Pentecost: Super Oblata (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Pentecost

ORIGINALLY PRINTED  IN  The Wanderer in 2002

In light of the fact that there is now a third typical edition of the Latin Missale Romanum (2002MR) awaiting translation (not to mention the translation debacle with the 1975MR and the deficient 1970MR) we should review a paragraph of the Congregation for Divine Worship’s gift in form of a document entitled Liturgiam authenticam hereby new norms for translations went into effect in April 2001.  WDTPRS has neglected our old friend of late and we must amend that:

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)

As Catholics Christians, disciples of the Way, the Truth and the Life, and by baptism living temples of the Spirit of Truth, we want and need and deserve good translations of liturgical texts. This is all the more important if we are going to be denied the regular use of Latin in the liturgy, when we could have in hand any translation we preferred.  Without good translations, how are we to be formed and shaped?  How then can we fulfill our vocations in the world and in turn shape and form society around us, from our family homes to the public square?  Pray to the Advocate and Comforter that those who are in charge of finding translators will quickly move to give this critically important mandate to those who will with humble obedience do just what the Church has been asking for decades.

Now for this week’s prayer, which seems to be a new composition for the 1970MR with reference to the XI c. Sacramentarium Bergomense.

SUPER OBLATA ad Missam in die:

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):

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

Though WDTPRS has mentioned this many times before, it bears repeating.  You can guess from the onset that something is wrong when the translation is shorter than the Latin text.  So, what do you make if this?

may the Spirit you promised
lead us into all truth
and reveal to us the full meaning of this sacrifice.

I am guessing that you are as curious as I to know what the prayer really says.  We need to look at some vocabulary using the mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary.   But first, an aside…

In March of 2002, when the third edition of the Latin Missal came out, the CDW issued a punishing rebuke of the translation that ICEL and the bishops had offered back in 1998 for the second Latin edition of the Missal issued in 1975 (read this on the internet –  In that letter of rejection many observations were made by the CDW about what was wrong with the translation. Among those comments was a mention of the word praesta, which comes from the verb praesto, meaning “to be at hand, to attend or wait upon, to serve, aid.” It is a way of begging God to be present, attentive and helpful.

The rich language of supplication found in the Latin texts is radically reduced in the translation [which ICEL submitted]. Words and expressions such as quaesumus, exoramus, imploramus, praesta . . . ut, dona, concede, etc., have been collapsed more or less into the terms "ask" and "grant," transferred almost always to the last line of the prayer, resulting in a corpus of prayers that is relatively monotonous and impoverished with respect to the Latin. In addition, these factors render the imperative verbs in the body of the orations somewhat abrupt and presumptuous in tone, so that the oration seems to be a command rather than a prayer addressed to God. Again, there is more than style at stake here.

It is refreshing to read from a source as authoritative as the CDW that what WDTPRS has been saying all along is indeed on the right track.  Leave words out and you change the theology, not just style.  We need to know what the prayers really say!

In L&S we find that the adjective arcanus, a, um is something “closed, shut up.”  Thus is it also, something that keeps a secret.  It means “hidden, concealed, secret, private” and it can be used as a substantive: “secret”.  By extension it is applied to a “sacred mystery” and in the Vulgate is signifies God’s special sanctuary, as in Exodus 7, 11 and even God’s treasured place Jerusalem in Ezekiel 7, 22.   In English we have the cognate “arcane.” In contrast to something mysteriously shut up and hidden, we have the verb resero.  Be careful.   In Latin we have both resero, resevi 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.” We know here that this is resero, resavi, resatum because the form of the verb in the prayer, reseret, is a contemporary or present subjunctive just like revelet in the line before (yes, yes, it could be a future indicative too, but we have a smoking gun in praesta…ut which wants a subjunctive).   The same form of the other resero would be reseratSero the verb means “to fasten with a bolt, to bar.”  In the Mass, the renewal of Christ’s Sacrifice, we have opened for us something that our sins had slammed shut and bolted closed: the gates of heaven.

Attend, we beg you, O Lord,
so 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.

As I hear the Latin prayer, several things come to mind.  First, I am reminded 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. 

Confirmation, one of the 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 the ancient Church when catechumens were brought into the Church, they were baptized, confirmed and given the Eucharist on the same night of Easter.  During the time that followed, especially the octave but also after, they were given further instruction concerning many things that had been kept secret from them as catechumens aspiring to membership in the Church.  This bond of secrecy and the post-baptismal instruction of newly initiated Christians was called the disciplina arcani.  This was correctly thought to sharpen and peak the catechumen’s interest, curiosity and longing for what was sacred.  As St. Augustine 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 and the iconostasis in the East were and are still so effective.  Recall that the super oblata was once called the “secret” prayer and that at this point in the Mass, in the older, traditional Roman rite, the priest would have just called down the Holy Spirit on the offerings: Veni, Sanctificator omnipotens aeternae Deus: et bene+dic hoc sacrificium tuo santo nomini praeparatum…Come, O Sanctifier, Almighty and eternal God, and bless + this sacrifice prepared for the glory of Thy holy name.

One of the things long held from the candidates was the symbolum, the Creed.  They would be taught the Creed two weeks before Easter. Then they were tested on it by the bishop, at least as Augustine and probably Ambrose did it, in the baptistery the week before Easter.  Augustine in a sermon admonished them saying,

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).

These are matters of the heart, as well as of the head or simple memory.  They must be part of who we are at the most intimate level, indeed, where the Holy Spirit makes us His temple: “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).  If this is all true regarding the Creed, how much more true is it of the sacred mysteries celebrated at Mass?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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