3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete – Roman Station: Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete – Roman Station: Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican

His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) was interviewed recently by Inside the Vatican. He said: “If at Mass, we are self-controlled, we are disciplined, we don’t talk in the Church and don’t converse as if we were in a football stadium, it is because of what we believe. Therefore, the most important area is faith and fidelity to that faith, and a faithful reading of the original texts, and their faithful translations, so that people celebrate knowing that the liturgy is the public prayer of the Church.” WDTPRS is always delighted to read news of Cardinal Arinze, who is also the titular Cardinal Bishop of the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni.

Today’s celebration is what I call a “nick-name Sunday”: Gaudete or “Rejoice!” Gaudete is first word of the entrance chant (Introit) of today’s Mass. As on the 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday – another imperative verb meaning “Rejoice!”), instrumental music may be played in churches: traditionally during Advent and Lent as a mark of the season’s penitential character instrumental music is not permitted. Flowers can also be seen on the altar today, though traditionally only sparse decorations should be used during Advent. This is one of only two Sundays in year when in the Roman Church the priest traditionally may wear rose colored vestments rather than Advent purple. This use of rose on Gaudete Sunday in Advent is really an imitation of Lent’s Laetare Sunday. If you have forgotten the reason for this, you’ll have to wait until Lent for an explanation. Meanwhile, consider this: the candles on your Advent wreaths are purple and rose because those are the colors the Roman Catholic priest wears for Holy Mass on Sunday. I am always a little amused when I see properly accoutred Advent wreaths in non-Catholic homes or in public places.

Long time readers of WDTPRS have no doubt been waiting for my annual Advent rant about blue vestments. Beyond question, during this Advent some priests will afflict many of you with the liturgical abuse of blue vestments. Every year I affirm my deep affection for the lovely, but liturgically illegal, color blue. If and when blue is approved for use in the Latin Church I will commission a set of blue vestments complete with maniple, chalice veil and burse. However, at the same time I will probably resent the fact that widespread abuse led to a Vatican okeydokey, much as it did in the cases of Communion in the hand and altar girls. Think about it. Aging-hippie pastors and chancery barnacles often rain a firestorm of wrath upon those who want “traditional” things like Latin, or saying Mass ad orientem – all of which are perfectly licit. They require tacit or even open approval if the violation is deemed “pastoral”, and then look askance at or demand rejection of properly imposed discipline or legitimate traditions. The abovementioned officials freak out if a priest decides to do something so outrageous as, perhaps, use a biretta during a Novus Ordo celebration of Mass or, forfend! a maniple. That is, … a priest without position or power. With due respect to George Orwell, some priests are more equal than others. Folks, you would not believe how coarsely I was once dressed down by a pastor for using a perfectly legitimate Roman-style vestment instead of the post-modern horse blanket he idealized. I guess liberal flexibility extends to “your freedom to agree with me” but not the obverse. This same fellow consistently used a vulgarity when the topic of rubrics was mentioned. “I can violate the law, but you better conform to my will.” What rankles the most is that those who commit liturgical abuses are often rewarded. In any event, until blue is approved I will use only purple and rosacea during Advent. Thus endeth my annual rant.

Advent is a time of celebratory penance, or penitential celebration, in preparation for the Lord’s Coming. We celebrate the Lord’s first Coming at Bethlehem, but always with a view to the completion of Bethlehem’s meaning in the Second when the world will be finally judged, unmade in fire, and renewed. Of Advent, the holy bishop of Milan St. Charles Borromeo (+1584) said: “Like a devoted mother, keenly concerned for our salvation, the Church uses the rites of this season, its hymns, songs and other utterances of the Holy Spirit to teach us a lesson. She shows us how to receive this great gift of God with thankfulness and how to be enriched by its possession. She teaches us that our hearts should be as prepared now for the coming of Christ our Lord as if he were still to come into the world.” Echoing this idea of continuation, the theologian Karl Rahner (+1984, 400 years after Charles Borromeo – Yes, O you of traditional mind, not everything Rahner did was automatically wrong) had an interesting insight about Advent: “What is afoot in a small beginning is best recognized by the magnitude of its end. What was really meant and actually happened by the coming, the ‘advent’, of the redeemer is best gathered from that completion of his coming which we rather misleadingly call the ‘second coming’. For in reality it is the fulfillment of his one coming which is still in progress at the present time” (emphasis mine). Interesting perspective, no? Bring it to your meditation on today’s prayer.

Devotionis nostrae tibi, Domine, quaesumus,
hostia iugiter immoletur,
quae et sacri peragat instituta mysterii,
et salutare tuum nobis potenter operetur.

An ancient predecessor of today’s “prayer over the gifts” (as ICEL calls it) is in the Gelasian Sacramentary among the Advent prayers and also in the Veronese Sacramentary during the month of September amidst prayers for the fast of the seventh month (Latin septem “seven”). It survived the centuries and was in the 1962 Missale Romanum as the Secret for this same Sunday. The version in the Novus Ordo is slightly altered, substituting potenter for the older mirabiliter.

