What Does the Prayer Really Say? 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006
Those who have been resisting the norms laid down in Liturgiam authenticam appeal to a theory of translation that would peg our liturgical texts to the ever-shifting style of common parlance. They are, in short, impossibly proposing to make everything “understandable” by making it up-to-date. This is a very bad idea. It would necessitate constant revision of the texts, people in one place in the world would need an entirely different version, and we would be left with the impression that none of the content of the texts referred to anything having enduring value. Much more could be said about what a bad idea that is, but here is a piece from the internet blog Pontifications, which posted a description by Fr. Aidan Kavanagh from his book Elements of rite: A handbook of liturgical style of what liturgy is all about. See if you don’t think this points straight at the errors of the aforementioned (slightly edited):
Breezy liturgical style is not characteristic of one who has attained liturgical mastery. It is usually the work of an egocentric who imagines that whatever occurs to him or her is generally interesting and that uninhibited liturgical expression of this will create enthusiasm and carry the day. It may also be a compensation mechanism of the guilt-ridden or unsure, who cannot cope with the fact that some of God’s ways are inscrutable and often illiberal, according to human standards. Whatever the motive, the Spontaneous Me approach to liturgy produces little prayers, rambling homilies on current events, sappy hymns, and eucharists hardly distinguishable from the coffee and doughnut social that follows in the church hall. That the taste of all this is dubious or its discipline minimal is not the point. The point is that it is untrue. It warps Christian logos into a liturgical style which that logos does not support but condemns. For that logos is not about becoming well-adjusted in a world where, by human choice, death is at home. It is about breaking through such a world into another, where life that passes all understanding, and is available only at immense cost, is discovered to have been our birthright all along. This is the real world, that for which we were created and redeemed on a cross. Anything less is fantasy and fable.
I find this to be a good foundation for why we need to have words like “consubstantial” in a new translation of the Creed and why we need to hear “for many” or “for the multitude” during the consecration of the Precious Blood. We must unhook our liturgical language from the immediate and the “me”.
This week’s Latin prayer was in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary for December (the “10th” month), a time of fasting which is now called Advent. In the Gelasian it was the Secret for the 2nd Sunday of Lent. It was not in a pre-conciliar edition of the Missale Romanum. However, just for a change of pace we might want to start this week with the ICEL version now in use before we get into what the prayer really says. Read it and weep.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of power,
giver of the gifts we bring,
accept the offering of your Church
and make it the sacrament of our salvation.
The first time I worked on this prayer, and had typed in this ICEL version, I had to make sure that I was looking at the correct week, that’s how bad it is. I wonder if you agree:
Having been appeased, O Lord, take unto Yourself the gifts of Your Church
which You both mercifully bestowed as things to be offered as sacrifices
and You are causing mightily to transform into the mysterious sacrament of our salvation.
SUPER OBLATA (2002MR):
Ecclesiae tuae, Domine, munera placatus assume,
quae et misericors offerenda tribuisti,
et in nostrae salutis potenter efficis transire mysterium.
Getting into some Latin vocabulary will console us after the trauma of the ICEL version. After all, the Greek playwright Sophocles said, “There is a certain pleasure also in words, whenever they cause forgetfulness of present evils” (Frag. 259).
The adjective placatus is from the verb placo meaning “to reconcile” and “to quiet, soothe, calm, assuage, appease, pacify.” Thus, we can say “having been appeased.” While misericors “merciful” is a nominative adjective, to get it into decent English we must merge it into something that sounds more adverbial, lest it get too ponderous: “which you, the merciful one, gave… which you merciful gave…”. According to our ever-open Lewis & Short Dictionary, tribuo signifies “to assign, impart, allot, bestow, give” (synonyms being do, dono, largior). We have seen many times in the series how mysterium is often interchangeable with sacramentum and refers especially in liturgical prayer to the Paschal Mystery, enacted and represented sacramentally in every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The marvelous verb assumo gives us some intriguing ideas. It means basically, “to take to or with one’s self, to take up, receive, adopt, accept, take”. L&S refers to “discourse” as in “to take up, begin” and cites Ecclesiastical Latin “after the Hebrew”, as in the rabbinic method of teaching by parables. The image coming to my mind is that of a great and constant dialog of God and His people. It is not a dialog of equals. It is not a dialog that we initiate. It is, nevertheless a dialog by which we ourselves are directed and transformed, by the Word, when at the same time we offer in the conversation with God (prayer) all that we are to be transformed. This prayer takes place in the offertory section of Mass, in the midst of dialogs between the priest and the people (the whole Church – Christ the Head (in the person of the priest) with Christ the Body (assembly) – in unity raising the Sacrifice up to the Father).
