What Does the Prayer Really Say? 1 January – The Octave of Christmas (1962 Missale Romanum)
During the Octave of the Nativity Holy Church helps us to rest in the mystery of the Lord’s Birth, His future Sacrifice, and the Divine Motherhood of Mary. Our Church is the greatest expert in humanity there has ever been. Octaves reflect her care that we have time to benefit more deeply from our encounter with mystery.
Historically this day commemorates the moment when the Lord, without obligation, submitted to the Law of the Old Covenant and underwent the rite of circumcision, by which males became members of the People of God. This was the symbolic separation of the newly born member of God’s people from the old man and our sinful impulses. He was formally given His sacred Name. Until 1960 and Bl. Pope John XXIII’s reform, this was known as the Feast of the Circumcision, and the day retains the powerful echo of the first moment the Lord shed Blood during His earthly life. But today is also an ancient Marian feast. Mary is the Mother of the divine Person, Jesus, not just the mother of His human nature. Mary is the Mother of God. The Circumcision also focuses us on the role of Mary in the Lord’s Sacrifice on Calvary. At His Presentation in the temple and Circumcision, Mary with solemn joy and knowledge of future sorrow, formally offered the Lord to the Father.
I found a useful comment on the blog of my friend Fr. Ray Blake, the distinguished pastor of St. Mary Magdalene in Brighton, England. Let’s have a bit of it on this beautiful feast day, as a lens for our feast.
Pelagianism: I hate it, but it is very British. It is really a variant of Arianism which says God did not truly become Man, because Jesus was not truly God. Pelagianism denies the action of Grace in the world; man is saved by his own goodness and efforts, rather than by God. It is what we do, rather than what God does that matters, therefore the value of the sacraments is the psychological effect they have in our lives, rather than the direct intervention of God. It denies the power of Grace, of the role of the Blessed Virgin, of miracles, of the power of prayer: Pelagians above all would deny the role of the Holy Spirit, of His act of sanctification. Wherever there is attempt to place man at the heart of the faith, there we should expect to find Pelagianism. Pelagianism expects Man to be strong rather God’s grace to be powerful. Catholicism, or as we could call it, mainstream Christianity, acknowledges mankind is weak and wholly dependent on those things God gives him.
Signs of the Pelagian: The Church is a human construct and there is nothing or little of Grace about it. The Liturgy and prayer is about how it makes us feel. Feelings rather than Grace are important. Revelation is not a given, something given for today and all time, but something of that past that depends on our interpretation. Ultimately, Pelagianism says God is irrelevant to society and to the individual. Pelagians tend to have a poor view of mankind, what you see is what you get, because there is no room for Grace. It is also elitist, insofar as it values a human being by his goodness, his talents, his skills, his willpower.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is the destroyer of Pelagianism. Her whole being was about saying yes to Grace. Being the Mather of God she became the source of Grace. Her life shows the effects and power of Grace.
I will add to Fr. Blake’s observations two other marks of the Pelagian: their penchant for defending the lame-duck ICEL translations and a resistance to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam.
We turn now to the orations for today’s Holy Mass, beginning with our …
Deus, qui salutis aeternae, beatae Mariae virginitate fecunda,
humano generi praemia praestitisti:
tribue, quaesumus; ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus,
per quam meruimus auctorem vitae suscipere.
This prayer survived in the Novus Ordo as the Collect for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. It is ancient, of course. It was in the pre-Conciliar Missal and, slightly different, in the Gelasian Sacramentary for the Assumption of Mary on 15 August (xviii Kalendas Septembris). This Collect is used on other occasions as well. For example, in the older form of the Divine Office, the Breviarium Romanum, it is prayed after singing the Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater following Compline from the 1st Vespers of Christmas until the Vespers of the Purification.
Now, please forgive me, I must include the laughably deficient lame-duck version from…
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God our Father,
may we always profit by the prayers
of the Virgin Mother Mary,
for you bring us life and salvation
through Jesus Christ her Son…
O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed upon the human race the rewards of eternal salvation,
grant, we beg, that we may perceive her interceding for us,
through whom we merited to receive Your Son, the author of life.
