1st Sunday of Advent – Station: St. Mary Major

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 1st Sunday of Advent – Station: St. Mary Major

With joy and optimism we reach the beginning of a new liturgical year with Advent anno salutis 2002. This is the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Holding in our minds the proximity of the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church’s year, which observes the Lord’s final coming as King and Judge at the end of the world, we bring a spirit of penance and reserve to our Advent preparation before celebrating the First Coming at Bethlehem. Advent is a liminal, threshold, season blending the end of the world with the world’s rebirth in the new Adam, the Incarnate Word With Us – Emanuel. O Come, Emanuel! Advent is about all the ways our Lord comes to us: His coming at Bethlehem and at the end of the world are echoed in other moments of our Christian life. Jesus comes in actual graces. He comes in the Word of Scripture. He comes at the words of the priest…Hoc est enim corpus meum….This is my Body. He comes to us in Holy Communion. He comes to us in the person of the needy. This is a time to make straight His paths, for He is truly coming. He will surely straighten the paths in a less gentle way if we have not taken care to straighten them beforehand. Thus, our Advent should be tinged with confident joy shot through with introspective penance.

In this new liturgical year we also launch the third year of our ongoing WDTPRS project. In the first year we read the Collects (“Opening prayers”) of the Masses of Sundays. Last year we read the Super oblata (“Prayers over the gifts”). We come now logically to the orationes Post communionem or “prayers after Communion”.

What is a Post communionem? We need an historical perspective. To this end let us consult the valuable two volume The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development by the Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ. This essential reference work of 1949 (English trans. 1953-5) is published in a 1986 replica edition by Christian Classics. It studies the pre-Conciliar form of Mass, of course, but it is nevertheless still useful for background. I will here make greatly abridged use of material from Vol. 2, pp. 419-25 without further citations.

Citing Fathers of the Church such as Sts. Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chrysostom, the aforementioned Jungmann writes: “Even the earliest expositions of the liturgy, after speaking about the Communion to which all the faithful are invited, do not forget to admonish them to make a thanksgiving.” St. Augustine of Hippo distinguished four sections of the Mass, the last of which is called the gratiarum actio, the thanksgiving after Communion (cf. ep. 149,16). In contrast to the Eastern practices, the Roman liturgy is characterized by concise and spare language. Originally, however, in the Latin Rite the end of Mass had a double closing consisting of a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of blessing (we will see this final blessing again during Lent). The thanksgiving was called the ad complendum or ad completa in the tradition of the Gregorian Sacramentary and was called the post communionem in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which was the substantive foundation of what came to be the Roman practice we have today. As such the prayer Post communionem is formed in virtually the same style as the Collect and the Secret (now called the Super oblata): they are prayers of petition addressed to God the Father through Christ….per Dominum nostrum….

The context of the Post communionem has a structure similar to those of the Collect and Super oblata. In each case there is outward activity and local movement (the entrance procession, offertory procession, and Communion procession). In each case, and originally only at these three points, a choir or schola sang a psalm with an antiphon. In each case the priest has introductory silent prayers (prayers before the altar in the older form of Mass, offertory prayers of preparation, and devotional orisons during the ablutions after Communion). In each case singing and praying come to an end with the prayer, always introduced with an invitation of Oremus…”Let us pray” (in the traditional form of Mass with the 1962MR the courteous and elegant greeting Dominus vobiscum precedes each invitation).

We will as time goes on, lest we put cart before cattle, put together some thoughts on the style and content of the Post communionem. For now, suffice to say that the theme of the prayer refers to the Holy Communion just consumed moments before and to its effects and benefits in us. It always considers the Communion of all the faithful who received, and not just of the priest. This was so even in the years when the Communion of the faithful was far less frequent.

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Prosint nobis, quaesumus, Domine, frequentata mysteria,
quibus nos, inter praetereuntia ambulantes,
iam nunc instituis amare caelestia et inhaerere mansuris.

