What Does the Prayer Really Say? 4th Sunday of Advent – Station: Twelve Apostles & Vigil of Christmas
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
I am sure people are forgetting to remember that there was in Rome a Synod of Bishops about the Eucharist well over a year ago. Pope Benedict XVI presided after cutting the schedule by a week’s length. There were all sorts of debates about things like married clergy and the like. People have been speculating that the Pope would issue the customary Post-Synodal document. According to the Italian publication Panorama the Holy Father signed the document and it is now at the translators. What interests WDTPRS the most, is that Pope Benedict wrote about the use of Latin for Mass and the need to study Latin in seminaries and teach Gregorian chant. We will probably see the document fairly soon.
On another front, the Pontifical Commission “Eccelsia Dei” met in plenary session on 12 December. After the meeting a member of the Commission, Jorge Arturo Card. Medina EstÃƒÂ©vez said that the Motu Proprio which will greatly derestrict the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum is “close”. The Commission studied the document and made some observations. The next step is for the President of the Commission, DarÃƒÂo Card. CastrillÃƒÂ³n Hoyos, is to take what is prepared to Pope Benedict XVI.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Sumpto pignore redemptionis aeternae,
quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut quanto magis dies salutiferae festivitatis accedit,
tanto devotius proficiamus
ad Filii tui digne nativitatis mysterium celebrandum.
As you might have guessed, this rather chatty Post communionem is of more recent composition. It has ancient precedent in old collections such as the Gelasian Sacramentary, but it appears for the first time in the 1970 Missale Romanum and its subsequent editions. We have a nice paring of festivitatis and nativitatis. The quanto magis… tanto devotius is a standard construction which rings well. We have verbs of contrasting but related basic meanings: accedo and proficio. We even have an ad… nd construction. We lack the kitchen sink here, but that is about all. This prayer smacks of being very consciously worked over as a set piece. It is trying to be elegant.
What can the unparalleled The Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary tell us about the vocabulary of this prayer? Leading off is an ablative absolute construction including the noun pignus, “a pledge, gage, pawn, security, mortgage (of persons as well as things).” The root of this word is pac, as in the verb pango, panxi, panctum, and pegi or pepigi, pactum “to fasten, make fast, fix; to drive in, sink in” and thus “to fix, settle, determine, agree upon, agree, covenant, conclude, stipulate, contract” and also paciscor, pactus,”make a bargain, contract, or agreement with any one; to covenant, agree, stipulate, bargain, contract respecting any thing” whence comes the English word “pact”. Under pignus in the L&S we find reference to such things as “tokens” or “rings” given as a sign of a pledge or commitment. The adjective salutifer is from salus + fero (“salvation/heath + to bring”). Also, please take note of that quanto…tanto construction. This is the ablative. Thus, it means something like… “by however so much… by that same measure.” In this case we have comparative adverbs magis… devotius. Accedo is “to go or come to or near, to approach”. Proficio is, of course, “to go forward, advance, gain ground, make progress.”
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
in this sacrament
we receive the promise of salvation;
as Christmas draws near
make us grow in faith and love
to celebrate the coming of Christ our Savior.
Now that the pledge of eternal redemption has been consumed,
we beg, almighty God,
that by however so much more the day of the saving festivity is approaching,
by that same degree we may more devoutly make progress
toward celebrating worthily the mystery of the nativity of your Son.
Yes, I know this is awkward. But I am not trying to produce smooth translations for use in church. We could be tempted to smooth that quanto magis…tanto devotius into “the nearer the saving feast day approaches, the more devoutly we may make progress….” I want to resist the temptation to do that for the reason that there is a proportional relationship indicated in the Latin which gets lost in that simpler but smoother phrase. The priest prays that we make progress in an increasing degree each day as Christmas draws closer. If today we are making progress by a factor of 1, then tomorrow, which is closer to Christmas, we want to make progress by an additional factor of 2 on top of the 1, then an additional factor of 3 over the 1+2, and then 4 above the 1+2+3 and so on. Think of this acceleration in terms of compounding interest. Built into the language of the prayer is a powerful concept of acceleration. I am reminded of the Latin adage in finem citius, namely, that the closer you get to the end or goal, the fast things move.
