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.
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.
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.