WDTPRS: Quinquagesima

Here is a sample of what I write in The Wanderer each week (some of the format was lost in pasting it over here, but I am too lazy to put it back in):

What Does the Prayer Really Say?   Quinquagesima Sunday (1962 Missale Romanum) Roman station Mass: St. Peter’s in the Vatican

There is still great discussion going about in periodicals and the blogosphere about Pope Benedict XVI, for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel, celebrating Mass using the main altar instead of an ad hoc structure so that everyone could be focused toward the Crucifix, ad orientem.  The new papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, had an interview with Vatican Radio on 20 January in which he once again explained what the Pope was about.  Among his comments, he said (my translation and emphases):

I believe it is important, above all, to consider the orientation that a liturgical celebration is always called to have: I’m referring to the centrality of the Lord, the Savior crucified and raised from death. Such an orientation must determine the interior disposition of the entire assembly and, consequently, also the external mode of celebrating. The placement of the Cross on the altar at the center of the assembly is able to convey this fundamental content of liturgical theology. … In the Eucharistic liturgy we do not look at each other, but one looks to Him who is our East, the Savior. I think it is also important to remember that the time in which the celebrant … “turns his back to the faithful” is relatively brief: the entire liturgy of the Word [in the Novus Ordo] occurs as usual, with the celebrant turned towards the assembly, thus indicating the dialog of salvation that God weaves together with His people. Therefore, this is no return to the past, but rather the recovery of a mode of celebration that in no way calls into question the teachings and directives of the Second Vatican Council. … The liturgy of the Church, nay rather, her life as well, is made from continuity. I would say it is from development in continuity. This means the Church proceeds in her historical journey without losing sight of her own roots and her own living tradition: this can require, in some cases, also the recovery of precious and important elements which may have been lost along the way, forgotten, and that the passage of time has rendered less bright in their authentic meaning. It seems to me that the Motu Proprio [Summorum Pontificum] moves exactly in this direction: reaffirming with great clarity that in the liturgical life of the Church there is continuity, without rupture.

Take note that Msgr. Marini speaks of the interior disposition of the faithful which then has an impact on the outward manner of praying.  As WDTPRS has explained scores of times, the active participation desired by Popes of the last century and by the Council Fathers begins with a receptivity that is inwardly active: we unite our hearts and minds to the liturgical action in which Christ the High Priest is the true actor, so that we can receive the graces He offers.  A consequence of our interiorly active receptivity must necessarily be an outward, physical expression.  Through our baptism, which makes us sharers in Christ’s priesthood, during the liturgical action the Lord, the Head of the Mystical Body and the liturgical assembly, is the true Actor.  The High Priest, the Head, is represented especially in the priest who is alter Christus, another Christ, because of his sacred ordination.  At the same time, the Body of Christ is present in the congregation.  When the congregation sings, speaks, and moves, Christ the Body, is acting. Together, priest and people, each in their own roles, form one “liturgical person”, Head and Body united, all oriented to the Lord who is to return, raising prayers to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.  Your words and actions are His and His Yours.

But if our inward disposition, beginning with baptism, gives rise to outward liturgical expression, so too does the outward liturgical expression shape and define our inner character.  There is a reciprocal relationship between the rite we celebrate and who we are interiorly as Catholics.  This is the heart of the venerable Latin phrase lex orandi lex credendi: the rule of praying is the rule of believing.  If we change our manner of prayer, a change in our belief inevitably follows.  And vice versa.

This is why Pope Benedict’s “Marshall Plan” to reinvigorate Catholic identity must have a liturgical component.  Liturgy is the tip of the spear.  In his televised Masses from St. Peter’s Basilica and elsewhere, His Holiness is presenting a model based on his profound liturgical theology.  He has been placing the Crucifix between the celebrant and congregation when in the Basilica, where in order to face geographic East the building’s floor plan puts the altar between the celebrant and people.  The Crucifix becomes the reference point, not the celebrant.  In celebrating toward the liturgical East, at the main altar of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict reminded everyone that it is perfectly legitimate to orient everyone in the same liturgical direction.  No document of the Council or after requires celebration of Mass “facing the people”. No document forbids Mass ad orientem.  As a matter of fact, the rubrics of the Missale Romanum even in the Novus Ordo editions presuppose that Mass is being celebrated ad orientem.  There are directions for the priest to turn toward the people and then once again turn toward the altar.  In a sense, according to book, Mass “facing the people” ought to be the exception.

In these WDTPRS articles we are this year focusing on the prayer of the 1962 Missale Romanum rather than those of the Novus Ordo as we have done for the last seven years: in the wake of the monumental Summorum Pontificum, in keeping with Pope Benedict’s plan and a “hermeneutic of continuity”, we are drilling into the traditional prayers to understand what in them may be different and similar to how we pray in the Novus Ordo.  Thus, if we ask the question “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” of prayers for individual Masses, we must also ask that question of the very way that the prayer is physically oriented.  What does it mean to pray ad orientem or versus populum?  Why is this important to every Catholic and every priest in every parish?

