PENTECOST: Collect (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Pentecost Sunday

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005

I have been thinking a lot about the investiture Mass for His Holiness.  By now you have all seen the ancient form of the pallium that the Master of Pontifical Ceremonies Archbishop Piero Marini placed on Benedict XVI.  It was modeled on those depicted in ancient mosaics in Rome and one found in the tomb of the great St. Martin of Tours (+397).  This new old pallium had red crosses, was broader in width, and much longer.  Some years ago I put together a research piece on the pallium and got to know it pretty well.  The ancient pallium went to the ankles.  The pallium they put on Benedict XVI did not reach to his ankles.  Think about this: this new pallium had to have been prepared a long time before the death of John Paul II, sometime after Marini prepared the rites for the burial, Conclave and the first public Mass.  If the pallium used in the investiture Mass was supposed to go to the ankles (and that is the style) then it was obviously made for a Cardinal/future Pope shorter in height than Benedict XVI who, while he is a spiritual and intellectual giant, is not a very tall fellow.  After all, it is easier to shorten something than lengthen it.  On Benedict XVI the pallium lacked that element of its symbolic impact. On a taller man it would have looked stranger yet.  It is safe to guess that Archbishop Marini and the followers of his camp were behind this bit of “liturgical archeologizing” just as they were behind the introduction of innovations into the abovementioned rites.  I wonder which vertically challenged Cardinal they expected or hoped would be wearing that pallium one day?  On an unrelated note, during the TV coverage of the events in Rome in the past month did you notice how all the Cardinals towered over one of the huge front-runners, His Eminence Dionigi Card. Tettamanzi of Milan? 

In March I received a kind letter via snail mail from Fr. JT, SJ.  He wrote: “Thank you for your informative articles on the real meaning of prayers of the liturgy which the present translation has obscured.  I hope you will gather those into a book, leaving the details of the Latin meanings fully present, because this is the important basis for the illuminating comments.  Such a book (or books) would be a very useful permanent resource for laymen and clergy to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the theology and worship of the Church.  Since I know some religious seminarians are no longer required to learn Latin…, such a resource could motivate them – and their superiors – to appreciate a knowledge of Latin”.  Fr. JT then goes on to comment on a reference I made to Jesus’ use of “Abba for God the Father being quite intimate, like a child’s use of “daddy”.  Fr. JT dismantled that point providing citations to articles in scholarly journals which I have subsequently looked up.  Guess what I found?  Our old friend Joachim Jeremias was a main figure in perpetrating this canard about Abba meaning “Daddy”.  The article Fr. JT cited pretty much took care of that theory.   Father then offered that “many” for pro multis in the Mass is a permissible translation and that some scholars have pointed out that it was a “Semitism”, etc.  Fr. JT even mentioned our old friend Fr. Max Zerwick, SJ whose work I cited in my four-part WDPTRS article on the consecration of the Precious Blood in the Roman Canon.  Thanks much, Fr. JT, but I am not convinced by the scholarship underpinning the mistranslation of pro multis.   I refer you back to the abovementioned four-parter, archived on the WDTPRS website.  Then Card. Ratzinger reacted well to those articles.  His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has commented in his writings that the Latin texts of the liturgy must be respected as their own source. The work of liturgical translation is not equivalent to exegesis of Scripture.   More than any linguistic argument, that is the decisive argument and it is Benedict XVI’s.  

More about our Pope’s liturgical thought.  In his book Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), Joseph Ratzinger wrote that he was trying consciously to contribute to the beginning of a new liturgical renewal, indeed a new liturgical “movement”, in the same way the first Liturgical Movement was stimulated by the homonymous book by the German theologian Romano Guardini who had such a big impact on His Holiness when he was young.  Surely our Holy Father will be looking carefully at how Mass is celebrated and what liturgical language ought to express.  In this light, perhaps we might look again at a paragraph of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments’ document Liturgiam authenticam which laid down the norms for liturgical translations: 

7. For these reasons, it now seems necessary to set forth anew, and in light of the maturing of experience, the principles of translation to be followed in future translations – whether they be entirely new undertakings or emendations of texts already in use – and to specify more clearly certain norms that have already been published, taking into account a number of questions and circumstances that have arisen in our own day. In order to take full advantage of the experience gained since the Council, it seems useful to express these norms from time to time in terms of tendencies that have been evident in past translations, but which are to be avoided in future ones. In fact, it seems necessary to consider anew the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God. This Instruction therefore envisions and seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God.  (Emphases added)


LA is intended “to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal”.  This is so much in keeping with what Benedict XVI thinks that I cannot help but think that he had a hand in its drafting.  I think we can dare to hope that he will not let the ball drop, nor will he allow pesky delaying tactics on the part of those who want to continue the sub-optimal status quo. 


