8th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Super Oblata (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

Let’s continue our comparison of the first draft of the ICEL translation of ordinary prayers of Holy Mass, the second draft, and our own WDTPRS version which we worked through in fourth year of this series (2003-04).  We have reached the Roman Canon’s Simili modoWDTPRS LITERAL VERSION: After the supper was concluded, in a similar way taking into His holy and venerable hands also this noble chalice, in like manner giving thanks to You He blessed and He gave it to His disciples, saying: All of you receive and drink from this: for this is the chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out abundantly on your behalf and on the behalf of multitudes for the remission of sins.  Do this for my remembrance.  1st NEW ICEL DRAFT: In the same way, when supper was ended, taking also this noble cup into his holy and venerable hands, once more giving you thanks, he blessed and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the cup of my Blood of the new and eternal covenant; it will be poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.  2nd NEW ICEL DRAFT (changes underscored): In the same way, when supper was ended, he took his precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant; it will be poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.

The second draft still has the words “for all” as a “translation” of the Latin original pro multis.  I consider this to be the single most important point in the preparation of the new English version.  It is reserved to the Pope himself to establish the vernacular translation of sacramental forms.  Also, Pope Benedict himself wrote some years ago (and we have given this to you a couple times before):

“The fact that in Hebrew the expression “many” would mean the same thing as “all” is not relevant to the question under consideration inasmuch as it is a question of translating, not a Hebrew text here, but a Latin text (from the Roman Liturgy), which is directly related to a Greek text (the New Testament).  The institution narratives in the New Testament are by no means simply a translation (still less, a mistaken translation) of Isaiah; rather, they constitute an independent source” (emphasis added – God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003, pp. 37-8, n. 10).

The Pope himself has said that all the linguistic and ecumenical kabuki dances notwithstanding (my description), the centuries old liturgical texts constitute an independent theological source which must be respected.  The Church established the Latin formula of consecration, for reason.  Those reasons are well explained in the catechism ordered up by the Council of Trent (cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II, 4) which also clearly says that we cannot use the Latin “pro universis… for all”.  “But Father!  But Father!”, some will object, “That’s Trent!  Didn’t Vatican II do away with all that?”  The Second Vatican Council did away with neither a tittle nor a jot of the teaching of the Council of Trent.  Moreover, just because the newer Catechism of the Catholic Church is a sure reference for doctrine, that doesn’t mean that Catechism of the Council of Trent is either outdated or erroneous.

Our prayer this week was not in previous editions of the Missale Romanum before the Novus Ordo issued in 1969 but it was in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary among prayers for July.  The Sacramentarium Veronense (so name because it is preserved in a manuscript in Verona), was compiled in Rome between A.D. 558-590 and contains prayers used in Rome.  Let’s see the lame-duck ICEL version of today’s “Prayer over the gifts” right away and then dismiss it with a flick our mind.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God our Creator,
may this bread and wine we offer
as a sign of our love and worship
lead us to salvation.


Deus, qui offerenda tuo nomini tribuis,
et oblata devotioni nostrae servitutis ascribis,
quaesumus clementiam tuam,
ut, quod praestas unde sit meritum,
proficere nobis largiaris ad praemium.

This Super oblata is super hard to put into smooth English.  There are some elegant touches.  I really like the little play of offerenda and offerta.  The alliteration on “s” gives a swift quality to this dense prayer.  There is an immediacy conveyed through the present tense.  This prayer and last week’s prayer have some common features.  Neither last week’s nor this week’s were in the post-Tridentine Missal but they were both from the month of July in the Veronese; both use the word servitium; both have an address form, last week maiestas tua, this week clementia tua; both use proficio; both have an ut, quod followed by a giving verb.   And, again, the ICEL is shorter than the Latin.

We need help for the words before we get to the grammar.  In our primary reference source, the Lewis & Short Dictionary, the verb ascribo means fundamentally “to annex by writing, to add to a writing” and it comes by extension to mean “to impute, ascribe, attribute to one the cause of something”.  Also, it means “to place to one’s credit, i.e. to settle, fix, designate, appoint”.   Unde is an adverb meaning “from which place, whence”.  In the L&S we read also, “Apart from relations of place, and referring to persons or things, from which as an origin, source, cause, means, reason, etc., something proceeds, from whom, from which.”   In the past we have looked at devotio from various points of view.  This prayer requires yet another.  L&S says, “a devoting, consecrating” and also “fealty, allegiance, devotedness”.  However, later in the entry for this “voice” (a “dictionary entry”) there is this: “any form of prayer”.   A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. otherwise known as Souter says devotio can be “obedience, loyalty; worship, piety, religion; (with pron. adj.) loyal person (e.g., TUA, your loyal self)”.   Souter therefore also provided a justification for saying that clementiam tuam in our prayer could be a form of address.

