Since this is a time of year when new priests are being ordained, and many priests are observing their own anniversaries, let’s have a WDTPRS look at the prayers Pro seipso sacerdote.
In the traditional, Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite a priest can add orations for himself, Pro seipso sacerdote, on the anniversary of his ordination.
The 2002MR has three formularies Pro seipso sacerdote while the 1962MR has but one.
Let’s look at the prayer in the Extraordinary Form.
Omnípotens et miséricors Deus,
humilitátis meae preces benígnus inténde:
et me fámulum tuum, quem,
nullis suffragántibus méritis,
sed imménsa cleméntiae tuae largitáte,
caeléstibus mystériis servíre tribuísti,
dignum sacris altáribus fac minístrum;
ut, quod mea voce deprómitur,
tua sanctificatióne firmétur.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
Almighty and merciful God,
kindly hark to the prayers of my humility:
and make me, Your servant, whom,
no merits of my own favoring me,
but by the immense largess of your indulgence,
You granted to serve the heavenly mysteries,
to be a worthy minister at the sacred altars;
so that, that which is called down by my voice,
may be made sure by Your sanctification.
The prayer focuses on priest’s self-awareness of his lowliness and that who he is and what he does is from God’s grace and choice and not his own.
It also emphasis the relationship of the priest to the altar, that it, the bond of the priest and Holy Mass.
In the older form of Holy Mass, after the consecration during the Canon at the Suppplices te rogamus… the priest bends low over the altar, puts his hands on it… they were annointed, the altar was annointed… kisses the altar, makes the sign of the Cross over the consecrated Host on the corporal, over the Precious Blood in the chalice, over himself.
Christ is Victim. Christ is Priest. The priest is victim and priest as well.
This moment during Holy Mass reveals the mysterious bond of altar where the priest sacrifices the victim, the sacrificial victim and the sacrificing priest. They are one. At the altar he is alter Christus, another Christ, offering and offered.
What also comes to mind is the Augustinian reflection of the speaker of the Word and the Word spoken, and the message and reality of the Word and the Voice which speaks it.
The voice of the priest and the priest himself are merely the means God uses in the sacred action, the sacramental mysteries at the altar, to renew in that moment what He has wrought. Finally, this is done through mercy. The words misericors, clementia, largitas, benignus all point to the mercy of God.
The priest speaks and God makes what he speaks reality.
He takes the insubstantial words and makes them firm and real.
He takes unworthy men and gives them His own power.
Huius, Dómine, virtúte sacraménti,
peccatórum meórum máculas abstérge:
ut ad exsequéndum injúncti offícii ministérium,
me tua grátia dignum effíciat.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
O Lord, by the power of this sacrament,
cleanse the stains of my sins:
that it may make me worthy by Your grace
unto the performance of the ministry of the office that has been imposed.
Priests are sinners in need of a Savior just like everyone else.
They confess sins and receive absolution like everyone else.
They, to, must do penance for past sins like everyone else.
They come to the altar as sinners.
In the older Extraordinary form of Holy Mass, the priest is constantly reminded about who he is and who he isn’t.
In this Secret, spoken quietly, the priest prays for what only God can do: remove the stains of sins from his soul.
The prayer brings also to mind the burden of the yoke of the priesthood, symbolized as by the priestly vestment, the chasuble.
As the priest vests he says as he puts on this vestment,
“O Lord, Who said: My yoke is easy and My burden light: grant that I may bear it well and follow after You with thanksgiving. Amen.”
The yoke is the ancient sign of subjugation. The ancient Romans caused the conquered to pass under a yoke, iugum.
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus,
qui me peccatórem sacris altáribus astáre voluísti,
et sancti nóminis tui laudáre poténtiam:
concéde propítius, per hujus sacraménti mystérium,
meórum mihi véniam peccatórum;
ut tuae maiestáti digne mérear famulári.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
Almighty eternal God,
who desired me, a sinner, to stand at the sacred altars,
and to praise the might of Your Holy Name:
propitiously grant, through the mystery of this sacrament,
the forgiveness of my sins for me;
so that I may merit to wait upon Your majesty.
On the day of ordination the priest lies down upon the floor.
He is that moment, next to the floor, part of the floor as it were, the lowest thing in the church.
As I read this, I am struck by the two sets of contrasts.
First, there is the contrast of the low state of the servant sinner and the majesty of God.
Second, there is the present moment contrasted with the future to come.
Maiestas is like gloria, Hebrew kabod or Greek doxa, a divine characteristic which – some day – we may encounter in heaven in such a way that we will be transformed by it forever and forever. When Moses encountered God in the cloud on the mountain and in the tent, he came forth with a face shining so brightly that he had to wear a veil. This is a foreshadowing of the transformative power of God’s maiestas.
A priest waits on this maiestas.
He waits on it in that he awaits it and waits upon it, serves it, as a waiting waiter he serves it out as well. He desires it for his own future, but in the present moment he waits upon it as a servent. He is an attendent, in every sense, one who waits and one who waits.
May God have mercy on all priests, sinner servants, attendent on the unmerited grace and gifts of the Victim Priest and Savior. May God have mercy on me, a sinner.