As I said before, the Circumcision resounds deeply throughout this Mass. The Roman Station for today is the ancient basilica dedicated to Mary, S. Maria in Trastevere. However, our knowledge of history reminds us that the Station used to be in even more ancient times the basilica S. Maria ad martyres, the other name of the Pantheon in the heart of Rome. The “rewards of eternal salvation” were won only through the shedding of the Son of Mary’s Blood.
The wood of the crib, the knife of the Circumcision foretell the Cross, the nails and the lance.
In the paradoxical phrase “fruitful virginity” we approach the heart of our Christian faith. God draws everything from nothingness. He brought water from the rock in the desert, children to barren crones, great victories to tiny armies, a shepherd boy to a throne, healing to wounds. He brings life from physical and spiritual death. Fecunda virginitas encapsulates other elements of the prayer: “author of life”… “rewards of eternal salvation”.
We move to the silent Secret.
The wine about to be changed into the Precious Blood, gleams in the chalice on the altar, the unbroken Host waits upon the white linen. This Secret was also prayed on Septuagesima Sunday. You will find this oration also in your own trusty copies of the 9th century Liber Sacramentorum Augustodunensis and the 8th century Engolismensis. I couldn’t find it in the post-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum.
Muneribus nostris, quaesumus, Domine,
et caelestibus nos munda mysteriis,
et clementer exaudi.
The first part of the prayer is an ablative absolute. In the second part there is a standard et…et construction. The prayer is terse, elegant.
Mundo means “to make clean”, especially from sin, in ecclesiastical Latin texts.
Our gifts and prayers having been received,
we beseech You, O Lord:
both cleanse us by these heavenly mysteries,
and mercifully hark to us.
In the Collect Mary, the fruitful virgin, focuses us on our dependence on God, origin and goal of all being. Now we show humble confidence that God is attending to our actions. We focus on the means by which we will be cleansed from the filth of our sins, namely, the Sacrifice of Jesus, Incarnate Word, about to be renewed upon the altar. The grace is all His. The filth is all ours.
The Postcommunion is an ancient prayer, found in various old versions of the Gelasian, including the Engolismensis and Gellonensis for the feast of St. Stephen, Pope and Martyr, during August, with changes of course, as well as during the 4th week after Pentecost.
Haec nos communio, Domine, purget a crimine:
et, intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genetrice Maria,
caelestis remedii faciat esse consortes.
In the Lewis & Short Dictionary we find that crimen is “a judicial decision, verdict, judgment; hence, like the Greek krima, of the subject of such a decision, and with particular reference either to the accuser or to the accused”. This is related to the Latin verb cerno, “to separate, distinguish by the senses; to perceive”, etc. Think of the word “discrimination”, the ability to discern and decide between things. In the Latin liturgical dictionary I call Blaise/Dumas we find that crimen is a “crime” or “sin” especially original sin. When we start deciding things apart from God’s plan and His image written into our beings, we get mired in the filth of our sins.
A TRANSLATION (The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual – Baronius Press)
May this Communion, O Lord, cleanse us from guilt:
and through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of God, make us sharers of the heavenly remedy.
Communion is to be received in the state of grace. Many should be communing only spiritually and not also physically. It is appropriate that, in this moment of joyful awe at transcendence, we should recall our need for cleansing. On our own, we are nothing. We get into terrible trouble. With Christ, “God with us”, Emmanuel we are made clean and whole and given more than we lost by our own devices. The “yes” of Mary, her joy in the Birth of the Lord, her fidelity in the Presentation, her standing by the Cross all redirect us back to the source of our cleansing, the remedy for our self-inflicted wounds.
Seek His cleansing.
Octaves are mysterious times. During a liturgical octave time is “suspended”. A lifetime is insufficient, and eternity will not suffice to contemplate the mystery the Nativity. Happily we have these several days and not merely one to focus our minds and hearts. When we settle into the mystery, if rest in it for a while patiently we are more likely to allow God to direct our minds.
During this Octave, we must – in this time of uncertainty, on this threshold of what likely will be a harder year – give our thoughts to the magnificence of the Lord’s condescension in taking our human nature into that indestructible bond with His divinity in order to save us from our sins and teach us more fully who we are. We can learn from Our Blessed Mother how to contemplate the Lord. We learn about our dependence on Him and our own inadequacy, beautiful as we are as God’s images, a little less than angels, crowned in glory and honor (cf. Ps. 8:6). Our Mother constantly directs our gaze to the only source of saving grace.