What Does the Prayer Really Say? 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003
DW of CA writes via snail-mail: “Thank you for your weekly column which gives any would-be Latinist a brisk turn around the track (or should I says circus ?). As much as I enjoy your scholarship, I admire even more your patience and charity with the ICEL translations. The days of their continued publication may be numbered… but, while yet they last, they would seem to merit something more than gentle remonstrations. ICEL should not be given a pass for poor translations; when so often they exit the land of paraphrase into a lost world of changed meaning. Poor laymen such as I are left in the pew with thin gruel when what we need is stronger fare. We seek bread and receive liturgical stones…. Thanks again for your excellent work, a high point in each week’s reading of The Wanderer.” Many thanks to you, DW, for your kind words about the column.
I know that you and others are deeply frustrated by what you hear in church. I am too. This column is a response to the desire for “stronger fare”. Together with my hope that these poor words each week will help you love the Mass more and more and pray more in harmony with the Church’s desires, this column has had in part the intention of continually stirring the pot not so much for the sake of discontent or griping about the bad translations, but rather to promote a positive yet realistic view of what can be accomplished in the future. The older ICEL translations are a “lame duck” but ICEL itself is not. It has been overhauled and is being closely guided by the Holy See. It still has use and much work to do. Therefore, I have urged, begged, admonished, everything short of threatened all you kind readers both to pray and fast for the bishops and the ICEL translators and also to write them positive notes of encouragement. Their work now will shape the next few decades of the Catholic experience.
Surely there is little doubt in the minds of reasonable people that the past translations were sub-optimal. Let’s just stipulate and move on. Everyone knows there are new norms for translation. The work is underway and must be accomplished soon. Therefore, we all must take a realistic yet positive approach and be supportive of what can now be done to produce a translation which is accurate, beautiful and prayerful. Yes, DW, I could use my energies and this space to bash and slash at the old ICEL texts. But… cui bono? What good would that be and for whom? In exasperation once in a while I add sharper editorial comments about what we have been forced to use/hear for thirty years, but that is not my overall and consistent modus operandi. After all, “charity deserves to be increased” as they say.
So, for a moment put yourself in the shoes of an ICEL staffer or a bishop who is aware of this heavy responsibility. You knows that the past efforts were not successful. You feel the tremendous pressure to work quickly and satisfy everyone. Imagine how you would feel picking up this newspaper or pulling this column off the internet just to read a sustained weekly diatribe attacking what you hold dear and are obliged to work on. If… if (please, God) someone in charge of anything having to do with the creating of new liturgical translations reads any of these columns, even once, I want him or her to know that there are people who wish them well and dearly hope that by both grace and elbow grease the goal can indeed be attained. And we will praise their efforts when they do well. Translation of liturgical texts is really hard, DW, but it isn’t astrophysics. It can be done and must be done.
And with that, let us move without delay onto this week’s….
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Sumpsimus, Domine, sacri dona mysterii,
ut, quae in sui commemorationem
nos Filius tuus facere praecipit,
in nostrae proficiant caritatis augmentum.
This was in the 1962MR the Postcommunio of Ember Friday in the time of Pentecost with some changes here and there: …ut, quae in sui commemorationem nos facere praecepisti, in nostrae proficiant infirmitatis auxilium. It changed from an address to God the Son to a prayer to the Father with reference to the Son and changed the object of the prayer from aid in weakness to an increase in charity. That might also sum up something of what I wrote above about the purpose of these columns, but I digress. There is a lot of alliteration with both hard and soft “k/c” sounds to be noted, as well as the humming of the “m” which predominates in the prayer.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may we grow in love
by the eucharist we have celebrated
in memory of the Lord Jesus.
Yes… well…. Let us stipulate that this can bear improvements and move forward. So important is our prayer that we will not want to remain satisfied with this version. Nor will our translators want to give us anything resembling this old version we now hear in church. We WDTPRSers want to be sure that our comprehension of each prayer’s vocabulary is clear and complete. Therefore the exceptionally complete and clear Lewis & Short Dictionary will help us to dispel the fogs and doubts about the ICEL version above and move into what the prayer really says with greater confidence. For example, deprecor has been used in our Post communions before: on the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time and for Palm Sunday and also in the Super oblata for Holy Family. Deprecor is not just “to pray”, but “to pray earnestly.” Deprecor is a compound of the preposition de + precor meaning “to avert, ward off (from one’s self or others) by earnest prayer; to deprecate; also to pray, to intercede for the averting of any evil, or to obtain pardon for any transgression” and also “to pray for, intercede in behalf of (that which is in danger)”. If my memory is not faulty I believe there was a prayer in the older Rituale Romanum using a form of deprecor (prex deprecatoria) against invasions of mice (contra mures) and other annoying critters. No doubt an observant reader will correct me if I am wrong in my recollection. I assume that in this Post communion it means “ward off” by earnest prayer. In today’s prayer we clearly want to obtain something by earnest prayer.
