3rd Sunday of Easter: Collect (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  3rd Sunday of Easter

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005

I had a nice long hand written missive from WGH in the USA who sent copies of letters he wrote to the Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Card. Ratzinger, and of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS), Francis Card. Arinze (either one of whom might wind up one day being elected to the See of Peter).  WGH’s letters were cordial, sincere, and direct.  In addition to being concerned about the pro multis issue (as I hope we all are), he was also hopeful that there might be a good translation of the Sanctus.  WGH also wrote something wonderful.  He made use of my WDTPRS column back on 25 April 2005 in we examined how the USCCB’s document Built of Living Stones distorted the translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal regarding the placement of the altar.  You will recall that while the Latin clearly said an altar should be far enough from the wall so that the priest can walk around it or say Mass from either side when opportune, the English rendering of that Latin inaccurately conveyed that Mass must be said facing the people.  That mendacious translation survived even though the CDWDS had issued some time before an official clarification of that precise point, about that very paragraph, in which even the Latin grammar had been explained.  Also, WDTPRS has written of the importance of the unicity of the altar in the sanctuary (i.e., one altar, not two) and that even the same CDWDS has stated that “table” altars ought not be set up in front of important and clearly dominant main altars (cf. Notitiae (May) 1993).  At any rate, WGH took that WDTPRS column to his parish priests, at a parish where Holy Mass is also celebrated using the 1962MR. The portable altar set up in front of the main altar was whisked away never to return.  Amen. (T.P.  Alleluia, alleluia.)

On 19 March the The Tablet had a piece by Robert Mickens entitled “Vox Clara clears way for new text.”  Vox Clara is the committee implemented in 2001 by the CDWDS to ride shotgun on ICEL during the preparation of a new translation of liturgical texts according to the norms issued in Liturgiam authenticam.  The Vox Clara Committee met in Rome from 8-10 March to discuss tricky points of the working draft.  After the meeting Vox Clara issued a rather positive statement and the chairman, His Eminence George Card. Pell of Sydney has expressed a positive view of ICEL now that it has been eviscerated and revitalized by the Holy See.  According to a source for The Tablet, “They’ve successfully turned ICEL into what they wanted in the first place, so they [Vox Clara] probably just close down.”   At any rate, according to the press release after the last Vox Clara meeting, “The committee was provided with a copy of the latest revision of ICEL’s translation of a selection of prayers from the Proper of Seasons in the Missale Romanum.” No projected completion date was provided.  However, Francis Card. George of Chicago and a member Vox Clara told the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter’s nearly ubiquitous Rome correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. that he thought it would take least, and this is optimistic, three more years to produce a new Missal.

Semper exsultet populus tuus, Deus,
renovata animae iuventute,
ut, qui nunc laetatur in adoptionis se gloriam restitutum,
resurrectionis diem spe certae gratulationis exspectet.

This Collect is an ancient prayer though it was not in previous editions of the Missale Romanum before the Novus Ordo.  It has antecedents in both the Veronese and Gelasian Sacramentaries about which you readers are now experts.   The second part of our Collect is quite elegant: qui nunc laetatur in adoptionis se gloriam restitutum, the infinitive esse being understood… laetatur se restitutum (esse) in gloriam adoptionis.  The slightly odd wording puts a special emphasis on the word gloria.  This elegant and poetic word order also gives some weight to a connection I will make to another famous Easter Latin prayer.  Adoptio of course is “adoption” in the sense of “to take as one’s child.”  We find the phrase adoptionem filiorum Dei … “adoption of the sons of God” in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (Romans 8:23, Gal 4:5 and Eph 1:5).  Gratulatio means “a manifestation of joy; a wishing joy, congratulation; a rejoicing, joy and also “a religious festival of joy and thanksgiving, a public thanksgiving.”

This Collect suggests to me that there may have been a conscious attempt on the part of the Church to remind us of the stupendous moment of the Easter Vigil a few weeks back.  Perhaps we are recapturing something of that moment?  After all, this is still Easter season, Paschaltide.  The words exsultet and adoption bring this to mind.  On the Vigil of Easter, the deacon’s great moment to shine, the hymn or Praeconium Paschale called the Exsultet is sung.   We had a special column about the Exsultet last year.  It was composed perhaps as early as the fifth century, parts perhaps going back to St. Ambrose of Milan (+397).  This hymn or lucernarium came into the Roman tradition through a ninth century addition to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentary.  You know how this is supposed to work.  The Paschal or “Christ” candle is prepared and lit with the new fire.  After processing to the sanctuary and thrice singing Lumen Christi, the deacon (or a priest) dressed in his dalmatic incenses the Paschal candle.  The hymn begins like a Preface (Sursum corda!  “Up with your hearts!”).  He invites the vast array of heavenly angels to join him in praising Christ symbolized in the candle.  The text is a long meditation on this candle as it symbolizes Christ, now gloriously risen, and how He has saved humanity from sin.  The famous phrase O felix culpa is found here, “O happy fault that merited so to have so great a redeemer.”  Many times the hymn refers to the amazing nature of the night itself, during which Christ rose.  There are constant contrasts of light and darkness.  One of the images of meditation in the Exsultet concerns the flame of the candle: wax, the work of bees, nourishes the divided and yet undiminished flame.  Above, I explained that adoptio is a “spiritual adoption” in the sense of the effects of baptism making us members of the risen Christ and children of the loving Father.  Our old pal the Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that adoptio is also the “admission of a bee into a new hive.”  What a marvelous way to think of a newly baptized Christian!  May all our works and words be as sweet as honey.

Some of you are probably thinking, “Okay, Father, you have gone too far this time in making that connection.”  Have I?  I admit that we must always be careful in making our connections and avoid getting too creative, going too far afield.  But, since I am writing a column and not actually making the official translation I suppose I allow myself some real latitude.  After all, these articles are meant to draw you in, help you to love the prayers and pray them with full, active and conscious participation.  Be that as it may, our prayers and especially the prayers having ancient roots, Christian as they undoubtedly are, all spring forth from a vast heritage formed and permeated in great part by two thousand years of Latin literature and culture.  In previous centuries, people made rapid connections between texts, sometimes needing only a few words to provide the hook, sometimes requiring only a single unusual or surprisingly placed word.  In the pages of Scripture we hear Our Lord constantly make allusions to the psalms and Prophets and His listeners caught those allusions immediately.  Oral/aural cultures were and are better at that than we are today in modern Western society.  So, the use of the word adoptionis together with exsultet would be sufficient for Latin speakers to make the connection between the prayers.  It might be hard for us in modern times to do this, but that is why you subscribe to The Wanderer and give gift subscriptions, isn’t it! 

At any rate, just to show that this idea about our prayer’s tendrils back into the Exsultet or works of Ambrose is not just a flight of fantasy on my part, several passages in Ambrose reveal similar vocabulary, as in his Exposition of Psalm 118 and his De mysteriis, a post-Easter explanation of the sacred, liturgical mysteries to the newly baptized.  For example, “… adulescens vel certe renovatus aquilae iuventute per baptismatis sacramenta…” (ex. Ps. cxviii, lit. 18, cap. 26).

The deep connection between our prayers and the roots of Western culture is all the more reason to pray for those who must provide us the English speaking faithful with truly accurate and beautiful translations of the Latin prayers in the Missale Romanum.  We must have texts which simultaneously hearken to roots and avoid the banal and ephemeral.

As the document of the CDWDS Liturgiam authenticam states:

47. While the translation must transmit the perennial treasury of orations by means of language understandable in the cultural context for which it is intended, it should also be guided by the conviction that liturgical prayer not only is formed by the genius of a culture, but itself contributes to the development of that culture. Consequently it should cause no surprise that such language differs somewhat from ordinary speech. Liturgical translation that takes due account of the authority and integral content of the original texts will facilitate the development of a sacral vernacular, characterized by a vocabulary, syntax and grammar that are proper to divine worship, even though it is not to be excluded that it may exercise an influence even on everyday speech, as has occurred in the languages of peoples evangelized long ago.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):

God our Father,
may we look forward with hope to our resurrection,
for you have made us your sons and daughters,
and restored the joy of our youth.

Is this what the prayer really says?   Let’s take a look at a…

O God, let your people rejoice always,
the youth of their spirit having been renewed,
so that, he who now rejoices that he has been restored in the glory of spiritual adoption
may await the day of the resurrection in the hope of true thanksgiving.

In the Easter season I would invite that we pray in a special way for Pope John Paul II.   Our Holy Father has remained youthful in spirit but he now labors under the burden of years and illness.  During one of his recent stays in the hospital he wrote in his letter to priests for Holy Thursday:  “‘Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal’ (Phil 3:13-14).  The priest is someone who, despite the passing of years, continues to radiate youthfulness, spreading it almost ‘contagiously’ among those he meets along the way.  His secret lies in his ‘passion’ for Christ.  As St. Paul said: ‘For me, to live is Christ’ (Phil 1:21).” 

Pray for the Holy Father and pray for all priests, that God will renew them, give joy to their youth, and give them, together with their flocks, the hope of the resurrection.  In this Year of the Eucharist and in life we are all pressing on toward the resurrection and true thanksgiving (Greek eucharistia) of which of Mass is the perfect anticipation.

NB: The above was written in 2005, shortly before the death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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