33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: SUPER OBLATA (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say? 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2006

There are many things afoot these days. The French bishops, meeting in plenary session, voiced strong opposition to a possible Motu Proprio by which His Holiness would derestrict the use of the so-called “Tridentine” Mass. His Eminence Jean-Pierre Card. Ricard, President of the French Conference and member of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, contrary to all indications, intimated that a Motu Proprio was not only not signed yet but perhaps is not much more than a suggestion on the part of the Commission’s President, Darío Card. Castrillon Hoyos. Despite French bishops breathing threats of zero compromise with Traditionalists and bishops of the USCCB expressing “unease”, Card. Ricard will be going to Rome to participate in work on the draft document. This is pretty concrete, though there is no indication of a schedule.

On another front, the Pope may be doing something about sacred music. The Holy Father will visit the Saint Cecilia Music Academy on 22 November, the feast of the virgin martyr who is the patroness of music. His Holiness will surely address the state of sacred music in the Church, a topic dear to his heart. You can bet he will stress the need for more Gregorian chant and polyphony. However, some think he may include such a desire in a weightier document. Furthermore, on 19 November His Eminence Christoph Card. Schönborn will be celebrant for Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vienna Philharmonic will provide the music: W.A. Mozart’s Coronation Mass. The Pope often addresses the congregation after Masses celebrated by others in the Basilica. Do you think he will talk about sacred music?

People are also waiting for the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, the follow up to last year’s meeting (which the Pope cut short by a week) of the Synod of Bishops who gathered to discuss the Holy Eucharist. It is very unlikely that His Holiness will merely regurgitate the proposals of the Synod. That is not his style. We are left to wonder if His Holiness will use such a letter to cover several of these burning issues in a global view.

Keep this in mind: His Holiness wrote a book called The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), precisely the same title as a 1918 book by the great German liturgist Romano Guardini which helped to give impetus to the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century. Cardinal Ratzinger said he consciously used the same title as Guardini’s book because he wanted to spark a new movement of liturgical renewal. This was a key dimension of Pope Benedict’s vision for the Church for years before the conclave of 2005. Would he abandon it now that he is in a position to effect real change? Benedict knows the important of sacred music. Benedict has argued that use of the older form of Mass will help to redirect the way the newer Mass is being celebrated. The wait is, for us, a matter of greater agony than any child feels before Christmas. The Pope’s homilies, addresses, appointments and documents nevertheless suggest that he is on his target, if not on our schedule.

Benedict XVI has been deeply involved with all these matters for decades now. No one knows the lay of the land better than he. If he really has been aiming to free up the “Tridentine” Mass, is he going to be in the least surprised by the vehement opposition of the French bishops or the “unease” of the USCCB? If he really has been working on a document, will the complaints add anything to the mix he hasn’t already heard a thousand times?

At the same time, extensive work is needed to craft a document on the older form of Mass. It isn’t possible simply to derestrict the old Mass for every priest everywhere at any time for any reason without reference to bishops or religious superiors. That would be madness. Therefore, the role of bishops in such a project needs to be sorted out. Bishops cannot be excluded from the provisions.

Any document on the “Tridentine Mass” needs to be well-framed. If it is sloppy or filled with holes, if it does not adequately foresee obvious thorny scenarios that will certainly arise, the net effect for those who want the use of the older Mass would be catastrophic in the long run. The results for a healing of the schism or avoiding another would be seriously damaged. Bishops must be involved for the sake of order. Moreover, the role of the existing Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” and its mandate would have to be rethought.

And what about liturgical dilemmas or questions? There is a wide divergence of practice in the use of the “Tridentine” Mass. The Holy See gave permission for use of the 1962 editio typica of the Missale Romanum. But some priests and laymen involved in “Tridentine” liturgies seem to think they can do anything they please, arguing that their variations are “traditions”. Are they doing anything other than implementing their personal preferences? They are ironically similar to the wacky liturgists of the Church-Of-What’s-Happening-Now, but they have far better taste. A new Motu Proprio must to establish greater discipline. Consequently, an authoritative point of reference must be determined for the liturgical questions that will no doubt arise. Bishops will have to maintain fidelity to rubrics also for the “Tridentine” Mass. Ponder that for a moment.

We are going to have to have patience, my friends, even more patience. It takes very little time to tear structures apart, and a long time to build anew something worth building.

