What Does the Prayer Really Say? Holy Family – Sunday in the Octave of Christmas
Originally our Feast today was celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany but after the post-Conciliar reform of the calendar it was moved forward, probably so that it could be situated nearer to the feasts of the Nativity and of Mary, Mother of God. This day’s prayer is also said on the Sunday during the Octave of Christmas. Since the implementation of the so-called Novus Ordo, we now have only two octaves: Christmas and Easter. An “octave” is a period of eight days following a feast day, including the feast itself, as well as the eighth day after a feast. Liturgically speaking, time is suspended during an octave and the feast continues uninterrupted. This imitates the creation and (one day) the final summation of the universe. God created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested. The eighth day is then a day beyond the cycle of seven. It is beyond time. It is a glimpse of the perfect eternal sabbath day of heaven. The great feasts we observe in the Church’s year of grace are far too deep to be fathomed completely, yet alone even shallowly if we allot them one day alone. The celebration of an octave allows us to consider a great feast different angles by means of our sacred liturgy. Today we focus on the Holy Family within the context of the feast of Christmas, the our God in His divinity came to light as our brother in our humanity. He came to save us from our sins and reveal us more fully to ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22). When He came in His first coming, He came to be a part of a human family. In the infant Christ, with Mary and Joseph humbly and protectively bent over Him, we see who we really are more fully than ever we could before His birth. The presence of Christ in the midst of His Holy Family is an icon of how He should be present in the midst of every family. That is how important a family is. That is also why the powers of hell will attack the very concept of the family at its roots. Christ must be extracted from the family and its members cut off from Him for hell to work its gruesome purpose in society. When we see the fruits of hell in society, we can surmise that the family is on its heals. Today’s prayer, in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that puts Satan and the fallen hordes to flight, grounds the family in Christ’s self-oblation on the Cross.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Hostiam tibi placationis offerimus, Domine,
ut, Deiparae virginis beatique Ioseph interveniente suffragio,
familias nostras in tua gratia firmiter et pace constituas.
This super oblata is essentially the same as the secret of the Mass of the Holy Family found in the older form of the Missale Romanum still happily in use in some places where the local bishops have opened their hearts to those who have the legitimate aspiration to make good spiritual use of it. Notice that the word order has been changed a bit since 1962: Placationis hostiam offerimus tibi, Dominie, suppliciter deprecantes: ut, per intercessionem Deiparae Virginis cum beato Ioseph, familias nostras in pace et gratia tua firmiter constituas. The variations are slight: interveniens suffragium in place of intercessio, Joseph in the genitive case along with Mary rather than with the cum of accompaniment in the previous form. One might at this point ask, “Why change it around like that?” Two reason comes to mind. First and foremost, the newer version has more of a “classical” ring to it. It is a bit more “elegant” and less “linear.” Also, bringing St. Joseph into the same case as Mary (genitive) may suggest a greater role for the earthly father of Jesus. This is not to say that in the older form of the prayer he was an after thought. As WDTPRS has mentioned before, the way the words fit together in Latin in a large part depends on their endings. The word order is not always critical. This allows great flexibility in the way the words are arranged and therefore the rhythms and sounds of sentences and paragraphs. This can subtly affect the emphasis that one concept might receive also.
We offer Thee this sacrifice of appeasement, O Lord,
humbly bent down in earnest prayer,
so that, by the intervening recommendation of the virgin Mother of God and of blessed Joseph,
you may establish our families powerfully in grace and peace.
The fine Lewis & Short Dictionary lets us know that placatio means “a pacifying, appeasing, propitiating” especially of the immortal gods. In our prayer today we might choose a word like “atonement” or even “reconciliation.” I think I will use “appeasement.” I take a cue from the description of way the priest is praying on behalf of the people – suppliciter the adverb of supplex from a conflation of sup– or sup-plico (plico = to fold), and is thus “bending the knees, kneeling down.” Hence, it means “humbly begging or entreating, beseeching.” It is very submissive. Deprecor is another clue. It is not just “to pray”, but “to pray earnestly.” Interventio replaced the older intercessio. They mean pretty much the same thing, interventio being post-classical and intercessio having a legal/political overtone. They both have the dimension of coming between two parties in an act of giving security or surety for one of them. The marvelous word suffragium we worked with on the 2nd Sunday of Advent’s WDPTRS. Firmiter is the adverb of firmus and can be “firmly, steadily, lastingly, powerfully.” Because of the beseeching tone of the prayer and the concept of intervention, I will use the word “powerfully.” When you, gentle reader, go through this vocabulary you might try substituting some of the alternative meanings to see how that will affect the prayer. You will see why translating the liturgy is not an easy task and why we must pray for all involved.
Lord, accept this sacrifice
and through the prayers of Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
and of her husband, Joseph,
unite our families in peace and love.
I suspect that the differences in the tone of the ICEL version and the Latin original are clear enough that they need not be spelled out.
We hear this prayer spoken by the priest, the our mediator with God and alter Christus, at the time when our offerings (spiritual and material) have been placed on the altar in anticipation of the divine act of transubstantiation during the consecration. All that we are and our hopes and desires should be united with the frail hosts and still wine. What we receive in return, particularly through our good Holy Communions, allows us to fulfil our vocations in the world and transform it around us. Thus it is fitting that we should use the language and even the physical posture of bowing down, folding ourselves face down before God and begging Him to form and shape our families. As the family in general goes, so goes society. But what do we find across this threshold of the 21st century? Legal abortion, growing legalization of euthanasia, same-sex marriages, high divorce rates, young women disposing of newborn infants in garbage cans, scientific experimentation on living human beings, the dreadful prospect of cloning. The concept of the family is breaking to pieces. It is good to pray that God might be appeased.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2203 In creating man and woman, god instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Its members are personas equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights, and duties. …
2207 The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.
2208 The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. There are many families who are at times incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” ….
2210 The importance of the family for the life and well being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty “to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity.” ….
2212 The fourth commandment illuminates other relationships in society. In our brothers and sisters we see the children of our parents; in our cousins, the descendants of our ancestors; in our fellow citizens, the children of our country; in the baptized, the children of our mother the Church; in every human person, a son or daughter of the One who wants to be called “our Father.” In this way our relationships with our neighbors are recognized as personal in character. The neighbor is not a “unit” in the human collective; he is “someone” who by his known origins deserves particular attention and respect.