ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN THE WANDERER in January 2003
What Does the Prayer Really Say? 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
The orbit of our globe brings us by God’s plan back to “Ordinary Time”, Sundays not having a specific festal or penitential meaning though they remain echoes of Easter. We see again green vestments, symbols of hope. This season was once the Season of Epiphany and time “after Epiphany” and together with the Sundays “after Pentecost” it formed the tempus per annum… the “time through the year”. So, as we entering into the long cycle of Sundays per annum we set out as a Church on the annual pilgrimage leading from the adoration of the Magi at the Crib to the end of the world and the coming of Christ the King of fearful majesty. Our first last prayer of Ordinary Time to consider, taken verbatim from the Postcommunio of the Friday after Ash Wednesday in the 1962MR, is today’s….
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Spiritum nobis, Domine, tuae caritatis infunde,
ut, quos uno caelesti pane satiasti,
una facias pietate concordes.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you have nourished us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Spirit,
and make us one in peace and love.
Gravely we open the cover of the hefty Lewis & Short Dictionary and look beyond the surface meanings of the words. At the end of our prayer we find concordes from concors, itself a fusion of the preposition cum with cor, cordis, “heart”. Concors means “of the same mind, united, agreeing, concordant, harmonious.” We should also glance for a moment at facio, that polyvalent verb: “to make in all senses, to do, perform, accomplish, prepare, produce, bring to pass, cause, effect, create, commit, perpetrate, form, fashion, etc.”. By now you regular readers of WDTPRS can almost teach a workshop on the meaning of pietas as not merely “piety” in the commonly understood sense today, but also as “dutiful conduct” toward God or parents or benefactors or society. It carries with it the sense of conscientiousness and loyalty. Pietas is not just a nice feeling about these agents in our lives. It resonates in outward conduct, in actions reflecting that interior pietas. At the root of our outward conduct there must be a clear and carefully considered recognition of the different relationships we have with the objects of our pietas. Who am I before God, before parents, before benefactors and parents? What is my authentic part to play in these relationships? How are they bound in pietas to behave toward me? Is this a relationship of equals or one in which I am an inferior or superior? In the present egalitarian climate, we must get this straight if we are going to understand what the prayer really says.
Infundo is “to pour in, upon, or into”. Infundere alicui aliquid, would be “to pour out for, to administer to, present to, lay before” as in to administer a medicine to someone. Infundo is also “to pour into, spread over, communicate, impart.” Much of our theological language sounds funny to many people today because they loose the meaning of the Latinate words of the technical vocabulary, as in the case of “preventing” grace from the column a couple weeks ago. We speak of baptism by “infusion” for example, how water is poured onto rather than into the person, rather than boiling the person in the water as one might a tea bag or coffee when making those homonymous infusions. We also speak of certain things being “infused” into someone at baptism, such as the theological graces of faith, hope and charity (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1813).
Infuse in us the Spirit of your charity, O Lord,
so that those whom you fill with the one heavenly bread,
you may cause to be of one heart and mind in one sense of dutiful conduct.
Since the word Spiritum is the first word in the sentence of the prayer we cannot tell if this is the Holy Spirit or a more general “spirit of charity”. I think it is the Holy Spirit. This gives the prayer a clearly Trinitarian character, since we are praying to the Father about receiving the infusion grace by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our reception of the Son in the Communion just made. The word concordes also implies more than one person.
Concors itself must be examined. In its basic sense it means “of one heart” (cor). This word, therefore, leads us into consideration of the very makeup of man. I say in my literal version “heart and mind”. In the theology of man’s make up teased out from the writing of the blessed Apostle Paul, we find distinctions about what man is, though Paul does not clearly give us a theological anthropology. Rather, Paul hints at who and what man is through man’s relationships with God and the world around him. He uses terms such as “body” (soma), “soul” (psyche), “spirit” (pnuema), “mind” (nous), “heart” (kardia), “flesh” (sarx) which all point to different aspects of a whole person rather than the parts he is assembled from. For example, psyche or “soul” is not simply the vital life force making the biological flesh live but also a whole person, particularly identified in consciousness, the intellect and power of willing things. It is, for Paul, a natural rather than supernaturalized life principle. A person living without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a psychikos, a materially spiritual person rather than a supernaturally spiritual person. Pneuma is used by Paul for the Holy Spirit and also for man. In the case of man, when joined to soma and psyche it seems to indicate the dimension of man capable of receiving the Holy Spirit, a pneumatikos man. Nous or “mind” is in Paul’s view seemingly the knowing powers and intellect of a person able to understand and make judgments. There is a close tie between nous and kardia, or “heart”, the more affection dimensions of the intellect. “Heart” is rather like the one’s interior emotional landscape, the thing in us that loves and grieves and fears and suffers and plans. This is the element in us that can be “hardened” (cf. 2 Cor 3:14) or “strengthened” (cf. 2 Cor 1:20-22). Thus, in trying to render concordes in our prayer today, I say “one in heart and mind”, as I am blending the intellective and affective landscapes of a baptized person.
