2nd Sunday of Advent

What Does the Prayer Really Say? The 2nd Sunday of Advent

When we approach difficult questions or topics, we must be humble before them, admitting the truth when made plain and ignorance when plainly we don’t have a clue. I have told you all more than once how baffled I was by something both readers and I received from the hand of the Executive Secretary of ICEL, Fr. Bruce Harbert. In responding to your (and my) kind letters about the thorny pro multis controversy (“for all” in the sacramental form for the consecration of the Precious Blood) Fr. Harbert systematically penned a puzzling claim without offering support or references, that is: the Holy Father reserves to himself personally the approval vernacular translations of the sacramental forms. This claim struck me as unlikely and I was not alone – in a copy of a response a WDTPRS reader shared with me I saw that His Eminence George Card. Pell, chairman of Vox Clara, was similarly surprised. With the help of others I have gotten to the bottom of Fr. Harbert’s contention, which sounded like a dodge.

What Fr. Harbert wrote is true. I verified it. Of course, he might have saved us some trouble and provided in his letters a reference to reduce our original level of wonder and confusion. In the Holy See’s official instrument of promulgation, Acta Apostolicae Sedis for 28 February 1974 (AAS 66 (1974) 98-99) we find a circular letter dated 25 October 1973 over the signature of then Secretary of State Jean Card. Villot, countersigned by Archbp. Annibale Bugnini, about this very matter (my translation from the Latin): “The Supreme Pontiff reserves to himself the power of approving directly all translations into vernacular languages of the formulas of sacraments.” 1973 was the year our present ICEL version was approved. There was a dust-up going on about whether the vernacular sacramental forms (i.e., “for all”) were heretical. The circular letter stated a translation (conversio) of sacramental forms was to be prepared (apparabitur – apparo: “prepare, make ready”) by the (then) Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship after consultation with the episcopal conferences; a translation must accurately reflect proper doctrine and be in harmony with the Latin text as much as possible. Nota bene: the Congregation (at present the CDWDS), not the conferences, not ICEL, furnishes the translation of the sacramental form to the Pope for approval. I therefore renew my plea to you, good readers, to write with cordial fervor to those in charge of these matters, if you need addresses and don’t have back issues of WDTPRS wherein they were provided, contact either The Wanderer or yours truly.

Why is this important? During the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, His Excellency Most Rev. Donald W. Trautman, Bishop of Erie, was re-elected chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy (BCL – a non-authoritative body). The BCL must soon review ICEL’s latest draft translation which the Vox Clara Committee recently reviewed in Rome. Bp. Trautman has been consistently and sharply critical of the Holy See’s norms for translation issued in the CDWDS’s Liturgiam authenticam (LA). This is rather dramatic, so keep reading. Enter from upstage: a regular WDTPRSer, JB via e-mail from Washington, D.C., where he attended a “Tridentine” Mass last Sunday. “Ding” goes the sanctuary bell. Enter stage right: the priest celebrant in biretta and maniple, Fr. Bruce Harbert, the aforementioned Executive Secretary of ICEL. I ask you: can you wrap your mind around the image of a member of ICEL’s politburo of yore, say 10 years ago, celebrating a Tridentine Mass? I say “Kudos, Father.” No, “for all” during that Mass, I can tell you. Anyway, JB recounts that, in a conversation with Fr. Harbert after Mass, Father assured him that Bp. Trautman is a scholarly fellow who will not have a negative impact on the translation. Having confirmed what Fr. Harbert has asserted before, shall we give him the benefit of the doubt in this matter as well? Quoth Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”

In 2003 a group decidedly not friendly to the Holy See’s norms, the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Directors (I’ve mentioned them before) presented Bp. Trautman with their Frederick R. McManus Award. His Excellency spoke inter alia about the then forthcoming CDWDS document Redemptionis Sacramentum desired by the Pope against liturgical abuses. His Excellency’s anaphoric remarks in 2003 may reveal something of his approach to documents from the Holy See (slightly edited):

A recent draft of a forthcoming Vatican instruction included several problematic elements – elements which were neither pastorally sensitive nor liturgically correct. While we are thankfully reassured that more competent and more sensible judgments have prevailed, we need to ask how could such proposals be drafted and approved for submission in the first place? When such Roman liturgical drafts call us to return to a liturgical mentality prior to Vatican II, we need to say to one another: Keep up your courage. When liturgical expertise is not respected, … When fundamental principles of liturgical renewal are reversed, we must say to one another: Keep up your courage….

There is more of the same. Folks, do you see what is going on? I say keep up your courage, pick up your pens and ratchet up your efforts. The coming months are decisive!

Lest any “traditional” Catholics think today’s Collect is less valuable because it isn’t old enough, or wasn’t in the 1570 Missale Romanum, it is from the “Gelasian Sacramentary”, compiled around 750 in Paris from material in use much earlier.

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 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 and 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: now are now also wary of obstacles on that path which could impede us, snare our feet. 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).

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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