What Does the Prayer Really Say? Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Your feedback brightens my dark wintry days! Fr. FW of WA writes via e-mail (edited): “I hear very little but have picked up that the US Bishops seem reluctant to make any changes in the Sacramentary translation as it might ‘disturb’ people. Is there anyway to let Rome know that many of us wouldn’t mind if what the Bishops propose were rejected???” Glad you asked, Fr. W! First, write to your bishop and other bishops telling them what you think.
Folks, one reason why the translation is so slow in coming is the lethargic submission of endless emendations to the drafts on the part of bishops’ conferences, especially the USCCB. Strong pressure is now being exerted to scuttle important norms of Liturgiam authenticam. For example, a war has been joined in defense of “for all” (pro multis). According to more than one highly placed prelate, they are fighting changes to the Mass texts, especially “for all”, because changes might upset people.
I don’t buy that red herring for a minute. This absurd claim is asserted by the opponents of Liturgiam authenticam and better translations in general because they don’t want to admit that the lame-duck ICEL versions (and initiatives founded on them) had severe problems. They want status quo. They think you and I are neither smart enough nor fair enough to suffer more changes. After all, they observe, we have used the same texts for three whole decades. Think about the … the… tradition!
Seriously, would Catholics become unhinged by “for many” during the consecration if their priests explained it and said Mass reverently? Is this so hard? I think people are upset by abuse of rubrics, lousy translations, unworthy music, poor homilies, and changes to the Mass schedule, not accuracy, beauty and truth. So, Fr. FW, write: “Your Excellency, be assured that my flock will not be upset to hear accurate translations, because in duty and charity I will help them understand what they mean. Please give your support to accurate translations.” Communicate your thoughts. Be restrained and be concise and be kind and be quick!
On another note, some folks here in Rome have with fluttering hands warned me off printing anything too favorable or too “traditional” about the incoming Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), His Excellency Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith. I respond saying that all of this chatter is already out there in the blogosphere, so let’s put it all together and try to make some sense of it. Here is another piece. In November 2004, Society of St. Pius X Bishop Bernard Fellay gave a stupendously long and snarky conference in Kansas City, MO, printed in The Angelus. For much of that conference Fellay chops away at those prelates who are the most inclined to be friendly to the SSPX. Then he waxes eloquent about Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith: “We have an archbishop in Rome —well, now he is no longer in Rome, he has been kicked out —who says the Church is not going out of the crisis without going back to the Tridentine Mass.” Well, maybe His Excellency Archbishop Ranjith thinks that and maybe he doesn’t. Let us for a moment admit that Fellay was right and that Ranjith was “kicked out” because he was too much in favor of the older form of Mass, too traditional. If that were so, then maybe Archbishop Ranjith has been brought back to Rome by His Holiness because he is so traditional. In any event, if even a fraction of the rumors about this new Secretary are true, things will be looking up.
This year, New Year’s Day or the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God falls on a Sunday. So far in this six-year series we have looked at only one prayer for this Mass. As we did last week for Christmas, so we shall do for this feast and look at all the prayers together.
Deus, qui salutis aeternae, beatae Mariae virginitate fecunda,
humano generi praemia praestitisti,
tribue, quaesumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus,
per quam meruimus Filium tuum auctorem vitae suscipere.
O God, who by the fruitful virginity of Blessed Mary
bestowed upon the human race the rewards of eternal salvation,
grant, we beg, that we may perceive her interceding for us,
through whom we merited to receive Your Son, the author of life.
This prayer was in the pre-Conciliar Missal and, slightly different, in the Gelasian Sacramentary for the Assumption of Mary on 15 August (xviii Kalendas Septembris). Now, please forgive me, but I must include the laughably deficient version from…
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God our Father,
may we always profit by the prayers
of the Virgin Mother Mary,
for you bring us life and salvation
through Jesus Christ her Son…
Let’s now move on to the so-called “Prayer over the gifts”. This following prayer was not in the pre-Conciliar Missal, but it does have an antecedent in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary within the body of prayers for September in what appear to be a collection of prayers for the ordination of bishops (“in natale episcoporum”).
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR)
Deus, qui bona cuncta inchoas benignus et perficis,
da nobis, de sollemnitate sanctae Dei Genetricis laetantibus,
sicut de initiis tuae gratiae gloriamur,
ita de perfectione gaudere.
The super useful Lewis & Short Dictionary gives us a fascinating piece of information about initium. Along with “a beginning, commencement” it also means – this is so cool – “secret sacred rites, sacred mysteries, to which only the initiated were admitted”.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God our Father,
we celebrate at this season
the beginning of our salvation.
On the feast of Mary, the Mother of God,
we ask that our salvation
will be brought to its fulfillment.
A lot is going on herein this elegant Latin prayer. First, the priest acknowledges that all good things have their beginning in God. We are His instruments, truly involved, but He is the one who brings them to a good completion: He perfects them through us. The sicut…ita construction sets up a proportional relationship between the two clauses. Just so, we ask God 1) to grant to us to rejoice in the fact of God bringing good things to completion and perfection and, moreover, 2) to grant that we in like manner may revel in the mysterious things He set in motion to begin with. Furthermore, the context of this prayer is a) the Christmas Octave feast of the Mother of God, focused on Mary’s maternity of the divine Person Jesus Christ and also of His Church, us, the members of Christ’s Body and, moreover, b) the raising up to God of the good fruits of the earth God gave us and we worked with our efforts, and His imminent transformation of them through the priest’s words and actions. God begins every good thing. He uses us who cooperate with His plan, and He perfects all things for our benefit and His glory. Notice the de…de…de, all three of which point to the causes of our joy: i) the solemn feast of and fact of Mary’s divine Motherhood, ii) the mysterious gifts (even this Mass itself – initia) accruing to the initiated (baptized and in the state of grace) from God’s free gifts, iii) their perfection/completion. It is super hard to convey the impact of this prayer in English without getting really wordy.
O God, who kindly begin all good things and bring them to completion,
grant us, now rejoicing over the solemnity of the Holy Mother of God,
so to delight about perfect completion,
as we are glorying about the initiatives of Your grace.
We are coming to the ending of Holy Mass. Those who were able to do so received Holy Communion. There follow a time for reflection and perhaps exaltation of the soul in song.
It has been years since we looked at Post communion prayers, so let’s review what they are. The context of Mass for the Post communionem has a structure similar to contexts of the Collect and Super oblata. In each case there is movement from one place to another in the church: the entrance procession, offertory procession, and the procession for Communion. In each case a choir or schola traditionally sings a psalm with antiphon (see what you lose when you lose Gregorian chant?). In each case the priest makes introductory silent prayers: the “prayers before the altar” in the older form of Mass, the hushed prayers (audible in the Novus Ordo) while preparing the paten and chalice, and finally the orisons he softly recites while purifying the sacred vessels after Communion. In each case the pattern of song and prayer conclude with the priest’s audible prayer, always introduced with an invitation of Oremus… “Let us pray” (and in the traditional form of Mass with the 1962MR the courteous and elegant greeting Dominus vobiscum preceding each invitation). The pattern is present in proclaiming the Gospel: the priest or deacon’s silent prayer for grace and worthiness, the procession with the Evangelarium, the greeting, reading, and sermon, the invitation to pray the so-called “prayers of the faithful”, followed by the concluding prayer by the priest. The structure is the same in all four instances.
In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) distinguished four sections of the Mass, the last of which after Communion was called the gratiarum actio, the “thanksgiving” (cf. ep. 149,16). In contrast to the Eastern rites (and unlike this column sometimes) the Roman Rite is characterized by concise, spare language. However, for many centuries until the Novus Ordo the Latin Rite’s Mass had a double closing consisting of prayers of thanksgiving and of blessing. Happily these post Post Communion blessing prayers have been reinstated to the 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum during the season of Lent after an absence of some thirty years… which restoration makes me wonder how “upset” people in the pews will get from such a radical change! After all, the addition of a prayer makes Mass longer! And *sputter* for heaven’s sake, those blessing prayers were conspicuously absent from Mass for a venerable three whole decades, an out-and-out tradition! But I digress….
The style and structure of our Latin Post communionem prayers is virtually the same as that of the Collect and the old Secret or Super oblata. These are prayers of petition addressed to God the Father through the Son (per Dominum nostrum). They focus on our gratitude to the Father for all His blessings, especially the continual gift of His Son in Holy Communion. So, the Post communion thanksgiving embraces the Communion of all the faithful, laity and priest together. This was so even in the centuries when people received Communion rarely during the year.
So, at this point in our New Year’s Day Mass, in honor of the Mother of God, the priest, who during Mass is Christ the Head of the Body, speaks for the whole Body, the Church, raising prayers of thanks to the Father for the fact of and effects of the Eucharist, singing:
POST COMMUNION (2002MR)
Sumpsimus, Domine, laeti sacramenta caelestia:
ut ad vitam nobis proficient sempiternam,
qui beatam semper Virginem Mariam
Filii tui Genetricem et Ecclesiae Matrem
O Lord, we happy ones have consumed the heavenly sacraments:
grant, we beseech You,
that they may be advantageous unto eternal life for us
who exalt to profess blessed Mary ever Virgin,
Mother of Your Son and Mother of the Church.
This is based on a prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary but it was not in an edition of the Roman Missal before the Council. An odd thing about this prayer is that it has a colon at the end of the first line. Colons were often an indication for how to sing the prayers, though they were expunged the editions after the Council.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
as we proclaim the Virgin Mary
to be the mother of Christ and the mother of the Church,
may our communion with her Son
bring us to salvation.
Friends, all of you who follow this column, I wish you with your loved ones and our various nations a blessed Year of Salvation 2006. If during this last year I have erred in anything or fallen short of your expectations I humbly ask your pardon in the hope that you forbore and now forbear. Buon Capodanno! Happy New Year!
The WDTPRS series aims to help you explore more fully and love more deeply the content of the prayers of Holy Mass. Fr. Zuhlsdorf welcomes e-mail (email@example.com) and letters sent in care of The Wanderer. Visit the Archive and the Blog (wdtprs.com). Fr. Z is Moderator of the ASK FATHER Question Box (askfather.net) and Catholic Online Forum (forum.catholic.org). This is sixth year of the series.