WDTPRS: 5th Sunday after Easter (1962MR)

Here is part of my article for The Wanderer in which I look at a prayer in the Mass for the coming Sunday:

In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary today’s prayer was the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the close of the Easter Octave. The Gelasian or Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae (Book of Sacraments of the Church of Rome) was assembled from older material in Paris around 750. 
It has elements of both the Roman and Gallican (French) liturgies of the Merovingian period (5th – 8th cc.).   This Collect survived the cutters and snippers who pasted the Novus Ordo together on their desks.  You hear it now on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time where the 2002MR is being used.

COLLECT – (1962MR):
Deus, a quo bona cuncta procedunt, largire supplicibus tuis:
ut cogitemus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt;
et, te gubernante, eadem faciamus.

The Novus Ordo version slightly rearranges the word order, saying “tuis largire supplicibus”, which I actually prefer since it flows better, but the more ancient version in the Gelasian omits the “tuis” altogether.

The Lewis & Short Dictionary, unsullied by coffee cup rings, says procedo means “to go forth or before, to go forwards, advance, proceed” and more importantly “to go or come forth or out, to advance, issue” and even “to issue from the mouth, to be uttered”. Largire looks like an infinitive but is really an imperative form of the deponent largior, “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart… to confer, bestow, grant, yield”. The neuter substantive rectum, i (from rego), is “that which is right, good, virtuous; uprightness, rectitude, virtue”. Rego involves “to keep straight or from going wrong, to lead straight; to guide, conduct, direct”. The core concepts are “straight” and “upwards”. In its adjectival form, rectus, a, um, there is a moral content, “right, correct, proper, appropriate, befitting” again having reference to that which is “above”. Cogito is more than simply “to think”. As in Descartes’ often quoted “Cogito ergo sum… I think, therefore I am”, it is really, “to pursue something in the mind” and “to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon”. The English derivative is “cogitate”.

A PRETTY LITERAL TRANSLATION:
O God, from whom all good things issue forth, bountifully grant to Your supplicants,
that, as You are inspiring, we may think things which are right,
and, as You are guiding, we may accomplish the same.

In today’s classically sculpted Collect, without diminishing other possibilities, there is a key concept extremely important for theological reflection by the ancient Church through the medieval period. A theological key helps us to open up what the Church is really saying to God, on our behalf, locked up in words.

Ancient theologians, both pagan and Christian struggled alike for answers to the same questions. If all things come from God, did God create evil? If all things come from God, then are all things, in fact, also God? If in the cosmos there are only God and everything else which is not-God, and if God is the only Good, then are all created not-God things evil? Is matter evil by nature? Are we evil, destined to doom or nothingness?  Pagans and Christians, using the same starting points and categories of thought, came up with differing solutions.

Rejecting the idea of both a good god principle and an evil god principle, pagan theologians of the Platonic stream of thought posited a kind of creation through an endless series of intermediaries to avoid the conclusion that God, the highest good, created evil. For them, the perfectly transcendent One overflowed with being through descending triads of intermediaries down to the corrupt material world from which we must be freed. This solved nothing, of course, because no matter how many hierarchies of intermediaries you propose, those hierarchies always must be further divided into more hierarchies. Christian theologians, who were also Platonists, using the same categories of thought found another solution: creatio ex nihilo… immediate (that is “unmediated”) creation of the universe from nothing. Evil was explained as a deprivation of being, essentially a “nothingness”, not created by God. All things which have being come forth from God, are good, and will go back to God.  This is the key for unlocking our prayer.

Let us now look at the lame-duck version people have had to hear in church for over thirty years on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary, brought to you by…

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of wisdom and love,
source of all good,
send your Spirit to teach us your truth
and guide our actions
in your way of peace.

BLECH! Folks, translation is hard but it ain’t that hard.

In fairness, at least this week ICEL didn’t make us ask God for “help”, like good little Pelagians, or take the time to tell God who He is (“O God – in case you didn’t know – you are good.”) or chop the sentence into a grocery list of things we want done.

It is hard to get the Latin structure, with its propensity for complex subordination, into smooth English, but ICEL rarely tried.  The lame-duck versions shatter the unity of thought in prayers by creating separate sentences. The translation norms in Liturgiam authenticam require that the structure of the Latin be respected.

The Latin vocabulary is challenging, as you WDTPRSers have seen. Back in the bad old days ICEL chose simplistic words or left concepts out completely when they were too challenging, concepts like grace and humility and majesty and judgment and sin.  What will the new ICEL, Vox Clara, and the Holy See give us?  From what I have seen so far, I think people will be pleased.

Back to happier things.  When our Collect was probably composed, Western theologians (still really Platonists in many respects) were mightily struggling to solve thorny problems about, for example, predestination. This required them to gaze deeply at man’s nature and the problem of evil. In this titanic theological battle we find on all sides the ancient Platonic view of creation. All creation proceeds (procedo) forth from God in indeterminate form. In a reflection of the eternal procession of uncreated divine Persons of the Trinity, the rational component of creation (man) turned around when proceeding forth in order to regard his Source and, in that turning, that conversio, took determinate form and began to return to God. This going forth and returning, this descent and rising (in theology exitus and reditus or Greek exodos and proodos) is everywhere present in ancient and medieval thought… and in liturgical prayer today when the ancient form was too messed up by the redactors.