Briefly, transeo, transpire, transivi (ii), transitum is “to go over or across, to cross over, pass over, pass by, pass” and by extension “to pass over, be changed into any thing”. The passage of the People of Israel through the sea is called in Christian writings a transitus as is Christ’s passage through death and the tomb: so is our passing through the waters of baptism.
Offerenda is one of those so-called verbal "nd" forms of which WDTPRS has spoken in the past. There is found in this form a concept of necessity and purpose. Offero itself took on in Ecclesiastical Latin the meaning “to offer to God, to consecrate, dedicate” as found in the Vulgate Exodus 38: 24 or 39:32 and Hebrews 9:14. In that passage from Hebrews (and I encourage you to read chapter 9 on your own) we see how the Apostle to the Gentiles uses priestly language and images of the Hebrew Temple rites. Paul contrasts the yearly Jewish ritual of purification of the flesh that had to be repeated with, on the other hand, the once-for-all-time Sacrifice of Christ, simultaneously the High Priest and the offered Victim, which purifies the whole person unto eternal salvation. This is the Sacrifice we renew and extend in our own day. The consequences of such a Sacrifice ought to compel us to prepare with the greatest care all that we do and say at every celebration of Holy Mass. It is all His gift to us.
A SMOOTHER VERSION:
Be pleased, O Lord, to receive the gifts of Your Church
which You both mercifully bestowed
that we might raise them back up to You
and which in Your might You are causing to transform
into the mysterious sacrament of our salvation.
I usually place your feedback at the top of each column, but this week I thought I would end with something a reader sent which moved me. Alas, your letters sent to The Wanderer are not always quickly forwarded and this letter dated 9 May, from JW in MD, just arrived (edited):
I pray that you and the staff of The Wanderer continue to receive the blessings of Christ. I am incarcerated in the State of Maryland. Every so often I am blessed to receive an old copy of The Wanderer. I am trying to save up enough money to subscribe to this most wonderful paper. … Since I and many others have no access to the internet, but would love to have the back articles which you have written, how could individuals such as myself receive them? Have you ever considered placing them in book form? I am quite sure many readers would enjoy the depth of insight and knowledge you offer. Thank you for hearing me and I shall keep you and The Wanderer staff in my prayers.
Yes, JW, I have given serious thought to publishing some version of these articles in book form. Many people suggest this to me. I am not sure yet what the format will be. Maybe readers have ideas. I think I would have to leave out references to the translation wars and current news (except in the introduction) and also exclude the ICEL version (since a new one is coming – or so they claim). I would restrict myself to my own version and some commentary. I will make sure, JW, you get a copy of this issue of The Wanderer, at least.
Perhaps JW’s letter will move you readers to consider giving gift subscriptions to people who, less fortunate than yourselves, are shut in or restricted in income, or anybody else, for that matter. The Wanderer, as a journal of opinion and of news, has a good deal to offer. You won’t perhaps agree with everything you read in it (I sure don’t!), and not all of it is cheery. But these days of ours need “a lot less happy gas” as one bishop I know puts it, and having a contrasting view to chew on doesn’t do us any harm.
In the meantime, in your prayers do not forget those who are shut in or imprisoned. This is a useful spiritual work of mercy which is so very easy to perform. And I thank you, JW, for your prayers. I will remember you in mine.