20th Sunday of Ordinary Time: SUPER OBLATA (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

His Excellency Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds and chairman of the new and improved ICEL, wrote a piece for The Tablet (5 August) describing the status quaestionis. Here are a few of his comments.

First, consider what he says about now superseded theory of translation called dynamic equivalence (my emphasis).
The originator of the idea of dynamic equivalence, Eugene Nida, himself ceased to use it in his later writings. In insisting on the importance of linguistic form and its interdependence with content, Liturgiam Authenticam takes account of recent work in linguistics. It must have been a difficult document to write, for it is always difficult – some would say impossible – to write about language prescriptively and well. But something needed to be said, for the current texts we use simply do not hand on the tradition of prayer that we find in the Latin Missal. Whatever is said about Liturgiam Authenticam by its critics, it has served us well as a key to unlock the treasury of the Missal. We have been surprised and delighted by the riches that a careful attention to forms of prayer has revealed to us.


“…the riches that a careful attention to forms of prayer has revealed ….” Sound familiar? I am reminded of how prestigious liturgists such as Jungmann and Bouyer repudiated their early claims about Mass being celebrated versus populum. The tide seems to be turning on those things, albeit slowly. In the meantime, however, O the damage done! Going on, His Excellency shared an example of ICEL’s new Post Communion for Easter Sunday. Let’s look at it and compare it with a reworked WDTPRS version of a few years ago.

NEW ICEL VERSION reported by Bp. Roche
With unfailing love and care, O God,
watch over your Church,
so that, renewed by the paschal mysteries,
she may reach the bright glory of the

Look to Thy Church, O God, with unending dutiful good will,
so that, having been renewed by means of the paschal sacramental mysteries,
it may attain to the glory of the resurrection.

Look to Your Church, O God, with unending gracious good will,
so that, renewed by the paschal mysteries,
she may attain to the glory of the resurrection.

The new ICEL version is very sound. Judge for yourself how it compares to the original through the medium of our WDTPRS version. Moreover, Bishop Roche comments on the “tone” of prayers, which has been a matter of constant concern for us.

We are constantly concerned with the issue of register. A register is a subset of a language suitable to a particular context: I would use one register to address Parliament and a different one to speak to a class of young children. Early in the process, we proposed that towards the end of Eucharistic Prayer 1 (the Roman Canon) the priest should say: "To us sinners also … deign to grant some share and fellowship with your holy apostles and martyrs." "Deign" was greeted with howls of derision from all sides: it was thought to belong to too formal a register for the liturgy. So we tried a much more colloquial version, "please grant some share and fellowship". This was judged too informal. So we finally settled on "be pleased to grant …" which seems to fall between the two.
The prayers of the Roman Rite use many expressions of courtesy in addressing God. To find the appropriate polite form for an occasion is not easy: ask yourself what you would say if you unexpectedly met the Queen, for instance. The liturgical texts that we currently use omit many deprecatory expressions found in the Latin original. We are restoring them, and in doing so trying to forge a new register of courteous address to God. Like any new register, it will need to be learnt.

One of the flaws in the lame-duck ICEL versions is how entirely banal they are. Here is Bishop Roche:

Some people assume that liturgical language should be comfortably predictable: it should not shock. That assumption was not shared by the compilers of the post-conciliar Latin Missale Romanum. Following them, ICEL has not been afraid to introduce an element of surprise into the prayers we are offering. What is surprising eventually becomes familiar, while retaining the vividness that initially caused surprise.


Many of us could name a piece of music that shocked us when we first heard it and that, as it has become familiar, has continued to enrich our experience. Liturgical texts have a long life. We want the landscape of the Missal to have some colour, some peaks and some troughs, not to be the dull monochrome desert across which we currently traverse year by year. To use a different metaphor, the Missal is a jewel-box, not a deep freezer.

YES! The language of prayer should not be entirely commonplace. It cannot be hitched to the way people talk in normal circumstances. Even in the best circumstances and environments, wherein people are well educated and genteel, even above average "common" parlance would not be good for liturgical prayer. But today … with our informality and vulgarity… UGH. The horror….

His Excellency, through the image of a jewelry box, makes the good point that liturgical language should fascinate and dazzle, captivate and bemuse, attract and make you focus. A jewelry box is a good description for this just as a deep freeze is for its opposite: in my freezer I have stacks of white paper packages, things sealed in bags and containers. There is nothing exciting going on in my freezer. Those frozen things get exciting only they are thawed out and my work at the stove begins. Everything needs to be "unpacked" before it can be useful and delightful. That is what WDTPRS has been doing all this time: dragging the content of the Latin prayers out of the deep freeze (= the lame-duck ICEL version) and doing some serious cooking with that content. Allow me to mix my metaphors wildly, but when you work from the Latin content, every plate on your table can be a jewel. Holy Mass, our foretaste of the heavenly banquet, deserves no less.

