What Does the Prayer Really Say? 7th Sunday in of Ordinary Time
ORIGNINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003
Once again I rely on the terrier-like reporting of the ubiquitous Mr. John L. Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter. In his 7 February 2003 Word From Rome Mr. Allen reports about ICEL and its latest comings and goings… to and from Rome, that is. You will recall that the Holy See placed a great focus on the English language translations after the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) issued its normative document Liturgiam authenticam (LA) in May 2001. Apparently now it is time to examine and renovate the translations in other languages. Pace Mr. Allen, the German equivalent of ICEL, the Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Liturgischen Kommissionen im deutschen Sprachgebiet (let’s call it IAG), based at the Deutsches Liturgisches Institut in Trier, will soon be restructured too. Joachim Card. Meisner, Archbishop of Köln, Germany, delivered the bad/good news during a January meeting. Fr. Eberhard Amon, IAG’s secretary, said he expects two new bodies to result from the overhaul. The German language is important since it is consulted for translations into Eastern European languages. Mr. Allen says, “The French may be the next in line. In 2002, the French translation of the marriage rite was rejected by Rome, and the Vatican sent a letter to the French bishops asking that re-translations of other liturgical texts in light of Liturgiam Authenticam begin.” I find it interesting that the rejection of a translation by a critically important text seems to be the first salvo in the CDW’s process of overhauling translations and bodies entrusted with them. Back in the English world, Fr. Bruce Harbert, ICEL’s new Executive Secretary, was in Rome 5-6 February for meetings with the CDW. As Mr. Allen reports, this is interesting because, in the past, the when Mr. John Page was Executive Secretary, ICEL was informed by the CDW that “’collaborators’ and ‘employees’ had no standing to be present at meetings at the congregation.” It seems the attitude has changed a bit in Rome.
I received a nice fax (forwarded to me) dated 26 January 2003 from FM of GA, a convert like your author, who differs in a fundamental way with the CDW’s document LA. I quoted the problematic (for FM) paragraph in my column for the Super oblata of Trinity Sunday. FM: “You quote paragraph 25 of LA in your May 23rd (2002) column, ‘So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these text’s dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision’ (emphasis added). I suggest that this is a self contradictory goal. The same goal is in place in most of our schools today. However, the way it is implemented is by ‘dumbing down’ the curriculum…. What LA evidently does not take into account (and much of the thrust of Vatican II similarly ignores) is that the Church has a translator that the secular schools purposely deny… Latin…. Depending on the age of the student the Catholic teacher would discuss the vernacular meaning of the Latin in words suitable for that age group.” FM, I must comment. First, I agree that there is much “dumbing down” of the liturgy since Vatican II. No question. Most conspicuous to us, however, is the deficient 1973 ICEL translation. Keep in mind that a new translation is in the works. To be fair, it must be given its chance. Second, the “dumbing down” of the liturgy we see today was not mandated by the Council Fathers at Vatican II! They mandated only very few changes in the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. The Consilium, under Card. Lercaro and (later) Archbp. Bugnini, went way beyond the Council’s mandates, made massive changes, and (sadly) got them approved. Don’t lay this at the feet of the Council: it is the brainchild of those who implemented the Council. Third, I have been saying again and again in these columns that, while a grown man can survive on a diet of creamed carrots and milk, fit for infants, he cannot thrive. We need steak and a robust Zinfandel (I almost wrote “Bordeaux”, but I am not buying French right now) in order to be satisfied. I do not see that LA 25 contradicts that. I beat the drum for the widespread restoration of Latin to its rightful place as much as you do, FM.
