What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fourth Sunday of Easter
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
Before we look at the collect for this Sunday, I thought it a good idea to mention some of the feedback I have received from readers of WDTPRS. After all, I asked for it. I am genuinely very pleased to get letters and notes. The whole point of this weekly offering is to keep the issue of our translations constantly before the eyes of faithful Catholics so that they will be inspired to give positive support to good efforts on the part of our bishops when it is time to go back to the drawing board (may God soon bring that to pass). Some have written e-mail, some snail-mail (you remember… envelopes, stamps…?). A Latin teacher in Georgia wrote that he is using Mass propers in His classes in the Catholic High where he teaches. JM via e-mail informed me that the printed version of WDTPRS in The Wanderer had a Latin error in the “banner” at the head of the column. Apparently that banner (which I did not create) quoted the beginning of a Latin Preface. We had placed there aquum instead of aequum. That was a bit embarrassing. Thanks to this attentive reader we were able to fix it. One priest friend of mine in CA teased me mercilessly about my focus on grammar in some columns. I respond saying that some people like the grammar, thank you very much. For example, a WS of Delaware wrote via e-mail that he had formal training in Latin in school in ‘49-’51 and he likes the explanations of the grammar. Tease me about grammar, will you? How were your grades in Latin, hmmm? So there. TP of MO is one of the folks who have sent me their own translations from the Latin. Thanks! That sort of thing is what this project is all about. And a whole raft of people, such as MS of MA via snail-mail tell me how frustrating the ICEL prayers are for them and how they miss the beautiful Latin. I hope these good people pray for the bishops and for better translations in the future. Remarkably, I have not yet received any real hate mail. I already get plenty because of my work in the Catholic Online Forum, so I don’t need any more. However, no doubt there are some fuming progressives out there gashing away at the thought of strict adherence to the Latin edition of the Missale Romanum rather than creating independent local “rites” with prayers tailored to individual circumstances. Lastly, to the perhaps well-intentioned person trying to convert me to real Christianity by occasionally sending me (anti-Catholic) pamphlets, I say, “Amusing as they may be, please save your stamps. My trash can is full.” Talk about a waste of time! These Latin prayers have done their work on me and I am a lost cause. But keep reading anyway! I will ask the readers of WDTPRS to pray right now that you will open your heart and come into fullness of membership of Christ’s Mystical Body.
Now to our weekly…
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
deduc nos ad societatem caelestium gaudiorum,
ut eo perveniat humilitas gregis,
quo processit fortitudo pastoris.
In our collect we have a very nice eo…quo construction. Also, the genitives gregis…pastoris used at the ends of phrases help us to tie the last part of the prayer together conceptually as well as make it singable. We should always consider how these prayers sound spoken and, especially, sung. They very often are lovely little pieces of poetry. That dimension can be overlooked if they are merely read silently from off the page. Translators of the Latin prayers should, in the future, always say these prayers aloud and even sing them while working.
Almighty and ever-living God,
lead us unto the communion of heavenly joys,
so that the humility of the flock may reach that place
from whence the might of the shepherd came forth.
According to that mighty tool that every student of Latin should have close at hand, the Lewis & Short Dictionary (which can be found online in a searchable format, by the way), societas indicates “a fellowship, association, union, community, society”. It is more than just an gathering or group, but rather is a group united for some common purpose. This is why I go so far as to translate societas as “communion”: not only are there Eucharistic overtones, but it points very well and with Christian vocabulary to the bonds that exist between members of Christ’s Body. True to the Roman spirit, humilitas has a rather negative connotation. It means “lowness” in the sense of being base or abject. On the other hand, the word fortitudo means “strength” in the mental or spiritual sense, rather than the physical. Rarely in classical Latin was fortitudo used to indicate mere physical strength. Thus, it means “firmness, the manliness shown in enduring or undertaking hardship, fortitude, resolution, bravery, courage.” Procedo means “to come forth” as well as “to advance, proceed.” In a transferred sense, it comes to mean also things like, “to turn out favorably for, result as a benefit for” someone or something. In English we have, for example, “the proceeds” for money raised in a benefit. “Procession” has come to have a theological meaning pointing to the way the Persons of the Trinity relate to each other.
Here we have an image of the Christ as shepherd, proceeding forth in mighty resolve to lead the humble flock to the place of never-ending joys. This collect reminds me of the mosaics in the apses of ancient basilicas in Rome and Ravenna. These ancient works are wrought in tiny bits of colored stone and glass are assembled in to beautiful works of great spiritual significance. In a way, the Body of Christ, the Church, is rather like a mosaic: small members each playing a part to make a larger work, each stone (or tessera) serving to make the others more beautiful, each giving a purpose to the other as if they were members of a societas. Seen up close the individual stones are not much to look at. They can be flawed and unremarkable. But once that are placed together in an order by the hand of the artist, they make something stunning. In those apse mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted in glory with imperial trappings. On either side are often arranged apostles and saints as His imperial court, bracketed by images of Bethlehem or the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem in the manner of bookends. Often in these mosaics there are gathered beneath the feet of the glorious Christ are lines of sheep being lead to a safe green place, where there is flowing water symbolizing the river Jordan and therefore our baptism.
Our collect reminds us of the great work of the Savior in coming into this world. He has also promised to return. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, proceeds from the Father from all eternity. He also “proceeded” into this world in a mighty gesture of self-emptying in order to save us from our sins, teach us who we are, and lead us out of the doom of eternal death in sin to glorious happiness with God in heaven. He came in humility in His first coming, taking up our humilitas. In His second coming His aspect will be the perfect manifestation of fortitudo.
Almighty and ever-living God,
give us new strength
from the courage of Christ our shepherd,
and lead us to join the saints in heaven…
Once again, we find that the ICEL version takes some of the words and concepts from the Latin collect and then composes its own original prayer. It is not a bad prayer, but it is not really a translation of the Latin, is it?