Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Sunday in the Octave of Christmas

What Does the Prayer Really Say? Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Sunday in the Octave of Christmas

While our column today is being written before the Holy Feast of Christmas, it concerns the final prayer of a feast falling within the Octave, that holy time when, liturgically, time is suspended and the Church gives us many days during which we may consider from different angles the rich mystery we celebrate. A lifetime would not suffice, nor will eternity to come, for us to contemplate this mystery of His Incarnation and Birth, but at least we are given eight days and not one to focus our minds and hearts upon it. In His Nativity, Christ came into this word to reveal man more fully to himself (cf. Gaudium et spes 22). In all He said and did, he saves us and also teaches us who we are. In the Incarnation of the Second Person, the perfect invisible image of the Father becomes in time and space the perfect visible image. In Him we see reflected all that we are, ought to be and can be. In Christ, Himself a member of a community of Persons, we are all made brothers and sisters under a common heavenly Father. In His earthly life we find our perfect model, not only as for us as individuals but also as groups of people with a common calling to holiness. So, during this Octave, we consider Christ in the heart of the family which is the “domestic church”. The family is the context in which individuals are shaped and is also the building block of all common dealings between men and women, made in His image and likeness, made to live as He lives, in a community of holy persons.

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Quos caelestibus reficis sacramentis,
fac, clementissime Pater,
sanctae Familiae exempla iugiter imitari,
ut, post aerumnas saeculi,
eius consortium consequamur aeternum.

The first part of this prayer was heavily influenced by the Secret for the Feast of the Holy Family in the 1962MR, once celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany (which, being 6 January, usually fell during the week and was not transferred to Sunday).

As usual, some review of vocabulary will help us unlock what this prayer really says. This is your cue to place the never dusty Lewis & Short Dictionary within arm’s length. Respectfully opening its Oxford-blue cover and turning to the A’s we find that the entry for the noun aerumna presents a veritable gold mine of information. Apparently aerumna is related to, but contrasts in meaning somewhat with aegrimonia or acrimonia from acer (“sharp, pointed, piercing”) meaning “sorrow, anxiety, trouble”. We have the word “acrimony” in English. Aegrimonia is a condition of the mind. Aerumna, however, comes from aerumnula denoting a frame for carrying burdens upon the back. Hence it indicates “need, want, trouble, toil, hardship, distress, tribulation, calamity” more in a material sense, though no doubt these things produce conditions of the mind too. There are some uses of aerumna by M. Tullius Cicero’s (106-43 BC) for conditions of the mind. By Marcus Fabius Quintillianus’ time (c. AD 30 – c. 100), however, this word was obsolete. In later Latin it can indicate the defeat of an army. It is found in the Vulgate of Jerome in Genesis 3:16 describing how God enunciates Eve’s punishment after the Fall: mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios et sub viri potestate eris et ipse dominabitur tui. Jerome also gives St. Paul this word when the Blessed Apostle is describing in 2 Cor 11:27 ff. the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel: “in labore et aerumna in vigiliis multis in fame et siti in ieiuniis multis in frigore et nuditate… in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold, and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant” (RSV).

Reficio gives us the word (known to all clerics) “refectory”, which is the dining area of an ecclesiastical college, monastery or seminary. It means “to make again, make anew, put in condition again; to remake, restore, renew, rebuild, repair, refit, recruit”. Therefore, it means “to make strong again, to restore, reinvigorate, refresh”. So, a “refectory” is a place where you are restored and made strong again for your work through the food you eat there. The Latin word for this place is a refectorium from refectio, “refreshment”. Refectio is the word used in the Vulgate in Mark 14:14 translating the Greek katáluma for the Paschal meal that Christ will eat in the cenaculum, a kind of “refectory” where cena is eaten, “supper”. Reficio, then, calls to the alert mind a theme of the Eucharistic meal just consumed moments before.

