1st Sunday of Advent

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 1st Sunday of Advent – Roman Station: St. Mary MajorS. Maria Maggiore

These WDTPRS articles carefully explore week by week what the Latin prayers of Holy Mass really say. The first year of this series examined the Collects (“Opening prayer”) of Mass, the second the Super oblata (“Prayer over the gifts”) and the third the Post Communion prayers. In the fourth year we studied together the four main Eucharistic Prayers and in the fifth we returned once again to look at the Collects. This permitted me to make many revisions and rethink what I had written before. There is an adage in Latin: repetita iuvant – repeated things help. This liturgical year let us revisit to the Super oblata, prayed after the offertory and immediately before the Preface.

Some news: From 7-10 November there was a meeting in Rome of members of the Vox Clara Committee established by the Holy See to ride shotgun on ICEL’s stagecoach. His Holiness Benedict XVI sent His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, our favorite frank and forthright Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), a special message to be conveyed to Vox Clara. The Pope wrote, “I add the hope that the translation into English … may soon be completed, so that the faithful throughout the English-speaking world may benefit from the use of the liturgical texts accurately rendered in accordance with the norms of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam.” (Emphasis mine) Furthermore,

“I am confident that … the translation of the Missale Romanum into English will succeed in transmitting the treasures of the faith and the liturgical tradition in the specific context of a devout and reverent Eucharistic celebration.”

So, the Holy Father is pretty clear about what he wants. Don’t hold your breath but a press release from Vox Clara said that ICEL informed them about a projected schedule indicating completion of its translation over the next “23 months.” It would be good for everyone involved to get aboard. In fact, WDTPRS thinks there will soon be a significant change at the CDWDS to facilitate their harmonious collaboration with the Holy Father. Stay tuned.

In the meantime across the pond, at the time of this writing the American bishops are once again meeting in plenary session. The chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Liturgy (BCL), His Excellency Donald W. Trautman, the Erie bishop of Pennsylvania, held a Q&A session on what is going on with the new English translation. He presented a gloomy picture of how divided the bishops are about the draft prepared by ICEL. According to a CNS story of 15 November, Bishop Trautman said the results of two surveys on the new draft show that “53 percent of the bishops who responded thought the new translation was excellent or good, while 47 percent rated it fair or poor.” He said, moreover that “What one bishop regarded as elevated language that enhanced the liturgy another described as ‘turgid’ and another complained about as ‘not American English.’” Let’s let go of the fact that this translation isn’t only about “America”. Still, Bishop Trautman’s survey (to which so few bishops bothered to respond) said that 12 percent thought the draft was excellent, 40 percent good, 40 percent fair, and 7 percent poor. Hmmmm… Bishop Trautman reports that 53 percent of bishops say the draft is excellent or good while 47 said fair or poor. However, arranging the stats another way we see that 7 percent say the draft is poor while 92 percent say it is at least fair to excellent! Who are these 7 percent? I want names.

But wait, there’s more. His Excellency Blase Cupich of Rapid City (SD) says only 107 bishops responded to the survey! Bishop Cupich asked all the bishops to respond. So, who knows what the bishops really think? A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story of 15 November quotes His Eminence Francis Card. George as saying: “There are those who have been quite critical of the present translation, but who are now saying that we don’t want to disturb the people, especially in the situation of weakened episcopal authority we have now.” He was referring to distrust people might now have of bishops in the wake of the scandals sadly ripping at the Church in the United States. It will not surprise us much that Fr. Bruce Harbert, Executive Secretary of ICEL, defended the draft as being more faithful to biblical language. Trautman said, “We are a divided body on this translation issue. At this time we do not have a two-thirds vote necessary for canonical approval”. Apparently there was rather sharp debate on the floor. In an AP story Cardinal George said: “I’m not sure where this whole this is going to go”.
Folks, many who resist the reworking of the translation think we are too thick to grasp the more accurate language and that priests are too dense to explain what it means. In past articles I gave you evidence of this attitude taken from speeches and articles available on the internet. Also, WDTPRS thinks the second draft translation is not a great improvement over the first. Since many bishops didn’t respond to the survey, and are now being asked to, now is the time to write to your bishops and give them your thoughts. Do you want things to remain as they are or do you want improvements? Changes are going to be made without a doubt. What changes will they be?
Advent begins a new liturgical year. Each year through the liturgy Holy Church presents the history of our salvation and the mysteries of the life, death, resurrection and the return of the Lord. Each year we ourselves are a little different and so the unchanging mysteries of our faith touch us in a fresh way. Christ through His Church shapes us by means of the content of the prayers of Mass and we in turn shape the world around us. How important is it for us to know what the Church is really praying? We need to pray with her and through her and thus be formed by her. The Western Church’s liturgy is officially in the Latin language, though now the vernacular is nearly completely dominant wherever the post-Conciliar liturgy is in use. Barring some unfathomable event, the vernacular is here to stay. As a result, the translations we have been given bear the burden of what the Church, through divine inspiration and centuries of human wisdom, desires to convey to us. The translations had better be good. It is of critical importance that they reflect with both unswerving accuracy and memorable beauty what the Church’s Latin prayers really say. Few rational people dispute that the translations now in use are not up to the task I described. In recognition of this fact, the Holy See required that a new vernacular rendering of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal be prepared and issued norms for the preparation of new translations. The work has been going on for some years now and at least two drafts have been presented. The newer draft of the Ordinary of Mass is, in my opinion, of uneven quality. We will continue to look at pieces of the draft in weeks to come.

