What Does the Prayer Really Say? 2nd Sunday of Advent – Station: Holy Cross in Jerusalem
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
There is great virtue in simply remaining grounded in the Church’s teachings, following the liturgical books carefully, and minding your p’s and q’s. If nothing else, the Church can help to keep you under control. That is certainly the case with, for example, the older, “Tridentine” form of Mass and the ad orientem celebration of Holy Mass. The orientation and the rubrics (with the threat of mortal sin for violations) keep a priest in check so he doesn’t impose too much of himself on the Mass. The clarity of the Church’s doctrine provides enough grist for any sermon without straying into completely unknown fields and looking foolish as a result. As if to underscore this, I found a great quotation of H.L. Mencken (+1956) who, while rather anti-Catholic, admired the Roman Church. The following has implications for our continuing focus on issues of liturgical translation:
“This folly the Romans now slide into. Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable police sergeant in South Bend, Ind. Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.” H.L. Mencken, Smart Set Criticism, October, 1923
Mencken was obviously a fan of Darwin, but you get the point. The priest should stick to priestcraft and the liturgy should be handled so as to retain its mysterious power. When we try to make it too comprehensible we get into trouble and its impact is gone. Moreover, when doctrine, prayer, music and gesture are reduced to the lowest denominator we make what is glorious and uplifting merely dull and commonplace.
Moving on, you have probably been waiting patiently for my annual Advent jeremiad about blue vestments. Lest I disappoint….
Consider the following: the candles on your Advent wreaths are not blue and white, or they better not be! I hope you made a wreath this year, by the way. The candles are three of purple and one of rose. This is because a Catholic priest wears purple and rose at Holy Mass on Advent Sundays. Tell that to your non-Catholic friends! No doubt some hipper priests will impose blue vestments on more than one of you. While blue vestments aren’t as bad as, say, a pudgy nun in spandex doing interpretive dances, or banana bread instead of a host of valid matter, they remain illicit.
I like blue. Don’t get me wrong. If the Holy See approves blue I will upon hearing the news order up a set blue vestments with chalice veil, burse and maniple. I will of course be irritated that long-standing abuse led to the approval, as happened with Communion in the hand and altar girls, but I am a “traditionalist” at heart: things I like are okay and those I don’t are … well… not okay, regardless of their legality.
Forsooth, what really exasperates me is that only the progressivists’ pet violations obtain subsequent approval. How about approving some abuses I like for a change? How about approving use of altars ad orientem? No, wait… that’s already legal. How about Mass in Latin? Hmm… that’s legal too. How about…. No… birettas are also perfectly fine. Okay, I’ve got one: How about approving a second Confiteor for “Tridentine” low Mass even though it was removed in 1962? No, I don’t like that one enough to waste our one opportunity. Here’s a better one: How about all us priests start using a silent Canon?
Any traditionally minded priest will confirm that doing something perfectly legitimate but “traditional” or even “Roman” in celebrating the “Roman” rite just might bring the swift swing of the axe on any man who hasn’t been a pastor for the last thirty years. Use blue and you’re a prophet untrammeled by legalism while rejoicing in sign and symbol. Use Roman vestments and you are a rigid pre-conciliar reactionary trying to turn the clock back.
Despite documents like Redemptionis Sacramentum (does anyone even think of that document any more?) on liturgical abuses, some people can get away with murdering the rubrics and others, who want to use the books properly and with a traditional style, must still suppress their legitimate desires until they can defend themselves through seniority or assignment. However, the situation is rapidly improving and the silliness is beginning to dissipate. Things are looking up!
What should we learn from this? Until blue is approved, friends, it’s wrong. But making changes we like before their time is also wrong. Moreover, we must never strut when things start going our way and the nonsense declines. Instead, we should express gratitude, quietly pray for the souls of those who caused so much damage, and participate at Mass with lighter hearts as a result. And thus endeth my annual rant about blue.
How is this for a segue? I attended the world premiere of the movie The Nativity Story. It was in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican. I warmly recommend the film. It has the right amount of realism blended with classic images of the Nativity from our imaginations and artwork. If you are looking for exotic Magi with camels and stars shooting beams of light, you will not be disappointed. The music is good, incorporating themes of well-known Christmas melodies such as Stille Nacht, The Coventry Carol, and Veni Veni Emmanuel. A propos O Come, O Come Emmanuel, here it is again by popular demand: the anti-blue vestment parody song produced by a friend from seminary lo those many years ago, O Come O Come Liturgical Blue. I dedicate this song to all of you suffering liturgical abuses in your parishes:
O come, o come liturgical blue;
out with the old, and in with the new.
