WDTPRS – 4th Sunday of Advent

We are now very close.

Today’s Collect is the Post-communion of the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March) in the 1962MR. Most of you who recite the Angelus know this prayer.  This time we also get the WDTPRS version since we want to know what the prayer really says. This is also the prayer said traditionally after the Alma Redemptoris Mater, sung following Compline during Advent.

COLLECT - LATIN TEXT (2002MR):

Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.

The last part, per passionem eius et crucem ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur has a wonderful flow to it with its alliteration and snappy cadence, followed as it is by the rhythmically gear changing conclusion, Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum…. Collects are often little masterpieces. They deserve great care in rendering them into a liturgically smooth, yet accurate version. In WDTPRS we are purposely being rather “slavish” in translating so you can see the raw text. Imagine how hard it is to work up good liturgical versions.

We never have to brush dust from our frequently exploited Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary. Therein we find that cognosco is, generally, “to become thoroughly acquainted with (by the senses or mentally), to learn by inquiring…”, but in the perfect tenses (cognovimus) it is “to know” in all periods of Latin. The verb infundo basically is “to pour in, upon, or into” but in the construction (which we see today – infundere alicui aliquid) “to pour out for, to administer to, present to, lay before”. Simply, it can mean, “communicate, impart”. The verb perduco “to lead or bring through”, is “guide a person or thing to a certain goal, to a certain period”. Interestingly, both infundo and perduco can have the overtone of to anoint, or smear with something.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord,
fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection
for he lives and reigns…

A TRADITIONAL VERSION:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, (through the same Christ our Lord).

Some people think that “Thee” and “Thou” are formal. Au contraire! These are familiar forms of pronouns for the second person singular used by a superior to an underling or between equals or friends. The “you” form (derived from “ye”) is the more formal! In traditional prayers (Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name…) we address God with a familiar, intimate form not so common today unless you are Amish or Quaker. You will raise an eyebrow or two at the bowling alley if you shift to “thou”: “Since it’s the tenth frame and thou hadst a strike, thrice canst thou bowl. Take up thy ball and bowl, already, ‘cause I gotta go home.” Well… that last phrase shows some ICEL influence, but I think you get my drift. In the Sacramentary (which should have been called the Roman Missal) now in use ICEL improperly provided “Alternative Prayers” having nothing to do with Latin edition which has no alternative opening prayers. If we must have alternative prayers, how about one version having a modern (but accurate) sound and an alternate with “Thee”s and “Thou”s? Here is my defense for this. Providing a more archaic, stylized prayer would cut across differences between, say, the English of Africa, Australia, and Asia. They say Americans and British are two peoples separated by a common language. But not when we read Shakespeare or we say the traditional Our Father! I can back this up from a Vatican document, too. The CDWDS document for the norms of translation, Liturgiam authenticam, says that the language of liturgy should be distinct from daily speech:

27. Even if expressions should be avoided which hinder comprehension because of their excessively unusual or awkward nature, the liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the Church at prayer, rather than of only particular congregations or individuals; thus, they should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression. If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities. Indeed, it will be seen that the observance of the principles set forth in this Instruction will contribute to the gradual development, in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognized as proper to liturgical language. Thus it may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be maintained in the liturgical context.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
We beg You, O Lord,
pour Your grace into our minds and hearts,
so that we who came to know the incarnation of Christ Your Son
in the moment the Angel was heralding the news,
may be guided through His Passion and Cross
to the glory of the resurrection.

