WDTPRS – 5th Sunday after Easter (TLM): Fr. Z rants on liturgical goop, cracks bones

I am going to drag you – again – through my standard and sustained rant about liturgy, punctuated by Latin vocabulary and Neoplatonism.

First, to be grown up Catholics we need a Mass for grown ups.

Our Mass should give us thick red steak and Cabernet, not pureed carrots and milk for baby teeth.

I want meat for you, not goop.   That means I want some of you to grow up into something more than you have hitherto desired.

Goop is fine for babies.  Babies need goop.  But when you grow up, you need more.  Adults can survive on goop, but they won’t thrive.

I want you to thrive through our Mass not just survive.

In the revisions and recreation of new prayers for Novus Ordo we lost most of what could be characterized as “negative” concepts: sin, guilt, penance, propitiation, etc.  But these are vital nutrients for Catholics.  Grown up Catholics, that is.  Catholics who understand that we are sinners, and that one day we are going to die and meet our Maker, who is our Savior and our Judge.   When we deal with very young children we don’t drum on about the Four Last Things.  They shouldn’t be ignorant of them, but we shouldn’t stress them, either.  Let children be children.   But we must not infantilize adults by denying them the sustenance of TRUTH.  “Goo goo ga ga” is not enough for adults. To preach “goo goo” to them is precisely the opposite of charity, which seeks to serve the good of others.

Alas, the Novus Ordo has a lot of “goo goo” built right into now, because the experts who cobbled it together stripped the rites and prayers of many essential nutrients.  The deficiencies can be partly made up for by a good ars celebrandi and good preaching, just as in the TLM some of the optimistic eschatology stressed in the Novus Ordo can be brought in.   But it is far easier to do that with the later than to evolve the former.   But I digress.  Bottom line…

Mass must be succulent, not insipid.

With the help of preachers and devotional reading and some silent contemplation – yes, I mean sitting down and thinking for a while without looking at a screen – we can crack the bones of our prayers and rites open with adult teeth, chew their marrow and gnaw their flesh with benefit.

Moving on to Sunday’s prayer, let’s start cracking those bones for the marrowy goodness within.

In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary today’s Collect is found on the Fourth Sunday after the close of the Easter Octave. The Gelasian or Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae (Book of Sacraments of the Church of Rome) was assembled from older material in Paris around 750.

It has elements of both the Roman and Gallican (French) liturgies of the Merovingian period (5th – 8th cc.). This Collect survived the cutters and snippers who pasted the Novus Ordo together on their desks. You hear it now on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

COLLECT – (1962MR):

Deus, a quo bona cuncta procedunt, largire supplicibus tuis: ut cogitemus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt; et, te gubernante, eadem faciamus.

The Novus Ordo version slightly rearranges the word order, saying “tuis largire supplicibus”, which I actually prefer since it flows better, but the more ancient version in the Gelasian omits the “tuis” altogether.

Our never distant Lewis & Short Dictionary says procedo means “to go forth or before, to go forwards, advance, proceed” and more importantly “to go or come forth or out, to advance, issue” and even “to issue from the mouth, to be uttered”. Largire looks like an infinitive but is really an imperative form of the deponent largior, “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart… to confer, bestow, grant, yield”. The neuter substantive rectum, i (from rego), is “that which is right, good, virtuous; uprightness, rectitude, virtue”. Rego involves “to keep straight or from going wrong, to lead straight; to guide, conduct, direct”. The core concepts are “straight” and “upwards”. In its adjectival form, rectus, a, um, there is a moral content, “right, correct, proper, appropriate, befitting” again having reference to that which is “above”. Cogito is more than simply “to think”. As in Descartes’ often quoted “Cogito ergo sum… I think, therefore I am”, it is really, “to pursue something in the mind” and “to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon”. The English derivative is “cogitate”.

LITERAL VERSION:

O God, from whom all good things issue forth, bountifully grant to Your supplicants, that, You inspiring, we may think things which are right, and, You guiding, we may accomplish the same.

CURRENT ICEL (2011 from the Ordinary Form):

O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it
.

Well… okay.

Time to CRACK SOME BONES!

In today’s classically sculpted Collect there is a concept important for theological reflection by the ancient Church through the medieval period.

A theological key helps us to open up what the Church is really saying to God, on our behalf, locked up in words.

Ancient theologians, both pagan and Christian struggled alike for answers to the same questions.

  • If all things come from God, did God create evil?
  • If all things come from God, then are all things, in fact, also God?
  • If in the cosmos there are only God and everything else which is not-God, and if God is the only Good, then are all created not-God things evil?
  • Is matter evil by nature?
  • Are we evil, destined to doom or nothingness?

Pagans and Christians, using the same starting points and categories of thought, came up with differing solutions.

Rejecting the idea of both a good god principle and an evil god principle, pagan theologians of the Platonic stream of thought posited a kind of creation through an endless series of intermediaries to avoid the conclusion that God, the highest good, created evil. For them, the perfectly transcendent One overflowed with being through descending triads of intermediaries down to the corrupt material world from which we must be freed. This solved nothing, of course, because no matter how many hierarchies of intermediaries you propose, those hierarchies always must be further divided into more hierarchies. Christian theologians, who were also Platonists, using the same categories of thought found another solution: creatio ex nihilo… immediate (that is “unmediated”) creation of the universe from nothing. Evil was explained as a deprivation of being, essentially a “nothingness”, not created by God. All things which have being come forth from God, are good, and will go back to God. This is the key for unlocking our prayer.

