2nd Sunday of Lent: SUPER OBLATA (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  2nd Sunday of Lent – Roman Station: St. Mary in Domnica alla Navicella

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

DR writes via e-mail: “The response to ‘The Lord be with you’ should be ‘and with your spirit.’   My question here is, what is the meaning of ‘and with your spirit.’  What are we saying with that statement.  Also what are we saying with the incorrect form namely “and also with you.”   What are we saying with that statement?”  Thanks for the question, DR.  What are we saying with the present ICEL form?  I really don’t know other than to guess that there was a desire to eliminate distinctions between the ordained and lay people.  Here is why. The Latin response says “And with your spirit”.  Note the lower-case “spirit”.  What this refers to, as I understand it, is the sacramentally ordained character of the priest or deacon.  It is an acknowledgment of the fact that when the sacramentally ordained calls the Holy Spirit upon the people, he does something different than what lay people do.  This all reminds me of a story someone sent to me.  Apparently his priest always said with enthusiasm “The Lord IS with you!” to which in true curmudgeon fashion he responded “And MAYBE with you!”

This is a variation of the Secret for Quinquagesima Sunday in the 1962 edition of the Missale Romanum.  It strikes me as very odd indeed to lift a Secret from a pre-Lenten Sunday and insert it into the texts for the Second Sunday of Lent.  Why not just take the secret for the Second Sunday of Lent?   That is all above my pay grade, I suppose.

Haec hostia, Domine, quaesumus, emundet nostra delicta,
et ad celebranda festa paschalia
fidelium tuorum corpora mentesque sanctificet.

As happened four years ago, when we first looked as this prayer, we have just concluded the Winter Olympics.  I marvel at the skills and conditioning of the athletes competing and, in some cases this year, the overweening pride which led to rather humiliating defeats – warnings to us all.  Having those images of athletic competition in mind today’s prayer reminds me of the Latin phrase of the satirist Juvenal, “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano… A healthy/sound mind in a healthy/sound body is something to be prayed for.”  There is our –nd- form again.  It may be that Juvenal was inspired by Homer: “A faultless body and a blameless mind” (Odyssey III, 138 – trans. Pope).  This was a common theme in the ancient world.  The Stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (+65) wrote: “Hold fast to this sound and wholesome rule of life: that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health.  The body should be treated rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind” (ep. 7, 5).  These authors, together with those of Scripture, were part of the cultural formation of the author of today’s prayer so many centuries ago.

Let this sacrificial offering cleanse our sins, we beg, O Lord,
and let it sanctify the bodies and minds of Thy faithful
for celebrating the paschal feasts.

Humans are not angels.  We have both body and soul.  The bond between body and soul is so great that when the one is separated from the other we die.  But so powerful is that bond that our soul awaits the moment when it will once again (using philosophical language) inform matter  which is our body.  We will arise from the dust from which we were formed.  Some will rise to the unending happiness of heaven, some to perpetual damnation of hell.  Our eternal destiny is determined by our state of soul at the time of death.  If we die in God’s friendship, we will enjoy heaven.  If we die separated from God’s friendship, we will be damned to hell.  The way we live prepares us for the way we must die.  If, in order to be victorious, athletes must be disciplined and earnest to achieve perfection in their sport, or any other human endeavor, can we think that the spiritual struggle could require less dedication?

The Apostle St. Paul and other New Testament authors describe our Christian life using imagery of sporting events of his day.  For example, in 1 Peter 5:4 we read, “When the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.”  The letter of the Apostle St. James says, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”  The Apostle St. John wrote, “I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev 3:11).  St. Paul admonishes us:

For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8)

During this Lent we can take to heart the adage that drove Olympic athletes: citius – altius – fortius… swifter – higher/deeper – stronger.  In performing spiritual and corporal works of mercy we can be citius…swifter.  In examining our consciences we can be altius… deeper.  In watchfulness regarding things of the flesh we can be fortius…stronger, and thereby win our unfading crown of glory.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
make us holy.
May this eucharist take away our sins
that we may be prepared
to celebrate the resurrection.

I can’t bring myself to make many comments on this lame-duck version.  Suffice to say that I believe that the Eucharist takes away our sins because it is the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  He paid the price for every sin ever committed or that would ever be committed.  His Person is the price of our salvation.   The Latin clearly refers to His Sacrifice and the ICEL version does not.  In the Sacrifice of the Mass we renew this saving event, recognizing it as the source of forgiveness.  In expunging that key concept, Sacrifice, a great injustice was done to the Truth and to the People of God, who deserve to know what the prayer really says.  

