We continue our march through the Advent prayers for Holy Mass in the 2002 Missale Romanum. In the columns in The Wanderer, in print, this year I am looking at the 1962 prayers.
Lest any “traditional” Catholics think today’s Collect is less valuable because it isn’t old enough, or wasn’t in the 1570 Missale Romanum, it is from the Gelasian Sacramentary, compiled around 750 in Paris from material in use much earlier.
COLLECT - LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
in tui occursum Filii festinantes
nulla opera terreni actus impediant,
sed sapientiae caelestis eruditio
nos faciat eius esse consortes.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…
What does the Latin prayer really say? We now consult that sure stock of Latin lemmas the Lewis & Short Dictionary for actus which means, “an act or action” but also, “the moving or driving of an object, impulse.” Impedio (built from the word pes, pedis, “foot”) is “to snare or tangle the feet”. Sapientia means “wisdom”. In Christian contexts, especially of the Early Church, Wisdom is simply loaded with different overtones from theology and philosophy (philosophia, “love of wisdom”). The Bible has a group of writings called “Wisdom literature” which were, according to the Fathers of the Church, filled with foreshadowings of Christ who is identified with Wisdom. The phrase faciat eius esse consortes calls to mind both the Collect prayer in Mass for Christmas Day and also the priest’s prayer when preparing the chalice at the offertory. A consors is someone with (con) whom you share your lot (sors). This is at the heart of today’s Collect prayer. Remember: Deus, “God”, is declined irregularly and in solemn discourse the nominative is used as the vocative form (e.g. cf. Livy 1, 24, 7). Do not, like ICEL did, fall into the trap of thinking that Deus is the subject of the verbs. The subjects are plural opera and singular eruditio.
Almighty and merciful God,
let no works of worldly impulse impede
those hurrying to the meeting of Your Son,
but rather let the learning of heavenly wisdom
make us to be His partakers.
A PROPOSED VERSION BEING KICKED AROUND:
Almighty and merciful God,
let no earthly endeavor hinder those
who hasten to meet your Son,
but let instruction in heavenly wisdom
make us his companions.
Last week we were rushing to meet the Lord who is coming and meriting our reward through good works, meritorious for heaven because they are made so in Christ.
In Advent, as the Baptist warns us, we are to make smooth the path for the coming of the Lord. This week we are again rushing, but, perhaps we are wiser this week after the first rush of excitement: now are now also wary of obstacles on that path which could impede us, snare our feet. These would be our merely human, simply worldly, works.
These “works of worldly impulse” are not meritorious since they are not performed in Christ. There is a sharp contrast between heavenly Wisdom which liberates and worldly “wisdom” which entangles. The Apostle St. Paul contrasts the wisdom of this world with the Wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 3:19; 2 Cor 3:19). In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This is not just a Pauline concept. Compare our Collect today also with 2 Peter 1:3-4 (RSV): “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge (cognitio: cf. eruditio) of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (efficiamini divinae consortes).”
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) beat up some Donatist heretics and dismantled their argument that all clerics ordained by a sinful bishop would be automatically stained in the same guilt. He used imagery like that of our prayer today (Ad Donatistas post collationem in CSEL 53:19.25, p. 123 my translation): “The sludge (lutum) their feet are stuck in is so thick and dense that, trying in vain to tear themselves out of it, they get their hands and head stuck in it too, and lingering in that sticky mess they get more tightly enveloped.” The Donatist argument was based in worldly, not heavenly, wisdom.
Sticky lutum is a metaphor of worldly life. Neglecting God, who speaks in the Church and our conscience, we weak sinners can convince ourselves of anything, over time: down becomes up, back is made front, black turns into white, and wrong is really right. We justify what we know, or knew, to be sinful. Once this becomes a habit, it is a vice in more than one sense of that word. Occasionally our consciences will struggle against the grip of self-deception, but quite often the proverbial “Struggle”, Novocain for the conscience, supplies permission: “I really ‘struggled’ with this, … before I did it!” If we go off the true path into the murky twisted woods, thoroughly mired in sticky error we will not escape the Enemy, the roaring lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8). Nor will we elude Christ the Judge, who will come through dark woods by straight paths. Advent reminds us to prepare for the coming of both the Enemy lion and the Lion of Judah who will open the seals and read forth the Book of Life (Rev 5:5).
SUPER OBLATA - (2002MR):
Placare, Domine, quaesumus,
nostrae precibus humilitatis et hostiis,
et, ubi nulla suppetunt suffragia meritorum
tuae nobis indulgentiae succurre praesidiis.
This was the Secret for this same Sunday in 1962 editio typica of the last Missale Romanum before the Second Vatican Council. If the ancient and elegant sound of this prayer made you think that it was in Gelasian Sacramentary you were right on target.
For you Latin students, placare looks like an infinitive but it is actually the passive imperative of placo, “to reconcile” and also “to soothe, assuage, appease”. Think of English “placate.” Hostia, in your dog-eared copy of the Lewis & Short Dictionary, is “a victim, a sacrifice.” The complicated suppeto means essentially, “to be at hand or in store, to be present” and then by extension, “to be equal to or sufficient for; to suffice, to agree with, correspond to any thing.” A suffragium is “a voting tablet” and therefore “a vote, voice, suffrage” (as in “suffragettes”, who wanted voting rights for women) and also “a favorable decision, assent, approbation, applause.” In ecclesiastical lingo a “suffrage” is a recommendation or intercessory prayer as, for example, when pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. The plural suffragia means something like “points in our favor.” In other words, we have no good marks of our own merits (nulla meritorum suffragia) on our side of the column by which we can expect anything favorable from God. Succurro means “to run or hasten to the aid or assistance of one; to help, aid, assist, succor”. It can also be “to be useful for, good against”. Its root curro, “to run”, lends succurro an element of haste.
