19th Sunday of Ordinary Time: POST COMMUNION

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2003

Some feedback is coming in about the possibility of having a Roman WDTPRS pilgrimage of which I spoke last week. HE of TN writes already: “Please sign me up for the first group, the sooner the better. Just set a date, state the price, and I’ll forward my personal check.” And so it begins. This same correspondent must also have be a ghost writer for the old Roman Breviary, since he sounds rather like one of the old Second Nocturnes regarding my column of last week: “As a longtime Wanderer subscriber, let me take this opportunity to remark that [the] WDTPRS column is surely the finest weekly column in all of Catholic periodical literature (which thanks to the Internet I can survey widely, though I am glad and happiest to read The Wanderer the old-fashioned way).” I suspect that not everyone, myself included, is ready to agree with you on that, but I am grateful all the same. Should I ask for a raise, TN?

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):

Sacramentorum tuorum, Domine,
communio sumpta nos salvet,
et in tuae veritatis luce confirmet.

This prayer is in the 1962MR as the Postcommunio of the commemoration of Sts. Hippolytus and Cassianus (or Cassian), martyrs (13 August). “But, Wait!”, you are sure to being saying. In the 1970MR on 13 August we find the feast of Sts. Hippolytus, priest and Pontianus, Pope, martyrs, not Cassian at all! In the 2001 Martyrologium Romanum (MartRom – p. 426) we find not only the listing for Hippolytus with Pontianus (or Pontian) but also, by himself, Cassian. Since Cassian and Hippolytus had nothing whatsoever to do with each other, after the reform of the liturgy Hippolytus was logically put together with Pontianus on the same feast. There are actually quite a few ancient saints by name of Hippolytus and there is a lot of confusion about which is which. This one is certainly a Hippolytus of Rome and not the prolific writer of the same name who, according in P. Nautin’s article in the Encyclopedia of the Early Church (vol. I, pp. 383-4), was a bishop in Palestine who died after A.D. 240.

The third century was a turbulent time for Christians in Rome. Not only were there persecutions from without, there were also theological controversies within the Church about the nature(s) and divinity of Christ and His relationship with the Father. Hippolytus, who wrote in Greek, was a pivotal figure in the early Roman Church. Among other things, he championed a position against Modalism, which idea was that the Persons of the Trinity were merely three modes or manifestations of one God without being individual Persons. Hippolytus forwarded the idea that Christ the Logos was so separate from the Father, though subordinate to Him, that Christ virtually was another God (Ditheism). Pope Zephyrinus would not make a firm statement one way or another and Hippolytus condemned him as the weak puppet of the powerful deacon Callistus. Zephyrinus in 217 or 218 exits the stage and Callistus was elected to the See of Peter. Hippolytus then got himself elected “pope” by his followers. A terrible rigorist, he forthwith accused Callistus of various heresies and laxity in ecclesiastical discipline. He was thus antipope during the reigns of Callistus I, Urban I (222-230) and our man Pontianus (230–235) who according to legend is sometimes credited (more than likely erroneously) with introducing the liturgical greeting and response and hitherto translation bugbear of liturgists “Dominus vobiscum… Et cum spiritu tuo.”

During the persecution by Maximinus Thrax in 235, Pope Pontianus and the priest/antipope Hippolytus were condemned ad metalla (“to the mines”) and banished to Sardinia, called an unhealthy island (insula nociva). Pontianus probably renounced his office on 28 September, according to ancient sources. So, Pope Celestine V (5 July 1294 (crowned 29 August) – 13 December 1294 and died 19 May 1296) may not be the only Pope in history to have resigned. Perhaps together in the terrible mines of Sardinia or en route, Hippolytus and Pontianus were reconciled before they died. Pope Fabian (236-250) had their bodies brought back to Rome. They are feasted on the same day probably because in the IV c. document concerning the interment of martyrs, the Depositio Martyrum, we read "Idus Aug. Ypoliti in Tiburtina et Pontiani in Callisti”. In August the Ides are on the 13th day. Pontianus was buried in the papal section of the catacomb of Callistus and Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina. The fact that they were both so venerated by the Romans is held as a proof that they were reconciled with each other.

Cassian, on the other hand, according to the hymn of Prudentius (cf. Peristephanon, Hymn IX), was a teacher at Forum Cornelii (named after the dictator L. Cornelius Sulla – modern Imola). He was handed over (c. 300 according to 2001 MartRom) to his pupils who tortured him to death using their writing styluses (traditus est calamis ad mortem torquendus), made of iron, reeds or other pointy hard materials with which they would draw on wax tablets, etc. The MartRom adds a note that Cassian was given to his students to be killed because, “the weaker the hand, the more painful was the sentence of martyrdom.” Today, students torture their teachers to death with PDA styluses, laptop computers and MP3 players, not to mention execrable English – but I digress.