Other prayers of Advent Masses gave us language and imagery of rushing, eager hurrying toward the Lord who Himself is coming to us. In today’s prayer the verbs show this acceleration in both directions: accedo (“approach”) and proficio (“make progress towards”). Imagine two trains heading toward each other, each moving at 30 km/hour. They are closing the gap between them fare faster than if one were standing still. In our Post communionem the Lord and His people are rushing faster and faster toward each other. Unlike the aforementioned trains, whose speed does not vary, we want to go faster and faster with every passing moment. We want nothing to slow us down, and going by a path that is not straight slows us down. Our devotio urges us on in the right direction. Today the priest begs God the Father to make us able to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ ever more “worthily”, which means increasing in grace as we deepen our commitment to live as we ought.
For the sake of our salvation, made possible by the First Coming, we have a vested interest in growing each and every day in grace. We might even say we have a “compounded” interest. And Advent is about more than just the First Coming. It is also about the Second Coming of Christ as Judge. It is no less about how He comes in other ways, including in the person of your neighbor, in the Words of Scripture, and especially in every Holy Communion at Mass. This prayer is said directly after the Lord has come in Communion.
The First Coming, Christmas, and the Second Coming, are both fast approaching. Are you ready?
Since this Sunday coincides with the Vigil of Christmas, we can look rapidly at the three prayers for that Mass. For the Masses of Christmas, including the Vigil, we are instructed to genuflect at the words in the Creed “et incarnatus est”. How natural it is to kneel!
COLLECT (ad Missam in Vigilia):
Deus, qui nos redemptionis nostrae
annua exspectatione laetificas,
praesta, ut Unigenitum tuum,
quem laeti suscipimus Redemptorem,
venientem quoque Iudicem securi videre mereamur
Dominum nostrum, Iesum Christum.
This prayer was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary as well as the Gregorian Sacramentary. It was also in the 1962 Missale Romanum but the Novus Ordo version shifts the word order (1962MR: RedemptÃƒÂ³rem laeti suscÃƒÂpimus) in order to improve the flow of the Latin (NO: laeti suscÃƒÂpimus RedemptÃƒÂ³rem).
O God, who gladden us
by the yearly expectation of our redemption,
grant that we may merit to see Your Only Begotten,
our Lord, Christ Jesus,
whom we in joy are now receiving as the Redeemer
also see in safety when He is coming as the Judge.
SUPER OBLATA (ad Missam in Vigilia):
Tanto nos, Domine, quaesumus,
promptiore servitio haec praecurrere concede sollemnia,
quanto in his constare principium
nostrae redemptionis ostendis.
This “prayer over the gifts” has its origin in the Veronese Sacramentary as well as the Gelasian. We saw the tanto…quanto construction in today’s prayer (above). Alas tanto …quanto doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English. Furthermore, the elegant logical reversal of the concepts make it necessary to depart from strict adherence to the Latin structure to get anything like a smooth version. In liturgical language servitium means in the first place “liturgy”, the “service” given to God especially by the priests, and secondly observance of God’s commandments.
O Lord, we beseech You,
to the extent You are manifesting
that the beginning of our redemption firmly lies these solemn celebrations
by that same degree grant us to surpass them
with even readier liturgical service.
I passed this prayer around to a couple scholarly friends and here is what one of them came up with.
A SMOOTHER VERSION:
Grant, O Lord, we beseech You,
that our service in these sacred rites
may be the more wholehearted,
the more clearly you bring us to recognize in them
the very beginning of our redemption.
In the Collect the priest prayed about being ready for the Judge. In this prayer there is continuity between what the priest does at the altar and our participation in his manner of offering the sacrifice and, on the other hand, our moral lives.
POST COMMUNION (ad Missam in Vigilia):
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine,
Unigeniti Filii tui recensita nativitate vegetari,
cuius caelesti mysterio pascimur et potamur.
This was in the 1962 Missale Romanum for this evening’s Mass but it is to be found already in the Veronese, the Gelasian, and the Gregorian.
Grant to us, we entreat You, O Lord,
to be enlivened by the Nativity of Your Only-Begotten Son now remembered,
by whose heavenly sacramental mystery we are nourished and given to drink.
Advent’s final days have come. The first candles on our Advent wreaths are now very small. From 17 December to Christmas Eve the haunting “O Antiphons” are sung for Vespers. They express our longing for the Coming of the Lord: “O come! O come!.. to teach us… redeem us… deliver us… ransom us… free us… enlighten us… save us… save us….” While we enjoy the season of preparation, let us not forget also to do some penance so that our Christmas joy is that much sweeter. Please accept my prayerful best wishes to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas.