What Does the Prayer Really Say? 4th Sunday of Advent – Station: Twelve Apostles
Once in a while I get some feedback that makes my day, nay rather, my year. EM writes via e-mail: “I want to thank you for your weekly column in The Wanderer. I’ve read it faithfully for these two years and you are one of the reasons I keep renewing my subscription (it tends to be a bit depressing). You are also one of the reasons I finally decided to fish or cut bait and leave almost 20 years of evangelicalism for the Catholic Church. Thank you!! Not only that, but you directly inspired me to begin teaching our 6th grader Latin (so I could learn it too) and to LISTEN during the Mass prayers. No one has brought this up yet, but the way the priest says the prayers (emphasis) makes a big difference. We are mightily blessed with a wonderful priest who really does his best to make sometimes banal prayers meaningful simply by emphasizing words (like “sacrifice”, etc.). Yet he is very “by the book”. He tells people who want more innovation, the Lord wants a priest after HIS own heart, not the priest’s own heart (or anyone elses)…. Keep up the good work!” This, dear readers, is precisely why these weekly columns are being offered. Thank The Wanderer too for printing them. And share the wealth. Maybe others you know are just waiting to find what you are already enjoying.
As a follow up to last week’s rant on blue vestments, JC in Singapore via the internet Forum I moderate asked the question, “Just exactly what is the colour blue supposed to symbolize?” One wag, BC in the USA suggested, “Disobedience?” Enough said.
Some news about liturgical matters. The ubiquitous correspondent of the less than conservative National Catholic Reporter, Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., opines (6 December 2002 – The Word From Rome) about the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship: “In the liturgical world, people have been trying to discern the impact of the Oct. 2 appointment of Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze…. The last man to hold that job, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina EstÃƒÂ©vez, strongly asserted the “uniformity of the Roman Rite” over flexibility for local adaptations and flavorings. Would Arinze, observers have been wanting to know, bring change? The short answer, reflected in a late October letter from Arinze regarding the statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), appears to be “no.”” His Eminence Cardinal Arinze has lately strongly asserted the necessity that the norms governing ICEL actually reflect what Liturgiam authenticam really says and what the Holy See has been indicating for some time. Among the things that Card. Arinze insists on is that ICEL recognize that Rome has the ability to veto and approve ICEL personnel, that ICEL staff have term limits, and that the Holy See erects ICEL, not the conferences of bishops. Mr. Allen goes on to say, “I spoke to several people on both sides of the ICEL debate. Both concur that the fight is largely over…. Among liturgical progressives, the analysis seems to be that continuing to fight the battle at the level of structures is pointless. Instead, the goals in coming months will be to protect existing practice as best they can, so that individual dioceses or parishes can preserve models of a renewed liturgy, and to keep doing the scholarly reflection that will build the record for a time when the debate can be reopened.” (emphasis added by me). In other words, the “progressives” probably will keep violating the rubrics in a holding action until they can find another place to breakout through the recent envelopment of the laws and get them changed through disobedience. Also, I take it from the phrase “the coming months” is that they are waiting for a new (hopefully progressive) Pope who might roll back the repressive norms imposed by the rigid conservative retrogrades. As the Poles say, stolat… may he live, God willing, one hundred years!
Speaking of ICEL, JS of WI brought to my attention an article in the publication Catholic Family News (December, vol. 9, no. 12 – where else but here can you find quotes from both the NCR and CFN?) by Fr. Stephen Somerville, a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto, who was once a member of the Advisory Board of ICEL from 1964. He regrets his involvement with ICEL and the damage the committee did over time. “There are certainly THOUSANDS OF MISTRANSLATIONS in the accumulated work of I.C.E.L. As the work progressed I became more and more an articulate critic. My term of office on the Advisory Board ended voluntarily in 1973, and I was named Member Emeritus and Consultant. As of this writing I renounce any lingering reality of this status. … I renounce my I.C.E.L. …for the corrosion of Catholic faith and reverence to which I.C.E.L.’s work has contributed. And for this corrosion, however slight my personal part in it, I humbly and sincerely apologize to God and to Holy Church.” I am sure that he, like we, are optimistic about the appointments of Card. Arinze at the CDW and of Fr. Harbert at ICEL. We have some good things to look forward to. Clearly there is going to be a real war along the way, however. So, ready yourselves.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Sumpto pignore redemptionis aeternae,
quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut quanto magis dies salutiferae festivitatis accedit,
tanto devotius proficiamus
ad Filii tui digne nativitatis mysterium celebrandum.
