What Does the Prayer Really Say? 2nd Sunday of Advent – Station: Holy Cross in Jerusalem
Some news about liturgical developments in case you haven’t heard already. In a Catholic New Service story we find “Vatican guidelines for translating liturgical texts into English and examples of translations from the new Roman Missal were reviewed by members of the Vox Clara Committee, a panel of bishops appointed to advise the Vatican on English liturgical translations. The committee, chaired by Australian Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, met Nov. 18-19 at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Eleven bishops on the committee, including four from the United States, reviewed a draft of the “‘ratio translationis,’ which would serve as a guide for the preparation of future English-language liturgical translations,” said a Nov. 19 press release. A “ratio” or guide providing both translation principles and specific suggestions for how certain Latin words and phrases should be translated into local languages was called for in the 2001 Vatican document “Liturgiam Authenticam” on liturgical translations.” Aside from the fact that CNS missed that the document is Liturgicam authenticam (lowercase “a”) I am encouraged.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Repleti cibo spiritalis alimoniae,
supplices te, Domine, deprecamur,
ut, huius participatione mysterii,
doceas nos terrena sapienter perpendere,
et caelestibus inhaerere.
This was originally the Postcommunio of the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the 1962MR. I see in the 1962MR that, in the text of the Mass, the prayer is called a “Postcommunio”. In the editions of the Novus Ordo, namely the 2002MR it is entitled “Post communionem”.
Let’s look at some of the vocabulary of our “Post communion” prayer today. That esteemed volume, the incomparable Lewis & Short Dictionary explains that alimonia means somewhat more than that check certain people write to certain other people. Anyone who has lived in Italy can tell you that a “negozio di alimentari” is a grocery shop. You also know from your basic anatomy that the alimentary tract is part of our digestive system. Indeed alimonia in Latin means “nourishment, food, sustenance, support”. Apparently, those checks are supposed to go for food, but let’s veer from that. Looking rapidly at St. Jerome’s Vulgate we find in alimoniam ignis for “the food of the burnt-offering” (Leviticus 3:16) which Aaron and his sons are to eat. Leviticus concerns itself in the beginning (chapters 1-7) with the different kinds of sacrifices the Jews would offer. First God tells Moses about the “burnt offering” and the types of animals involved, a bull, a male sheep or goat, and birds. This sort of offering is completely burned and neither priest nor people eat of the offering. Next, God speaks of the grain offering, which can substitute for the animal offering or could be offered together with an animal or separately. There were cooked and uncooked grain offerings and variations with and without frankincense so that the poor could afford to offer them. Some grain offerings were not eaten, for they were in a more “holy” category. An example is “the bread of Presence”. Also, there was a prohibition for burnt offerings against leaven and fruit syrups made from dates or grapes, for the reason of keeping leaven away from the altar of sacrifice. Wine, beer, oil, leavened dough, etc. could be offered as “choice offerings” in other ways. Salt was also presented since, as a preservative, it symbolized the permanence of the Covenant. There was also a “well-being” offering to fulfill a vow or just given in free will. The Law said that people could not eat the flesh of domesticated animals unless they were ritually sacrificed in a sanctuary. Eating the flesh of the sacrificial victim was seen as a sacral act. Most of the meat from the sacrifice would go to the person who brought the animal sacrifice while some portion would go to the priest and God would receive the visceral fat and organs. These animals could be either male or female (the more important burnt offering animals had to be male). The blood of the sacrifice was to be dashed on the altar in order to expiate the offers sin and to ransom him. There were also the “sin offering” the “graded sin offering” the “guilt offering” and so forth. Leviticus should be read by anyone, especially liturgists, who thinks Mass isn’t to be taking more seriously than common practice suggests, but I digress.
If you want a hint at what perpendo means, then perpend: “to weigh carefully, examine; to ponder, consider.” Repleo is “to fill again, refill; to fill up, replenish, complete”. The Blessed Apostles in his letter to the Romans says replevi Evangelium which means “I have spread the Gospel fully” (15:19). Think of the English word “replete”. The Latin verb inhaereo is “to stick in, to stick, hang, or cleave to, to adhere to, inhere in; engage deeply or closely in; to be closely connected with”.
