What Does the Prayer Really Say? 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in January 2005
Feedback from readers – MB opines via e-mail about my special column on the use and necessity of Latin: “I have to tell you how much I enjoyed this column in The Wanderer. Of course, I enjoy all of your WDTPRS columns too. … Disappointment with the translation of the prayers of the Mass is right up there with disappointment with any translation I have come across of the Divine Office. Amateur that I am, even I know enough Latin to recognize a ‘creative’ interpretation. How do they get away with this? Thanks again for all your work, and that you can do it with such kindness and yet a sense of humor should show some people I know that those who love the Mass and the Latin are not necessarily curmudgeons.” Thanks, MB, for the kind thoughts.
Today’s prayer was not in the post-Tridentine editions of the Missale Romanum but it does have its origin in the Leonine Sacramentary or, as it is better titled by its editor, the scholarly L. Cunibert Mohlberg, the Veronese Sacramentary. The three most important ancient sacramentaries are the Leonine/Veronese, Gelasian and Gregorian. The Sacramentarium Veronense (SV hereafter), so called because it exists in a single manuscript in Verona, is dated by famed paleographer E.A. Lowe to the first quarter of the 7th c. The material of the SV is a collection of Roman Mass books perhaps made by Maximianus, archbishop of Ravenna from 546-557 and, according to Joseph Lucchesi, its calendar follows that of Ravenna of the time. The prayers in the SV are attributable to Popes Leo I (+461), Gelasius (+496) and Vigilius (+557). Were you to hear this prayer intoned in Latin, or at least in an accurate translation, you would be thereby transported back 1500 years to our most Roman of Catholic roots.
COLLECT – LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
Concede nobis, Domine Deus noster,
ut te tota mente veneremur,
et omnes homines rationabili diligamus affectu.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord our God,
help us to love you with all our hearts
and to love all men as you love them.
Is this what the Latin really says? Lewis & Short, that Dictionary of inestimable value, says the deponent verb veneror means, “to reverence with religious awe, to worship, adore, revere, venerate… to do homage.” We sing in the well-known hymn to the Blessed Sacrament Tantum Ergo by St. Thomas Aquinas, “veneremur cernui…we adore / venerate with religious awe, our heads bowed to the ground.” The noun affectus, –us signifies, “A state of body, and especially of mind produced in one by some influence (cf. affectio), a state or disposition of mind, affection, mood”. In post-Augustan Latin it comes to mean “affection” in the sense of “love, desire, fondness, good-will, compassion, sympathy”. Diligo, dilexi, dilectum is composed from from lego, legi, lectum. “to bring together, to gather, collect” (not from lego, legavi, legatum, “to send with a commission; choose”). The punctilious etymological dictionary of Latin by Ernout & Meillet shows that diligo aims conceptually at distinguishing one thing by selecting it from others. Thus diligo comes to mean, “to value or esteem highly, to love” although Cicero used diligo in a somewhat less strong sense than amo, amare. Diligo can also suggest “thrifty, frugal” and “careful or attentive with regard to things”. English “diligence” and its antonym “negligence” correspond to this. Rationabilis is a post-Augustan word for the more classical rationalis and means “reasonable, rational”.
Grant us, O Lord our God,
that we may venerate you with our whole mind,
and may love all men with rational good-will.
“Affection” just doesn’t cut it for affectus and something more pointed than “love” is needed too. I came up with “rational good-will”. We mustn’t reduce all these complicated Latin words to “love”. Why not? Note in the prayer the contrast of the themes “reason” and “mood”, the rational with the affective dimension (concerning emotions) of man; in short, the head and the heart. The fact is, a properly functioning person conducts his life according to both head and heart, feelings under the control of reason and the will. The terrible wound to our human nature from original sin causes the difficulty we have in governing feelings and appetites by reason and will.
Today’s prayer aims at the totality of a human person: our wholeness is defined by our relationship with God. We seek to know God so that we may the better love Him and His love drives us all the more to know Him. Furthermore, possible theological and Scriptural underpinnings of this prayer are Deuteronomy 6 and Jesus’ two-fold command to love God and neighbor: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (cf. Matthew 22:36-38; Mark 12:2-31; Luke 10:26-28). In Deut 6:5-6 we have the great injunction called the Shema from the first Hebrew word, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might….” Jesus teaches the meaning and expands the concrete application of this command in Deuteronomy 6. There is no space here for the subtle relationships between the Latin words St. Jerome chose in his translations and the Greek or Hebrew originals of these verses. Suffice it to say that in the Bible the language about mind, heart, and soul is terrifically complex. However, these words aim at the totality of the person precisely in that dimension which is characteristic of man as “image of God”. Heart, mind and will distinguish us from brute animals. We are made to act as God acts: to know, will and love. Thus, “mind” and “heart” in man are closely related faculties and cannot be separated from each other. Mind and heart are revealed in and expressed through our bodies and thus they point at the “real us”. Love is at the heart of who we are and it the key to our prayer today.
