4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare): SUPER OBLATA (1)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Fourth Sunday of Lent – Station:  Basilica of the Holy Cross in Ierusalem

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2002

I get feedback by both e-mail and snail-mail, but it is rare that I get face-mail… face-to-face feedback.   I recently spoke at a conference during which someone observed that, while read WDTPRS with interest, he wished that he could get it actually before the Sunday for which they are intended.  All I can say is that, as I understand things, the paper in which these appear goes to the printer 10 days before the Sunday treated.  From thence they go immediately to the postal service.  I write these more than a week in advance precisely so that you have the best chance to get it before the Sunday.  If you are not getting your number of the paper in that period, then you need to complain to the post office.  Sorry.

This is what I call a “nickname Sunday” (like Gaudete in Advent).  This use of nicknames for certain Sundays can be traced back at least as far as the 12th century John of Salisbury.  They come from the first word of the Introit chant for the Mass.  This Sunday the Church enjoys a foretaste of the coming joy of Easter, signaled by the first word sung: “Rejoice”!  Today we have rose colored vestments and instrumental music.  We relax the penitential character of Lent when traditionally (and still present in the rubrics) there should be no flowers or decorations, no instrumental music (including organ unless used only to sustain congregational singing). 

According to the famous Latin phrase repetita iuvant (repeated things help) I will repeat what we read in WDTPRS last year for this Sunday when we were still involved with the collects of the Mass.  Why do we have rose (not, quod Deus avertat,…pink) colored vestments?   This custom has an origin in the station churches of Rome.  In Rome there have been celebrations of Mass during the great seasons of Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas at "station" churches for many centuries. The station for Laetare Sunday is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. This is where the relics of Cross and Passion brought back to Rome by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, are kept.  It was the Pope’s custom on Laetare Sunday to bless roses made of gold.  They were then sent to Catholic kings and queens. So Laetare was also called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose.  So, rose vestments came to be used on Laetare Sunday in the Basilica of the Holy Cross when the Pope came for the station Mass. Rose (the technical term for the color is rosacea) spread to the rest of the City.  Then it was made the rule for the whole world when Pius V promulgated the Roman Missal.  We can rejoice that it is now possible to find rose vestments for sale in religious good stores again.  Hopefully they, with many other good sound customs, will return to use from desuetude.

LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Remedii sempiterni munera, Domine, laetantes offerimus,
suppliciter exorantes,
ut eadem nos et fideliter venerari,
et pro salute mundi congruenter exhibere perficias.

Please take note of the word laetantes, which is a clear echo of the first and thematic word for the Mass: laetare.   This super oblata has no modern precedent.   It was not found in any form in the previous, so-called “Tridentine” edition of the Missale Romanum though it had some foundation on a prayer in very ancient Gelasian Sacramentary.

Bent down praying, O Lord, we rejoicing people are
offering the gifts of the eternal remedy,
so that you may make us both faithfully revere the same,
and, for the salvation of the world, suitably show them forth.

The ever-useful Lewis & Short Dictionary says that the deponent verb veneror means “to reverence with religious awe, to worship, adore, revere, venerate.”  It can also mean “to ask reverently for any thing, to beseech, implore, beg, entreat, supplicate.”  Congruo is a complex verb.  It gives us the adverb congruenter.  Among the many things that congruo means are “to run, come, or meet together with something”, “to coincide or correspond with a person or thing, in substance, in feeling, or in time, to be suited or adapted to, to agree with, accord, suit, fit” and “agreeing in all its parts; symmetrical, proportioned; accordant, consistent, harmonious.”   Hence, congru­enter is “agreeably, suitably.”  A Latin remedium is “that which heals again; a cure, remedy” as well as “a means of aid, assistance, or relief.”  It was even used of magical charms or amulets.  Thus, even in its pagan usage there was an element of the spiritual in regard to healing and protection from ills.  The last part of the prayer concludes with a subjunctive verb perficio in a clause beginning with ut which governs two accusative/infinitives themselves distinguished by an et…et construction (“both…and”).  Perficio, perfeci, perfectum is the source of the English word “perfect”.  It means fundamentally, “to achieve, execute, carry out, accomplish, perform, dispatch, bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete.”  Thus it is “to make perfect’ and also “to bring about, to cause, effect; with ut.”   At the beginning of the prayer we find suppliciter which is from supplex, in turn from supplico which signifies “to kneel down or humble one’s self, to pray or beg humbly, to beseech, implore, supplicate” and “to pray to or supplicate as a god; to pray, worship.” Supplico is formed from sub and plico, meaning “to fold, double up.”   The image is one doubled-over, bent over praying.   Someone who is supplex is bent down, at least at the knees, in an attitude of prayer.   In the context of this prayer we have people who are laetantes… “rejoicing” who are nonetheless bent or folded over while praying at the same time as their mediator, their priest, is raising high to God the offerings that will soon be transformed upon the altar. 

we offer you these gifts
which bring us peace and joy.
Increase our reverence by this eucharist,
and bring salvation to the world.

This version is so different from the Latin original as almost to constitute a new composition.

The Latin version identifies some important things.   First and foremost in the prayer is our total reliance on God.  It is He who gives us the “gifts of the eternal remedy”.  Implicit in the need for a remedy, a concept entirely abandoned in the ICEL version, is the illness of sin.  Our gratitude for the eternal remedy to the damnation we deserve for sins causes us at the same time to bend ourselves over as humble supplicants at the same time as we rejoice in our good fortune and the goodness of such a merciful God.  Our gratitude and humility in turn prompt us to ask that same God to continue His gracious work in us an make us capable of venerating the gifts properly and also making them known (exhibere) to others, whom we also wish to share in the salvation He has so kindly made possible.  Whereas in the ICEL prayer there is a petition “bring salvation to the world” in the Latin prayer we recognize that we, entirely dependent on God, are the ones who are to make that salvation know.  With the reception of the gift comes a responsibility.

We must never be embarrassed in any way about the salvation Jesus Christ has won for us.  In our own lives we must be living icons of the gifts He provides.  I was struck in this regard by something I saw and heard during the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic games recently.  Whenever the Olympic games close, there is an announcement of the location of the next games, four years hence.  In recent times, with the vacuous but spectacular razzle-dazzle of the ceremonies this has come to include presentations of the new logo of the next games, and various other elements that can be commercialized and hyped beyond all reason.   The next Winter Olympic games of 2006 will be in Torino, Italy and the symbol of the games is a highly stylized version of the spire of the cathedral of Torino or as the English call it Turin.   This is where the Shroud of Turin is kept and then displayed on occasion.  The spire of that cathedral is very distinctive as it rises over the rather dull and industrial city, instantly recognizable to those who have seen it, just as the Eifel Tower is attached to Paris and the Opera House is for Sydney.   The cathedral of Torino is, of course, a concrete material manifestation of faith, showing forth the faith of generations of Catholics.  It is a sign in stone and mortar of the belief of generation of followers of Christ in the mystery of transubstantiation.  It is proud and unapologetic.   And yet when the TV announcers identified the new logo, the stylized cathedral spire, they would not even say what the building was.   All the announcer on NBC said was that it was an “abstract design based on the most recognizable building in Torino.”  He would not identify it as a Catholic cathedral, as if the Christian religion was somehow forbidden even a mention in that semi-pagan super-exaltation of the human person who was, during this year’s winter games, supposed to “light the fire within”, according to the “theme” of the games.  

A very good example of someone who truly did light the fire within will be present to the many secular pilgrims who will travel to Torino for those games and will, no doubt, stroll through the cathedral.  Interred in a side aisle of the cathedral is the Blessed Piero Giorgio Frassati.  He was a young layman who was dedicated to deep prayer and works of mercy for the poor.  He was a politically active example of Christian virtues.   He loved outdoor sports.  Many agree that he is an exceptionally good model for Catholic young people.  At the ceremony for his beatification the official image used for him, in large format on a banner hung upon the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, you see him standing, gloriously young and happy with his pipe and a walking stick in a field of snow on a mountain top of the Alps so close to Torino, where four years from now other young people will strive for earthly honors.  (At the time of the beatification the timid mandarins of the Vatican Curia removed the pipe from the famous photo of Pier Giorgio on the mountain top: they were worried that it would promote smoking among young people… so much for the Holy See being a bulwark against the encroachment of political correctness… but I digress…)  I found it ironic that this marvelous young lover of God and winter sports is interred in the very building that provides the symbol of the next winter Olympics and yet a TV network did not dare to even give a name to the building.  Stay tuned for developments.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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