Let’s see some vocabulary. Iugiter, devotio and hostia we have examined in other articles. From your ever-handy Lewis & Short Dictionary you will be thrilled to learn that immolo means, first and foremost, “to sprinkle a victim with sacrificial meal” (as in grain or cereal) and also “to bring as an offering, to offer, sacrifice, immolate.” Perago means essentially, “to pass through” and is construed as “to thrust through, pierce through, transfix” and hence “to slay.” Also it means “to carry through, go through with, execute, finish, accomplish, complete.” The Latin liturgical dictionary by Blaise says perago can suggest continuous action. The deponent verb operor is basically “to work, labor, toil” but it also has the specific religious connotation of “to serve the gods, perform sacred rites, to honor or celebrate by sacrifices.” Here, operor is “to work, have effect, be effectual, to be active, to operate.”

All Catholics need to know about mysterium. Early Christian writers lacked vocabulary to express the new spiritual realities they were pondering. As they struggled to explain to others what they believed both the Greeks and Latins recycled existing words giving them new meanings. The Greeks (who had a longer philosophical traditional and therefore a ready mine of good vocabulary) came up with some theological terms which early Latin writers later simply borrowed, transliterating them into Latin. Such is the case with Latin mysterium, which reduplicates Greek mysterion. Tertullian (+ second quarter of the 3rd century) translated Greek mysterion by means of the Latin sacramentum. Sacramentum has its root in sacer, which has a religious overtone (like sacerdos “priest” and English “sacred”, etc.). Sacramentum, in juridical language, was a bond or initiation confirmed by an oath. That kind of sacramentum referred to initiation into military service and the oath taken by the soldier. Sacramentum came to have two streams of connotation. First, it had baptismal overtones as the pledge and profession of faith made by catechumens when they were baptized and initiated in the Church. Second, it referred to the content of the faith that had been pledged in regard to the “mysteries” of our salvation, the meaning of the words and deeds of Christ explained in a liturgical context, the liturgical feasts themselves, and the rites of initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist). St. Augustine (+430) used sacramentum also for marriage, the laying on of hands at ordination, anointing of the sick and reconciliation of penitent sinners. In ancient liturgical prayer, sacramentum refers not only to the sacrament of the Eucharist, but also to penitential seasons like Lent with their disciplines of penance and fasting. Penitential practices, when performed by a believer with the proper attitude, are a mysterious affirmation of the sacred bond between us and Christ.

We now beg, O Lord, let there be offered up to You continuously
the sacrificial victim of our devotion,
which may both carry through the actions of the sacred mystery that was instituted,
and mightily effect for us Your salvation.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may the gift we offer in faith and love
be a continual sacrifice in your honor
and truly become our eucharist and our salvation.

I guess, you can’t object to what the ICEL prayer says all in all, except for the fact that it doesn’t translate what the Latin really says. Notice that ICEL made Latin devotion, that single-minded dedication, into “faith and love.” They ought to have simply said “devotion”, but that probably sounded too pious and old-fashioned at the time. It might be that “in your honor” was an attempt to pick up on some aspect of “devotion”. In the Latin we see nothing resembling in or pro tuo honore. I could go on, but why bother. This ICEL prayer is a good example of why we need new liturgical translations prepared according to the mind of the Church as expressed in the guidelines found in the CDWDS’ document Liturgiam authenticam.

We need to know and hear what the Church wants us to pray and meditate on just like we need air to breathe and food to eat. Support our bishops in prayer and positive expressions of confidence and thanks when they do something good and constructive. In regard to the translations, write to them or encourage them when you see them to follow carefully the guidelines and provide us with accurate translations expressing what the prayers really say.

Today’s prayer was, as we read above, among those used to admonish people to fast during the seventh month. We have ancient sermons about this September fast time as well as the Advent fast of the “tenth month” (time was calculated a little differently then because the calendar had little by little drifted). For example, we have the wisdom of Pope St. Leo I (+461), nicknamed “the Great”, about the Advent fast: “What can be more salutary for us than fasting, by the practice of which we draw nearer to God, and, standing fast against the devil, defeat the vices that lead us astray. For fasting was ever the food of virtue. From abstinence there arise chaste thoughts, just decisions, salutary counsels. And through voluntary suffering the flesh dies to the concupiscences, and the spirit waxes strong in virtue. But as the salvation of our souls is not gained solely by fasting, let us fill up what is wanting in our fasting with almsgiving to the poor. Let us give to virtue what we take from pleasure. Let abstinence of those who fast be the dinner of the poor.” Another great saint with the nickname “the Great”, St. Basil of Caesarea (+379) hammered home the urgency of Advent almsgiving: “The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now – and you want to wait until tomorrow?” In the ancient Church fasting from good things was closely connected to good works of mercy for the poor, especially almsgiving. Do not forget this, O Catholic reader.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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