4th Sunday of Advent: COLLECT (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say? The 4th Sunday of Advent

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2004

On 4 December, the anniversary of the Vatican Council’s Apostolic Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, I attended a “day of study” held by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) on the newest, 2004 edition of the Martyrologium Romanum (Roman MartyrologyMartRom). This is an official liturgical book which will eventually need translation into English. I wrote about the 2002 typical edition of the MartRom when it came forth. It took decades to get the new MartRom in shape especially because of the reform of the process of beatification/canonization and the immense increase in the number of declarations between the pontificates of Pius XII and John Paul II. Long study went into this volume. Errors from the Mediaeval period which were incorporated into the 1586 and 1589 editions prepared by the Renaissance historian Cesare Card. Baronio (+1607 – to whom Gregory XIII had entrusted its revision after his reform of the Julian calendar in 1582) were subsequently recopied. The 2002 MartRom also had some errors and gaps despite its improvements. It was determined, properly, to issue an editio typica altera. The new MartRom underscores the universal call to holiness, God’s call to all people but, “in the first place, the Christian faithful” (in primis christifideles – Praenont. 1). The MartRom reveals that it is possible to live the life of grace amid the variable circumstances of this life, even – and especially – when they are challenging to the point of one’s own death. At the conference I had the chance to chat with the Prefect of the CDWDS, His Eminence Francis Card. Arinze, who is always very kind. He told me that he reads WDTPRS though he can’t get to it every week. The poor man has very little time and, as he said, “it is extensive”. Respondeo dicendum, “You’re telling me, Eminenza!”

Today’s Collect is the Post-communion of the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March) in the 1962MR. Four years ago, when last we saw the Collects, I gave you the traditional version most of you know if you recite the Angelus (which has an indulgence). This time we also get the WDTPRS version since we want to know what the prayer really says. This is also the prayer said traditionally after the Alma Redemptoris Mater, sung following Compline during Advent.


Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.

The last part, per passionem eius et crucem ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur has a wonderful flow to it with its alliteration and snappy cadence (glóriam perducámur), followed as it is by the rhythmically gear changing conclusion, Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum…. Collects are often little masterpieces. They deserve great care in rendering them into a liturgically smooth, yet accurate version. In WDTPRS we are purposely being rather “slavish” in translating so you can see the raw text. Imagine how hard it is to work up good liturgical versions.

We never have to brush dust from our frequently exploited Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary. Therein we find that cognosco is, generally, “to become thoroughly acquainted with (by the senses or mentally), to learn by inquiring…”, but in the perfect tenses (cognovimus) it is “to know” in all periods of Latin. The verb infundo basically is “to pour in, upon, or into” but in the construction (which we see today – infundere alicui aliquid) “to pour out for, to administer to, present to, lay before”. Simply, it can mean, “communicate, impart”. The verb perduco “to lead or bring through”, is “guide a person or thing to a certain goal, to a certain period”. Interestingly, both infundo and perduco can have the overtone of to anoint, or smear with something.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection
for he lives and reigns…

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, (through the same Christ our Lord).

Some people think that “Thee” and “Thou” are formal. Au contraire! These are familiar forms of pronouns for the second person singular used by a superior to an underling or between equals or friends. The “you” form (derived from “ye”) is the more formal! In traditional prayers (Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name…) we address God with a familiar, intimate form not so common today unless you are Amish or Quaker. You will raise an eyebrow or two at the bowling alley if you shift to “thou”: “Since it’s the tenth frame and thou hadst a strike, thrice canst thou bowl. Take up thy ball and bowl, already, ‘cause I gotta go home.” Well… that last phrase shows some ICEL influence, but I think you get my drift. In the Sacramentary (which should have been called the Roman Missal) now in use ICEL improperly provided “Alternative Prayers” having nothing to do with Latin edition which has no alternative opening prayers. If we must have alternative prayers, how about one version having a modern (but accurate) sound and an alternate with “Thee”s and “Thou”s? Here is my defense for this. Providing a more archaic, stylized prayer would cut across differences between, say, the English of Africa, Australia, and Asia. They say Americans and British are two peoples separated by a common language. But not when we read Shakespeare or we say the traditional Our Father! I can back this up from a Vatican document, too. The CDWDS document for the norms of translation, Liturgiam authenticam, says that the language of liturgy should be distinct from daily speech:

27. Even if expressions should be avoided which hinder comprehension because of their excessively unusual or awkward nature, the liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the Church at prayer, rather than of only particular congregations or individuals; thus, they should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression. If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities. Indeed, it will be seen that the observance of the principles set forth in this Instruction will contribute to the gradual development, in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognized as proper to liturgical language. Thus it may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be maintained in the liturgical context.

We beg You, O Lord,
pour Your grace into our minds and hearts,
so that we who came to know the incarnation of Christ Your Son
in the moment the Angel was heralding the news,
may be guided through His Passion and Cross
to the glory of the resurrection.

Carefully note that Angelo nuntiante is an ablative absolute, hard to render in English without using a paraphrase. The participle nuntiante is in the present tense, or better, in a tense “contemporary” with the time of the verb cognovimus having a past tense. Thus, in the very moment the Angel was heralding the good news, we (collectively in the shepherds) knew about how God the Son Eternal took our whole human nature perfectly into an indestructible bond with His divinity. Good Advent shepherds, they rushed to the Coming of the Lord, to see the Word made flesh lying in the wooden manger. “Seeing is believing”, they say, but believing makes us want to see! “Crede ut intellegas! Believe that you may understand!” is a common theme for St. Augustine (e.g., s. 43,4.7; 118,1; Io. eu. tr. 29,6). Today many people automatically oppose faith against reason, authority versus intellect, as if they were mutually exclusive. In fact, faith and authority are indispensible for a deeper rational, intellectual apprehension of anything. In all the deeper questions of human existence, we need the illumination from grace, we must believe and receive. Faith is the foundation of our hope which leads to love and communion with God, as Augustine might say (trin. 8,6). The Angel heralded with authority. The shepherds believed. They rushed to Bethlehem. They saw the Infant. They understood the message. Then they worshipped the Word made flesh Who opened for them a new life.

How often do we hear about something or learn a new thing and then rush to know more, to have personal experience, to see? This is a paradigm for our life of faith. There is an interlocking cycle of hearing a proclamation (such as the Gospel at Mass, a homily, or a teaching of the Church) or observing the living testimony of a holy person’s life, and by this experience coming to know and then love the content of that proclamation or living testimony. The content is the Man God Jesus Christ. By knowing Him we come all the better to love Him and in loving Him we desire better to know Him. An act of faith, acceptance of the authority of the content of what we receive, opens unto previously unknown territory, a vast depth otherwise closed to us. For the non-believer, on the other hand, a miracle is simply something inexplicable having nothing of the supernatural. For a non-believer being nice or hard working can never ascend to true virtue or holiness. For him, the content of the Faith itself (both Jesus as well as what we learn and assent to) appears to be pleasant or interesting, but in the end remains naïve or foolish.

As we rush into Advent’s final days, that first candle we lit on our wreaths is now quite depleted. From 17 December to Christmas Eve solemn days envelop us and the haunting “O Antiphons” of vespers one after another cloak us in our longing: “O come! O come!.. to teach us… redeem us… deliver us… ransom us… free us… enlighten us… save us… save us….” We are deeply wrapped within our penitential holyday cheer because our celebration of the Lord in His First Coming is near to hand, but we do not forget that His Second Coming will bring our final judgment.

Since we are so close now to the great feast of Our Lord’s birth, I extend my warmest greetings and prayerful best wishes to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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