This morning’s Mass included a prayer I’ve said numberless times over the last nearly 20 (in a few days) years. In the traditional Roman calendar today the priest can say a Votive Mass of Holy Mary on Saturday, Sancta Maria in Sabbato. There are several formularies for this Votive Mass, depending on the season of the liturgical year.
Very often priests will say certain Votive Masses on certain days of the week. For example, Monday – Trinity, Tuesday – Holy Angels, Wednesday – St. Joseph, Thursday – Christ, High Priest, Friday – Sacred Heart, Saturday – BVM. There are lots of variations.
The Secret for today’s Votive Mass is a densely-packed lovely little theological gem:
Tua, Domine, propitiatione,
et beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione,
ad perpetuam atque praesentem haec oblatio
nobis proficiat prosperitatem et pacem.
This is not an ancient prayer, in that it does not go back to the earliest centuries of the Christian experience. Even the notions it expresses suggests that it comes from a later period. However, it is in quite a few English medieval manuscripts, including those of Benevento (11/12 c.), Canterbury (11 c.), Milano (9 c.), Sankt-Gallen B (9 c.), among others. So it goes back to least the 9th century and seems to have made its way north over time.
Propitiatio in its fundamental meaning meanings and “an appeasing, atonement, propitiation”. The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise also gives us a view of the word as “favor”. This makes sense. God has been appeased and rendered favorable again towards us sinners by the propitiatory actions Christ fulfilled on the Cross. We have faithfully (?) renewed these through the centuries in Holy Mass.
By Your propitiation, O Lord,
and by the intercession of ever virgin Blessed Mary
may this sacrificial offering be useful for us
unto perpetual and present prosperity and peace.
ANOTHER WAY FROM AN OLD BOOK:
By Thy gracious mercy, O Lord,
and by the intercession of Blessed Mary ever Virgin,
may this oblation avail us
for peace and welfare both now and for evermore.
This prayer did not escape the reforms of the Consilium unscathed. The last part was hacked off and another piece glued on: Tua, Domine, propitiatione, et beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione haec nostra obtineat oblatio, ut Ecclesia tua fidelium numero crescat, et iugiter fulgeat ubertate virtutum.
Nice prayer, but an example of the rampant tinkeritis which dominated the Conciliar reformers.
The concept of propitiation is central to this Secret, and indeed the prayer leads off with it with a focus on the first word “YOUR”.
Prayer of propitiation is a begging for God to be appeased and show us mercy because we are sinners and for mitigation of the punishments we justly deserve for our sins both in this world and temporal punishment in the next. Propitiation is distinguished from impetration (from Latin impetro, “to accomplish, effect, bring to pass; to get, obtain, procure, especially by exertion, request, entreaty”). Impetration is an appeal to God’s goodness asking for spiritual or temporal well-being for ourselves or others.
So, whereas by impetratory prayer we beg God for benefits, by propitiatory prayer we beg Him more specifically for the benefit of mercy and forgiveness.
So, our densely-packed Secret has the marks of a prayer of both propitiation and impetration.
Throughout the ages people have raised the question of whether or not it makes any sense to pray to God at all, given the fact that – if God is truly God – then he is omniscient and utterly eternal, not limited by past, present or future. There is no thing that has happened, is happening or could happen that God does not know. God is entirely simple in His perfection and wholly unchangeable. He orders all things to their proper end, which is what we call divine providence. Since God’s will and His knowledge and being are the same, what God knows will come to pass must of necessity come to pass.
Does it make any sense or any difference to offer prayers to such a God?
Various solutions to this problem have been proposed over the centuries.
Among the ancients some held that human affairs are not ruled by any divine providence and so it useless to pray and to worship God at all. Others held that all things, even in human affairs, happen from necessity, whether by reason of the immutability of divine providence, or through the compelling influence of the stars, cosmic or physical forces, or what have you. This view similarly eliminates the utility of prayer. Others held that divine providence indeed rules human affairs and things do not happen of necessity. They thought that God and His providence is changeable, that His will is changed by our prayers and rites of worship.
What we as Catholics have to do, in figuring out what to pray and how, and even why to pray at all, is account for the usefulness and effectiveness of prayer in such a way as to avoid imposing fatalistic necessity on human affairs and also not to imply that any aspect of God is changeable.
We have to ask God for things without treating Him as if He were a cosmic concierge.
St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) looks into whether it is a fitting thing to pray to God (STh II, IIae, q. 83, a. 2) saying,
“In order to throw light on this question we must consider that divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed. Now among other causes human acts are the causes of certain effects. Wherefore it must be that men do certain actions, not that thereby they may change the divine disposition, but that by those actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine disposition: and the same is to be said of natural causes. And so is it with regard to prayer. For we pray not that we may change the divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give,’ as (St.) Gregory (the Great) says (Dialogues).”
The same applies to begging for God’s mercy (propitiatory prayer), which we can do with confidence.
In His earthly life Jesus demonstrated that our petitions are effective.
He was moved by His Mother at Cana to change water to wine, by the Syro-phoenician woman to exorcise her daughter, by the Good Thief to remember him in His Kingdom, and many others. We know that the intercession of saints can obtain favors from God. We were taught to pray to God the Father by God the Son Himself.
The example of the Lord being moved by His Mother at Cana, brings me full circle back to the points raised in the Secret. We refer to God’s propitiation and Mary’s intercession. She interceded to bring mercy, calm or peace to the banquet, and also a great benefit, a richness or prosperity in the form of wine at the beginning of a, hopefully, fruitful marriage.
Our prayer should be raised to God with humility and gratitude for what we know He has disposed in His divine providence.
He grants favors according to what from all eternity He has known about us, our needs and disposition.