Carefully note that Angelo nuntiante is an ablative absolute, hard to render in English without using a paraphrase. The participle nuntiante is in the present tense, or better, in a tense “contemporary” with the time of the verb cognovimus having a past tense. Thus, in the very moment the Angel was heralding the good news, we (collectively in the shepherds) knew about how God the Son Eternal took our whole human nature perfectly into an indestructible bond with His divinity. Good Advent shepherds, they rushed to the Coming of the Lord, to see the Word made flesh lying in the wooden manger. “Seeing is believing”, they say, but believing makes us want to see! “Crede ut intellegas! Believe that you may understand!” is a common theme for St. Augustine (e.g., s. 43,4.7; 118,1; Io. eu. tr. 29,6). Today many people automatically oppose faith against reason, authority versus intellect, as if they were mutually exclusive. In fact, faith and authority are indispensible for a deeper rational, intellectual apprehension of anything. In all the deeper questions of human existence, we need the illumination from grace, we must believe and receive. Faith is the foundation of our hope which leads to love and communion with God, as Augustine might say (trin. 8,6). The Angel heralded with authority. The shepherds believed. They rushed to Bethlehem. They saw the Infant. They understood the message. Then they worshipped the Word made flesh Who opened for them a new life.

How often do we hear about something or learn a new thing and then rush to know more, to have personal experience, to see? This is a paradigm for our life of faith. There is an interlocking cycle of hearing a proclamation (such as the Gospel at Mass, a homily, or a teaching of the Church) or observing the living testimony of a holy person’s life, and by this experience coming to know and then love the content of that proclamation or living testimony. The content is the Man God Jesus Christ. By knowing Him we come all the better to love Him and in loving Him we desire better to know Him. An act of faith, acceptance of the authority of the content of what we receive, opens unto previously unknown territory, a vast depth otherwise closed to us. For the non-believer, on the other hand, a miracle is simply something inexplicable having nothing of the supernatural. For a non-believer being nice or hard working can never ascend to true virtue or holiness. For him, the content of the Faith itself (both Jesus as well as what we learn and assent to) appears to be pleasant or interesting, but in the end remains naïve or foolish.

As we rush into Advent’s final days, that first candle we lit on our wreaths is now quite depleted. From 17 December to Christmas Eve solemn days envelop us and the haunting “O Antiphons” of vespers one after another cloak us in our longing: “O come! O come!.. to teach us… redeem us… deliver us… ransom us… free us… enlighten us… save us… save us….” We are deeply wrapped within our penitential holyday cheer because our celebration of the Lord in His First Coming is near to hand, but we do not forget that His Second Coming will bring our final judgment.

SUPER OBLATA - (2002MR):
Altari tuo, Domine, superposita munera
Spiritus ille sanctificet,
qui beatae Mariae viscera sua virtute replevit.

For the last three weeks our Super oblata (“prayer over the gifts”) was identical to the Secret of the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum, but not this prayer: the Novus Ordo version streamlines it by snipping out some lofty sounding words. It is an ancient prayer, however, found in various sacramentaries of yore, including the Bergomense.

Our prayer presents no real grammatical mysteries and the vocabulary is straightforward. Your trusty The Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary says that viscera means “the inner parts of the animal body, the internal organs, the inwards, viscera (the nobler parts, the heart, lungs, liver, as well as the ignobler, the stomach, entrails).” It also means even in classical usage “the fruit of the womb, offspring, child.” I stick with “womb” rather than “innards.” Repleo is “to fill again, refill; to fill up, replenish, complete” and thus also, “to fill up, make full, to fill.” For replevit, in this prayer, we should say “filled up” or “made full” the viscera, womb of Mary. If possible, however, try to hold in your minds also the dimension of “made complete.” We are not only referring to Mary’s miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit of the “Word made flesh”, but also the very last days of her carrying the Lord and bringing Him to light. Ille is a third person demonstrative giving emphasis to what it points at, in this case Spiritus. Ille can be tricky to convey in English and it can be rendered in different ways. We should avoid making the Holy Spirit sound impersonal, as “that Spirit” might do, even though ille is stronger than “the Spirit”.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O Lord, may the Spirit Himself,
who by His power made full the womb of blessed Mary,
sanctify the gifts placed upon Your altar.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord,
may the power of the Spirit,
which sanctified Mary the mother of your Son,
make holy the gifts we place upon this altar.

ICEL sterilizes the Latin prayer. The Latin is earthier, more “real” in a sense. ICEL has “sanctified Mary” rather than Latin “filled the womb” of “blessed Mary.” Furthermore, I think we (and God) know already that Mary is the Mother of God’s Son.

