Trinity Sunday: COLLECT (1)

What Does the Prayer Really Say? Trinity Sunday

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001

The recent document Liturgicam authenticam of the Congregation for Divine Worship establishes new norms for liturgical translations.  It is good to look at some of what this document sets forth:

25. So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision. By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, his power, his mercy and his transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself.

26. The liturgical texts’ character as a very powerful instrument for instilling in the lives of the Christian faithful the elements of faith and Christian morality, is to be maintained in the translations with the utmost solicitude. The translation, furthermore, must always be in accord with sound doctrine.  (Emphases added)

For some time I have been of the opinion, that we need an ever greater emphasis on beauty in all we do in our public worship.  It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that with the rise of post-modernist tendencies together with the decline in excellence in the system of education in the last decades, people today are less and less inclined to rational argument.  As a matter of fact, it happens that you can lead a person through a series of propositions until you finally arrive at a conclusion with which they will agree.  Then you will stunned to hear him say, “That might be true for you, but not for me.”  The Church has for centuries taught doctrine and catechism in a very rational and linear fashion.  But that is not how many people think today.  It is getting harder to draw people to the truth with that kind of presentation.  People are much more inclined to their “feelings” about things.  That is why we must reclaim beauty.  Beauty is a reflection of the Truth.  People can be lead to Truth through their apprehension of the beauty of a thing.  We must do all we can to enhance and make beautiful every aspect of our public worship so that we have that much more opportunity to shape, form, and give hope to God’s people.  Liturgiam authenticam is very much about inculturation.  This is why the issues of beauty and dignity, together with doctrinal precision, are so often emphasised in the document.  We must do all we can to enhance and make beautiful every aspect of our public worship so that we have that much more opportunity to shape, form, and give hope to God’s people together with an open door to the true beauty of the Beatific Vision of the Most Blessed Trinity.

LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):

Deus Pater, qui, Verbum veritatis
et Spiritum sanctificationis mittens in mundum,
admirabile mysterium tuum hominibus declarasti,
da nobis, in confessione verae fidei,
aeternae gloriam Trinitatis agnoscere,
et Unitatem adorare in potentia maiestatis.

O God the Father, who, sending the Word of Truth
and the Spirit of sanctification into the world,
declared Thy wondrous mystery to men,
grant us, in a confession of truth faith,
to recognize the glory of the eternal Trinity,
and to adore its Unity in the might of majesty.

First of all, notice that in this collect there is a reference to those moments in Scripture when there was a manifestation (epiphany) of the Trinity and of the glory of God as s bright cloud.  Call to mind the event of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard (cf. Luke 3) and when Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of Peter, John and James (cf. Matthew 17).  God declared the wondrous mystery (admirabile mysterium) that He is Three in One, a Trinity of divine Persons, God the Father, God the Word of Truth, God the Spirit of sanctification, One God.  It is part of our confession of true faith (vera fides) that we recognize (agnoscere) God to be so.  This is something that man can reason toward on his own, but only by the gift of faith will he be able to profess (confiteor) it in an authentic way.

There is an old phrase: repetita iuvant…repeated things help.  So, I will repeat some of what I wrote back for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.  A key to this collect is the word maiestas.   Maiestas is cnceptually related in the writings of the Latin Fathers, with gloria.  In early Latin Fathers such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose and in early liturgical texts, maiestas/gloria means far more than simple fame or celebrity or splendor of appearance. Our Latin liturgical gloria is the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Latins also translated doxa with the words like maiestas and claritas. It has to do with man’s recognition of God as God and the acknowledgment of the salvation won for us by Christ, crucified and risen. At the same time this "glory" is a power of God that transforms us into what He is.  “Glory” is in this sense the eschatological salvation which the Risen Christ communicates to us.  It is a sharing of His divine power which transforms us.  This is foreshadowed in Moses’ meetings with God, when He came like a cloud (“shekinah”), after which the prophet’s face was transformed and shone like the sun.  In this collect we adore the gloria Trinitatis and the maiestas Unitatis, which has potentia.  In the Lewis & Short Dictionary we see that potentia means: “might, force, power.”    

We must learn to see the beauty of the Holy Trinity with the earthly eyes of the mind and heart so taht we can see the Trinity in the life to come.  We must also do our best to give the Trinity glory here, in all that we do, think and say so that the Trinity can give us some of its divine glory which, through eternity, will transform us more according to what it is forever.


you sent your Word to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know the mystery of your life.
Help us to worship you, one God in three Persons,
by proclaiming and living our faith in you.

Give what we explored above, concerning the word and concept gloria, how is it possible that that concept could have been left out completely in this ICEL version?  Just as an exercise, I tried to put this prayer back into Latin just to see what was going on in it.  I found myself a bit confused at all those “you”’s, a problem in the English language, since “you” does double duty as both singular and plural.  This ICEL version is busted up into three sentences (the Latin is in one), which we can call A, B, C.  “You” and “your” A is clearly singular and indicates God the Father.   In sentence B, who does “your” stand for?  Is “your” B, singular or plural?  Is this “the mystery of your (O Father) life” or “the mystery of your (O Holy Trinity) life”?  Then we move on the C, where there are two “you”s.  The first “you” should be for the Trinity.  The second “you” might be the Trinity.  After all, this prayer was address to God the Father.  If it starts with the Father, does it also end with the Father?  The prayer is ambiguous from that point.  I am pretty sure that the Trinity is indicated by C’s second “you.”  But, my!, what a struggle.  

As usual, I cannot at all quibble with the concept of “living our faith in (the Trinity).”  But, that is not what the Latin prayer says.  Here is what we ask for in the Latin: “grant us, in a confession of truth faith, to recognize the glory of the eternal Trinity, and to adore its Unity in the might of majesty.

Now look at the ICEL prayer again and try to figure this out.  Do they say the same thing?  Keep in mind that at the heart of the Latin is the concept of divine and transforming GLORY.  I am not sure that the ICEL prayer looks beyond this earthly vale to our contemplation and eternal transformation in the God’s sight forever.  It seems to emphasis our lives here.  You can argue, of course, that in the Latin, that confessio verae fidei will obviously translate into concrete actions of love of God and of neighbor.  That is without question.  But, if that is true, why can’t the English version we have been given retain the true sense of the Latin and let us make that conclusion ourselves?  By locking us into a narrow vision of this collect, we lose several other dimensions that are its heart and soul.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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