Deus, qui sacramento festivitatis hodiernae
universam Ecclesiam tuam
in omni gente et natione sanctificas,
in totam mundi latitudinem Spiritus Sancti dona defunde,
et, quod inter ipsa evangelicae praedicationis exordia
operata est divina dignatio,
nunc quoque per credentium corda perfunde.

Our Collect, rooted in the Gelasian Sacramentary, was not in editions of the Roman Missal before the Council.  Note that defunde and perfunde are linked by form and derivation.  This is useful for our work.  Now… it possible that we can find in the Latin something more than that which was provided to us by…

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):

God our Father,
let the Spirit you sent on your Church
to begin the teaching of the gospel
continue to work in the world
through the hearts of all who believe.

Lo these many years we have seen how sacramentum translates the Greek mysterion and sacramentum and Latin mysterium are interchangeable in many contexts.  Operata est could be from either the deponent verb operor or from the active opero.  Defundo means “to pour down, pour out” while perfundo means something more complex.  Perfundo means “to pour over, to wet, moisten, bedew, besprinkle” as well as “to steep, to dye” and also “to imbue, inspire.”  We have here imagery of gifts of grace as moisture, dew, flowing water, calling to mind our baptism in the name of the Triune God.   Think of the Collect response following antiphons in honor of the Holy Spirit: Sancti Spiritus, Domine, corda nostra mundet infusio (from infundo): et sui roris intima aspersione foecundet…”Let the infusion of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts, O Lord: and make fruitful our innermost selves by the sprinkling of His dew.”  Our Latin Dictionary of those distinguished Messers Lewis & Short tells us that dignatio is “a deeming worthy, respect, esteem; dignity, honor, reputation.”  Albert Blaise says in Le Vocabulaire Latin des principaux thèmes liturgiques (redone by Antoine Dumas, OSB) for dignatio, “condescendance (de Dieu)”.  However, Souter’s A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. (a complement to Lewis & Short) says that dignatio is “favour, grace of God”.   Here is grist for the mills of your mind as you think about the possibilities of this layered word.

Exordium is really interesting.  It means, a “beginning, the warp of a web,” and also it is a technical term for the introduction or preface of a spoken or written rhetorical piece or speech.  Let us look more closely at exordium.  This word brings up the image of selvage, that part at the edge of a piece of woven cloth intertwined in such a way that the rest of the weave will not fall apart.  It also brings to the prayer the technical language of oratory.  When the Holy Spirit was poured down on the Apostles they poured out of the upper room and began to preach, to make public speeches to people from every nation.  The Holy Spirit, in the rhetorical preaching of the Apostles, suddenly began on that first Pentecost to weave tightly together a selvage which would provide the stable edge of the rest of the fabric of the Church through the centuries down to our own day.   Pentecost was anti-Babel, the counter to man’s division from God manifested in division amongst men.  Since the reweaving of Pentecost, there may be tatters and rips in the Church’s fabric, schisms, but the warp and weft has held and cannot be undone though hell tears with all its deceiving might.

O God, who by the mystery of today’s feast
does sanctify Thy universal Church
in every people and nation,
pour down the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the whole breadth of the earth,
and, because divine favor was at work
amongst the very beginnings of the preaching of the Gospel,
make them now to flow also through the hearts of believers.

Unity and continuity are keys to this Collect.  The Holy Spirit wove the early Church together through the preaching of the Apostles and their successors.  In the Church the Holy Spirit extends to our own time the preaching of the Apostles.  The Church’s unity has continuity, both diachronic as well as transnational.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church guarantees our unity and continuity across every border and century.  The Holy Spirit gives the Church her life’s principle, pouring spiritual life into the Body of Christ.  The Spirit imbues and infuses, virtually tints and dyes the fabric of the Church as He flows through it.  Our hearts, which in our Collect we pray to be imbued by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, are in a certain way microcosms of the Church.  The phrase cor ad cor loquitur, the motto on the coat-of-arms of Venerable John Henry Card. Newman, pertains to us in the Church: by the working of the Holy Spirit the Church’s heart speaks to our hearts, and vice versa, for in the Holy Spirit the faithful are of one heart.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    O God who, by the sacrament of today’s festival,
    sanctify your Church in every race and nation,
    pour out the gifts of the Holy Spirit
    on the length and breadth of the world;
    and flood now the hearts of those who believe
    with the very things worked by your divine power
    when first the Gospel was proclaimed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Conspiracy! It was reported while Pope JPII was still alive that he wished (or Marini wished) to revive the ancient pallium.But when it was finished the Pope would not wear it because he could not wear it.His profound slouch made it dangerous to wear because the Pope would trip over it. I read this news while JPII was still reigning. How about commenting on the translation of igneis linguis as “countless tongues”.Were the toungues countless? There were 120 people i that room.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Igneir linguis” is in the proper communicantes.

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