I have a wonderful image in my mind (which I, though relatively young, have witnessed) of people participating in celebrations of Mass in Latin, each having his own prayer book with translations in different languages, even different translations in the same language. An Englishman might have his book, Latin in one column and an older archaic style in the other. His little son and daughter have their missals too, with simple translations suitable for children, not “dumbed down” but tailored to their ability to grasp. Next to the man is an Italian, with his book in Latin and Italian. Next to them is a woman from Korea and a young person from Argentina. All have their own versions. Yet, in this diversity, they are all able to give themselves over to the sacred action in “full, conscious, and active participation”. None of them even remotely “left out” because Mass is in a language they do not understand. I mostly cringe in large modern Masses in which there must be some jarring babble of different tongues, some parts in English, some in Spanish, some in, say, Vietnamese, in a futile attempt to make every feel “welcomed” or able to “participate”. When that occurs, everyone can participate for a few moments, but no one can participate for the whole thing. James Joyce once said of the Catholic Church as “here comes everyone”. But the diversity of languages was a sign of disunity and rebellion against God from the beginning (Gen 11:6-9). The Pentecost event, in which everyone understood all languages was the anti-Babel (Acts 2:3-13). Latin was not only the Church’s anti-Babel, it is everyone’s heritage, possession, and inheritance, open to all, especially on the foundation of good tools and good catechism. It is used, without bias for age, race, culture, and education. I also realize that the vernacular is here to stay. I agree with you wholeheartedly, FM, that Latin would be very useful for every age and every type of person to the degree they individually can benefit from it. But, and this is a huge but, that depends entirely on those different people having the benefit also of adequate liturgical catechisis, which you suggest in your comments. Where are the catechists/priests who can provide it? If we must have use of the vernacular (and we must), we must also have the very best translations we can muster. The texts, according to LA 25, are to reflect the content and beauty of the original. I know, FM, that this is a thorny problem. On the other hand, nothing is gained from having bad translations.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
help us to live the example of love
we celebrate in this eucharist,
that we may come to its fulfillment in your presence.
LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut illius capiamus effectum,
cuius per haec mysteria pignus accepimus.
This prayer was, with minor changes, the Postcommunio of the Fifth Sunday left over after Epiphany, which was celebrated near the end of the liturgical year: Quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut illius salutaris capiamus effectum, cuius… without the praesta. This prayer seems to have origins in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary.
Grant, we implore you, Almighty God,
that we may obtain the effect of that
of which we have received a pledge token by means of these sacramental mysteries.
In the older form of the prayer in the 1962MR the middle part was a bit clearer: “…the effect of that salvation of which…”. In the grand Lewis & Short Dictionary we find that the neuter noun pignus (from the root found in pango; cf. paciscor) means “a pledge, gage, pawn, security, mortgage (of persons as well as things)”. It is also “the object of a wager, a wager, stake” and “children, parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, as pledges of love.” It is especially found in constructions with the verb capio, as in our prayer today, as in pignus capere, “to take a pledge or security for payment”, pignora capere, “to issue execution, make seizure of property” and “pignoris capio, “a proceeding by which the summary collection of certain debts was secured”.
Several things come to mind as I hear this. First, as we have explored various times in these WDTPRS columns, we are living in a state of “already, but not yet”. With the resurrection of the Lord, the work of our salvation is completed, our humanity is at the right hand of the Father in the Risen Christ, but we are still awaiting the finalization and ultimate effects. In the moment of Holy Communion, when we receive the pledge, the down payment, of our face to face encounter with the Almighty, we are as close to that final state as we can be in this life. Second, one of the meanings of pignus refers to other people in our lives, close to us, our neighbors, as being signs or tokens of something valuable, something we will obtain to a greater extent later. We all know of Christ’s two-fold command to love God and neighbor (Matthew 19:19). We all know the parable in which Christ describes the fates of those who are solicitous to their needy neighbors and those who neglect them (Matthew 25:31-46). Our neighbors are an eschatological sign to us (Greek ta eschata “last things” – eschatology is the study of the “last things”, our death and judgment, the end of the world and its culmination when God will be “all in all” (cf. 1 Cor 15). Pignus is found few times in the Latin Vulgate version of the New Testament, and all times in the letters of Paul (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:14) and they all refer to the baptismal branding or “seal” we receive especially in baptism (and its intensifying in the other sacraments of initiation, confirmation and Eucharist). For example, in 2 Cor 1:21-22, the RSV version gives us: “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.”
By our baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can be admitted to Holy Communion. It is by our baptism that we are enabled to participate at Mass with “full, conscious, and active” participation, with what I call “active receptivity”. “Active participation” reaches its perfection in a good Holy Communion. Communion, however, is never to be isolated from the rest of our lives. Our baptismal character calls us to extend the effects of our Communion and the preparation for reception of that Communion into all the other corners and levels of our lives. As communicating Catholics, with each passing day and every Holy Communion, we should be consciously striving to see also in our neighbors, and not just the Sacred Host, as pledges and tokens of what we have been promised. The Eucharist is always privileged in this formula or rule for living, for only the Eucharist of all the sacraments, is the one Whom it signifies. Only the Eucharist, of all the concrete things we encounter in this life and experience with our senses, is worthy of worship. Yet our Lord, God and Savior has commanded sacrificial love, on His pattern and example, to be extended to our neighbors. For us this has everlasting impact.