Pentecost: Super Oblata (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Pentecost Sunday

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

Week after week I have presented facts and analysis regarding the Translation Wars.  You regular reader’s have learned about the campaign being waged by His Excellency Donald W. Trautman, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committee on liturgy, against the norms laid down in the document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) Liturgiam authenticam (LA) .  If you think “campaign” is an exaggeration, His Excellency has made public speeches far and wide to this effect and they are a matter of record.  Look them up and read them. 

There is a significant development.  The Catholic blogosphere’s master of snark “Diogenes” (on along with the present writer and others divulged the text of a letter from His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, Prefect of the CDWDS to His Excellency Most Reverend William Skylstad in his capacity as president of the USCCB.  The letter is a salvo, nay rather, a Normandy Invasion in the Wars.  Here’s the letter (emphasis mine):

2 May 2006

The Most Reverend William Skylstad
Bishop of Spokane
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Prot. n. 499/06/L

Your Excellency,

With reference to the conversation between yourself, the Vice President and General Secretary of the Conference of Bishops of which you are President, together with me and other Superiors and Officials when you kindly visited our Congregation on 27 April 2006, I wish to recall the following:

The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam is the latest document of the Holy See which guides translations from the original-language liturgical texts into the various modern languages in the Latin Church. Both this Congregation and the Bishops’ Conferences are bound to follow its directives. This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is therefore not competent to grant the recognitio for translations that do not conform to the directives of Liturgiam authenticam. If, however, there are difficulties regarding the translation of a particular part of a text, then this Congregation is always open to dialogue in view of some mutually agreeable solution, still keeping in mind, however, that Liturgiam authenticam remains the guiding norm.

The attention of your Bishops’ Conference was also recalled to the fact that Liturgiam authenticam was issued at the directive of the Holy Father at the time, Pope John Paul II, to guide new translations as well as the revision of all translations done in the last forty years, to bring them into greater fidelity to the original-language official liturgical texts. For this reason it is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past thirty or forty years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes.entire translation of the Missale Romanum as well as other important texts, then the revised text should make the needed changes. The attitudes of Bishops and Priests will certainly influence the acceptance of the texts by the lay faithful as well.

Requesting Your Excellency to share these reflections with the Bishops of your Conference I assure you of the continued collaboration of this Congregation and express my religious esteem,

Devotedly yours in Christ,

+Francis Card. Arinze

Where there are good and strong reasons for a change, as has been determined by this Dicastery in regard to the

Soon after LA was issued there was a plenary meeting of the USCCB.  That is when the first skirmish took place between Bishop Trautman and others more interested in fidelity to the norms of the document.   The precise argument referred to by Card. Arinze in the letter above was used on the floor of that meeting: Golly, we have been using this translation for a long time now and the people are used to it.  The brilliant repost was fired by one of WDTPRS’s favorites His Eminence Francis Card. George, who said that argument was tantamount to a “Lefebvrism of the left”.   Savor the irony of painting the progressivists with the same brush they always use to tar the traditionalists.  Progressivists often claim that a thing shouldn’t be maintained just because it’s “old”.  Delicious.

Put news items like this on the internet and you get a spike in stats and a surge of comments.  One fellow opined on CWNews: “Maybe the fact that many people have become accustomed to texts that don’t correctly express the inner meaning of the Mass is part of a larger problem. What the ‘liturgists’ are saying is like a medical doctor saying to a patient, ‘Sir you are 97% blocked in four arteries because of your high fat diet. But since you’ve become accustomed to eating unhealthy food we don’t want to change it. Keep on eating the way you have been.’ What idiocy.”   

The American bishops will meet in plenary session in June.  They will vote on the draft translation.  They must approve the translation by a majority in order for it to be sent to Rome for approval.  Opponents of LA want to block sending the draft to Rome.  Their goal is simple: persuade half the bishops to vote against the draft.  Rain a torrent of emendations upon it.  Consider: delay or block the process for a few years and perhaps the CDWDS will relent or Pope Benedict will die and a more amenable Pope will be elected.  The revelation of Card. Arinze’s letter will impact every bishop going to the June meeting.  Here is the message of the Cardinal’s letter: Don’t even think of presenting for a floor vote texts or emendations that do not conform to LA.  Don’t waste our time anymore.  The delaying game is over.  You are holding up the rest of the English speaking world

In the meantime, His Excellency Bishop Trautman has already reacted to Card. Arinze’s letter saying, “I see this letter as a clarification and further restatement of criteria for translation previously authored by the Congregation in its document Liturgiam authenticam. This recent correspondence offers additional input for the deliberation of the Bishops.”  Additional input?  Interpretation: “Same ol’ same ol’ from Rome.  It’s just another bit to consider, one among many.”


