the divine will of Christ. In regard to that officium we must also remember that, as baptized members of Christ’s Mystical Person, we share in our own way His three-fold office of priest, prophet and king. At Holy Mass, each baptized person is enabled to offer spiritual sacrifices in union with the special way in which the ordained priest offices the Sacrifice. Is this duty not already a reward of inestimable worth?
A SMOOTHER VERSION:
O Lord, we beseech You,
receive these sacrifices established at Your command,
and by the sacred mysteries
we are now celebrating according to our office,
graciously bring to fulfillment within us Your sanctifying redemption.
Since our correspondent DS (above) brought up the Italian Messale Romano, here is the
ORAZIONE SULLE OFFERTE:
il sacrifico che tu stesso ci hai comandato d’offrirti e,
mentre esercitiamo il nostro ufficio sacerdotale,
compi in noi la tua opera di salvezza.
LITERAL RENDERING OF THE ITALIAN PRAYER:
Receive, O Lord,
the sacrifice which You Yourself commanded us to offer and,
while we are exercising our priestly office,
complete in us Your work of salvation.
The Italian version expands the concept of the priestly officium of both the baptized and the ordained in union with each other during this profound moment of the Offertory. All in all, if you were in an Italian pew, you wouldn’t wince in pain hearing this as you followed along in your Latin Missale. Can we say the same for the lame-duck ICEL version we still hear now and for a while yet?
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
receive these gifts
which our Lord Jesus Christ
has asked us to offer in his memory.
May our obedient service
bring us to the fullness of your redemption.
You decide if that is what the Latin prayer really says.