For Christians of the Neoplatonic Augustinian tradition, man, the pinnacle of creation, “drags” as it were all of created nature with him in a contemplative “conversion” back to God. Man’s rational nature was not destroyed by sin in the Fall. However, were it not for the Incarnate Logos, the Word made flesh, the union of uncreated with created, the descent of creation would have simply continued “exiting” away from God for eternity.

If not for the Incarnation man and all creation with him would never turn back, doomed to become ever more indeterminate. Instead, rational man, the image of the rational Word, and all creation with him can turn back to God. The Son entered our created realm and made possible man’s conversio after the Fall. As John Scotus Eriugena (+877) put it, man is “nature’s priest”. Through rational acts man plays a part in God’s saving plan for creation.

This pattern of exitus and reditus is perfectly exemplified in the writings of theologians in a line from pagan Neoplatonic writers like Plotinus (+270), to Christian Platonists like St. Augustine (+430), Boethius (+525), Eriugena, St. Bonaventure (+1274) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). This is the theology behind many ancient prayers. Our Collect echoes the Neoplationic theology of late antiquity and early Middle Ages together with the Scriptural James 1:17, a text used frequently by these same Merovingian and Carolingian thinkers.

We need what our prayers really say. They are the bones of our daily lives. Our Mass should give us thick red steak and cabernet, not pureed carrots for baby teeth. I want meat, not goop. I want you to thrive through our Mass not just survive. Mass is succulent, not ordinary. The content of our prayers will reach through to us when we have accurate translations of the Latin. Then with the help of preachers we can crack them open with adult teeth, chew their marrow.

This is one of the reasons why Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum is so very important.  In the assembling of the Novus Ordo, with the revision of its prayers, we lost concepts important to our Catholic identity.  That is not the case with this week’s prayer, happily.  Moreover, the revised Novus Ordo prayers often emphasize some positive elements not so present in the older prayers.  However, what we lost, perhaps to be characterized as “negative” concepts, are vital to who we are as Catholics.  Summorum Pontificum will help us reclaim as a praying Church much of what has been lost in our worship and therefore provide nourishment for a revitalized Catholic identity.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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9 Responses to WDTPRS: 5th Sunday after Easter (1962MR)

  1. Brian Kiernan says:

    “In a reflection of the eternal procession of uncreated divine Persons of the Trinity, the rational component of creation (man) turned around when proceeding forth in order to regard his Source and, in that turning, that conversio, took determinate form and began to return to God. This going forth and returning, this descent and rising (in theology exitus and reditus or Greek exodos and proodos) is everywhere present in ancient and medieval thought… and in liturgical prayer today”

    Such profound reflections on this Collect!

    “This Collect survived the cutters and snippers who pasted the Novus Ordo together on their desks.”

    Such an amusing, telling image . . . a line to remember!

    Well done.

  2. Ioannes says:

    Would have been cool to get the nautical imagery in somehow. Translating inspirare as “to blow upon” and gubernare as “to pilot” we are asking God to give us the wind that drives us to correct thought and to be our pilot guiding our ship of action. Am stricken also that the ICEL wants God to teach us truth but to help us walk in the way of his peace. “Eadem” clearly shows that we should also act according to truth (presumably even if truth does not lead to peaceful waters).

    New drinking game: drink up every time ICEL throws in the word “peace” when it isn’t in the Latin! Good for my soul (and liver) that there’s only one beer in the fridge.

    P.S. You do know that L&S is available on-line, right?
    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059

  3. Malta says:

    “This Collect survived the cutters and snippers who pasted the Novus Ordo together on their desks.”

    I guess the six Protestant “observers” didn’t object to it.

  4. Malta: No, I don’t think that is the issue. There were plenty of Catholic theologians, of a certain stamp, doing these redactions. I think we would need to dig up some names of Protestants who were asked to review euchological formulas.

  5. Ioannes: Good catch about the nautical image. I wrote about that in another place, if I recall.

  6. Habemus Papam says:

    Fr, have we still got four years to wait for the new ICEL/Vox Clara translation. I for one am getting greyer, stouter, smaller with at least one foot pointing in the direction of the local graveyard waiting for this. Thank God for the 1962 Missal.

  7. Petrus says:

    O God, from whom all good things do come: Grant to us thy humble servants; that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by Thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through….

    The BCP version.

  8. “O God, from whom all good doth
    come: Grant that by thy inspiration
    we may think those things that
    are right, and by thy merciful guiding
    may perform the same; through
    Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth
    and reigneth with thee and the Holy
    Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
    Amen.”

    From the Book of Divine Worship, used by parishes of the Pastoral Provision, also appointed for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

  9. PNP, OP says:

    What’s worse is the concluding prayer for today’s Mass which implores God to allow us “to feel the effect of the Eucharist” in our lives…or something equally horrid. Forgive me, but I changed “to feel” to “to know” and just mumbled through the rest of it. Lord, save us from trendy translators! Fr. Philip, OP