Our Super oblata today simply screams for the “thees” and “thous” of older liturgical language.
Be Thou appeased, O Lord, we beseech Thee,
by the prayers of our humility and by our sacrificial offerings,
and, where no favorable points of merits suffice for us,
succor us by the helps of Thy indulgence.
This Sunday’s “prayer over the gifts” must be kept in context. This is a season of preparation for the Lord’s Coming. The Baptist warns us from the wilderness that we ought to “make straight His path” for someday we will face Him.
If ahead of time we have not taken the proper steps, He will straighten us out Himself.
This is a fearful thing to ponder. Indeed, were it not for the First Coming of the Lord and the Sacrifice He made for us, our impending judgment would reduce the thoughtful soul to abject terror. During the offertory of Mass the priest, on our behalf, raises to God the elements to be consecrated together with all our gifts of praise and prayers of need. We seek to please and appease God, whom we distance from us by our sins.
A note about my choice this week to use “thee” forms. “Thee” forms of address were actually the familiar forms, while “you” was formal. This distinction of formal and informal died out in English, but here in Europe we pay attention to formal “Lei” in Italian and the familiar “tu”, German “Sie” and “du”, French “Vous” and “tu”. The proper or improper use of these forms can establish, support or damage a social situation. Today, unless you are a Quaker, “thee”, “thy” and “thine” sound formal or courtly probably because they are archaic. Precisely for this reason, I think, “thee” forms work well for liturgical prayer. Why?
Today’s egalitarianism, laxity and lack of respect for other people’s dignity together with a dominant “me-my-mine” mentality have leached formality both from our language and also our treatment of each other. Latin prayers of Mass retain a courteous style lost on most English speakers today. This is a real loss, too! When we lose language we lose concepts. The philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein (+1951) said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” and “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” We have lost so very much in the present ICEL translations. Are the powers-that-be who are preparing the new translations going to give us something substandard again? Versions leached of the original content?
Moreover, the CDWDS document Liturgiam authenticam states that we need accurate translations but also a sacral style for our liturgical prayers.
Let us recover the spirituality communicated by the style of the prayers! Latin prayers of the Mass give us a model of “formal intimacy” with God, a “daring familiarity”, opposed to the raw familiarity conveyed in the present ICEL translations and street speech. Of course, it is unrealistic to think that the American and other Anglophone bishops are going to adopt “thee” and “thou”, which is sad. As a matter of fact, I picture a few of them now chuckling over this quaint suggestion with knowing wags of their purple-beanied heads. Fine! So far, Reverend sirs, and with due respect, your translation balance sheet isn’t exactly bleeding lots of black ink, is it? Check out our most beloved Catholic prayers which we learned at mother’s knee: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name…”; “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”; “…and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host…”; “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts…”; “…never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession…”. What do people remember? What prayers do they love? What style sounds like “church” and like “prayer”? In lieu of old fashioned English, I suppose we could have more Novus Ordo Masses in Latin. Imagine… Latin Masses for Catholics of the Latin Church! People could bring whichever “hand missal” with whichever translation they preferred, one with daringly familiar older language or else …
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
we are nothing without you.
As you sustain us with your mercy,
receive our prayers and offerings.
Hmmm … Maybe not so much the ICEL version.
Is something missing? A constant feature of Latin “prayers over the gifts” is the desire to appease God. People today often assume God is automatically pleased with them all the time. Many of us assume our relationship with God is just fine or that we are robotically forgiven the peccadilloes we “struggled with” without further consequences. Being sorry for a sin, even confessing it and receiving sacramental absolution, isn’t all there is to being forgiven. We ask for and obtain God’s mercy but we also must pay attention to justice. We must make restitution. We must do penance. If we don’t do penance in this life we will do it in Purgatory – if we die in God’s friendship. When we consider our past sins we truly have a lot of work to do. Furthermore, nothing we do on our own merits the great gift of redemption: we are saved by the merits of Christ who makes our good works His own.
Salvation is a gift freely given by God through the merits of Christ’s Sacrifice, but salvation is not a free gift in the sense that we don’t have to do anything to obtain it. We must cooperate. Christ died “for all”. “Many” will be saved, thanks be to God. We have through Christ the free opportunity of salvation. Good works cannot merit salvation in themselves, but we are required to perform good works to merit salvation.
In today’s translation I used the phrase “favorable points of merits” but never imagine God as a celestial accountant “up there” keeping books on what we do or haven’t done. Salvation is not based on a ledger’s bottom line. How God disposes all things is mysterious, though He has revealed something of His plan through the Catholic Church. Until our final judgment God alone knows what our good works merit and how they balance against our sins. In fact, the Church hazards to offer indications of only “partial” or “plenary” indulgences for works we perform. The only thing we can be sure of is that we must not become lax or presumptuous. If we want salvation, God must be appeased by our prayers, sacrifices and works, which all must be joined to Christ’s Sacrifice.
At Holy Mass we join all we do and are to the Sacrifice being renewed in God’s sight by the priest. The priest raises the paten with host and then the chalice with water tinged wine. He prays: “In a spirit of humility and with a contrite heart may we be accepted by Thee, O Lord; and may this sacrifice today be of such a kind in Thy sight as to please Thee.” Place yourselves and your needs in that chalice, on that paten, to be transformed.
We need to hear what the prayers really say. This is becoming more and more urgent. Holy Church must form and sanctify us so that we, in our turn, can shape the world around us. In order for the Church to have the impact Christ intended on all corners of the world, the liturgical translations must reflect faithfully and beautifully what the original texts really say.
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.