Pentecost: Post Communion

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Pentecost – Station: St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003

There was a real development for the whole issue of translations of liturgical texts last week.  On 24 May 2003 His Eminence Darío Card. Castrillon-Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” celebrated Mass using the 1962 Missale Romanum at the main altar of the Major Patriarchal “Liberian” Basilica in Rome, otherwise known as St. Mary Major.   Why is this important for translations?  Because it serves as a step toward reconnecting the way Mass is celebrated back into the Roman tradition.  I have long argued that we need wide-spread celebrations of Mass also using the 1962MR so that we can have in the Barque of Peter, to use nautical terminology, both an anchor and a rudder.  Anchors keep us from drifting into dangerous places we don’t want to be.  Rudders, by their attachment to where we have been, permit us to steer towards where we wish to go.  It is only through a thorough grasp of the Roman tradition of celebration that we can make progress toward an authentic liturgical practice in this Third Millennium of the Christian experience.  We must be connected to the past in order to pick a future.  Furthermore, if we have a solid grasp of the Latin Rite and the Roman tradition, everyone will benefit, non-Latin Catholics and non-Catholics alike, for it will also have an ecumenical impact: if Orthodox Christians see that we cannot respect our own Tradition and traditions – so important to them – how will they imagine that Catholics will respect their tradition should we take concrete steps toward unity?  Thus, I was quite pleased to hear that, in his homily, the abovementioned Cardinal celebrant said, “The old Roman rite preserves its right of citizenship in the Church and cannot be considered extinguished.”  I am guessing that the next logical step in the sequence of this campaign will be to have a Pontifical Mass in the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter, perhaps coram Pontifice.  I doubt that the Supreme Pontiff himself would offer it, but he might “preside” while another, perhaps Card. Castrillon-Hoyos, celebrates.  Surely the Master of the Pontifical Ceremonies, His Excellency Piero Marino would have a whole series of fits should any such outlandish thing be proposed.  I would pay money to be present when he opened the letter or received the phone call.

As far as the occasion of the aforementioned Mass itself was concerned, my spies tell me that it was a great event, though not without flaws.  For example, a priest friend wrote via e-mail: “It was obvious that it hadn’t been done in thirty years! Overall, the music was decent and the excellent MC (from Le Barroux) kept everyone basically in order. The homily quoted Vatican II twenty or so times just to make a point… whether to traditionalists or liberals I’m not sure. Five cardinals sat in choir and the church was packed. The real test will be the contents of the new disciplinary document this fall.”   Well, practice makes perfect.  As we say often in these WDTPRS offerings repetita iuvant.  And I agree, the forthcoming CDW document will indeed be the test not only of the journalists reporting on the putative content of that document but also of the resolve of both the more conservative side of the curial mandarins who must craft it and then get it through the necessary channels and also the more liberal side within the curia and without, whom we must assume are ready to fight with tooth and claw.

Today’s prayer, for the Mass in the day of Pentecost, not the Vigil, has no antecedent in pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum.  There seems again to be present an influence of the Veronese Sacrametary.


LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum – Ad Missam in die):
Deus, qui Eccelsiae tuae caelestia dona largiris,
custodi gratiam quam dedisti,
ut Spiritus Sancti vigeat semper munus infusum,
et ad aeternae redemptionis augmentum
spiritalis esca proficiat.

 The Lewis & Short Dictionary helps us with the verb vigeo which means, “to be lively or vigorous; to thrive, flourish, bloom; to be in honor, esteem, repute, etc.”  Largior is a verb deponent meaning, “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart”.   We have in English “largess”.   A donum is a “a gift, present” and can mean “present brought to a deity, a votive offering, sacrifice”.  A munus is fundamentally “a service, office, post, employment, function, duty (syn.: officium, ministerium, honos) but by extension means, “a present, gift”.   When put together as dona muneraque we have in classical contexts the overtone of “bribery”.  In our prayer today, while I do not want to rule out that munus can also be read as “office” or “duty” (give it a try), I believe that the author of the prayer simply wanted to say “gift” twice and thus used two different words, dona and munus for the sake of variety.