Let us now explore the prayer and investigate, if we can, what it really says. That formidable lexical aid the Lewis & Short Dictionary provides different entries for communio. In one sense of the word, communio, (deriving from moenia “defense walls” and munio “to wall, fortify”) means originally “to fortify on all sides or strongly, to secure, barricade, entrench”. The other entry, deriving from communis (“common”) means “a communion, mutual participation”. This use of communio is found in Cicero’s writings, but it is otherwise rather rare.

Latin communio was used to translate Greek koinonía. There is not a perfect equivalence here, which must not surprise us, given the inherent difficulties in translating liturgical terms and texts even today. The word in the common Greek used widely in the ancient world, used in the New Testament (koiné Greek), means “that which is common” in the sense of the link or common element that binds together a community (cf. 2 Cor 13:13; 1 John 1:3). By extension it signifies a disinterested spirit of sharing (cf. 2 Cor 9: 13) and then the outward sign or proof of that interior reality in the form of contributions to the common good and fellowship (cf. Acts 2:42). Then it is also the act of participation in a collection or in the “common good” which is the Body and Blood of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 10:16). So, by the time of the fourth century writer, koinonía / communio was the participation in the outward sign of the commonly held interior reality of the Eucharist. The Latin writers used it especially in the sense of acts of association and sharing and being in common. It was also the state of being in union with the Church in such a way that one is able to partake of the Eucharist in the Church, after initial preparation, conversion and also reconciliation. As a result, communio stands both for the Eucharistic species and the act of receiving them and also being in doctrinal and disciplinary harmony with the Church which provides the Eucharist and is formed by the Eucharist and a bond of charity.

An important thing to remember in this, and this is essential for authentic ecumenism, is that the Church provides Communion and Communion provides the Church. Without the Eucharist there can be no Church. Without the Church there can be no Eucharist. The Eucharist is both a concrete and outward sign of the invisibly reality made concrete in the Church’s members and it is also the constitutive reality underpinning the Church’s existence. At the heart of this two-fold dimension of the Eucharist, as both a result of the Church and the cause of the Church, is the underlying concept of unity, partaking of something – rather Someone – in common, Jesus Christ who is the living Bread from heaven. So, for ecumenical endeavors, there must always be adequate unity in doctrine and discipline with the Church He founded and entrusted with (and to) the Eucharist before there can be admission of all parties to partake of the Eucharistic species in Holy Communion. Reception of Holy Communion is the result of unity in doctrine and discipline as well as the cause of unity. However, unity in doctrine and discipline must be prior to the outward sign of unity which is reception of Holy Communion. No unity in the sense of ecclesial membership which is founded on unity of faith and action… no common reception of Communion. In some ecumenical circles this critical element is forgotten. Well-meaning, soft-hearted priests eager (properly so) to be welcoming and “nice” and bring people together will sometimes admit to reception of Holy Communion people who do not share a unity of faith. Their well-meaning (albeit shallow) thinking is that reception Communion simply causes communion almost as if the simple act of inter-Communion will cause, as if by magic, the unity so desired. This cannot be. Ironically, this magical and also theurgical approach to the act of Communion is held by those who at the same time criticize the older more traditional style of celebrating Mass, with its emphasis on rubrical fidelity and discipline in regard to the words of consecration as being “magic”. “Liturgy isn’t magic!”, they opine forcefully. Yes. That’s right. And admitting non-Catholics to Communion doesn’t magically make everyone “one”, either.

May the reception of Your sacraments
save us, O Lord,
and strengthen us in the light of Your truth.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may the eucharist you give us
bring us to salvation
and keep us faithful to the light of your truth.

What comes to mind as I hear the (Latin) version is the potent connection of the office and ministry of Peter in the Church, guaranteed by Christ Himself, and the efficacy of the Eucharist, also guaranteed by the Lord. The one guarantees the other. Just as there is no Church without the Eucharist and no Eucharist without the Church, neither must there be lacking the Petrine ministry in the Church, lest the saving reality of the Church Christ gave us be crippled, shaky and vague.

During the Last Supper, Our Blessed Lord looked at Simon Peter and explained Peter’s office in the Church to him more completely, “"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen (confirma) your brethren" (Luke 22:31:32 RSV). Immediately after, Peter grandly promises to be true and Christ announces how he will thrice deny that he even knows Him. That office of strengthening is the underlying power which Peter’s Successor has when he teaches infallibly on faith and morals and also, probably, when he exercises his disciplinary jurisdiction in the Church. Without unity with the one Vicar of Christ, we cannot rely on the strengthening that Christ gives us through him. Stop relying on Peter and on his office, defy him and his teaching and jurisdiction, and there can be no unity in faith adequate to provide for reception of the Eucharist.

In our prayer, we pray in unity (hopefully) with Peter, our Holy Father the Pope, that God will strengthen us (confirmet) in God’s truth (which is one truth and not many truths), and therefore in our unity as members of the one Church (not many churches) Christ gave us, and thus in unity with each other in a common sharing both caused by and symbolized by the reception of the Body and Blood of the Savior. We need strengthening, too, against all the attacks of Hell, both within and without that same Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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