What Does the Prayer Really Say? 34th and Last Sunday in Ordinary Time – Solemnity of Christ the King
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003
This is the last column of WDTPRS focusing on the proper prayers of Sunday Masses (at least for now). In the first year we looked at the opening prayers or collects of the Sundays, always published a week ahead of time so that you could think about them at Mass. In the second year we examined the offertory prayers or Super oblata. This last year we have delved into the Post communion prayers. The column will continue, friends. But you will have to wait a couple weeks to see what I have in store for this coming year.
I dearly appreciate readers’ feedback each week. I am getting e-mail and your snail-mail letters are being forwarded (on the editor’s schedule, of course). I can’t post comments from everyone who writes, but I do read every word you take the time to offer. I should add that in the last three years the pieces of hate mail I have received about this column I could tally using one hand only. (This is not an invitation for more.) Thus, I conclude that these articles have positively resonated with far more people than they have irritated them. That is something to which the folks at ICEL and our chief shepherds might hearken also.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum – Christ the King):
Immortalitatis alimoniam consecuti,
ut, qui Christi Regis universorum
gloriamur oboedire mandatis,
cum ipso in caelesti regno sine fine vivere valeamus.
This seems to be of new composition based in part on the Postcommunio of the Feast of Christ the King celebrated on the last Sunday of October in the traditional Roman calendar used in the 1962MR: Immortalitatis alimoniam consecuti, quaesumus, Domine: ut, qui sub Christi Regis vexillis militare gloriamur, cum ipso, in caelesti sede, iugiter regnare possimus. It is quite thoroughly redacted now. Look at all the m’s, or rather listen to all the m’s and the v’s! What comes to mind is the vast organum of visible and invisible creation humming beneath the eternal chorus praising God forever when He is “all in all”. That “sine fine vivere valeamus” is a thrill and an improvement, I think. On the other hand, I regret the loss of the military imagery, so important to us in the Church Militant, awaiting the coming of the King who banner (vexilla) we strive to merit calling our own even in this life.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you give us Christ, the King of all creation,
as food for everlasting life.
Help us to live by his gospel
and bring us to the joy of his kingdom.
Let us heft the colossal Lewis & Short Dictionary for the last time (in this WDTPRS cycle) and look at a word meaning much more than what a divorced man pays to his estranged wife. “Nourishment, food, sustenance, support” is what Latin alimonia means. It also means in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible, “for the food of the burnt-offering”. Transferred into a New Testament context, we might equate it with the bread and wine for the Mass, together with other sacrificial offerings provided by the people. Consequor means “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing” as well as “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey” and “to reach, overtake, obtain”. Thus, by extension, or consequently, this means “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal.” It is possible to translate consecuti as many older hand missal might, simply as “having received”. But in the context of the feast of Christ the King, it seems to me that we need something more.
At times you will note that certain key words in prayers recur in pairs or patterns on different Sundays. The last time we examined consequor was in the Post communion of the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. In that same prayer we also found, like today, a form of glorior. Many times we have looked at gloria, the basis of the verb glorior, and how in early Latin writers such as Hilary of Poitier it stands for a a divine characteristic, a transforming might, which God will share with us to make us forever and ever more like Him. In today’s prayer we also use vivere, and on the 3rd Sunday we heard, with forms of glorior and consequor also vivificare. We want “to live”, and not just here and now, but forever in the transforming presence of Life itself for eternity. We are talking about having life and having it abundantly (cf. John 10:10) which comes to fulfillment only at the end of the world. The Latin Vulgate has St. Paul using a form of glorior several times, and some of those texts are a crowbar for us to pry open this prayer. You will want to review for sure 1 Cor 1:28 ff. and also Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast (ne quis glorietur). For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Properly understood, there is no confusion in this with the false understanding of some Protestants about faith and works. Also, St. Paul said, “But far be it from me to glory (gloriari) except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The only way to the glory that lasts, that cannot be lost and the world cannot stain, strip or grind away is through the sacrificial love of God and neighbor that Christ modeled on Calvary and in washing His disciples’ feet in the Cenacle.
Having been remodeled according to the nourishment of immortality,
we beseech you, O Lord,
that, we who glory in obeying the mandates of Christ the King of all things,
will be able to live with Him without end in the heavenly kingdom.