Praesta, quaesumus, Domine,
ut, secundum promissionem Filii tui,
Spiritus Sanctus huius nobis sacrificii
copiosius revelet arcanum,
et omnem propitius reseret veritatem.

This week’s prayer, new in the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum, has roots in the 11th century Sacramentarium Bergomense

We need a brief look at vocabulary.  In the Lewis & Short Dictionary we find that the adjective arcanus, -a, um is something “closed, shut up.”  Thus, is it something that keeps a secret and means “hidden, concealed, secret, private”.  It can be used as a substantive: “secret”.  In English we have the cognate “arcane.” An arcanum can refer to a something sacred.  For example, in the Vulgate it describes God’s special sanctuary (Exodus 7:11) and His treasured place Jerusalem (Ezekiel 7:22).   In contrast to something arcane, mysteriously shut up and hidden, our prayer has the verb resero.   Be careful!   In your dictionary you will find resero, resevi which is a third conjugation verb meaning “to sow, plant” and also resero, resavi, resatum, a first group verb which is “to unlock, to open; disclose, reveal.”   Today we are dealing with resero, resavi, resatum.  During Holy Mass and the renewal of Christ’s Sacrifice God opens for us something that our sins long ago slammed shut and bolted closed: the gates of heaven.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may the Spirit you promised
lead us into all truth
and reveal to us the full meaning of this sacrifice.

Attend, we beg You, O Lord,
that, according to the promise of Your Son,
the Holy Spirit will reveal to us more abundantly
the hidden sacred mystery of this sacrifice,
and will graciously unlock for us all truth.

This Latin prayer reminds me of Jesus’ promise (Filii promissio) to His disciples in John 16:12-15:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 

The Sacrament of Confirmation, one of three sacraments of initiation, is rightly associated with Pentecost.  Just as the sacred mysteries of the Lord’s life from the Passion, Resurrection, Ascension and Decent of the Holy Ghost and all interrelated, so too are the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.  In ancient times when catechumens were brought into the Church, they were baptized, confirmed and given the Eucharist on the same night of Easter.  After Easter they were given further instruction concerning things kept secret from them as catechumens.  The policy of secrecy and the post-baptismal instruction of the newly initiated was called the disciplina arcani.  This was correctly thought to increase a catechumen’s interest, and longing for what was sacred.  As St. Augustine (+430) says, “The sacraments of the faithful are not divulged to (catechumens)…; that they may be more passionately desired by them, they are honorably concealed from their view” (Io. eu. tr. 96, 3).  This partly explains why the “orientation” of the altar and silent canon in the West as well as the iconostasis in the East were (and still are) so effective. 

One thing kept secret from catechumens was the Symbolum, the Creed.  In the time of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose (+397) they were taught the Creed only two weeks before Easter.  They were tested on it by the bishop in the baptistery the week before Easter.  Here is Augustine in a sermon:

The creed is learned by listening; it is written, not on tablets nor on any material, but on the heart.  He who has called you to his Kingdom and glory will grant that, when you have been reborn by his grace and by the Holy Spirit, it will be written in your hearts, so that you may love what you believe and that, through love, faith may work in you and that you – no longer fearing punishment like slaves, but loving justice like the freeborn – may become pleasing to the Lord God, the giver of all good things (s. 212, 2 and cf. symb. cat. 1.1).

Learning tenets of the faith is not just a matter of memory, but also of the heart.  They must be part of who we are at the most intimate level, indeed, where the Holy Spirit makes us His temple.  Again Augustine: “Say it on your beds; ponder it in the streets, do not forget it during meals; and even when your body sleeps, keep watch over it in your heart” (s. 215, 1). 

This is all true regarding the Creed.  It is just as true for the sacred mysteries celebrated at Holy Mass.

A new English translation, faithful to the Latin originals according to the norms laid down by legitimate authority, will help to unlock the content of and thus love more deeply what Christ wants to give us through the Holy Church into which the Holy Spirit breathed life on Pentecost.  Pray for our bishops who very soon will make decisions that impact our faith for decades to come.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Comment

  1. Don Marco says:

    Grant, we beseech you, Lord,
    that, according to the promise of your Son,
    the Holy Spirit may reveal to us more fully
    the mystic secret of this sacrifice,
    and graciously unlock for us all truth.

Comments are closed.