Let us now look at the lame-duck version people had to hear in church for over thirty years on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary, brought to you by…

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 10th Ord. Sunday):
God of wisdom and love,
source of all good,
send your Spirit to teach us your truth
and guide our actions
in your way of peace.

BLECH! Did I mention “goo goo ga ga goop?”

Folks, translation is hard but it ain’t that hard.   BTW… I read that a certain American Archbishop wants us to review the current translation.   This same Archbishop was, I believe, at one time in favors of “feedbox” for “manger” and “big boat” for “ark.  But I digress.

If our prayer today is like a nice plate of ossobucco, it’s time to dig out some of that good rich marrow.

When our Sunday Collect was composed, Western theologians (still really Platonists in many respects) were mightily struggling to solve thorny problems about, for example, predestination. This required them to gaze deeply at man’s nature and the problem of evil.

In this titanic theological battle we find on all sides the ancient Platonic view of creation. All creation proceeds (procedo) forth from God in indeterminate form. In a reflection of the eternal procession of uncreated divine Persons of the Trinity, the rational component of creation (man) turned around when proceeding forth in order to regard his Source and, in that turning, that conversio, took determinate form and began to return to God. This going forth and returning, this descent and rising (in theology exitus and reditus or Greek exodos and proodos) is everywhere present in ancient and medieval thought… and in liturgical prayer today when the ancient form was too messed up by the redactors.

For Christians of the Neoplatonic Augustinian tradition, man, the pinnacle of creation, “drags”, as it were, all of created nature with him in a contemplative “conversion” back to God.

Man’s rational nature was not destroyed by sin in the Fall.

However, were it not for the Incarnate Logos, the Word made flesh, the union of uncreated with created, the descent of creation would have simply continued “exiting” away from God for eternity.

If not for the Incarnation man and all creation with him would never turn back, doomed to become ever more indeterminate!

Instead, rational man, the image of the rational Word, and all creation with him can turn back to God.

The Son entered our created realm and made possible man’s conversio after the Fall.

As John Scotus Eriugena (+877) put it, man is “nature’s priest”.

Through rational acts man plays a part in God’s saving plan for creation.

This pattern of exitus and reditus is exemplified in the writings of theologians in a line from pagan Neoplatonic writers like Plotinus (+270), to Christian Platonists like St. Augustine (+430), Boethius (+525), Eriugena, St. Bonaventure (+1274) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). This is the theology behind many ancient prayers.

Our Collect echoes the Neoplationic theology of late antiquity and early Middle Ages together with the Scriptural James 1:17, a text used frequently by these same Merovingian and Carolingian thinkers.

We need what our prayers really say.  They are the bones of our daily lives. We need a Mass for grown ups.

Demand Grown-up Mass.

Lastly, perhaps that Augustinian, Neoplatonic stuff I rattled on about could be the starting point for a serious “theology of ecology”, somewhat more substantial than the pseudo-scientific tripe that’s being peddled today.  You theology students out there: this could provide some starting points for papers and theses.  Go back and read that last part and see what you can think up.

Just don’t attempt this at Villanova or at some Jesuit school unless there is solid faculty member about.

Meanwhile, dear readers, consider this a different sort of “food post”.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to WDTPRS – 5th Sunday after Easter (TLM): Fr. Z rants on liturgical goop, cracks bones

  1. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    Thank you for such wonderful material to think about. The part about man as nature’s priest (and how that might be a corrective for distorted attitudes about ecology) is great. It is such a rich part of our liturgical tradition. I’m thinking, for example, of the traditional thanksgiving after Mass which consists of the canticle from Daniel chapter 3 and Psalm 150 with some other prayers. Or so many of the wonderful blessings in the Roman Ritual, such as the blessing for silkworms (because of the silk for Mass vestments), or bees (because of the beeswax for altar candles), or other examples.

  2. LeeGilbert says:

    This post reminds me. . . Last evening I began reading the Lausiac History by Palladius, an account of the desert fathers in the fifth century. The book opens with his encounter with the monk Isidore. Palladius writes, “I often knew him to weep at table, and upon asking the reason for the tears, I received this reply: I am ashamed to partake of irrational food. I am a rational being and ought to be in a paradise of pleasure because of the power given to us by Christ.”

    Of course, all Catholics believe that in receiving the Eucharist we receive the Risen Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. Yet, I must admit that it never occurred to me to think of the Eucharist as rational food, yet so it is.

    This line of thinking is a rich vein of ripostes for those who aver they were not being fed in the Catholic Church. “Yes, you went to your local megachurch to be better fed, and so you no longer are nourished by the only food fit for a rational creature, rational food, the living Christ.”

  3. ex seaxe says:

    I think that many of those who call for immediate revision of the the current translation are looking to revive the rejected previous ICEL offering. I agree that, in general, the translations of the collects flow better and are more easily understood. I wonder whether you would add analysis of those to these posts. The obsolete 1973 is not of much interest to anybody these days.
    The text proposed was :
    Almighty God,
    from whom every good gift proceeds,
    grant that by your inspiration
    we may discern those things that are right
    and, by your merciful guidance, do them.

    In this case it’s easy to see that they have omitted the supplicants.

  4. Kent Wendler says:

    First, Father, I hope and pray you are feeling better.

    If so, then perhaps you can crack some bones with me by reading the first few sections of that e-book I sent you. (An updated version is available.) The sections are not long, usually shorter than chapters in St. Augustine’s Confessions. They are about what seems to me to be acceptable inferences from Genesis 1-3.