The Lord’s Coming is a fearful thing to ponder. The First Coming of the Lord, prophesied by Jeremiah in Sunday’s 1st Reading, and His Sacrifice renewed daily on our altars, mean that His Second Coming, described by the Lord in the Gospel reading from Luke 21, and our impending judgment need not raze the thoughtful soul in abject terror. During the offertory of Mass the priest, on our behalf, raises to God the elements to be consecrated together with all our gifts of praise and prayers of need. We seek to please and to appease God, whom we rejected by our sins.
The Prayer over the Offerings for this 2nd Sunday of Advent is the Secret for this same Sunday in older, traditional form of the Roman Rite. If the ancient, elegant sound of this prayer made you think that it was in Gelasian Sacramentary you were right on target.
Placare, Domine, quaesumus, nostrae precibus humilitatis et hostiis, et, ubi nulla suppetunt suffragia meritorum tuae nobis indulgentiae succurre praesidiis.
Succurro means “to run or hasten to aid”. Its root curro, “to run”, lends succurro an element of haste, which is a theme in the prayers of Advent. Placare looks like an infinitive but it is actually the passive imperative of placo, “to reconcile” and also “to soothe, assuage, appease”. Think of English “placate.” Suppeto is “to be sufficient for”. A suffragium is “a voting tablet” and, therefore, “a vote, voice, suffrage” (as in “suffragettes”, who wanted voting rights for women). It is also “a favorable decision, assent, approbation, applause.” In ecclesiastical lingo a “suffrage” is a recommendation or intercessory prayer as, for example, when pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Plural suffragia means something like “points in our favor”. Unless Christ makes our works His own we have no good marks (nulla meritorum suffragia) on our side of the merit column.
Be appeased, O Lord, we beseech You, by the prayers of our humility and by our sacrificial offerings, and, where no favorable points of merits suffice for us, succor us by the helps of Your indulgence.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Lord, we are nothing without you. As you sustain us with your mercy, receive our prayers and offerings.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings, and, since we have no merits to plead our cause, come, we pray, to our rescue.
This prayer reminds us that we are going to receive God’s justice whether we want it or not. We beg, therefore, His mercy. Our Lord will always show us love and mercy, but we have to ask for it. Never presume you have forgiveness and mercy. Ask for it and then do penance.
We can get lazy about God and assume He is automatically pleased with us all the time. But we are not robotically forgiven for our transgressions and omissions. We must ask for and obtain God’s mercy and then attend to justice and do penance. Nothing we do on our own merits the great gift of redemption (cf CCC 2007). It’s all gift. We are saved solely by the merits of Christ’s Sacrifice.
We will see in weeks to come that a constant feature of the Latin Prayer over the Offerings is the desire to appease God. “Appease” is not a fashionable word for us sophisticated moderns. But there it is. What we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe. We must also appease God while we petition and praise. The Lord’s appeasing Sacrifice on Calvary, renewed on our altars, is our lifeline.
Above, I used the phrase “favorable points of merits”. Never imagine God as a celestial accountant keeping books on what we do or haven’t done. Salvation is not based on a ledger’s bottom line. In our personal and then final judgment God will show us what our good works merited and how they balance against our sins. Until then, it’s a great mystery. In fact, the Church now hazards to offer indications of only “partial” or “full” indulgences for works we perform. The only thing we can be sure of is that we must not be lax or presumptuous.
If we want salvation, we appease God by our prayers, works and sacrifices, all of which must be joined to Christ’s Sacrifice. At Holy Mass join all that you do and are and love and need to the propitiatory Sacrifice renewed by the priest. Father raises the paten with host. He raises the chalice of wine with blended drops of water, symbolizing our little humanity being taken up by Christ with His divinity. Place yourselves and your needs in that chalice, like those drops, and on that paten, like that pure host, to be transformed.