For reasons I have yet to fathom, I have had several emails this morning with questions about the Post Communion prayer for the 1st Sunday of Advent. We will soon hear it in our churches (27 November!). [UPDATE: Someone wrote about the translation of this prayer at The Tablet. Thus, the questions.]
In any event, some years ago I looked at this prayer in some detail, so I can oblige without too much effort.
This prayer is of new composition for the Novus Ordo, but it is rooted in two prayers in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary. Cut and paste time.
POST COMMUNIONEM (2002MR):
Prosint nobis, quaesumus, Domine, frequentata mysteria,
quibus nos, inter praetereuntia ambulantes,
iam nunc instituis amare caelestia et inhaerere mansuris.
This is a great prayer to sing, which is as it should be. The alliteration of frequentata mysteria gives it a powerful staccato balanced by the assonance of “ah” and “a” sounds. The phrase ínter praétereúnti(a_á)mbulántes is glorious, as is the final cadence, inhaerére mansúris. We have some ancient writer to thank for those.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
may our communion
teach us to love heaven.
May its promise and hope guide our way on earth.
Is this what the prayer really says?
When the English is shorter than the Latin, friends, you know there’s trouble.
The lame-duck ICEL prayers of the sacral cycles of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are generally more accurate than those of Ordinary Time. Nevertheless, this is so bad I was tempted when first writing about it to triple check that I got the right prayer from the correct Sunday.
Thus, here we have a great example, on the first Sunday of the new liturgical year, of why we needed a new, corrected translation. Instutuo is basically, to put or place into, to plant, fix, set” and a range of many other meanings. In this context it means “to teach, instruct, train up, educate”.
The Dictionary, the mighty Lewis & Short, helps us to understand that prosint is the third person plural present active subjunctive form of prosum, profui, prodesse , “to be useful or of use, to do good, benefit, profit”. There is a custom in Roman sacristies after Mass. Servers and sacred ministers line up in two rows and wait for the celebrant to enter and bow to the Cross. As he removes his biretta and bows to the Lord, they all say “Prosit!”, that is, “May what you have just done be of benefit for you!” The celebrant responds with a range of expressions, such as “Vobis quoque!” (singular “Tibi quoque!”), “And to you!”, (this is about the only time Catholics accurately say something like, “And also with you!”) or perhaps “Omnibus et singulis!”.
Iam paired with nunc goes beyond the simple “now” to the more intense “just now, at this very time, as things now are”.
Frequento is “to visit or resort to frequently, to frequent; to do or make use of frequently, to repeat” and also “to celebrate or keep in great numbers” as in the observance of public festivals. There is a phrase which pops up from time to time: “mysteriorum frequentatio“, for participation in the “sacred mysteries”. Praetereuntia, the present active participle of praeter-eo, “to go by or past, to pass by; “to be lost, disregarded, perish, pass away, pass without attention or fulfillment (late Lat.)” Mansuris is a plural future participle of maneo, “to remain, last, endure, continue”, and thus means “things that are going to endure”.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL RENDERING:
We beg You, O Lord, may they be profitable for us, these oft celebrated sacramental mysteries,
by which You instruct that we, walking amidst the things that are passing away,
would now in this very moment love heavenly things and cleave to the things that will endure.
When the priest intones this Post Communion, the Eucharistic Christ is within you. A church’s tabernacle is no more a dwelling of the Real Presence than you are at that moment.
What will we hear in the new translation?
NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated,
profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures.
To my ear that simple “participated”, which rendering a sense of frequento, has lost the sense of repetition, which could be good to retain on the 1st day of a new cycle of the liturgical year.
They got the “even now” part from the iam nunc right, it seems.
The new prayer is basically correct and it sticks to the Latin fairly closely. That said, one of my emails asked me if I thought the new version was saying that we are to learn to love heavenly things because we have learned from the “passing things” or the “mysteries” in the first line. While the “passing things” are closer to that “teach us by them to love” I thought that the “them” referred to the “mysteries”. We do, however, learn through our senses in this passing world… though that is not the point of the prayer in Latin. In my “slavishly literal” rendering, above, I added a couple words in the first lines so as to be able to position more closely the elements I figured should connect. Perhaps we could use…
A SMOOTHER VERSION:
May these mysteries we so often celebrate
redound to our benefit, O Lord, we entreat You,
since by them You instruct us to love even now
the things of heaven and cling to what endures
as we journey in the midst of this world which is passing away.