We must now turn quickly to this week’s “Prayer over the gifts”, which was the same as that for the fifth day of the Christmas Octave, 29 December. This prayer was not in a pre-conciliar edition of the Missale Romanum but it had an antecedent in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary during April.

Suscipe, Domine, munera nostra,
quibus exercentur commercia gloriosa,
ut, offerentes quae dedisti,
te ipsum mereamur accipere.

Notice how our prayer begins with a form of suscipio and ends with accipio. Also, there are pairs of neuter plurals: munera nostra…commercia gloriosa.

Our oft-consulted Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that commercium, which WDTPRS reviewed during the Easter season, means “trade, traffic, commerce” and therefore also “intercourse, communication, correspondence, fellowship.” O admirabile commercium – “O wondrous exchange!”, is the famous antiphon for the octave day of Christmas. In the ancient Latin of the Old Testament commercium refers to the covenant of man and God, a kind of “contractual agreement” and exchange of fidelity though between decidedly unequal partners. We now have a new covenant with God in Christ, a new commercium. As St. Leo the Great (+461) put it, the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we might become the sons of God.

We hear the word suscipe often in Catholic worship. Suscipio is “to take hold of in order to support, i.e. to take or catch up, to take upon one.” Among many other things it is used in a legal context as “to take upon one, undertake, assume, begin, incur, enter upon (especially when done voluntarily and as a favor; recipio, when done as a duty or under an obligation)” and thus in reference to a parent (natural or adoptive) and child “to take up a new-born child from the ground; hence, to acknowledge, recognize, bring up as one’s own.” Going on, accipio is at heart “to accept” and thus means by extension, implying action, “to take, to take possession of, to accept” and, concerning something that falls to one’s share, “to get, to receive, to be the recipient of.”

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
accept our sacrifice
as a holy exchange of gifts.
By offering what you have given us
may we receive the gift of yourself.

Catch up our gifts, O Lord,
by which glorious transforming exchanges are given impetus,
so that we who are offering what you have given
may merit to be recipients of You Yourself.

I am struck by the forceful action verbs. The strong imperative form suscipe means “snatch up, take up, catch up.” Exerceo is “to drive along, exercise”. In some contexts it can mean “drive” or “work” in the sense of “vex, harass”. Think of being emotionally “exercised”. We have verbs of offering, giving and taking or receiving. There is a back and forth conceptual rhythm in the prayer. The image comes to mind of two jugglers rapidly passing objects between themselves. The holy exchange is accentuated by the bookend verbs of the super oblata: suscipere… accipere.

One of the driving principles of Liturgiam authenticam (LA) is a proper understanding of inculturation. LA is the fifth instruction on how the liturgical mandates of the Council were to be implemented. The fourth instruction Varietates legitimae concerned precisely inculturation. Inculturation must be properly understood. There is a dynamic interchange and influencing process going on constantly between the “world” and the Church. Every different people of the globe has something of value to contribute to the Church at the same time that the Church, at least historically, forms and shapes whole peoples. This dynamic interchange means that the Church influences the world and the world in turn influences the Church. The Church gains many gifts from the world: music, art, architecture, languages and their literature, etc. These are taken in by the Church and made her own. However, and this is the key, everything the Church gives in this exchange must always be logically prior. This commercium goes on back and forth simultaneously with respect to the passage of time, but the Church… as the Church… gives and shapes first and then receives back what the world has done with her formation. That is to say, this is what happened when the Church carried out her role rightly.

Receive O Lord, our gifts
by which glorious exchanges are being made,
so that we, offering now what You have already given us
may in turn merit to receive Your very Self.

The concept of the sacrum commercium, a “holy exchange” is central to the Roman Canon. It is a frequent element of the prayers for Holy Mass after the post-Conciliar reform. God gives us bread and wine. We offer them back to God. God transforms them for us into the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of the eternal Son, Christ Jesus. These new Gifts transform us into acceptable offerings to God together with all our deeds and words. And then God gives us bread and wine…. This glorious exchange teaches us the mystery that earthly and temporal gifts freely given can become for us vehicles of eternal and spiritual graces.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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