Let’s move on to our “Prayer over the people”.  During Lent, I am including the new/ancient Oratio super populum now happily restored in the 2002MR.  It is pronounced after the Post Communion.  In the ICEL “Sacramentary” there is on Sundays of Lent a “Solemn blessing or prayer over the people” but they are not prayers from any Latin Missal. 

The origin of this special invocation is a little hard to pin down.  Fr. Joseph A. Jungmann in his monumental two volume The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development gives a history of this prayer at the beginning of the section concerning the close of the Mass (vol. II, pp. 427ff).  Jungmann emphasized something that caught my attention: we are at a “frontier” moment, the threshold of the sacred precinct of the church and the world.  In a way, this prayer helps you take what you gained from Mass out into the world and put it to good use.

By the time of St. Pope Gregory the Great (+604) this blessing was only during Lent, probably because it is a time of greater spiritual combat.   Indeed the Oratio super populum was extremely important for those who were not receiving Holy Communion, as was the case of those doing public penance before the Church, the ordo poenitentium.  

How important was this “Prayer over the people” to our ancient Roman forbears in the Faith?  In 545 Pope Vigilius (537-55) was celebrating the station Mass at St. Cecilia in Trastevere.  Soldiers of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, a pro-Monophysite (the “Christ had only one nature” crowd) arrived after Communion to take the Pope into custody and haul him off to Constantinople.  The people followed them out of the basilica all the way to the boat demanding “ut orationem ab eo acciperent… that they receive the blessing prayer from him”.  The Pope recited it.  The people said “Amen”.  Off went Vigilius.  He would return to Rome in the flesh only after his death.

Our marvelous history and customs and traditions, wonderful stories like this from the past, all make me wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.  What would we do if our priest, our bishop, our Pope were hauled before our eyes off the altar before the final blessings?  How important do you think these priestly invocations of God’s help upon us are for our daily lives?  How important is the role of your priest in your Catholic life?  

Sure, it happens all the time that the priest’s all too human flaws make it difficult to see in him what God has placed upon his soul.  I get complaints about priests constantly via e-mail and snail-mail.  Sometimes they are about me!  Regardless of how inadequate some of you might think Father is, his blessings are effective.  His consecrations and absolutions are valid.  And rarely, rarely, despite how it might seem in the moment, or how ignorant or thick or lazy or given to less than edifying things you think he may be, does he act in such a way that his blessings or celebrations of sacraments are not guaranteed by the Church’s authority and God’s own promises.  As spotless as Holy Mother Church is, we do not belong to a Church of the pure only.  The priest, however inadequate you might think yours to be, is mysteriously alter Christus.  He remains the fundamental figure in the formation of the Christian faithful. 

Consider now our prayer.  Note that unlike the other prayers of Mass, in the “Prayer over the people” the priest prays for and over the people, not including himself.  In all other prayers of Holy Mass he speaks of “we” and “us”.  This one is entirely for you..

Benedic, Domine, fideles tuos benedictione perpetua,
et fac eos Unigeniti tui Evangelio sic adhaerere,
ut ad illam gloriam, cuius in se speciem Apostolis ostendit,
et suspirare iugiter et feliciter valeant pervenire.

With a perpetual benediction bless, O Lord, Your faithful,
and make them so to cling to the Gospel of Your Only-Begotten,
that they may be able always to long for and happily attain
to that glory whose beauty He showed to the Apostles in Himself.

This wonderful plea for your sake on the part of the priest, which I hope you might hear with your heads bowed unto God, connects us back to the moment of the Transfiguration about which we were instructed in the Gospel for today’s Holy Mass.  That glimpse of something of His divine glory helped the Apostles endure the horror of His suffering.  It can help us now in our Lenten discipline, as we say “No!” even to some things which are good and say “Yes!” to performing works of mercy.

In some parts of the world right now, this year, priests are being killed.  Fr. Andrea Santoro was murdered in Turkey, martyred to the shouts of “Allahu akbar!”  Fr. Michael Gajere was lynched with 15 others in Nigeria by Christian hating Islamic fundamentalists.   According to the Holy See, 1 bishop, 20 priests, 2 nuns, 2 monks, and 1 lay catechist were killed in mission countries in 2005.  In this season of spiritual combat, in this age of spiritual combat, do not hesitate to ask the priest when you meet him for his blessing!   By asking the priest to help you, you help him to be a priest.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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