1st Sunday of Advent: COLLECT (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  The 1st Sunday of Advent

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2004

This is the first offering of the fifth year of WDTPRS.  We begin anew.  In this series we have been examining the original Latin prayers of Holy Mass in the typical edition of the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope Paul VI, in force since the 1st Sunday of Advent (30 November 1969). This is the so-called “Novus Ordo” or 1970 Roman Missal (the 1970MR).  After the Second Vatican Council, the Holy See entrusted the work of translating liturgical texts to the conferences of bishops.  In the English speaking world the conferences founded the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to do the work, later to be revised by the conferences and then submitted back to Holy See for approval.   The translations used since 1973, have long been recognized as inadequate in too many ways to enumerate with ease.   Years ago, driven by frustration and longing many participants of the internet forum I moderate begged me for accurate translations of Sunday prayers.  They wanted to know what the prayers really said.   Eventually, I was invited by The Wanderer to write this weekly column. We wanted to promote better translations for the common good of the people of God.  

This series has a two-fold objective.  First, we must all promote greater interest in and understanding of the content of the prayers the Church gives us for Holy Mass.  I want you to know what the prayers really say because, through them, we come to know and love the content of the prayers.  The content of our Catholic Faith is not just words to recite or memorize, but rather a divine Person, Jesus Christ, with whom we can have a reciprocal relationship of love shaping every dimension of our lives.  Secondly, WDTPRS has been urging, prompting, cajoling, pleading with you readers to write respectful, prayerful letters of support to those in charge of preparing the new English translations.   I have given you addresses.  I have done everything but put the pen on your hand and lick the stamp.  In turn, many of you have sent me copies of responses you received in return.  Your letters have made a difference, friends, make no mistake.  Moreover, you often send me your feedback and comments which I happy read and include in these articles.  You are a vital part of this WDTPRS project.  

In the first year of the series, we examined the “Opening Prayers” (collects) of the Mass, in the second the “Prayers over the gifts” (Super oblata), in the third the Post-communion prayers and during the fourth year we went through the four major Eucharistic Prayers.   This year WDTPRS takes a step both forward and backward.  Your feedback revealed that many of you appreciated the meticulous examination of the Eucharistic Prayers (part of the unchanging “Common” of the Mass), but you enjoyed far more looking at the prayers that change each Sunday (part of the changing “Proper”).  In response to you, we are returning to an examination of the changing Sunday prayers.  Many of you are interested in the detailed look at Latin vocabulary, while many are baffled or bored by it and just skip over those paragraphs.  Therefore, we will still review Latin, but not quite so much.  And remember: WDTPRS has never claimed to offer versions that are suitable for use in the Church’s liturgical action of Holy Mass: this is not our goal.  At times I will try to smooth them out a little, but mostly I will stick closely, even slavishly, to the Latin structure and to the original vocabulary.   Latin doesn’t always go into English very easily.  The people preparing translations truly need our prayerful and positive support along with constant reminders of our hopes and confidence.  Write letters.  Also, get subscriptions for people, as gifts, and share the project with others.  Do you love them?  Do you want them to have better translations and know what the prayers say?

What is the status quaestionis, the “state of the question”, these days? Since WDTPRS began the Holy See blasted ICEL for its draft translation of the 2nd Latin edition of the Missale Romanum and then issued a 3rd edition of the same (the 2002MR). A new set of norms for translation were promulgated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) in a document called Liturgiam authenticam.  ICEL was gutted by the CDWDS and rebuilt.  The Vox Clara Committee was formed by the CDWDS as a powerful liaison and watchdog for ICEL.  ICEL prepared a new draft of the common prayers of Mass under the ongoing scrutiny and revision of Vox Clara.  A document with legislative force concerning liturgical abuses, Redemptionis Sacramentum, came forth at the order of the Holy Father in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.  A special Year of the Eucharistic is in course now.   These are good things.  Nevertheless, I have warned you that, while there good advances, there are many and powerful enemies who fight with might and main to turn progress back, return to the older, cliché way of understanding translations.  If they can, they will block the production of a translation according to the norms laid down in Liturgiam authenticam.  They are not asleep.