We can now attempt a
Having been filled, with the food of spiritual nourishment,
we suppliants beg you, O Lord,
that, by participation in this sacramental mystery,
you may teach us to ponder earthly things wisely,
and cleave to heavenly things.
Right away it occurs to the hearer that there is a contrast in this prayer. The priest speaks of both the physical and spiritual dimensions. In Holy Communion we receive physical nourishment, albeit in a very small quantity, and receive spiritual repast of infinite measure when considered in itself and some subjective measure when considered in relation to us. As the scholastic adage goes, that which is received is received in the manner of the one receiving it. That is to say, depending on how they are disposed, some people receive great graces (though not all those possible in the infinitely worthy Eucharist), some receive fewer and some receive none. Some actually are eating and drinking their own condemnation (cf. 1 Cor. 11). In his wondrous hymn Lauda Sion for the Holy Eucharist which we sing on Corpus Christi the sobering words scribed by the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas:
Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inaequali,
Vitae vel interitus.
Mors est malis,
Vide paris sumptionis
Quam sit dispar exitus.
The good consume it, the bad consume it:
but with a different fate,
that of life or of destruction.
There is death for the wicked,
life for the good:
Behold how unlike is the outcome
of a like consuming.
Our participation in the Eucharist is at its fullest when we receive Holy Communion and do so in the state of grace. Many times in WDTPRS we have explored the true meaning of “active participation” as opposed to the erroneous but all too common notions that are being promoted far and near. We know from the Church’s own teaching that by our baptism we are made capable of a deeper sense of participation in the sacred mysteries. “Participation” in its fuller aspect is primarily an interior participation. We participate with “full, conscious and active participation” (Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) when we are interiorly receptive (plena – “full’), we know what is happening (conscia “conscious” – again interior), and we are actively receptive to what is happening in the sacred action (actuosa – interiorly “active” in the sense of uniting all that we are by an interior act of will with what is being done). Certainly anyone attending Mass as a non-Communicant, even non-baptized, benefits from “participation”. But our participatio becomes “full, conscious and active” and reaches its zenith when the actively receptive and properly disposed Christian receives Holy Communion. This was made crystal clear in 1947 by the Sacred Congregation of Rites instruction Musicam sacram 22, c, which draws from Pius XII’s Mediator Dei: “Active participation (actuosa participatio) is perfect when “sacramental” participation is included. In this way “the people receive the Holy Eucharist not only by spiritual desire, but also sacramentally, and thus obtain greater benefit from this most holy Sacrifice”. (Council of Trent, Sess. 22, ch. 6; cf. also Mediator Dei: AAS 39  565: “It is most appropriate, as the liturgy itself prescribes, for the people to come to holy Communion after the priest has received at the altar”.) In other words, just showing up isn’t enough. And we need to know what we are there for! We must get some things straight if we are going to dare to approach the most holy and sacred thing on earth: a) participation isn’t “doing stuff”; b) Communion is more than a merit badge because you showed up, more than getting your parking ticket validated; c) Communion is life or, without discernment and proper disposition, it can be doom. Bring that to your local sacramental preparation team and slappy-happy liturgy committee and given them a big hug from Pius XII, Vatican II and Fr. Z.
So, in our prayer after Holy Communion, the priest prays hopefully identifies that which we have received as food for spiritual nourishment, not food unto spiritual destruction (cf. Sorte tamen inaequali). Further, though the graces that come from Communion we are asking God to give us the graces we need to discern properly the value of material and earthly things, to weigh carefully their meaning and purpose for our lives. Let nothing that we have, do, or long for be an obstacle for our reception of Holy Communion.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you give us food for heaven.
By our sharing in this mystery,
teach us to judge wisely the things of earth
and to love the things of heaven.
You will have noticed over the last months that I comment less now on the ICEL versions than I did before. This is from a sense of fairness. These ICEL translations came out in 1973 and there are new translations in preparation. As you know, the translation of the second edition of 1975 was rejected and a newer version is underway based on the new norms promulgated in Liturgiam authenticam. Since everyone has by now recognized the need to revise the English translation we have, it would be unfair to beat these limping ducks. With optimism we look forward to better translations in the future… the near future, please God.