We are commanded by God the Father and God Incarnate Jesus Christ to love both God and our fellow man and God the indwelling Holy Spirit makes this possible. But the word and therefore concept of “love” is understood in many ways and today, especially, it is misunderstood. “Love” frequently refers to people or stuff we like or enjoy using. Bob can “love” his new SUV. Besty “loves” her new kitten. We all certainly “love” baseball and spaghetti. But “love” can refer to the emotional and affections people have when they are “in love” or, as I sometimes call it, “in luv”. Luv is usually an ooey-gooey feeling, a romantic “love” sometimes growing out of lust. This gooey romantic “love” now dominates Western culture, alas. The result is that when “feelings” change or the object of “luv” is no longer enjoyable or useable, someone gets dumped, often for a newer, richer, or prettier model.
There some other flavors of “love” you can come up with, I’m sure. But Christians, indeed every image of God in all times everywhere, are called to a higher love, the love in today’s prayer, which is charity: the grace-completed virtue enabling us to love God for His own sake and love all who are made in His image. This is more than benevolence or tolerance or desire or enjoyment of use. True love is not merely a response to an appetite, as when we might see a beautiful member of the opposite sex, a well-turned double-play, or a plate of spaghetti all’amatriciana. True love, charity, isn’t the sloppy gazing of passion drunk sweethearts or the rubbish we see on TV and in movies (luv). Charity is the grace filled adhesion of our will to an object (really a person) which has been grasped by our intellect to be good. The love invoked in our prayer is an act of will based on reason. It is a choice – not a feeling. Charity delights in and longs for the good of the other more than one’s own. The theological virtue charity involves grace. It enables sacrifices, any kind of sacrifice for the authentic good of another discerned with reason (not a false good and not “use” of the other). We can choose even to love an enemy. This love resembles the sacrificial love of Christ on His Cross who offered Himself up for the good of His spouse, the Church. Rationabilis affectus reflects what it is to be truly human, made in God’s image and likeness, with faculties of willing and knowing and, therefore, loving.
Knowledge and love are interconnected. The more you get to know a person, the more reason you have to love him (remember… love seeks the other person’s good in charity even if a person is unlikable). Reciprocally, the more you love someone or (in the generic sense of love) something, the more you want to know about him and spend time getting to know him. For example, Billy is fascinated by bugs. From this “love” for bugs Billy wants to know everything there is to know about them. He works hard to learn and thus launches a brilliant career in entomology. Given Our Creator’s priority in all things, how much more ought we seek to know and love God first and foremost of all and then, in proper order, know and love God’s images, our neighbors? He is far more important that the bugs He created. Even spouses must love God more than they love each other. Only then can they love each other properly according to God’s plan.
We also have a relationship with the objects of both love and knowledge. What sort of relationship? With bugs or spaghetti it is one thing, but with God and neighbor it is entirely another. In seeking to understand and love God more and more we come to understand things about God and ourselves as his images that, without love, we could never learn by simple study. The relationship with God through love and knowledge changes us. St. Bonaventure (+1274) the “Seraphic” doctor wrote about “ecstatic knowledge”. This kind of knowledge is not merely the product of abstract investigation or analytical study (like Billy with his bugs). Rather, it comes first from learning and then contemplating. According to Bonaventure, by contemplation the knower becomes engaged with the object. Fascinated by it, he seeks to know it with a longing that draws him into the object. Consider: we can study about God and our faith, but really the object of study is not just things to learn or formulas to memorize: the object of our study and faith is a divine Person in whose image and likeness we ourselves are made. To be who we are by our nature we personally need the sort of knowledge of God that draws us into Him. Knowledge of God (not just things learned about God) reaches into us, seizes us, transforms us. To experience God’s love is to have certain knowledge of God, more certain than any knowledge which can be arrived at by means of mere rational examination.
Bring this all with you back to the last line of our prayer and the command to love our neighbor, all of them made in God’s image and all individually intriguing – fascinating, in a way that resembles the way we love God and ourselves. This we are to do with our minds, hearts, and all our strength.