The tenses are helpful. You students of Latin probably learned to recognize deprecantes as a present active participle. That idea of “present” is a little misleading and at the same time right on. What do I mean? First, “present” in the case of this tense in Latin is better rendered as “contemporary”. That means that it is taking place at the same time (contemporaneously) as the time of the main verb. If that is really in the present time, fine, but it could be in the past or future. Today the time of deprecantes is determined by the time of the verb sumpsimus. The form sumpsimus is present perfect which means that in the moment of the speaking, the action indicated by the verb is completed: so, it is a past tense with reference to present reality. In this case we have a form of sumo, which has the principle parts sumo, sumere, sumpsi, sumptum. So, in today’s prayer, when we “received by eating” (sumpsimus) the Sacred Host in Holy Communion, we were simultaneously, contemporaneously, “praying earnestly to obtain” (deprecantes) something. In way, our prayer is an admission to God of what we were praying for a moment ago rather than a prayer right now.
Let us take note also of the word sui, from suus, -a, um which is a reflexive possessive pronoun. In English we get along with the ambiguous word “his” for possessive. But that leaves us in doubt about who the “his” is. In Latin, we use suus to refer to the subject of the verb, so that it “reflects back” upon the actor (or acted upon) in the sentence or clause and leaves eius to refer to some other “his” or “her” or “its”. In this case sui goes back to the subject of the verb praecipit who is Filius tuus.
We have, O Lord, consumed the gifts of the sacred mystery,
at the same time humbly praying in an earnest way,
that, the things which Your Son commanded
us to do in commemoration of Him
may bring about an increase in our charity.
We may have another echo in this Post communion of the Summa Theologica of the Angelic Doctor citing something he attributes to St. Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John 74. In the Summa Aquinas worked mainly from memory and so he has the Doctor of Charity writing “caritas meretur augeri, ut aucta mereatur perfici… sacrificial love deserves to be increased, so that having been increased it deserves to be brought to perfection” (IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 4, s.c.). In fact, St. Thomas remembered incorrectly. The real quote of the Bishop of Hippo was in Letter 186, 10 written around 417 to Paulinus against the errors of the Pelagians and was slightly different (in CSEL 57, 53; PL 33, 819: gratia meretur augeri…) but this is a small point for our use now. And St. Thomas, in his examination of the issue of whether charity can be increased says (op.cit.) that charity can be increased for those of us who are here on the “way”, in this pilgrim existence of this world, traveling to the next: Caritas viae potest augeri. Ex hoc dicimur esse viatores….” A viator is a “pilgrim” or a “wanderer”. Thus, is the Angelic Doctor is using Augustine to tell us that the charity of The Wanderer and its readers can be increased?
Coming out of the myriad distractions of our daily lives, we must remind ourselves when we enter our parish churches for Holy Mass that what we are about to participate in is not merely a “memory” of something that Christ did a long time ago, and for which we are now nostalgically grateful. This is not merely a “memory” of a noble gesture of sacrifice that ought to inspire us to do similar things for others. Mass is not a just good example to promote social work or warm caring feelings. When we go into a church and Mass begins we have passed suddenly into a mysterious and timeless space wherein what we do and say not only recalls to mind past events but actually, by the doing and saying and God’s own action through our words and deeds, makes those events present to us now and we to them. The actions of the Last Supper and the Passion with its Cross and Resurrection are renewed in Holy Mass and Christ, the true actor in the events makes us present with Him in his acting. Thus, conscious of our participation in sacred and transforming mysteries which were the pivot point of the history of every created thing in the universe, we unite our minds, wills and hearts to the words of our priest and mediator standing for us at the altar and imploring God by this bold and daring act of receiving Holy Communion to “bring about an increase in our charity”. Thus, nourished we can do not only in church what Christ commanded, but leaving church afterwards we can carry out in concrete ways His command of love for our neighbor.