This Sunday we hear our prayer “over the gifts” just a few short days before Christmas. Christ came into the light of the world “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) and fulfills the many prophecies foretelling His Coming. Mary, in a sacramental/liturgical view of the season, is great with child, truly repleta…filled up… made complete. In our Sunday Mass, the priest has by now placed our gifts of bread and wine on the altar. Before he says today’s prayer, the rubrics indicate (in Latin) that the priest should turn around away from the altar, face the congregation, and say (in Latin), “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be made acceptable in the sight of God, the Almighty Father.” The way the priest offers the Sacrifice and how lay people offer their sacrifices are different. However, all are called to active participation.

True “active participation” is first and foremost interiorly active participation, not the shallower understanding of the phrase as only exterior or physically active participation (i.e., carrying things, singing, clapping, etc.). Interior active participation leads to outward, physical expression, but our first understanding of active participation is interiorly active receptivity. There is nothing “passive” about it! During any liturgy a person might sing, walk about or carry stuff, but those actions are meaningless without interior activity. You can do all sorts of things with your mind a thousand miles away. Have you ever caught yourself humming or singing (maybe even in church) and suddenly realized all the while you were thinking about groceries or feeding the dog? To the onlooker you got all the words and notes right, but interiorly you weren’t there at all.

Human beings are distinguished from brute beasts by higher intellect and a free will. We make a distinction between “human actions” and simple “acts of humans”. “Acts of humans”, such as digestion, breathing, and some other automatic or habitual things, we do without much thought or will. Critters act mostly by instinct, habit or brain stem impulse. “Human actions”, by knowledge and choice, distinguish us from critters. The more we engage our intellect and will in doing something, the more that action is characterized as a human act rather than just the neutral act of a human, hardly distinguished from what critters do.

At Holy Mass we must participate actively as humans can, knowing, willing and loving. We do this by engaging the mind and will to be receptive, actively, especially through listening. It is more challenging to listen with active receptivity to the Gospel or good sacred music or the prayers, with intense attention, than it is to follow along in the missalette or pronounce them aloud. After Mass ask people what the Gospel or prayers were about. How many remember? It would help if the texts you had to listen to and pronounce were beautiful and accurate. Still, responses should be made with confidence and desire. The “silent spectator” at Mass brought about the liberal abuse of the concept of active participation and led to maligning participants of the older “Tridentine” Mass as being “passive”, regardless of their intensity of interior participation.

We are called to both interior and exterior active participation. The congregation has specific responses to make, and they should be made with intense focus rather than unengaged mumbling. You need not shout, but simply staring at the priest like a deer in the headlights or letting your mind and eyes wander away is not acceptable. Practice giving full attention and really participating.

Here is a thought for your participation at Mass. During most of the Mass you are called upon to participate actively by receptivity: you receive the Gospel rather than reading it aloud; you receive forgiveness for venial sins in the penitential rite; you receive (not take) Holy Communion. When today’s prayer “over the gifts” or Super oblata is spoken by the priest, you participate actively by giving, by uniting your own sacrifices to those of the priest at the altar who is alter Christus. The priest (Christ the Head) invites and you (Christ the Body) respond. Pour forth your sacrifices. Put them on the paten and into the chalice, so that you, like our model Mary, can be “refilled, made complete” by what they are transformed into, the Body and Blood of the living and true God, the Christ Child who is Coming.

POST COMMUNION (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):
Lord,
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.

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
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?

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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2 Responses to WDTPRS – 4th Sunday of Advent

  1. M Kr says:

    The first prayer, “Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine…” is also the final prayer at Compline during the advent season in the Little Office of Our Lady. It comes after the Alma Redemptoris Mater.

  2. Peter David Bolan says:

    Dear Father,

    Merry Christmas!

    Thank you for this post. You have raised my understanding of these texts to a new level. I am grateful. You are a wonderful priest.

    God Bless You,

    Peter David Bolan