What Does the Prayer Really Say? Epiphany

EXCERPTED from the 2006 article:

LATIN (2002 Missale Romanum):
Caelesti lumine, quaesumus, Domine,
semper et ubique nos praeveni,
ut mysterium, cuius nos participes esse voluisti,
et puro cernamus intuitu, et digno percipiamus affectu.

This prayer was once the Postcommunio of the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord observed on 13 January according to the 1962MR unless it happened that the day coincided with the first Sunday after Epiphany, in which case the feast of the Holy Family was celebrated.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
guide us with your light.
Help us to recognize Christ in this eucharist
and welcome him with love.

As much as I hate to pick on the lame duck ICEL versions, this is less than good. I think we can do better without even trying to make a smooth and elegant version suitable for Mass.

And as always when we do this, we want to know just what those words really mean. You know where to find the meanings too. Our vocabulary is fairly straight forward. We could review intuitus, related to the verb intueor, meaning, “a look, view” and thus also, “respect, consideration”. In his Eucharistic poem Adoro te devote St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor, Deum tamen meum te confiteor:… ”I do not view your wounds as Thomas did, nevertheless I profess You to be my God”. Moer about intuitus below. Affectus, which we have seen before, is from the complicated verb aff– or adficio and means many things. It is apparently not used as a substantive. In order to understand what is happening with this word, we need to look at another derivative of afficio: the noun affectio. Briefly, affectio is “The relation to or disposition toward a thing produced in a person by some influence” and “A change in the state or condition of body or mind, a state or frame of mind, feeling (only transient, while habitus is lasting).”

O Lord, we beg you,
go before us always and everywhere with heavenly illumination,
so that we may discern with a pure regard the sacramental mystery,
of which you desired us to be participants,
and perceive it with a worthy disposition.

At first glance, you will see immediately a reference to the miraculous star that led the Magi to the Christ Child: “go before us with a celestial light (lumen).” There are also verbs of perceiving and discerning in our prayer (cerno…percipio). We have the image of some in a journey through a dark place who needs both light and also sharpened senses so that he can make the best use of that light lest he lose his way and himself in the losing. Think of the way that Dante is led from the chaos of his life to the light of reason through the allegorical figures sent to guide his way out of the symbolic “dark wood.” Think of the way, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, light is always a sign of grace aiding those in dire need, such as when the light of a special star captured in a vial illuminates a dark path for Frodo and Sam as they are trying to carry their horrible burden, the Ring, into Mordor as an act of pure self-sacrifice. We pray for light from above, “heavenly” light. Our prayer today offers a metaphor for our interior journey to Christ. We need graces and lights from above in order to find our way or, as the case may be, find our way back out of the darkness into which we may have fallen. We must therefore consider further the verb praevenio. This signifies, “to come before, precede, get the start of, to outstrip, anticipate, to prevent; to come or go beforehand (late Lat.).”

The word praevenio will remind us right away of the theological distinction made when speaking of actual graces. You recall that God gives us habitual grace, also called sanctifying grace. This is in us as a habit is in us, in a stable and abiding manner. Actual graces are given to us according to our needs here and now, in this or that circumstance. Theologians identify in this category of actual graces something called gratia praeveniens, or “prevenient grace” and sometimes even “preventing grace” (defined by the Council of Trent, cf. Session VI, ch. 5 – we will leave aside for the sake of brevity the erroneous use of this term in some Reformation theologians). God made us with a free will, though that will is now wounded from the effects of original sin. When we are in need, especially when we have fallen into habitual sins and our will has little strength to extricate ourselves from our dark path, God gives the actual grace that, in a sense, “goes before” other graces, such as the actual graces we can receive, such as the sacramental graces from a good confession and absolution. He helps us to repent and be strong to confess before we take action. He does not constrain or bypass our will, but strengthens and cooperates with it through a freely given gift. We find examples of preventing or prevenient graces in the pages of Scripture as, for example, with a reluctant person hears the voice of God (e.g. Jeremiah or the person described in John 6:44). The patristic formula that describes this is Gratia est in nobis, sed sine nobis, that is, grace (as a vital act) is in our soul, but it does not comes from the soul; it is an salutary coming immediately from God (cf. St. Augustine De grat. et lib. arbitr., 17, 33).

When we consider the prayer from this light, we see also a new possibility in intuitus, which is more than just a physical sighting of a thing coming to view. The same Augustine says, “’The mind, when directed towards intelligible things in the natural order, according to the disposition of the creator, sees them in a certain incorporeal light which is sui generis, just as the physical eye sees nearby objects in corporeal light” (cf. De Trinitate 12,15,24). This has to do with spiritual sight in an analogy with physical sight. Grace, then, illumines the soul in such a way that we can discern and perceive clearly spiritual realities, hidden from the sight of the body’s eyes. At the time of Holy Communion it is good to bring to mind what we should have learned in catechism: sacraments are outward signs sensible to the body’s senses that confer invisible grace, perceived only with the eyes of the soul illuminated by grace, both habitual and actual. Think of the moment in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus sees the wealthy young man who has kept the commandments. In the Vulgate we read: “Iesus autem intuitus eum dilexit eum…Jesus looked at/perceived him and loved Him.” Jesus was doing more than just look at the fellows face. We can read much in the face of someone else. We can often perceive falsehood or trustworthiness. In this moment, Christ saw through to the depths of this young man’s soul. He saw with a different sight the spiritual reality and state of the man before Him. God sees us always in this way. We asked Him in this prayer to grant us a sharing in His life (grace) so that we can look back at Him in the moment of Communion and see Him with spiritual eyes. This is an anticipation of how we hope to see Him face to face in the life to come.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

  1. Father, I am a priest in the Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Antioch). I am much encouraged to see that there are many such as yourself who are resisting the vacuous banalities of the ICEL “translations” and through good scholarship are helping to restore the radiance of the venerable Roman rite. In so doing you are making it easer for our liturgical traditions and practice to converge which is an indispensable aid toward that unity the Lord wills for both our communions. Pray for me a sinner.

    Fr. Gregory Hallam
    St. Aidan’s Orthodox Church, Manchester UK

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