An example of this came during the latest fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  His Eminence Francis Card. George of Chicago ended his term as the head of the Bishops’ Committee for Liturgy (BCL).  But a surprise nomination came from the floor when Bp. John Kinney of St. Cloud – the last bishop appointed during the less than inspiring term of Belgian Archbishop Jean Jadot as the Papal Delegate to the USA (1973-80) nominated Bp. Donald Trautman of Erie, who was then elected by a large margin.  Bp. Trautman had this post once during the 1990’s: his track record is not what we might prefer.  In the USCCB he is the foremost campaigner for inclusive language among other, less than felicitous oddities.  He made strong declarations against the Holy See’s Liturgiam authenticam.  Bp. Trautman’s BLC will soon review the ICEL’s draft translation and vetted last week in Rome by the Vox Clara Committee.  There are strong indications that the decisions taken by Vox Clara last week would be very pleasing to WDTPRS readers.  However, we are forced to the conclusion that the selection of Bp. Trautman for the BCL is a declaration of war on the Holy See in the matter of translations.  But let us move to happier things, indeed, something of great joy: the prayers of Holy Mass and what they really say.  This year we are going to make a fresh examination of the Collects or “Opening Prayers” of Sunday Masses.

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,
eius dextrae sociati, regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.  Per Dominum….

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.

Would these articles be complete without reference to the prestigious Lewis & Short Dictionary?   L&S says that voluntas is basically, “will, freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination”, but in our collect it has also the nuance of a “disposition” toward a thing or person.  Occurro is, “to run up to, run to meet” and the deponent verb mereor, “to deserve, merit, to be entitled to, be worthy of a thing”.   The usually active socio, “to join or unite together, to associate; to do or hold in common, to share a thing with another”, has a “middle” impact in this passive construction with the dative.

Almighty God, we beseech You, grant
to Your faithful this disposition of will,
that those rushing with just works to meet Your Christ, now coming,
united at His right hand may merit to possess the heavenly kingdom.

This is the first prayer of the liturgical year. We are readying ourselves for Christ who comes!  This Sunday is back to back with the Solemnity of Christ the King, honoring the future Second Coming at the end of the world, while it prepares us for celebrating His First Coming at Christmas. Advent is all about how the Lord comes… in every way.  He comes in actual graces.  He comes when the priest says, “Hoc est enim corpus meum….This is my Body.”  He comes in Holy Communion and in the person of the needy.  “Make straight the paths!”, the liturgy of Advent cries out with the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist.  We are rushing forward (occurrentes) and smoothing the path for the feet of our King.  This requires work, just works, just by their origin, Christ Himself. When even in this life we are united to the right hand of Christ (dextrae sociati) our works are truly ours but also truly His and we merit heaven.   The image of the “right hand”, the Biblical place of honor, points to the eternal glory of God and the inauguration of the Messianic kingdom… regnum…celeste to which we look forward even as we look back to His First Coming (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 663-4).

This is a new prayer for the Novus Ordo but based on ancient prayer from the so-called “Gelasian Sacramentary”. Many “Traditional” Catholics will claim that the prayers of the Novus Ordo are not sufficiently “Catholic”.  No prayer you will ever hear is more Catholic than this collect!  A Protestant or fundamentalist Christian could not say this prayer with its “just works”, its “meriting”, its “disposition”.  What does “disposition of will” (voluntas) mean for us fallen humans?  Protestants think our nature is wholly corrupt and so our disposition must be entirely evil.  But we know man is wounded by the Fall, not wholly corrupted.  Protestants believe anything good in us must be imposed from outside through the “alien merits” of Christ.  Is the voluntas we are begging in the prayer going to be our will or someone else’s will covering us over?  The prayer doesn’t say if the voluntas is God’s or ours.  But this is a Catholic prayer.  Once we are baptized and live in the state of grace, we are New Creations and God the Holy Trinity is at work in us.  Our cooperation with God’s gift of faith through good works saves us, not “faith alone” or a mere “covering over”.  A proper interior “disposition of will” is made possible and given by God but after that it is really ours.  Our works do not by themselves merit anything, but once we are transformed and renewed by sanctifying grace, “united at His right hand” already in this life, our work on earth merits the increase of grace and the reward of heaven because they are His while they are ours.  Thomas de Vio Card. Caietanus (Cajetan +1534) explained to Martin Luther (+1546) that, when we say that we “merit”, we are saying that Christ merits in us (cf. De fide et operibus, 12).  St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached that, “When God crowns our merits (merita), He crowns nothing other than His own gifts (munera)” (ep. 194, 5, 19). We merit salvation on the foundation of habitual, sanctifying grace, through the virtuous works which we perform.  His will becomes our sole desire.

How rich is this prayer!  This is how we begin our year, suffused with the language of deep humility: “Grant, we beseech You….”  We beg God to bless this WDTPRS project and cause it, by His will and our cooperation, to bear fruits for His glory and merit for us the gifts He comes to give.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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