WDTPRS: Last Days of Advent: 20 December – “ineffable Word”

Today’s Collect, as we move solemnly through the last days of Advent, once again underscores the dimension of the mystery of the approach Feast more than it emphasizes the penitential spirit we adopt during this season.

As with the other Collects in this period, this prayer is based on a text from the Rotulus of Ravenna, which is published with the Veronese Sacramentary.  Again we find a “glory” word from the very onset.  Again, as before, we have images of “light”, so important in these last days.

Deus, aeterna maiestas, cuius ineffabile Verbum,
Angelo nuntiante, Virgo immaculata suscepit,
et, domus divinitatis effecta, Santi Spiritus luce repletur,
quaesumus, ut nos, eius exemplo,
voluntati tuae humiliter adhaerere valeamus
.

Lovely.

Aeterna maiestas is a phrase found several times in Ambrose’s exegetical works, and also in Bonaventure and Thomas a Kempis.  Jerome used it when writing to Augustine (ep. 92).

It was a little different in the old Rotulus:
Deus aeterna maiestas cuius ineffabile verbum angelo deferente virginitas immaculata suscepit et domicilium deitatis effecta sancti spiritus luce repletur quaesumus ut fidelem populum ipsa suis
orationibus protegat quae deum et hominem sacris castisque visceribus meruit baiulare.

Do you see how the author/redactor of the oration for the Novus Ordo changed the wording from domicilium divinitatis to domus divinitatis?

Maiestas is like gloria, a divine quality.  But it is also a form of address.

Note that the tense of an ablative absolute is governed by the tense of the main verb.  So, the “present” tense of this ablative absolute is contemporary with the tense of the main verb.

LITERAL VERSION:
O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word,
received by the Immaculate Virgin as the angel was announcing,
and, having been made the house of divinity, was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit,
we implore, that we, by her example,
may be able to cleave humbly to Your will
.

NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word
the immaculate Virgin received through the message of an Angel
and so became the dwelling-place of divinity,
filled with the light of the Holy Spirit,
grant, we pray, that by her example
we may in humility hold fast to your will.

What we lose in the English, unless you are well-versed in our ancient forebears and how they were trained, is that interplay of rhetorical terms.  We have the conundrum of a Word which is “ineffable”.  Down the line we have exemplum. An exemplum is, “a sample for imitation, instruction, proof, a pattern, model, original, example….” For the Fathers, so steeped in Greek and Roman rhetoric and philosophy, exemplum could mean many things.  Mainly, an exemplum brings auctoritas to your argument, “authority”, which means among other things the moral persuasive force of an argument.  When we hear this prayer with ancient and Patristic ears, exemplum is not merely an “example” to imitate. It brings deeper moral force.  In this prayer there is a Word, spoken and received, which effects a change.

That last section of the prayer seems to be a new composition.  Therefore, someone really knew what he was doing.

There is so much going on in this stupendous oration that I can linger only over one point.

Doesn’t it seem as if Mary is being described as being a temple?  She becomes the “house of divinity”.  In a sense we, too, become the dwelling place of divinity at our baptism and while we are in the state of grace.  Mary, however, was far more.

What popped into my mind is Mary, Mother of the Church, as a church.  Written over the doors of many of our churches is the phrase “Domus Dei et Porta Caeli“. The High Priest is in the inmost sanctuary within her church.  He becomes the source of light for the church.  He becomes the focus.  The moral force of this image suggests something about how we are Catholic disciples of Christ.

Mary always redirects our gaze back to her Son.  Her splendor is a reflection of the Lord’s majesty.

Our churches should be filled with this light/splendor/glory/majesty.  We should place the Dweller in the midst of the holy of holies within the church and then all of us, together, priest with congregation be oriented toward the One who is to come.

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9 Responses to WDTPRS: Last Days of Advent: 20 December – “ineffable Word”

  1. Supertradmum says:

    Please publish a book on all these meditations. I, for one, would buy it up. This is so beautiful and prayerful. Do we not call Mary the Ark of the Covenant in the Litany as well? Mary as House is also a reminder of the sacredness of her womb, a sign for all women that the baby in the womb is from God, and hers, is God. Thank you, Father Z.

    In addition, the light imagery is so powerful in these days of darkness. I have not seen the sun all day. Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness brings His Light into the darkest part of the year. Mary is the receptacle of that Light. She is a beacon for us, leading us to Christ. When I, using classical education and the Socratic Method, used exempla and taught the students how to use this rhetorical device. That we are influenced both by the Greeks and the Jews, Reason and Faith, points to the richness of our Tradition, so rightly highlighted by our present Pope.

  2. There is so much going on in this stupendous oration . . .

    A deep and beautiful collect like this one for today–which is a mere feria on the EF calendar, with no propers of its own–could force even an EF advocate like me to admit that there is a certain richness to the OF missal.

  3. Because adhaerere is one of my favorite Latin verbs, and cleave one of my favorite English ones, I regret that rather pedestrian last line of the corrected English translation.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Cleave is one of my favorite words as well, meaning both what it is and its opposite, sometimes called an amphibolous or an enantiodromic. Latin and English are such wonderful languages.

  5. ” . . . a certain richness to the OF missal.

    A certain ineffable richness, of course I should have said, another of my favorite English words fitting perfectly here. (I was groping for precisely what sort of richness to attribute to the OF, so evidently it’s literally ineffable.)

  6. pm125 says:

    O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word,
    received by the Immaculate Virgin as the angel was announcing,
    and, having been made the house of divinity, was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit,
    we implore, that we, by her example,
    may be able to cleave humbly to Your will.

    “Doesn’t it seem as if Mary is being described as being a temple? She becomes the “house of divinity”. In a sense we, too, become the dwelling place of divinity at our baptism and while we are in the state of grace. Mary, however, was far more.”

    The thirteenth verse of the Christmas hymn ‘From Heaven Above to Earth I Come’ reads:
    Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,
    Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
    Within my heart, that it may be
    A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

    Today’s Collect just reminds of this verse, which has been an anchor for health and life of my faith.

  7. albinus1 says:

    Supertradmum: I agree. So is classical Greek, which is the source for both “amphibolous” and “entantioromic” — both wonderful words! :-)

  8. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    “Domus Dei et Porta Caeli”

    In this collect she is called “domus divinitatis”. In the seasonal marian antiphon chanted after compline, the Alma Redemptoris Mater, Mary is called “pervia caeli Porta “, the open door to heaven.

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