Notice that consecuti in the Latin original agrees with nos (hidden in the subject of the verb quaesumus) and that it is a perfect participle of a deponent verb, so it has active meaning of a action that took place in the past but has present effects. Something has been accomplished here on the last Sunday of the year, which looks to the moment of the ending of the world and the coming of the King: immortalitatis alimoniam consecuti – literally we could read this as more than just “we have received the food of immortality” and instead see in this prayer something like “we have been reshaped according to the model of food of immortality”. What this means is that we have been transformed by what we received. There seems to be a shift of perspective in this prayer.
So very often in the Post communion prayers we acknowledge that since we have been nourished by what we received in Communion and we are further begging God to transform us through it in an ongoing way now so that we can be made apt for heaven later. Now, it seems that we are acknowledging that we in fact have been transformed according to the model (consecuti) of the nourishing offering (alimonia) which bears a diving transforming power conferring the immortality heaven (immortalitas). Note that while consequor is a deponent verb and would not usually sound passive in meaning, the verb also means, and this is what today I have chosen to stress, “to follow a model”. Thus, in the present perfect time of this participle, I am going to say “having been remodeled according” rather than, “having modeled ourselves”, etc.
Also, closely attend to what impact of the tense of consecuti. At the end of the year, our transformation has in fact taken place with ongoing effect in the present (that is, the time when the priest is pronouncing the prayer). While we clearly haven’t been perfected yet, we nevertheless as Christians are living in a state of “already, but not yet” regarding this immortalitatis alimonia. We are baptized. We have been conformed according to the model of Christ (consecuti) and even integrated into His divine Person, the Church. Thus, the way has been opened by baptism to the Eucharist and to heaven. The reception of the Eucharist in (a good) Holy Communion is the sign and pledge of what is to come. So, this prayer is a triumphant example of confidence. At the same time this confidence of baptized, Eucharist transformed Catholics, is also a paean of humility: we are glorified precisely in obeying, in obedience to Christ’s commands. St. Paul said, “But far be it from me to glory (gloriari) except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The only way to the glory that lasts, that cannot be lost and the world cannot stain, strip or grind away is through the sacrificial love of God and neighbor that Christ modeled on Calvary and in washing His disciples’ feet in the Cenacle.
At the end of this cycle of WDTPRS some observations are in order. When I began this series’ three years ago, I said that I was not going to try to create translations that can be used instead of the ICEL versions now in use. I was not striving to produce translations that were smooth and polished and ready for public declamation. Rather, my “literal translations” would seek to stir interest in the prayers of Mass, provoke discussion, and help enter into the sacred action with mind and will engaged. My profound hope is that they have helped you in some way. If anything in these columns lead you to participate actively at Mass with “fuller, more conscious, and more active” participation then WDTPRS has succeeded.
In addition, I wanted WDTPRS to be a lobby or a tool to promote the evolution of good, sound, accurate and beautiful translations in the future. This is why I have urged you the readers to letters of support to bishops and those in charge of these matters. Third, very often I have asked you to pray for bishops and give them support at least by means of your fasting and other mortifications. The work of a bishop is extremely complicated and the production of liturgical translations is daunting and vast.
Fourth, I have opened myself up to feedback and comments from you and many have generosity responded. From years of experience of working on the internet, I have learned how important it is to make a project like this interactive. St. Augustine, in his magisterial De doctrina christiana, which effectively established the philosophy of education for a millennium and a half, warned the potential “sacred preacher” that he must take great care to consider with sympathy the needs and abilities of those who must simply sit and listen to him talk. So, if I invite you to read this each week, I will gladly read what you send in return. To all who have written, I am grateful.
Finally, the most important goal of this series is to inspire a greater love of the all riches presented to us by Holy Mother Church, particularly in our beautiful sacred liturgy, both in Latin and in English.
Next week, we will launch ourselves into a new undertaking. I will present a re-introduction of sorts so that new people (perhaps to whom you are giving gift subscriptions) who may have come lately to this series may see what we are doing. I may take a week or two to write a column or two to spin out some of my thoughts on different ideas that may help us in our ongoing effort to understand what the prayers of Holy Mass really say.