We must place our Super oblata prayers in their context in the Mass. As each Mass begins we have an entrance procession followed by a prayer that is “proper” (that is, it changes with the day as opposed to “ordinary”, which is fixed). This is the pattern: procession – proper prayer. After the procession to Communion the priest says a proper prayer. So too there is a proper prayer after the procession that brings our sacrificial gifts to the priest at the altar. In the older, traditional or “Tridentine” form of the Mass this prayer was called the Secret because it was recited silently. In the ancient Church, and also today in more solemn liturgy, there was an elaborate procession whereby the subdeacons and deacons brought forward from the congregation many material sacrificial offerings such as bread, wine, money, other food and objects for the poor, etc. Already by the time the ancient Sacramentaries (e.g., “Veronese”, “Gelasian”) were put together the prayers following this offertory procession contained vocabulary for gifts and sacrifices (e.g., dona, munera, oblationem) and such is the case even now. The Super oblata follow the general structure of a prayer of petition: we offer things up so that God’s grace may come down on us. You will see that these prayers are normally in the first person plural: we. The whole congregation is speaking in the person of the mediator at the altar, the priest.

Today’s prayer is in the abovementioned ancient Veronese Sacramentary amidst prayers for the month of July. Note in the Latin the wonderful scrambling of word order for rhetorical effect. Words that go together are separated and concepts are embedded between them. This elegant rhetorical interlocking delights both ear and mind. It also reflects how the concepts are interconnected. Latin challenges us to hold different ideas in our minds as we wait for the final word and the sentence’s resolution, almost as a juggler foils the fall of many objects of differing shapes. This sometimes makes rendering Latin into smooth English very hard.

Suscipe, quaesumus, Domine, munera
quae de tuis offerimus collata beneficiis,
et, quod nostrae devotioni concedis effici temporali,
tuae nobis fiat praemium redemptionis aeternae.

Take up, O Lord, we beg You, the gifts we are offering
which were gathered together from Your favors,
and let that which You grant to be accomplished by our temporal dedication
become for us the reward of Your eternal redemption.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, from all you give us
we present this bread and wine.
As we serve you now,
accept our offering
and sustain us with your promise of eternal life.

The now lame-duck ICEL version emphasizes the “meal” aspect of Mass rather than the transforming “sacrificial” dimension. The Latin says munera, “gifts”, but ICEL says “bread and wine”; panem et vinum are not in the Latin original. Of course at this point in Mass munera on the surface indicates the bread and wine. ICEL restricts us to the obvious elements of bread and wine, which are material. The Latin is less restrictive. It embraces all that we bring to the Lord at Mass, material and spiritual sacrifice. Furthermore, the Latin word collata brings to my mind an image of laborers in fields and vineyards, quarries, orchards and forests, reaping, gathering, mining, collecting what their own labor and God’s blessings produce. ICEL chose not to translate collata. Collata (means “gathered together” – like English “collate” cf. confero in the useful Lewis & Short Dictionary: “to collect, gather together” and thence “to bring together for comparison” which is where we get the abbreviation “cf.” meaning “compare with”). The Latin powerfully juxtaposes what we do and what God does. In the ICEL version we want God to “sustain” us with a “promise”. In the Latin we beg God to receive back from us what He already gave and subsequently cause those things to be entirely transformed (fiat) into the “reward of eternal salvation” – Himself. The structure of the prayer, by the complex way it weaves concepts between words that go together grammatically, hints at what the prayer really says: by our work and dedication we must give back to Him good things which were already His in anticipation of His transforming them as only He can. Christ makes Himself the reward of our efforts.

Keep in mind our context: this is the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for the Coming of the Lord. Advent is back to back with the observance of the Lord’s final coming at the end of the world. Advent is a time of penance before the First Coming of the Infant King. Advent is liminal season, like a threshold, blending the end of the world with its rebirth in the new Adam. Advent is also about the how the Lord comes in actual graces, in the words of the priest…Hoc est enim corpus meum….This is my Body, in Holy Communion and in the person neighbor, especially the needy. St. John the Baptist admonishes us during Advent to make straight Christ’s path, for He truly is coming. Christ Himself will straighten our paths His own way if have not taken care to straighten them beforehand. It is a new liturgical year. Pray that this upcoming season of preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas will bring us and our loved one many material and spiritual blessings.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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