13th Sunday of Ordinary Time: SUPER OBLATA (1)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2002

I am sure all of you were riveted either to the TV or the computer display watching the live transmission of the US bishops’ meeting in Dallas.  The event is too recent for me to express calmly what I thought of it.  There was an interesting development liturgically during their Mass on Friday evening.  For the Mass they used texts which they called a “Mass for the Gift of Tears”.  TS wrote by e-mail and alerted me to the fact that the bishops put the texts for this “Mass for the Gift of Tears” on the conference’s website (http://www.usccb.org/comm/weblit.htm).  On that website you can read all the texts together with this footnote:

PLEASE NOTE: The Mass for Tears is included among the Masses for the Forgiveness of Sins in the recently revised Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia. This English language translation has been approved at the request of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for this specific occasion. The translation is copyright 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, all rights reserved.

Instantly I consulted the index of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia for the originals and found them on page 1140 under the section called Missae et orationes pro variis necessitatibus vel ad diversa, III. Ad diversa, 38. Pro remissione peccatorum, B, Aliae orationes.  The “A” section has the full Mass “For Remission/Forgiveness of Sins” while the “B” section has alternate prayers for just the collecta, superoblata, and post communionem that can be substituted in to that Mass.  The “B” prayers lack a distinguishing title such as “Pro dona lacrimarum” or something similar.  We ought to look at the Latin for the super oblata of that Mass in the 2002MR and compare it with the conference’s translation, approved by the CDW and transmitted live to a watching world.  Given the fact that the bishops were taken were rebuked for bad translations they had offered to Rome for approval, in a way this might be a foretaste of translations they will present in the future.  What did the bishops prepare “for this specific occasion”?

SUPER OBLATA (Missa pro remissione peccatorum – B)
Hanc oblationem, quaesumus, Domine
quam mai
estati tuae pro peccatis nostris offerimus,
propitius r
espice et praesta,
ut sacrificium
ex quo hominibus profluit fons veniae
Sancti Spiritus gratiam lacrimas
pro nostris off
ensionibus largiatur.

The collect and super oblata in the “B” section, which interests us today, are in the main taken from the good old Mass Ad petendam compunctionem cordis (“For begging compunction of heart”) in the Orationes diversae section of the 1962MR.  The collect is identical in every respect right down to the long extinct colon and semicolon punctuation (clearly an editing oversight in the production of this new 2002MR).  They changed the super oblata to: Hanc oblationem, quaesumus, Domine Deus, quam tuae maiestati pro peccatis nostris offerimus, propitius respice: et produc de oculis nostris lacrimarum flumina, quibus debita flamminarum incendia valeamus exstinguere “Graciously look, O Lord God, upon this offering, we beg Thee, which we are offering to Thy majesty for our sins: and draw forth from our eyes a river of tears, by which we may be able to extinguish the merited conflagration of the flames.”   Too much hellfire for our kinder and gentler century, I guess.   

USCCB translation approved by the CDW – as it appears on the USCCB website
We ask you to look with favor upon these gifts, O Lord,
e Gifts and receive our offering
to your sovereign maj
esty on account of our sins,
that this sacrific
e from which pardon flows
as from a fountain
may b
estow by your Holy Spirit
e gift of tears for our offenses.
e ask this through Christ our Lord.

Yes, that is really how it appears on the website…including that obvious error “We ask you to look with favor upon these gifts, O Lord, the Gifts…” and the misspelling “soverign”.  However, I think we must give them the benefit of the doubt and recall that this conference meeting was cobbled together under great pressure and at great speed.  Also, a website page isn’t the same as a printed book.  Clearly what happened is that the poor worker-bee putting this page together simply made some mistakes.  (Hmmm…in the spirit of the way the bishops are now viewing priests, perhaps that website worker-bee should be instantly fired and never permitted to create a web page again?  But I digress….)   But, let us not conclude that bishops share responsibility for their official texts that are found on their official website.  Let the worker-bee take the full blame. We can now make the proper corrections: “We ask you to look with favor upon these gifts, O Lord, and receive our offering….”

