A long-time reader and WDTPRS supporter wrote with a question about today’s Oratio super populum in the 2002MR. As you know, with the 2002MR the “Prayer over the people was resurrected after its 30 years in tomb Bugnini and company carved from the soft rock of the ’60’s. Now that there is a new, corrected ICEL translation, the Oratio is heard, more or less, in English as well. But.. I digress.
Let’s look at the Oratio super populum which today is the same in the 1962MR and the 2002MR:
Tua misericordia, Deus, populum tibi subditum
et ab omni subreptione vetustatis expurget,
et capacem sanctae novitatis efficiat.
My questioner asks:
What’s that subreptione mean here?
Alarm bells are ringing in my head, because I remember seeing a variant of this word in another, famous, context.
But first, let’s seek an origin for this prayer. I eventually found it with a variation for this very day, Feria III ad Sanctam Priscam, in the Gregorian Sacramentary. So, it has a pedigree. “Tua nos misericordia, deus, et ab omni subreptione vetustatis expurget et capaces sanctae novitatis efficiat.”
CURRECT (which was a typo, but seems to be a cross of “corrected” and “current”) ICEL (2011):
May your mercy, O God,
cleanse the people that are subject to you
from all seduction of former ways
and make them capable of new holiness.
Now, we can drill a bit.
First, subrepo, the interesting word here, is not going to reveal its secrets in most dictionaries unless you look under surrepo. In Latin that labial + -r- often morph into -rr-. Surrepo is ” to creep under, to creep or steal along, creep softly on, steal upon, to come on unawares, insensibly, or by degrees, etc.”. Sub+repo It is obviously a compound, where repo is “crawl, slither”, used to describe the motion of ants, snakes, creeping children, people swimming, stalking cranes, the snaking out of the vines of gourds, etc.
When I was researching by whose scholarship and accident we wound up with the bad translation of pro multis as “for all”, now happily in the past, I found a dubium proposed to Rome about whether the bad translation “for all” was allowing heresy to “slither” into the understand of the consecration form. The verb was, you guessed it, our friend “surrepo“.
So, let’s see what this prayer means with a
Super literal version:
May your mercy, O God, both purify the people subject to You
from every slithering inroad of the old,
and also bring it to be fit for the new.
The imagery here is clearly the “old man/new man” contrast in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4: 22-24:
Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Or Paul to the Colossians 3:1-10:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Or perhaps even the old and new wineskins image which Fathers of the Church used in talking about the resurrection of the flesh.
The Scriptural echo in the prayer leads the hearer to remember the Apostle’s powerful ethical and moral message he attaches to the change in our character, a necessary conversion of life resulting from our belonging to Christ.
Don’t let bad old ways, unsuitable for Christians, slither back into your lives.