This prayer after communion of new composition for the Novus Ordo (1970MR, 1975MR and now 2002MR), though it has some roots in the Veronese Sacramentary. As I read it, I get the impression that it is “self-consciously elegant”. It is almost as if the author set out to craft a highly “classical” prayer. It seems to me far more florid then other Roman prayers, especially those of ancient composition though it has, without question, a fine and graceful sound to it when pronounced and sung. That frequentata mysteria is alliteratively staccato and has a fine assonance with the broad “ah” sound of the a’s. The final cadence of inhaerére man-súr-is solemn and splendid. And who will not thrill to the simultaneously drumming, alliterative, and tongue twisting ín-ter praé-ter-e-ún-ti-(a_á)m-bu-lán-tes with its possible elision of “ahs” in its midst! This is a fine thing to hear after the first Holy Communion of a new year! Let’s now figure out what it says. First, however, let’s see what ICEL said it says nearly three decades ago.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may our communion
teach us to love heaven.
May its promise and hope guide our way on earth.

Is what the prayer really says? You will recall that the translations of prayers of the sacral cycles of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter were generally more accurate than those of the rest of the year. Yet I am troubled with a suspicion. Indeed, warning claxons are shrieking in my mind as I notice from the start that this translation is a great deal “dead-give-away” shorter than the Latin original, which ought not happen if it is accurate. As a matter of fact, as I was writing I had to consult my ICEL Sacramentary and look this up again: I was convinced I had copied the wrong Sunday’s closing prayer. So…get out your trusty tome, the Dictionary, the mighty Lewis & Short and examine the raw data.

Lift a fine tall glass in a toast to the L&S! “Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa!” Some of you of German ancestry, like the undersigned, will exclaim “ein Prosit!” or “Prost!” because your own excellent working knowledge of Latin, together with its closely printed pages, will instantly reveal that prosint is the 3rd person plural present active subjunctive form of the verb prosum, -fui, prodesse which means essentially “to be useful or of use, to do good, benefit, profit”. In Rome there is a venerable custom surrounding this useful verb. When a Mass is over and the servers and sacred ministers proceed the priest into the sacristy, they will gather in respectful lines on either side of the room and allow the priest, last in line, to pass through to the center of the room and stand before the ever-present crucifix. As he would remove his biretta and bow to the Lord, those present would solemnly say “Prosit” or, in other words, “May what you have just done be of benefit for you!” The priest then responds “Vobis quoque” (or “Tibi quoque” if there is only one other present). This is just about the only time I can think of when we might use accurately “And also with you!” though “for you” might be smoother….and the priest says it instead of… well, you get it.

We saw frequento in the Super oblata of the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. It means “to visit or resort to frequently, to frequent; to do or make use of frequently, to repeat” and also “to celebrate or keep in great numbers” as in the observance of public festivals. Praetereuntia… just what is that form? This is a present active participle of praeter-eo (“to go by or past, to pass by; “to be lost, disregarded, perish, pass away, pass without attention or fulfillment (late Lat.)” When Christ says that not a “tittel or jot” will “pass away” from the Law, the Latin of Matthew 5:8 in Jerome’s Vulgate says “iota unum aut unus apex non praeteribit de lege”. In Latin and other languages some form of praeteritum is used in technical grammatical terminology for a past tense and when we studied English grammar we learned what “preterit” meant. So, this neuter plural adverb means “things that are passing away”, and the tense of the adverb is present, that is, contemporary with the time of the main verb. On the other hand mansuris is a plural future participle of maneo (“to remain, last, endure, continue”) and, though the neuter is hard to see in this ablative (or dative following inhaereo – “to stick in, to stick, hang, or cleave to, to adhere to, inhere in; engage deeply or closely in; to be closely connected with) case it thus means “things that are going to endure”. Instituo has a range of meanings including “to plant, fix”, “establish” and “to prepare, furnish, provide (viands, food, a feast, etc.)”, very apt for a Sacrifice/Meal instituted by the Lord. Iam nunc is intensive form. Both words mean virtually the same thing: “now”.

We beg you, O Lord, may they be profitable for us, these oft celebrated sacramental mysteries,
by which you established that we, walking amidst the things that are passing away,
would now in this very moment love heavenly things and cleave to the things that will endure.

Our reception of Holy Communion should be a thing of profound joy and humbling wonder. We are always, always, invited by the Lord to partake of Him at Communion time, though we are also always to be properly disposed to receive Him, physically and spiritually. At the very moment the priest intones this prayer, the Eucharistic Christ is within us: a tabernacle is no more the haven of the Real Presence than you “now in this very moment”. This fact of the present awesome moment calls forth from Christians an ever deeper commitment to seek always those enduring things which are above, even as we carry out our day to day duties in this ever-changing, never ultimately to be depended upon material world.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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