But our prayer does not leave the intellective and affective dimensions of our personhood to rest inert as an painted landscape or interior still life. Despite the fact that many and fascinating things are going on in fine still life paintings, especially of the Flemish school, the Italian term for a still life is a “natura morta” a “dead nature”. In our prayer we also have the powerful image of the grace charity being poured or infused into us by the Holy Spirit. Charity is, of course, not simply “love”, as might be mistaken for the word we use when talking about spaghetti, Fluffy the cat, Suzie, or the Cubs. This sort of love is simultaneously oriented to God and to our neighbor, as described in Christ’s command. The love of charity describes the bond of love between us and God. Charity is also sacrificial love, in its most perfect form exemplified by Christ upon the Cross and which we imitate and exercise by choice with our neighbors. This love is a choice of will, which always considers first the good of the other. Without this sort of two-fold, bidirectional love, our prayer after communion is just a still life. It is a beautiful but static and lifeless work of aesthetic beauty. It has a lovely ring, as the struck brass of Paul’s 1 Cor 13 might have: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” This love calls us to act outwardly as we ought according to our vocations.
The other word which can serve to keep us honest in this prayer is pietas. Does this concept of duty not drive us to a deep examination of conscience? We must be honest about who we are and who we aren’t. Placed with concors and caritas, pietas challenges us to be real and vital, well-integrated images and portraits of God in our words and actions, rather than a mere still life. If that is true at the moment of our Post communionem, then it is true for every aspect of the liturgy. Mass is, in fact, not so much about us and what we do, but about what God is doing for us. We have a duty to act according to the truth of who we are, who God is, and what is really going on in the Mass. In this we must often give up things for which we long or which we personally might prefer. This applies to the whole of our Catholic lives, too.
Clearly this word “duty” is swaying my thoughts this week. I had the great privilege of meeting again with two men for whom I feel a great admiration and gratitude. Both of them embody a sense of duty befitting men of God. Both men are military men, both US Marines, one retired, one on active duty. The older man, who served at the nation’s highest level in the military, is a retired general, highly decorated, wounded, the winner of two Navy Crosses in service as a captain in command of a company in Vietnam. The other is presently the captain of an infantry company earning distinction for his leadership. The one is the father of a lovely daughter, the other the lovely daughter’s fiancÃƒÂ© whom he hopes to marry in May. The captain just returned from a long overseas deployment shortly before Christmas and visited me with the retired general, his wife and daughter when they came to this area to firm up wedding plans for next May. All of them are dedicated, edifying, and deeply involved Catholics. While they were here, perhaps two weeks after his return to the States, our captain was suddenly recalled and will ship out again in a week or so for what we must all assume is an indefinite period of time. What I saw in this family, at this sad and upsetting unforeseen news, helps today to shape my own attempt at rendering what our prayer really says.
There was sorrow and fear on the part of the daughter, her captain, the mother and the father the general. What might have gone through the mind of the older Marine who was in his turn, captain of men, a commanding general sending youth to war, and also a father of a daughter set on marrying a younger version of himself, going out again as the tip this nation’s spear? I saw them all recover quickly and place his orders in their proper place in their lives. They lived pietas. They were slightly subdued from that point, but in no way were they crushed or despondent, as would be those who have no faith or hope or sacrificial love. The morning after the news of his orders, I said Mass which they attended using the votive texts for those making a journey or pilgrimage. The general served, making all the responses he learned in his childhood, deeply engrained in him: “Introibo ad altare Dei… I will go unto the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth….” That morning I gave the captain a rosary of knotted cords, dark green, which an elderly sister had made. I have long used it for travel, since it is not metal. When the captain got it, he said something that struck me hard and put his sense of duty into focus for me. While I was thinking the rosary was inconspicuous, light and easily stowed, the moment he took hold of it he said, “It won’t make any noise.” It was a tool to be used, a weapon he understood. It occurs to me that he just might be the sort of man whose Catholic faith, present vocation and their duties are so integrated into who he is that he sees all things in his life from that perspective. We who by baptism and confirmation are soldiers of Christ in this Church Militant can learn a great deal from this.
I am grateful to this family for the reminder of how to live.