What Does the Prayer Really Say? Christmas Day – Roman Station: 1st and 3rd Masses – Basilica of St. Mary Major, 2nd Mass – St. Anastasia
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, has a Vigil and Masses on the day itself: in nocte or “during night” (the legendary “Midnight Mass”), in aurora or “during daybreak”, and in die or “during daylight”. WDTPRS examined already the Christmas Day prayers for the “Midnight Mass” but never have we looked at Mass “during the day”. Ad ramos!
COLLECT “in die” – (2002MR)
Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem
et mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti,
da, quaesumus, nobis eius divinitatis esse consortes,
qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps.
Our prayer was in the Veronese and Gelasian, ancient sacramentaries both, and the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum. That source of precious Latin knowledge, the Lewis & Short Dictionary, reveals that reformo is “to shape again, remould, transform, metamorphose, change”. The theological baggage borne by substantia is complex far beyond the scope of this column, but the helpful dictionary of liturgical Latin by Blaise cuts to the chase with “nature”, which works for me. The adjective consors , sortis, is “sharing property with one (as brother, sister, relative), living in community of goods, partaking of in common”, or a noun meaning “a sharer, partner”. The Latin word is formed from cvm and sors (“fate”). When you are a consors you have a common fate or destiny. The word dignitas, “dignity”, adds to the prayer a strong moral content.
O God, who in a wondrous way created the dignity of human nature,
and yet more wondrously shaped it anew,
grant us, we beg, to be partakers of the Godhead of Him
who deigned to become a participant of our humanity.
St. Pope Leo I “the Great” (+441) said in his Christmas sermon of 440: “O Christian, recognize your dignity (dignitatem), and made a partaker (consors) of the divine nature, do not dare by degenerate conduct to return to former baseness. Remember of whose Head and whose body you are a member. Call to mind that you were snatched from the power of the shadows and borne over into the light and kingdom of God. By means of the sacrament of baptism you were made a temple of the Holy Spirit: do not by evil actions drive away from you such a great indweller and to subject yourself once again to the devil’s thralldom: for the blood of Christ is your ransom because he will judge you in truth who has redeemed you in mercy, Christ our Lord. “(s. 1 in Nativitate, 3 – my trans.).
We were made for God and for His glory. In creating us God intended to share with us something of His transforming glory. Our Collect makes a reference to the “divinization” of man by God. There is a twofold way we can see this. First, from the point of view of Christ, is the mystery of the Second Person’s self-emptying: He stooped infinitely below Himself to take up flesh and human soul and become a man, like us in all ways but sin. Next, from our point of view, our human nature created in God’s image, which had a dignity we wounded, is now by the indestructible bond with Christ’s divinity, by the “wondrous exchange”, elevated to an even greater dignity. In Christ our humanity has been taken up already to the right hand of the Father. The Eucharist is our “pledge of future glory”.
The mystery of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas points to the kenosis or self-emptying of the Second Person. We embrace now the humble servitude of Jesus, and look to the magnificent destiny that awaits us won by the wood of Crib and Cross. In every Mass this mystery of the Incarnation must be held closely to our hearts and minds. The Christmas Collect was adapted for the preparation of the chalice by the priest during every Mass. Before the priest raises the chalice upwards in offering, he mingles with the wine a very small quantity of water, just drops. The mingling of water and wine underscores three things. First, it reveals how the Divine Son humbly accepted human nature. Second, it shows how we will be transformed by Him in the life to come. Indeed, we who are baptized into Christ and who receive the Eucharist are already being transformed, like drops of water in His wine. In the mingling of the water and wine, the water loses itself, becoming what the wine is. “O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!”, as the Church sings at Vespers and Lauds on Christmas Octave. As Fathers of the Church expressed it the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we might become the sons of God. This “holy exchange” is the heart of Holy Mass. Bread and wine are given to us by God and we, in turn, collect them, work them, give them back to God who transforms them through the power of the Holy Spirit into the Real Presence of Christ (Body, Blood, soul and divinity). In turn the species of the Eucharist transform us, making us also into acceptable offerings to God. In this marvelous exchange earthly and temporal things mysteriously, sacramentally, become vehicles of the eternal. Third, the mixing of those few (human) drops into the (divine) wine in the chalice (an image of sacrifice and oblation) reveals how lay people must unite their prayers and sacrifices to what the priest offers at the altar: “Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father.” There is a distinction made regarding the way in which the priest and the people offer their sacrifices. The people offer good and acceptable sacrifice to God from their “baptismal priesthood”, as members of Christ, who is High Priest. But the priest makes a very different kind of sacrifice, as alter Christus… another Christ. So, the people at Mass must unite their good offerings to those of the priest. The mingling of the water and wine is a good moment to make a conscious effort to do precisely that.