Do you remember the news from a few weeks ago about the famous Roman Latinist Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD? For decades Fr. Foster has trained up hundreds of students in Rome to an expert knowledge of the Latin language and communicated his infectious love for Latin Literature. Foster had been unceremoniously given the heave-ho from the Gregorian University and his students, who need both training and credits for their studies, were out in the street. Former and future students of Fr. Foster will be reassured to know that the “experiences” are back on track in the heart of Rome. Students will once again be beating their brains out against Foster’s legendary ludi domestici (homework sheets) each week. Pray for them.

Foster’s new Latin Academy has its quarters through the kind help of the American Institute for Roman Culture, run by one of Foster’s former students. Since I am one of his old veterans, I went to the first organizational meeting on Monday, 6 November. The Latin “experiences” began again the very next day. Foster rightly deplores the loss of Latin from educational formation, ecclesiastical formation especially. As he put it last Monday, “I could not stand to be in a classroom today to teach theology, canon law, history, philosophy to anyone knowing that the students know nothing! It would drive me crazy. I couldn’t do it.” In post-graduate programs people are working on topics that absolutely need strong Latin skills, but they don’t have a clue. They can’t read primary texts because they are in Latin.

Step into the Twilight Zone for a moment and picture, if you will, someone being admitted to, say, graduate school for a Ph.D in French Literature without knowing how to read any French. Make sense? Imagine a medical school admitting someone who never studied biology. Crazy, right? This is going on everywhere in the Church’s institutions of higher learning today, and the missing indispensable key is Latin. Personal anecdote: years ago a doctoral student in theology paid me to translate sermons of a mediaeval theologian found only in a volume of the Patrologia Latina. Why? He was writing his doctoral dissertation on the fellow’s theology but couldn’t read Latin. Get it? He was writing his thesis on something he couldn’t read. How does that work?

Treasures of stupefying beauty and value are gathering dust on shelves in seminary and university libraries because students and professors can’t read them. They are entirely dependent on what someone else says the works say, if they have ever been translated at all. Without Latin, a vast store of Western Civilization’s achievements is locked shut and inaccessible. There are works of, for example, St. Robert Bellarmine which have not been translated. Students of theology won’t have a clue what this great Doctor of the Church said in those pages. This has also been the case for countless people in parish churches since 1973, hasn’t it? They thought the ICEL versions of the prayers they heard were what the Church was really saying to God. They weren’t. Even today I am still getting e-mail from priests who say they never knew what they were missing all this time until they started reading WDTPRS. But I digress.

The situation may be dire but Fr. Foster sees good signs for Latin in secular institutions. His classes are also frequented by numerous lay students, many non-Catholics, and his flame-hot summer course is attended by nearly all lay students from secular schools. Dozens of applicants for the intensive summer course have already come in, he said at the Monday meeting. He rewrote the entrance exam. It is now much harder.

Clearly, not everyone needs to know Latin. But can all agree that students of philosophy, theology, liturgy and canon law in fact do. For Foster, the bottom line can be summed up in one of his classic, no holds barred explanations to his students: “If you have this thing, you have something, friends. If you don’t have Latin you’re just sitting there looking stupid!”

Just to be a little annoying, I ask: Does this apply to priests who want to celebrate the “Tridentine” Mass? Does it make a difference if Father has no idea what the prayer really says?

Let’s move on to this week’s “Prayer over the gifts” as the lame-duck ICEL version calls it, but what we know in Latin is this Sunday’s

Concede, quaesumus, Domine,
ut oculis tuae maiestatis munus oblatum
et gratiam nobis devotionis obtineat,
et effectum beatae perennitatis acquirat.

This was the Secret of the Saturday Ember Day in September and it was in the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary. I love the beautiful cadence in the last line: perénnitátis ácquírát.

The superlative Lewis & Short Dictionary lets us know that perennitas means “lastingness, continuance, perpetual duration, perpetuity.” We also see here the now familiar devotio and maiestas we have recently examined at length. Just out of curiosity, we could see how one of those old “hand missals”, the St. Andrew Bible Missal, worked through this prayer: “Almighty God, we pray you to grant that the gifts which we are offering in the sight of your majesty may win for us the grace of faithfulness unto a happy life everlasting.” We could do worse than that. Remember that in these articles we are not attempting a smooth, liturgically useful version. For now, however, and until a new translation comes forth, this is what you will hear at English language masses wherever ICEL is spoken:

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Lord God,
may the gifts we offer increase our love for you
and bring us to eternal life.

Grant, we beg, O Lord,
that the gift raised to the sight of Your majesty,
may both obtain for us the grace of devotion,
and acquire for us the accomplishment of a happy eternity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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