As you might have guessed, this rather chatty Post communionem is of more recent composition. It has ancient precedent in old collections such as the Gelasian Sacramentary, but it appears for the first time in the 1970 Missale Romanum and its subsequent editions. We have a nice paring of festivitatis and nativitatis. The quanto magis… tanto devotius is a standard construction which rings well. We have verbs of contrasting but related basic meanings: accedo and proficio. We even have an ad… -nd- construction. We lack the kitchen sink here, but that is about all. This prayer smacks of being very consciously worked over as a set piece. It is trying to be elegant.
What can the unparalleled Lewis & Short Dictionary tell us about the vocabulary of this prayer? Leading off is an ablative absolute construction including the noun pignus, “a pledge, gage, pawn, security, mortgage (of persons as well as things).” The root of this word is pac-, as in the verb pango, panxi, panctum, and pegi or pepigi, pactum “to fasten, make fast, fix; to drive in, sink in” and thus “to fix, settle, determine, agree upon, agree, covenant, conclude, stipulate, contract” and also paciscor, pactus,”make a bargain, contract, or agreement with any one; to covenant, agree, stipulate, bargain, contract respecting any thing” whence comes the English word “pact”. Under pignus in the L&S we find reference to such things as “tokens” or “rings” given as a sign of a pledge or commitment. The adjective salutifer is from salus + fero (“salvation/heath + to bring”). Also, please take note of that quanto…tanto construction. This is the ablative. Thus, it means something like… “by however so much… by that same measure.” In this case we have comparative adverbs magis… devotius. Accedo is “to go or come to or near, to approach”. Proficio is, of course, “to go forward, advance, gain ground, make progress.”
Now that the pledge of eternal redemption has been consumed,
we beg, almighty God,
that by however so much more the day of the saving festivity is approaching,
by that same degree we may more devoutly make progress
toward celebrating worthily the mystery of the nativity of your Son.
Yes, I know this is awkward. But I am not trying to produce smooth translations for use in church here (though we could, and have for a long time, done worse, methinks). We could be tempted to smooth that quanto magis…tanto devotius into “the nearer the saving feast day approaches, the more devoutly we may make progress….” I want to resist the temptation to do that for the reason that there is a proportional relationship indicated in the Latin which gets lost in that simpler but smoother phrase. Think about this. We are asking to make progress in an increasing degree each day as Christmas draws closer. If today we are making progress by a factor of 1, then tomorrow, which is closer to Christmas, we want to make progress by an additional fact of 2 on top of the 1, then an additional factor of 3 over the 1+2, and then 4 above the 1+2+3 and so on. Think of this acceleration in terms of compounded interest. Built into the language of the prayer is a powerful concept of acceleration.
You will recall that in the other prayers of Advent Masses we had language and imagery of rushing and eager hurrying toward the Lord who Himself is coming. In our prayer today we spy a pair of verbs that show this acceleration in both directions accedo (“approach”) and proficio (“make progress towards”). Imagine two trains heading toward each other. They are each moving at 30 km/hour and are closing the gap between them at a relative speed of 60 km/hr. In our Post communionem we are rushing faster and faster toward each other: the vast mass of the People of God, the whole Church, yearning and eager for the Lord, and the Lord Himself, eager and yearning for His People. Unlike the aforementioned trains, whose speed does not vary, we want to go faster and faster with every passing moment. We want to make ever and ever more progress in the right direction, toward being devout (in the sense of devotio – the virtue whereby we live our vocations with single-hearted focus). We are begging God the Father to make us able to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ ever more “worthily”, which means increasing in grace as we deepen our commitment to live as we ought.
For the sake of our salvation, made possible by the First Coming, we have a vested interest in growing each and every day in grace. We might even say we have a “compounded” interest. And Advent is about more than just the First Coming. It is also about the Second Coming of Christ as Judge. It is no less about how He comes in other ways, including in the person of your neighbor, in the Words of Scripture, and especially in every Holy Communion at Mass. This prayer is said directly after the Lord has come in Communion.
The First Coming, Christmas, and the Second Coming, are both fast approaching. There is a Latin adage of unknown provenance which means that things go faster the closer they get to the end: in finem citius. Are you ready?
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
in this sacrament
we receive the promise of salvation;
as Christmas draws near
make us grow in faith and love
to celebrate the coming of Christ our Savior.