WHAT DOES THE PRAYER REALLY SAY? 2nd Sunday of Advent
Before we leap into the Collect, a brief note is necessary about something in the new document of the NCCB called “Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship” (BLS) The bishops approved BLS at their most recent meeting in November. BLS has a section about the placement of the altar. The document quotes #299 of the official Latin version of newly released General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). The NCCB’s document provides an English translation of #299 in footnote #75:
“In every church there should ordinarily be a fixed, dedicated altar, which should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable whenever possible….”
This series concerns the difficulties of translating Latin liturgical texts. Alas, there is a problem with the way the Latin of GIRM 299 has been translated. The Latin text of the section quoted above reads:
Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.
The error in the English version is that the translator failed to see the function of that quod as referring back to the main clause of the sentence. It also falls into the incredibly common trap of translating the Latin word by word into English. That cannot be done. The way it is translates this makes #299 sound as if there is some mandate to celebrate Mass facing the people. It does not. That sentence should read something like: “The main altar should be built separated from the wall which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.” That business about being able to walk around the altar and celebrate Mass on it refers to the distance of separation from the wall more than anything else. It provides for celebration from either side of the altar. It does not, in Latin, even hint that Mass must be said facing the people. It is difficult to understand why this error is found in the NCCB’s document, approved in November. On 25 September 2000 the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) issued a clarification (Prot. No. 2036/00/L) regarding #299 in the new Latin GIRM. In that clarification we read:
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] is to be excluded.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.
The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum. The clause ubi possibile sit refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.
Clearly, there are continuing difficulties in providing dependable translations of the Latin texts. This particular error, on the other hand, is so important that it cannot be passed up. It concerns a fundamental aspect of the celebration of Mass. It needs to be corrected. The texts of the new Latin GIRM and BLS can be found at the NCCB’s website (http://www.nccbuscc.org).
This week we are deepening the process of preparation which began last week. In our new Collect prayer we are picking up new themes while deepening those of the First Sunday of Advent. Today we are given by Holy Mother Church splendid biblical images and connections with the liturgy of Advent and hints at Christmas itself. Last week we began the journey. This week we talk to God about the obstacles we are facing and express our deep desire to persevere and come to our goal.
COLLECT: LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum)
Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
in tui occursum Filii festinantes
nulla opera terreni actus impediant,
sed sapientiae caelestis eruditio
nos faciat eius esse consortes.
Almighty and merciful God,
let no works of worldly impulse hinder
those hurrying to meet Your Son,
but rather let the learning of heavenly wisdom
make us to His partakers.
Last week we addressed the prayer to Almighty God. This prayer is addressed to God the Father, almighty and merciful. We appeal to both those qualities in Him because we have something we must urgently accomplish but, being in this world, we are in danger and are set about with many obstacles. What sort of things? First of all we struggle with our evil impulses, which are stimulated also by the prince of this world and his minions, the enemies of our souls. I say “worldly impulses” in my version. Actus can mean many things, including what it looks like: an act or action. But the first meaning given in the invaluable Lewis & Short Dictionary is: The moving or driving of an object, impulse, motion. Impedio has as a component the Latin root word for “foot”…pes. It literally means to snare or tangle the feet, and is therefore a marvelous word to use juxtaposed to the image of the faithful servants of God rushing out to meet the Advent Christ. In the Psalms we are constantly praying to God about enemies who are setting snares for our feet. The ways and allurements of the world and the influences of the enemy are snares we must be wary of on our pilgrimage through this earthly. And do you see how this week we are asking God to keep us from “works of worldly impulse” when last week we began our Advent preparation by humbly begging God to give us a disposition of will that will cause us to rush to meet Christ with “just works”?
Here we also have the introduction of the concept of sapientia … wisdom, with all its attendant Christological overtones in the Bible’s Wisdom literature and in the neo-Platonic undercurrents of the Fathers of the Church. A forest of trees would not produce the paper needed to get into that, however. Suffice for now that in this prayer that sapientia makes you think right away of how Paul warns us about “the wisdom of this world” and calls it folly compared to the wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 3:19; 2 Cor 3:19). In Romans 12:2 the great Apostle 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.” And keeping always the liturgical season of Advent in mind as the context for this prayer, remember too that we will soon have in the Liturgy of the Hours at Vespers of 17 December the first of the famous “O Antiphons”: O Sapientia… “Oh, Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.” The beautiful carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is based on these O Antiphons and its second verse corresponds to O Sapientia:
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
We are given a contrast in this prayer, we depend on God, who is able to dispose all things in this world, to protect us in His mercy from anything in this world or any bad impulses from within that would be like snares to trap our feet and prevent us from our union with Christ. We are trying to become participants in Him in a conclusive way. Conformity to the “heavenly wisdom” (Christ Himself) is what we are asking from the Father. It may be that the core of this prayer is found in 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge 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).” Efficio is formed from facio (efficio (ecfacio)). For the person who is getting a their minimum daily requirement of Latin liturgy it is easy to make a connection between this week’s collect and the prayer said by the priest at the offertory of the Mass when he puts the tiny bit of water (symbolic of our humanity) into the wine (God’s divinity) in the chalice: “Per huius aquae et vini mysterium efficiamur divinitatis consortes… Through the mystery of this water and wine may we be made partakers of His divinity, who condescended to become a partaker of our humanity.” Coincidently, this same offertory prayer at the preparation of the chalice is the Collect or Opening prayer for the third Mass of Christmas (Missa in die – “Puer natus est”) for which Advent is preparing us!
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,
for he lives and reigns….