2nd & 3rd Sundays of Advent

What Does the Prayer Really Say? The 2nd & 3rd Sundays of Advent

Due to technical difficulties and a short week, last week for the first time in four years WDTPRS did not appear. This week, we content ourselves with the nuts and bolts for two Sundays. News and comments for both weeks will be in a separate piece elsewhere in the paper. We are in the course our Advent season of preparation for the coming of the Christ child. The Lord has already come historically in His first coming at Bethlehem. As a consequence, there is a strong “eschatological” dimension to Advent. “Eschatology” concerns the last things (Greek ta eschata), death, judgment, heaven and hell. This season is more than a sentimental journey to the side of the manger with magi and oxen and asses and a little straw thrown around for ambience. The Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet, “the greatest man born of woman” (Matt 11:11; Luke 7:28) now shouts to us his admonition: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!” (Mark 1:3). Draw inspiration from the Infant King as venerate Him in the wooden crib, but be aware that He came in order to pass through the torment of the wooden Cross. He is coming to us now, too, in actual graces, in Holy Communion, in the person of our neighbor. One day He will come definitively as King and Judge. Advent joy, is joyfully penitential.

Lest any “traditional” Catholics claim today’s Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent is less valuable because wasn’t in the 1570 Missale Romanum and is therefore not old enough, please know that it is from the so-called Rotulus (“scroll”) of Ravenna, dated by E.A. Lowe to the 8th c., but by others to as early as the 5th c. It is an ancient prayer restored for our benefit in the post-Conciliar reform.

Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
in tui occursum Filii festinantes
nulla opera terreni actus impediant,
sed sapientiae caelestis eruditio
nos faciat eius esse consortes.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…

What does the Latin prayer really say? We now consult that sure stock of Latin lemmas the Lewis & Short Dictionary for actus which means, “an act or action” but also, “the moving or driving of an object, impulse.” Impedio (built from the word pes, pedis, “foot”) is “to snare or tangle the feet”. Sapientia means “wisdom”. In Christian contexts, especially of the Early Church, Wisdom is simply loaded with different overtones from theology and philosophy (philosophia, “love of wisdom”). The Bible has a group of writings called “Wisdom literature” which were, according to the Fathers of the Church, filled with foreshadowings of Christ who is identified with Wisdom. The phrase faciat eius esse consortes calls to mind both the Collect prayer in Mass for Christmas Day and also the priest’s prayer when preparing the chalice at the offertory. A consors is someone with (con-) whom you share your lot (sors). This is at the heart of today’s Collect prayer. Remember: Deus, “God”, is declined irregularly and in solemn discourse the nominative is used as the vocative form (e.g. cf. Livy 1, 24, 7). Do not, like ICEL did, fall into the trap of thinking that Deus is the subject of the verbs. The subjects are the plural opera and singular eruditio.

Almighty and merciful God,
let no works of worldly impulse impede
those hurrying to the meeting of Your Son,
but rather let the learning of heavenly wisdom
make us to be His partakers.

Last week we were rushing to meet the Lord who is coming while meriting our reward through good works, meritorious for heaven because they are made so in Christ. In Advent, as the Baptist warns us, we are to make smooth the path for the coming of the Lord. This week we are again rushing, but, perhaps we are wiser this week after the first rush of excitement: we are now also wary of obstacles which could impede us, snare our feet on the path. These would be our merely human, simply worldly, works. These “works of worldly impulse” are not meritorious since they are not performed in Christ. There is a sharp contrast between heavenly Wisdom which liberates and worldly “wisdom” which entangles. The Apostle St. Paul contrasts the wisdom of this world with the Wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 3:19; 2 Cor 3:19). In Romans 12:2 Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is not just a Pauline concept. Compare our Collect today also with 2 Peter 1:3-4 (RSV): “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge (cognitio: cf. eruditio) of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (efficiamini divinae consortes).”