We all have difficulties and sufferings. Like you I have burdens, for myself and for others. If Christ can transform our human nature through a touch of His divinity, He can transform our sorrows and cares. In the confessional I often suggest to people that when the chalice is being prepared, they should pour their troubles into that chalice with the little bit of water which will be taken in by the wine and then be transformed with the wine in the consecration. Give it all back to God through the Sacrifice of the Cross, through Holy Mass.
The core of today’s Collect prayer leads us seamlessly into the…
SUPER OBLATA “in die”- (2002MR)
Oblatio tibi sit, Domine, hodiernae sollemnitatis accepta,
qua et nostrae reconciliationis processit perfecta placatio,
et divini cultus nobis est indita plenitudo.
Remember that in these “Prayers over the gifts” of bread and wine God will transubstantiate through the priest are couched in the language of propitiation: we must placate the God against whom we have so grievously sinned in both the Original Sin of our first parents and in our own actual sins.
That qua is really an adverb meaning, “on which side, at or in which place, in what direction, where, by what way”. Both Blaise and Souter are without comment about indo but dependable L&S says it is, “to put, set, or place into or upon” and also “to impart or give to, apply to, impose on, attach to”. Cultus, us (from colo) refers to the worship and honor due to divinity. My sense of perfecta, from perficio, is “having been brought to completion”, rather than simply “perfect”. This super elegant prayer, filled with rhetorical flourishes, was in both the Veronese and Gelasian Sacramentary among the Christmas texts, but absent from the Missale Romanum until the Novus Ordo.
O Lord, let the sacrificial offering of today’s solemnity be acceptable to You,
from whence issued forth the completed appeasing of our reconciliation,
and also was imparted to us the fullness of divine worship.
This prayer is quoted in the Council’s document Sacrosanctum Concilium 5, in the section examining “The Nature of the Sacred Liturgy and Its Importance in the Church’s Life”. Read this aloud and hear how Christmassy it is: “5. God who ‘wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4), ‘who in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets’ (Heb. 1:1), when the fullness of time had come sent His Son, the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to be a ‘bodily and spiritual medicine’, the Mediator between God and man. For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in Christ ‘the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the fullness of divine worship was given to us’.”
Our “Prayer after Communion”, from the Gelasian and Veronese, was in the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum. As is the case of the Collect and Super oblata, there is a deep stylistic elegance which delights the ear.
POST COMMUNION “in die” – (2002MR)
Praesta, misericors Deus, ut natus hodie Salvator mundi,
sicut divinae nobis generationis est auctor,
ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor.
The first prayer of the Mass set the stage for our active participation in Communion. Though expressed in exalted language, it conveyed an attitude of humility before the creation of man in God’s image, the Eternal Word’s self-emptying in the Incarnation, and the possibility of our transformation both in the Eucharist to be received in the course of the sacred mysteries this day and in the happiness of heaven to come. In the second prayer, before the Eucharistic Prayer and consecration, we recognized how we sinners have need to appease God and how the God made Man, Jesus Christ was the source both of reconciliation and also of the very Mass we are participating in, the perfect form of worship renewing our completed reconciliation. In this final prayer we put book ends around our grasp of today’s meaning. We were able to partake of Communion and actively participate in Mass first and foremost because of our divine regeneration in baptism, deepened in a good reception of the Blessed Sacrament in Mass. At the same time, we see how our rebirth in the life of the Trinity in baptism aims ultimately at eternal life and our ongoing transformation in heaven. The “just as… so too” structure of the prayer shows us how the “Savior of the world born today” is the fulcrum both of all the ages of the world, born as He was in the “fullness of time”, but also of our own lives as individuals. All of the prayers today are connected by the theme of the transformation of man’s human nature from his sinful state to a state of glory in the transforming assumption of our human nature by Second Person of the Trinity who, once born, is Jesus Christ – our brother in our humanity while remaining our God in His divinity.
Grant, O merciful God, that just as the Savior of the world born today
is for us the author of divine generation,
so too may He be the bestower of immortality.
With Leo the Great, I extend to you and yours for a Merry and Holy Christmas: “Peace was the first thing proclaimed by the angelic choir and the Lord’s Nativity. It is peace which gives birth to children of God. Peace nurses love, engenders unity, gives repose to the blessed, and provides a home to eternity.” (s. 26.3)