Consortium comes from the preposition cum (“with”) and sors (“any thing used to determine chances”). Sors is further applied to offices that are gained by the casting of lots and methods like drawing straws. It means, then, “fate, destiny, chance, fortune, condition, share, part.” It thus means also a “community of goods” and by extension “fellowship, participation, society.” A consortium is a situation in which you have “cast your lot” with a group and with whom you are sharing a common outcome or fate. We hear the word consortium near the end of the Roman Canon when we are praying to have a share in the lot, the reward, of the great martyrs named therein. Consequor is a verb composed from cum and sequor (“to follow”) meaning “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing.” It takes on a whole bouquet of other meanings from this, such as “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey” and “to reach, overtake, obtain”. Consequently… it follows that… consequor means “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal.” From this we can see that in our prayer today we have a strong theme of imitation: exemplum… imitor… consequor. As a matter of fact, we have almost an overtone of sculpting or shaping in our prayer today. Imitor obviously means “to imitate” in behavior, but also in a material copying of something. Exemplum is first and foremost “imitation, image, portrait; transcript, copy” and then it is in legal terms a case or cause to be imitated or followed in our behavior, a “precedent”.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Eternal Father,
we want to live as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,
in peace with you and one another.
May this communion strengthen us
to face the troubles of life.

Most merciful Father,
cause those whom you have restored by means of heavenly sacraments,
to imitate continuously the model of the Holy Family,
so that, after the hardships of this world,
we may obtain its eternal fellowship.

In this prayer I find, as I mentioned before, imagery of shaping, sculpting, modeling. There is something very concrete in this prayer. We, children of the fallen first family of Adam and Eve, are called to think of our toils and hardships, our labors in our own particular vocations in this vale of tears. The concrete dimension of the prayer’s vocabulary also extends to the simple life of the building block of early society, the family involved in rural or agrarian life or in some trade that involves a craft or shaping or building, even carving, such as a master carpenter might do, as in the work of baking bread and weaving garments with a spindle and then a loom. I have seen wood workers replicate things from templates (exempla) and women create garments from patterns, confect meals for our restoration from recipes. Anyone who has wielded the saw or plane understands the fatigue and repetition of the movement. Kneading the lump of dough in a repetitive and constant manner both tires and strengthens the hands and arms. Soon the craftsman, through repletion and labor and sweat develops a kind of muscle memory, a habit of behavior, making a skilled and precise action hard to master look easy and smooth. Experienced bakers prepare and make bread nearly effortlessly while the neophyte leaves both a disastrously messy kitchen and winds up tired and often frustrated. Something all worker of this kind have in common are calloused hands. The word “callous” comes from the Latin verb calleo meaning “to be calloused” of course, but also, “to be practiced, to be wise by experience, to be skilful, versed in.” When you do something a great many times, you get calluses, and expertise. Would it surprise you, dear readers, to learn that the Church in its 1983 Code of Canon Law says of the formation of seminarians:

Canon 249: The program for priestly formation is to make provision that the students are not only carefully taught their native language but also that they are well skilled (bene calleant) in the Latin language….”

If the word calleo already indicates great skill and even wisdom by experience, then what would the phrase


calleant mean? They are to be “very well skilled”. Keep in mind that the same Code also says in canon 928: “The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.” I don’t need to tell readers of WDTPRS what that involves. And kindly note that both these canons are honored more in the breach than the observance: few programs in seminaries see to it that their candidates for priesthood in the LATIN Church are well skilled in the language of their Rite. Neither is Mass being said in Latin in many places, even though it is manifestly the language of preference, the vernacular being a secondary choice. As to “approved translations” are concerned, we have great hopes for the future.

Great work goes into the noble vocation of being a member of a family. We have to practice and repeat things in order to develop good habits and build holy individuals and families. There are hardships and burdens of others to be carried (aerumna) in the workshop of the family where holy people are shaped and sculpted according to models offered by God for our salvation. In a family, God offers an opportunity to imitate what Christ chose to participate in when He began to save us and teach us who we are. Those who have families know this. And, often with loneliness, so do those who do not have families. Perhaps you might make some room for those without anyone, friends or lonely family members. If the wood of the Christmas Crib predicts the wood of Calvary’s Cross, then remember in this season that, after the lots were cast upon His clothing, when He was alone as no man has ever been, Christ guided Mary, the widow about to loose her only child, and John, whom Jesus loved, to each other and into a new family: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:27 RSV).

Let there be in our families repeated prayer, constant sacrifice and frequent demonstrations of sheer joy. May God bless all of you and your loved ones and give you the grace of a Holy Christmas season. Pray for me this season as I shall for you.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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