All in all, this is a very good effort!  It is markedly better than what was prepared in the past. I wondered at first if maybe they simply didn’t have the time to produce something goofy, I but I like to give everyone the benefit of good will. “Sovereign majesty”!  Can you believe it?  It’s so triumphal!   We get “sacrifice” for sacrificium too, and even an old-fashioned “bestow.”  Has the translator has been reading WDTPRS or even Liturgiam authenticam?  Still  (and you know I can’t help it), maybe there are a few things that aren’t quite right.  For example… for hanc oblationem, which is singular, they write “these gifts” in the plural.  Okay, I know you will say that the singular “offering” is actually comprised of two elements, bread and wine.  That gets a pass.  Look closely at the phrase “this sacrifice from which pardon flows” which translates sacrificium ex quo hominibus (to men) profluit fons veniae.  Something’s missing.  What could it be?   Inclusive language was a bone of contention with ICEL, the bishops and the CDW.  So, in this super-charged atmosphere of the bishops’ meeting, when they already had enough problems without making the feminists angrier than they normally are, they side-stepped the landmine and left “men” (or even “humans”) out completely.  So far, they have a plural for a singular and they left out a landmine.  What about that phrase (it doesn’t appear in the other prayers for this Mass, only in the super oblata) from which the Mass, as the bishops labeled it, got its title “Gift of tears”?  In the Latin we have gratia lacrimas effundendi… “the grace of shedding tears” (recall that, as advertised above, this was originally in the 1962MR a “river of tears” we must beg in order to avoid the flames of eternal damnation).  Perhaps we can defend this in that the Holy Spirit, to whom we refer in that same sentence, gives this grace as a gift.  However, the Latin in fact has gratia and not donum, or similar.  Consider how the previous translations, being used now, systematically and obviously avoid using the English word “grace”. I am a bit suspicious.  Maybe they were keying into a phrase that is idiomatic in English: “gift of tears”.   For example, those familiar with liberation theology, et al., might recall a revisionist book by Daniel Berrigan entitled Isaiah: Spirit of Courage, Gift of Tears.  (Fortress Press, 1996) Nevertheless, that change from “grace” to “gift” is, in my opinion, a flaw in an otherwise excellent translation. 

If this is a sample of what we have to look forward to, I think we have real cause for hopeI compliment the bishops on their good choices and thank them for the encouraging demonstration of what can be accomplished.

LATIN (2002 Missal
e Romanum):
Deus, qui mysteriorum tuorum
er operaris effectus,
esta, quaesumus,
ut sacris apta mun
eribus fiant nostra servitia.

Lord God,
through your sacram
you giv
e us the power of your grace.
May this
elp us to serve you faithfully.

Does the prayer really say this?  We need to look into its vocabulary with our terrific Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary in order to crack this tricky nut…but, I’ve run out of space for this week.  Sorry.  We have room only to note that the noun servitium, as an abstraction, points to the condition of being a servant or slave (servitude).  In the concrete it means “a body of servants, the class of slaves.”  In this prayer we find nostra servitia.   L&S tells us that Livy (2, 10, 8) uses the plural servitia for “servants as individuals” as if it were servi, “slaves.”  I think we can find an analogy in addressing a bishop as “Your Excellency” whereas a servant might be “Your Servitude.”  In Judith 3:6 we read in the Latin Vulgate: “Veni nobis pacificus dominus et utere servitia nostra sicut placuerit tibi… Come to us, peaceful lord, and use us slaves as it will have pleased you” (and Holofernes came and destroyed their shrines) or in Tobit 9:3 we find servitia as “bond” which is a kind of pledge or bail bond, probably given to keep servants. So, in this prayer we have a puzzle. As nostra servitia could be “we servants” we would be asking God to make us ourselves apta.  If we say something like “our service” or even something like “us servants together with the fruits of our service” we might be able to get at the depth of the word servitia.  Seeing as I have written about aptus in the past, dear reader, you can tell me if you think sacris muneribus is dative or ablative.  For this week, I’ll choose dative.

O God, who graciously produce the effects
of your sacram
grant, w
e beseech Thee,
that our s
ervitude may be made well-suited for these sacrificial gifts.

Lord God,
through your sacram
you giv
e us the power of your grace.
May this
elp us to serve you faithfully.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Andrew says:

    A minimalist “barebones” version of this prayer might be obtained by extracting every word in caps as follows:

    Hanc OBLATIONEM, quaesumus, DOMINE
    quam maiestati tuae pro peccatis nostris offerimus,
    propitius RESPICE ET PRAESTA,
    UT SACRIFICIUM ex quo hominibus profluit fons veniae
    Sancti Spiritus GRATIAM lacrimas effundendi
    pro nostris offensionibus LARGIATUR.

    Which would give us: “Oblationem, Domine, respice et praesta ut sacrificium (hoc) gratiam largiatur.”

    That could be stated in English as: “look with favor upon this OFFERING, O Lord, and GRANT that this sacrifice may bestow a GRACE.”

    Three concepts are missing in the given USCCB translation:

    1. Offering is rendered as “gifts” – as you explained, that can be tolerated.

    2. GRANT – a plea at the center of this prayer is completely absent in the English translation and replaced by the fuzzy “… that it may …”

    3. GRACE – the very subject of this prayer is absent.

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