What Does the Prayer Really Say? Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Sunday in the Octave of Christmas
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
Today is simultaneously the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, Holy Family, and, as St. Sylvester’s Day (New Year’s Eve), and the Vigil of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. During a liturgical octave time is “suspended”. A lifetime is insufficient, and eternity will not suffice to contemplate the mystery the Nativity, but at least we have eight days and not merely one to focus our minds and hearts upon it. Christ was born into this word to save us from our sins and to reveal us more fully to ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22). By His Incarnation and Nativity, the Second Person who was the perfect invisible image of the Father became the perfect visible image. In Christ we who are made in God’s image see all that we are, ought to be and can be. Christ is a member of a community of Persons. In Him, we are all made brothers and sisters under our heavenly Father. In Christ we have our perfect model, not only as individuals but also as groups of people with a common calling to holiness. The Incarnation was bestowed in cooperation with Mary’s “Fiat”. Mary is the Mother of a whole Person, not just of a indeterminate human nature. Thus she is the Mother of God since she is Mother of the divine Person Jesus Christ. During this Octave, we consider Christ with Mary and His earthly Father Joseph in the heart of a family which is a “domestic church”. The family shapes us and is the building block of all common bonds between men and women, made in His image and likeness, made to live as He lives, in a community of holy persons.
The “prayer after Communion” for Sunday morning’s Feast of the Holy Family founded on the Secret for Holy Family in the 1962MR.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Quos caelestibus reficis sacramentis,
fac, clementissime Pater,
sanctae Familiae exempla iugiter imitari,
ut, post aerumnas saeculi,
eius consortium consequamur aeternum.
The noun aerumna comes from aerumnula denoting a frame for carrying burdens upon the back. Hence it indicates “need, want, trouble, toil, hardship, distress, tribulation, calamity” in a material sense, though no doubt these things produce conditions of the soul. Consortium (cvm “with” + sors “any thing used to determine chances”) means a “community of goods” and by extension “fellowship, participation, society.” A consortium is a situation in which you have “cast your lot” with a group and with whom you are sharing a common outcome or fate. Consequor (cvm + sequor “to follow”) signifies “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing.” By extension it is also “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey”. Con+sequently… consequor means “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal.” Imitor obviously means “to imitate” in behavior, but also in a material copying of something. Exemplum is first and foremost “imitation, image, portrait; transcript, copy” and then it is in legal terms a case or cause to be imitated or followed in our behavior, a “precedent”.
The vocabulary underscores a strong theme of “imitation”: exemplum… imitor… consequor. Now, I apologize for what follows but…
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
we want to live as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
in peace with you and one another.
May this communion strengthen us
to face the troubles of life.
Most merciful Father,
cause those whom You restore by the heavenly sacraments
to imitate the model of the Holy Family without ceasing,
so that, after the hardships of this world,
we may attain its eternal fellowship.
We could say “their” rather than “its” for the Holy Family, but I am sticking to the singular for the family “unit”.
We are all children of the fallen first family of Adam and Eve. We are children of God the Father in the Church. On the one hand, the prayer reminds us of our past (and present) fallen state with all the its difficulties (aerumna). On the other hand, it point to the heavenly family, raised up and sanctified. In the Church we are raised up but are not quite yet raised since heaven still awaits us. We are still both raised and fallen.
The prayer’s imitation vocabulary underscores that we are not without help in his life. We are part of a family, earthly and heavenly, already realized but not yet fulfilled. Christ chose to participate in a family when He began to save us and teach us who we are. Great work goes into the noble vocation of being a member of a family. We must imitate and practice the exempla offered us in the Holy Family, the lives of saints, the good efforts of people around us. By imitation and practice we develop virtues. We build ourselves, with God’s help, into holy individuals and families. There are hardships and the burdens of others to be carried (aerumna) in the workshop of the family where holy people are shaped and sculpted according to models (exempla) offered by God. Those who have families know this. So do those who do not have families. Often they know this with the bitterness of loneliness. Perhaps you could extend your family bond around someone you know who has no one else. Remember: the wood of the Christmas Crib predicts the wood of Calvary’s Cross. Family is bound together with the Sacrifice as will as with the joyful Nativity. We Christians “cast our lots” with each other (consortium), share each others burdens (aerumna). While the guards cast lots upon Jesus’ clothing and He was alone as no man has ever been, He guided His Mother, the widow about to loose her only child, and John, about to be orphaned by His death, together into a new family, a family of charity, a family of Blood though not of blood: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:27 RSV). This is a Christian imperative. It is Christ’s own exemplum to be imitated.
Since Sunday is New Year’s Eve you might observe the beautiful Roman tradition of singing or reciting the Te Deum, a fitting way to recognize that all good things come from God. Moreover, since New Year’s Day is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, let’s have peek at the prayers for this great feast. Alas, I must omit the ICEL versions for the sake of space. I know you’ll miss them. Take The Wanderer to church and compare them before Mass begins.
(TO BE CONTINUED)….