St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) beat up some Donatist heretics and dismantled their argument that all clerics ordained by a sinful bishop would be automatically stained in the same guilt. He used imagery like that of our prayer today (Ad Donatistas post collationem in CSEL 53:19.25, p. 123 my translation): “The sludge (lutum) their feet are stuck in is so thick and dense that, trying in vain to tear themselves out of it, they get their hands and head stuck in it too, and lingering in that sticky mess they get more tightly enveloped.” The Donatist argument was based in worldly, not heavenly, wisdom.

Sticky lutum is a metaphor of worldly life. Neglecting God, who speaks in the Church and our conscience, we weak sinners can convince ourselves of anything, over time: down becomes up, back is made front, black turns into white, and wrong is really right. We justify what we know, or knew, to be sinful. Once this becomes a habit, it is a vice in more than one sense of that word. Occasionally our consciences will struggle against the grip of self-deception, but quite often the proverbial “Struggle”, Novocain for the conscience, supplies permission: “I really ‘struggled’ with this, … before I did it!” If we go off the true path into the murky twisted woods, thoroughly mired in sticky error we will not escape the Enemy, the roaring lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8). Nor will we elude Christ the Judge, who will come through dark woods by straight paths. Advent reminds us to prepare for the coming of both the Enemy lion and the Lion of Judah who will open the seals and read forth the Book of Life (Rev 5:5).

Now for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, also nicknamed Gaudete…. the plural imperative of gaudeo, “Rejoice!”. Today, there is a relaxation of the penitential aspect of Advent. In the first week of Advent we begged God for the grace of the proper approach and will for our preparation. In the second week, we ask God for help and protection in facing the obstacles the world raises against us. This Sunday we have a glimpse of the joy that is coming in our rose colored (rosacea) vestments, some use of the organ, flowers. Christmas is near at hand.

Deus, qui conspicis populum tuum nativitatis dominicae festivitatem fideliter exspectare, praesta, quaesumus, ut valeamus ad tantae salutis gaudia pervenire,
et ea votis sollemnibus alacri laetitia celebrare.

The infinitives in our Collect (expectarepervenirecelebrare) give it a grand sound and alo sum up what we are doing in Advent. L&S informs us that conspicio means, “to look at attentively, to get sight of, to descry, perceive, observe.” Alacer is, “lively, brisk, quick, eager, active; glad, happy, cheerful” and it is put in an unlikely combination with laetitia, “joy, especially unrestrained joyfulness”. At the same time we also have votis sollemnibus. Votum signifies first of all, “a solemn promise made to some deity” (we have all made baptismal vows!) and also “wish, desire, longing, prayer”. There is a powerful sentiment of longing in this prayer, God’s as well as ours. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that expecto is from ex– + pecto (pecto, “to comb”). You won’t find exspecto “look forward to”, in your L&S, but the etymological dictionary of Latin by Ernout and Meillet says it is from ex– + *specio, spexi, spectum or ex– + spicio. Therefore, it is a cousin of conspicio: God “watches” over us and we “look” back at… er um… forward to Him. This word play is quite clever, really.

O God, who attentively does watch Your people
look forward faithfully to the feast of the Lord’s birth,
grant, we entreat,
that we may be able to attain the to joys of so great a salvation
and celebrate them with eager jubilation in solemn festive rites.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR): Lord God,
may we, your people,
who look forward to the birthday of Christ
experience the joy of salvation
and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.

This offertory embodies a word pair describing the attitude of Advent: joyful penance… penitential joy. With the last two week’s of “rushing” in our prayers and doing good works, we have now the added image of eager and unrestrained joy, an almost childlike dash towards a long-desired thing. Have earthly fathers watched this scene all of a Christmas morning? Even so should we be in our eager joy to perform good works under the gaze of a Father who watches us, a Father with a plan. This lame duck ICEL version captures little of the impact of the Latin prayer, that is, God the Father is patiently watching his people as we go about the Advent business of doing penance and just works in joyful anticipation Christ’s coming. But perhaps you will be good enough to respond with an eager and joyfully penitential “Amen” when you hear it pronounced even as you long for a better translation in the future.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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