Let’s banish purple vestments from here,
the color blue is very HOT this year.
REFRAIN: Gaudy, gaudy, gaudy chasubles,
in baby, navy, powderpuff and teal.
Since Advent is the Blessed Virgin’s time,
we’ll wear blue, though it’s a canonic crime,
and in the third week, we’ll wear white.
Although it’s wrong, we’ll say that it’s alright. REFRAIN
Around the wreath we’ll place blue candlelight,
and in one corner, we will place one white.
We’ll drape blue over our communion rail,
and use blue burses with blue chalice veils. REFRAIN
This week’s prayer after Communion was originally the Postcommunio of the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the 1962MR. In the 1962MR the prayer is called a “Postcommunio”. In the 2002MR it is a “Post communionem”.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Repleti cibo spiritalis alimoniae,
supplices te, Domine, deprecamur,
ut, huius participatione mysterii,
doceas nos terrena sapienter perpendere,
et caelestibus inhaerere.
Let’s look at vocabulary. The incomparable Lewis & Short Dictionary explains that alimonia is more than a check someone writes each month. Do you remember from your basic biology class that the alimentary tract is part of our digestive system? In Italy a "negozio di alimentari" is a grocery shop. In Latin alimonia is “nourishment, food, sustenance, support”. In the Vulgate Jerome used “in alimoniam ignis” for “the food of the burnt-offering” which Aaron and his sons are to eat (Leviticus 3:16). Leviticus concerns itself in the beginning (chapters 1-7) with the different kinds of sacrifices the Jews would offer. Perpendo means “to weigh carefully, examine; to ponder, consider.” Thus, perpend: repleo is “to fill again, refill; to fill up, replenish, complete”. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 15:19 there is replevi Evangelium, “I have spread the Gospel fully”. Think of the English word “replete”. The Latin verb inhaereo is “to stick in, to stick, hang, or cleave to, to adhere to, inhere in; engage deeply or closely in; to be closely connected with”.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you give us food for heaven.
By our sharing in this mystery,
teach us to judge wisely the things of earth
and to love the things of heaven.
Having been filled with the food of spiritual nourishment,
we suppliants beg you, O Lord,
that, by participation in this sacramental mystery,
you may teach us to ponder earthly things wisely,
and to cleave to heavenly things.
The priest here speaks of both the physical and spiritual dimensions of Holy Communion. In Communion we receive physical nourishment, albeit in a very small quantity, and more importantly spiritual food of infinite measure. However, as the scholastic adage teaches, that which is received is received in the manner of the one receiving it. That is to say, depending on how we are disposed, some people receive great graces (though not all those possible in the infinitely worthy Eucharist), some receive fewer, some receive none, some actually eat and drink their own condemnation (cf. 1 Cor. 11). In the Lauda Sion sung on Corpus Christi the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas says:
The good consume it, the bad consume It:
but with a different fate,
that of life or of destruction.
There is death for the wicked,
life for the good:
Behold how unlike is the outcome
of a like consuming.
“Participation” in the Eucharist, understood more clearly, is primarily an interior participation made possible by our baptism. “Full, conscious and active participation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) is rooted in interior receptivity, in knowing what is happening, and being actively receptive to the sacred action of the liturgy. Certainly anyone who attends Mass as a non-Communicant, even a non-baptized person, benefits in some way from “participation”. Our participatio is most nearly perfect when an actively receptive, properly disposed Christian receives Holy Communion. In 1947 the Sacred Congregation of Rites instruction Musicam sacram 22, c, based on Pius XII’s Mediator Dei) explained: “Active participation (actuosa participatio) is perfect when ‘sacramental’ participation is included. In this way ‘the people receive the Holy Eucharist not only by spiritual desire, but also sacramentally, and thus obtain greater benefit from this most holy Sacrifice’”.
Friends, we must get a few things straight before we dare to approach the most holy and sacred thing on earth. First, participation isn’t “doing stuff”. Second, Communion is more than getting your parking ticket validated when you are shopping. Third, Communion can be either life or, without discernment and proper disposition, doom. Reflect on your participation and how Holy Mass is celebrated in your parish.
Having been satisfied by this spiritual fare,
we humbly entreat You, O Lord,
that by our participation in this mystery,
You will teach us wisely to ponder the things of earth,
and to grasp closely the things of heaven.
The priest identifies what we have received as food for spiritual nourishment, not food unto spiritual destruction. We are petitioning God to give us the graces we need to discern properly the value of material and earthly things, to weigh carefully their meaning and purpose for our lives, lest what we have, do, or long for become obstacles rather than helps.
Advent calls us to “make straight the path” for the Lord who is coming.