How do we decide what case nostrae is?  Could the structure of the prayer give us a hint?  Once upon a time, I showed you what a chiasmus is.  This is an “X” shaped figure of speech that looks like AB-BA.  When the pairs are placed above each other, they form an X, like the Greek letter chi which looks like an “X”.  The ancient Veronese Sacramentary has prayers authored by St. Pope Leo I (+461), a stupendous stylist of Latin who often used patterns exactly like the one I described.  In today’s prayer we have tuo (A-dative pronoun) nomini (B-dative noun) above devotioni (B-dative noun) nostrae (?-pronoun) servitutis (C-genitive noun).  From this we could conclude that nostrae is dative.  You can still equally conclude that it is genitive, take your pick.  Folks, I know this is tedious for many of you, but I know that some people who read this are involved with making the new translations.  Believe me, they will be puzzled by this too.  Your patience with my complex explanations might help them do a better job and afterward we can hold them to account for their decisions.

O God, who are now giving the things to be offered to Your Name,
and designate for the devotion of our service the things having been offered,
we beseech Your Clemency,
that You grant that that which You are giving from which there may be merit,
may be profitable for us unto a reward.

What a mess, right?  To untangle this we have to know that quod refers to an invisible id which is the subject of the infinitive proficere.  The subjunctive sit follows as a result.  This whole unit of thought is what we want to be granted to us from God, who is clement.  Let’s massage this a bit into a

O God, who give the things to be offered to Your Name,
and designate for the devotion of our service the things offered,
we beseech Your Clemency,
that that which You are giving, whence merit may come,
You may grant us to be profitable unto a reward.

Why would we offer anything to God’s Name (tuo nomini)?   First, we know God’s Name is Holy and it is not to be improperly used (cf. Ex 20:7).  The dictionary of liturgical Latin we call Blaise (p. 283) says that in Hebrew thinking, a name doesn’t just identify, it also expresses the very Person.  In John 3:18 we read about the salvific power of the Name of God: “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (RSV).      

We have here a pairing of words which are, so to speak, two sides of the one and same coin: meritum and praemiumMeritum or “merit” is the right to a reward (praemium) due to some work done.  Supernatural merit is the right to a reward for a work God determines is good and which is done for His sake.  This sort of work must be supernatural in its origin, that is, it is done under the influence of grace, and supernatural in its purpose.  God alone is the source of supernatural good and therefore He must designate it as such.  Consider the consecration in Holy Mass which contain the command of Jesus at the Last Supper and His description of what His commands lead to.  Christ tells us that consuming His Body and Blood are for eternal life (cf. John 6).  He commanded His Apostles to do what he was doing.  If we do what He commands for His sake and the reasons He described, then we merit the reward God designates.   The vocabulary (devotio, servitus, meritum, praemium) boldy communicate the truth of our stance before God.

Non-Catholics often think that when Catholics talk about merit, we are saying we can earn salvation by performing good works. The Church doesn’t teach this. The Council of Trent said that “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace” (13 January 1547 Session VI, Decree on Justification 8, cf. Rom 11:6).   Holy Church teaches that Christ alone merits anything in the strictest sense.  Man by himself does not merit supernatural rewards (cf. CCC 2007).  When moved by grace we do those things God promised to reward (cf. Rom 2:6–11 and Gal 6:6–10). God’s grace and His promises are the source of all our merit (CCC 2008).  We must make a distinction between condign merit, awarded because it is fully deserved and our action was proportioned to the reward, and congruent merit, awarded by God’s generosity for imperfect works.  The Bishop of Hippo St. Augustine (+430) eloquently teaches (ep. 194, 19 – read this out loud): “What, therefore, before grace is man’s merit, by which merit he receives grace, since every good merit of ours does not work in us except by grace and since God crowns nothing other than His own gifts when He crowns our merits?”  The theology of this teaching, even the key phrase of Augustine, is in Preface “de sanctis” – (De gloria Sanctorum): “…et, eorum coronando merita, tua dona coronas….”  Clearly the Church continues faithfully to hold to her traditional theology of merit and grace.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Caesar Magnus says:

    Thank you,
    I could barely make heads or tales of the clause:
    “ut, quod præstas unde sit méritum”
    Your explanation makes sense.

    Good to see you appear to be feeling at least a little better.

  2. That was a real puzzle, to be sure. I had to think about that one for a while.

    I am still pretty sick, but up for a while.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    The priest-director of a diocesan liturgy committee once advised me (patiently and helpfully) not to waste time worrying fruitlessly about differences in translation, that any two English translations of the same Latin prayer will always be essentially the same, so a simple layman (like me) need not concern himself with subtle distinctions. He, an officially designated expert in liturgy, evidently had no clue that ideas could be lost in translation, or different ones introduced. For a case in point see


    where Father Z’s and ICEL’s translations of this Sunday’s propers are presented side by side vertically, with corresponding lines and ideas juxtaposed horizontally to the extent possible.

    Some people (liturgists, especially) seemingly just cannot be gotten to read even so wonderful a column as WDTPRS. But I wonder whether this means of presentation doesn’t make the point so plainly that almost anyone (who has “eyes to see”) can get it.

    The irony is that this 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time is by no means one of ICEL’s worst efforts. Some Sunday’s ICEL propers are so altered in meaning that no such juxtaposition of lines and ideas seems feasible.

  4. Don Marco says:

    I laboured over this one too and fnally settled for this rendering of the text:

    O God, who give us the gifts we offer to your name,
    and accept them as the sign of our devoted worship,
    we entreat your clemency
    that what you give us may be the source of merit now,
    and become for us an eternal reward.

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