We continue our Lenten journey through the prayers of Holy Mass with today’s
Hostias, quaesumus, Domine, propitius intende,
quas sacris altaribus exhibemus,
ut, nobis indulgentiam largiendo,
tuo nomini dent honorem.
This prayer comes from ancient times. It is in the Gelasian and Veronese Sacramentaries as well as pre-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost.
Largior, in liturgical language, usually has the impact of "accord lavishly". Intendo involves the concept of stretching. It can mean “to stretch towards, extend” and “aim”. It is also “to direct one’s thought toward something” and even “state as a premise in a syllogism”, which should please the Thomists out there! Here it is a gentle imperative, spoken with confident filial humility. We are asking God the Father to give us His attention. When I hear intende I almost see Him turning His neck, bending His fatherly head down to us below, as parents to with their children who are begging some attention so that we can whisper what we want to say into His ear.
O Lord, we entreat You, look favorably upon the victim offerings,
which we are presenting at the sacred altars,
so that, by lavishing pardon upon us,
they may give honor to Your Name.
Interesting is the plural for "altars". This is probably a stylistic use of the plural influence by the sacrificial language of the Hebrews. The Temple had two altars, one of burnt offerings or holocausts and the other for incense. For us, however, we can draw an additional wrinkle of meaning from the plural.
What we celebrate on the altar of this church or that chapel is the same Sacrificial Eucharistic Banquet, Holy Mass, celebrated on every Catholic altar in the world through the centuries to the end of the world.
How important is it then that the Rites be consistent with the universality of practice and meaning there is in that understanding of our unity across the globe and through time?
Additionally, Holy Mass on earth is a reflection of and anticipation of the heavenly liturgy before the throne of God. In the Roman Canon the priest, bent down with his hands upon the altar prays God’s angel to bear the Sacrifice to the altar of heaven.
So, in the plural altaria we can hear an echo of our roots in Jewish ritual of the Old Covenant, while we in the New Covenant are stretched "horizontally" through time and space as well as "vertically" into the Beatific Vision.
The binding theme, however, is very immediate: pardon.
We are members of a vast Church, terrible and splendid and transcendent through time, space and beyond death itself. In the sight of other members of the Church, our ancesters, our brethren in the Church on earth now, and the blessed of heaven, we have the duty to fulfill our part of the plan. When we sin, we thwart our part and let them and ourselves down. God works even with our faults, and provides pardon for the penitent.
And with what great gifts does He provide for our pardon? The gift of His Blood and Body upon our earthly altars.