 Esca signifies basically “food, both of men and beasts”.   However, in a Christian, indeed liturgical, context, it carries with it layers and layers of connotations.  To be thorough, we could also explore the synonym cibus (“food”) go into the way Christ in John 6 describes Himself, His flesh and blood, as “real” food and drink, but space limits us.  Sticking with the more exact phrase in our prayer can yield something inexhaustible to chew on, however.  The phrase esca spiritalis is found in 1 Cor 10:1-3: “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food (escam spiritalem) and all drank the same supernatural drink (potum spiritalem).  For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”   Paul is pointing to the fact that the manna the People of God received in the wilderness was special food, and the water which sprang from the rock Moses struck with his staff near to the Promised Land, both a foreshadowing of would Christians receive in the “real” spiritual food of the Eucharist who is Christ.  In Romans 14 Paul talks of regular esca as a contrast to the spiritual ideal real Christians long for: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink (esca et potus) but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”  The phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in Pauline works and in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark Luke) usually contains also the overtone of the very Person of Christ, as when the Lord during His earthly life told parables such as “The kingdom of God is like…” (e.g., Mark 4) and when He, chastising, instructed the people: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).   When you hear that phrase “kingdom of God” or “of heaven” at Mass or in your own reading, try rereading it as “Jesus said, “I myself am like…”, etc., and see what you glean from it.  So, in our “spiritual food” there is a dimension of the “already but not yet” of our earthly Christian existence.  In the Eucharist we have truly with us the Real Presence.  In our reception of Holy Communion we anticipate the fullness of that Presence, which we will only have in the life to come, indeed at the end of the world.

 Sometimes we think we know what words mean.  As I considered how to render that ad aeternae redemptionis augmentum I decided to check out the massy L&S, since I was catching a hint of something interesting in the choice of the word.  (Aside for you critics of anything “new” like the “new Mass”: Clearly it was no slouch who wrote this prayer for the 1970MR, for it is obvious that he did his homework, checked his sources, and chose these words with great care.)  The substantive augmentum means, as you might guess, “an increase, growth, augmentation”.  It also means, in the language of religion “a kind of sacrificial cake”.   Augmentum is from augeo which means “to increase, to nourish”.  It is related to our friend vigeo, by the way.  By extension it also indicates, “to magnify, to exalt, to extol, embellish, to praise” and therefore (this is fun) “to honor, reverence, worship by offerings.” Think of the concept of Mary “magnifying” the Lord.  Different word, same concept.   So, augmentum would by a thing that “augments” in the sense of worship.  Still, lest we push our prayer a little too far, augmentum, or “increase”, is found in different contexts in Scripture, such as in Eph 4:15-16: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth (augmentum corporis) and upbuilds itself in love” (cf. also Col 2:19). 


O God, who generously bestow heavenly gifts upon your Church,
protect the grace which you have given,
so that the gift of the Holy Spirit having been poured out may always flourish,
and that the spiritual food may be advantageous unto
an increase of eternal redemption.

 That last phrase seems a little strange, an “increase in redemption”.  How does that work?  We are either redeemed or we aren’t, right?  Can we be more and more redeemed?  I suppose that we can consider this not merely in relation to ourselves as individuals (and we must do that at the time of Holy Communion) but also as a collective people or race: we want salvation to be extended to more and more people.  We want more and more redemption in the sense that more come to be saved through the single and wholly sufficient redeeming Sacrifice of Christ.   There comes to my mind the image of water being poured out on something and, spreading at the base, extends and expands to moisten an increasingly broad area.   By our baptism in water and the Spirit, we are cleansed and made Holy, the living temples of the indwelling Trinity, members of the Church which herself is informed and enlivened by the same Spirit, poured out at Pentecost.   We members of this mysterious communion cannot be complacent in the enjoyment of the Spirit.  We have the duty, which is simultaneously a gift (munus), to bring this membership to others, to build up the Body, the Church, in everyway.   Thus, we “expand” or “magnify” the Lord while on earth, which is in itself an act of praise.   When we come into contact with something that is wet, such as the seat of a wet chair, don’t we get wet also?  By our words and deeds, which ought to reflect the indwelling of the One to whom we are conformed in the Church, we should be “moistening” other people around us.

 What a marvelous overtone of meaning there is in that augmentum, the little “worship cake” of our Mass and of our Christian lives.  Sometimes as I consider many things happening in the Church today, and I see how may people are hard at work making God smaller and smaller for themselves and others.  The only thing I want, at least I hope and strive to want, is to “decrease” myself, not His work and gifts to the Church, and by doing so be “increased” in Him.  As St. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).   

 Here’s a thought for the next time you visit the Blessed Sacrament exposed: look upon Him in that little augmentum “worship cake” as a magnifying glass for your soul.  Is He the one increasing you?  Are you properly disposed to be increased by Him in your next Communion?

 In our Holy Communion, burning within us while this prayer is being is being sung or recited, we have both the sign of the ultimate goal of the eternal “increase” and also the means to attain it.

 ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):

may the food we receive in the eucharist
help our eternal redemption.
Keep within us the vigor of your Spirit
and protect the gifts you have given to your Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Don Marco says:

    O God who bestow heavenly gifts upon your Church,
    preserve by your grace what you have given,
    that the gift of the Holy Spirit you have infused in us
    may ever flourish,
    and that the spiritual food we have received
    may work unto our eternal redemption.

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