The great German liturgist, the late Msgr. Klaus Gamber, who so influenced great liturgical theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger, thought that the single greatest damaging change in the post-Conciliar reform was the turning around of altars.  This makes perfect sense.  In the posthumous compilation entitled The Reform of the Liturgy (Roman Catholic Books, 1993) Gamber states:

Liturgy and faith are interdependent. This is why a new rite was created, a rite that in many ways reflects the bias of the new (modernist) theology. The traditional liturgy simply could not be allowed to exist in its established form because it was permeated with the truths of the traditional faith and the ancient forms of piety. For this reason alone, much was abolished and new rites, prayers and hymns were introduced, as were the new readings from Scripture, which conveniently left out those passages that did not square with the teachings of modern theology–for example, references to a God who judges and punishes. (p. 100)

I am reading the new book A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Liturgical Press, 2007) by the long-time and now former papal Master of Ceremonies Archbishop Piero Marini.  Marini was from his youth a worker in the office of the infamous Consilium under Fr. Annibale Bugnini, justly called perhaps the chief architect of the Novus Ordo.  Marini’s book is intended as a supplement to Bugnini’s own The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-1975) (Liturgical Press, 1990).   Marini gets to the heart of what the avant-garde proponents of liturgical restructuring wanted to accomplish.  The members of the Consilium enacted, “one of the greatest liturgical reforms in the history of the Western church.  Unlike the reform after Trent, it was all the greater because it also dealt with doctrine” (p. 46).

This is why, for them, it was so important to make sure that the original ancient prayers were redrafted, that the power of liturgical governance was stripped from the Roman Curia and handed over to regional conferences of bishops, and that the vernacular was introduced to the virtual extinction of Latin, and that Mass was celebrated versus populum.

With great insight, Klaus Gamber wrote,

Real change in the contemporary perception of the purpose of the Mass and the Eucharist will occur only when the table altars are removed and Mass is again celebrated at the high altar; when the purpose of the Mass is again seen as an act of adoration and glorification of God and of offering thanks for His blessings, for our salvation and for the promise of the heavenly life to come, and as the mystical reenactment of the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. (p. 175)

What Pope Benedict is doing with the positioning of the Cross for his televised celebrations of Mass is of enormous importance.  

It is time to begin pressing this issue.

In our traditional Roman calendar this Sunday is Quinquagesima, Latin for the symbolic “Fiftieth” day before Easter.  Today is one of the pre-Lenten Sundays which prepare us for the discipline of Lent. The priest’s vestments are purple, and there is no Alleluia. The prayers and readings for the pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great (+604).   After the Second Vatican Council, under Paul VI, the liturgical reformers eliminated the pre-Lent Sundays, much to our detriment.  

Preces nostras, quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi:
atque, a peccatorum vinculis absolutos,
ab omni nos adversitate custodi.

The ponderous Lewis & Short Dictionary reminds us that absolvo, vi, utum, means “to loosen from, to make loose, set free, detach, untie” or in juridical language “to absolve from a charge, to acquit, declare innocent”.  The priest uses this word when he absolves you of the bonds of your sins.  

We beseech You, O Lord, graciously attend to our prayers:
and, having been loosed from the chains of sins,
guard us from every adversity.

The Sacrament of Penance is the great gift.  In all good will we must strive to live without mortal sin.  But we fall.  We pray to God to protect us from the dire consequences of sin, including the attacks of the Enemy, which on our own without God’s help we cannot resist.  Do not forget that among the benefits of the Sacrament of Penance, along with being freed from the chains of sins, we are also strengthened to resist sin in the future.  Use this mighty sacrament.  

Haec hostia, Domine, quaesumus, emundet nostra delicta:
et ad sacrificum celebrandum,
subditorum tibi corpora mentesque sanctificet.

Subdo is “to put, place, set, or lay under; to bring under, subject, subdue”.

O Lord, may this sacrificial offering cleanse away our sins,
and may it sanctify the bodies and minds of  those subject to You
unto the Sacrifice now to be celebrated.

Human beings are both body and soul.  The wounds to our human nature from the Fall of our First Parents affected us both spiritually and physically.  The whole human person needs healing. Therefore, the Word took up all of our human nature, perfect human body and soul, so that the whole of man could be redeemed.  At Mass there is also an inward component and an outward physical expression.  Both must be active, each in their own proper manner and moment.  The key in both cases is that we who are active participants nevertheless remain the subjects of the Lord, in the sense that we are entirely dependent on Him.

Quaesumus, omnipotens Deus:
ut qui caelestia alimenta percipimus,
per haec contra omnia adversa muniamur.

We entreat You, Almighty God:
that we who grasp the heavenly nourishments,
may be fortified through them against every adversity.

Lent is coming.  Prepare yourselves for its discipline.  Do not flag in your planning and resolve.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Fr. Z, you are doing a great service in explaining and carefully translating these prayers. Thank you. I can read the Latin, but having an explanation is very helpful.

  2. Janet says:

    Thanks for this explanation of today’s prayers, Father. Today I will be able to attend a TLM here in Birmingham, for which I am very grateful. Our new Bishop, Robert Baker, is actively encouraging the TLM in this diocese, and we now have one on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month. Eventually it may be possible to set up a totally “1962 Mass” parish here in Birmingham, but for now, twice a month is a great start.
    (and anticipating a possible question or suggestion of yours, yes I have already sent Bp. Robert a nice Thank You card for his work in encouraging the TLM in our diocese.)

  3. Thank you very much, Father, for this post.

    I couldn’t agree more with Klaus Gamber and similarly minded liturgists like
    Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Fr. Uwe Lang, and many more.

    I write not out of nostalgia for a bygone age, but as a Catholic concerned for the present and future.

    I was a teenager when circa 1965 the high altar was suddenly abandoned.

    The sanctuary was the sacred part of the church.
    It was the most richly decorated, to emphasise its central role.
    The place where the priest , turned towards the Lord, led the people in worship.

    Unlike the Holy of Holies in the Temple, it was not divided or hidden from the people by a veil.
    Unlike the Eastern Churches, the sanctuary was not divided from the people by an iconostasis.
    Nor was it divided by a rood screen, as in most medieval churches in Europe.

    But there was the nave, used by the people.
    And there was the sanctuary, used by the priest.

    And at the apex of the sanctuary stood the high altar, where the sacred mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass was offered.

    The sanctuary was the holiest part of the church, a place set apart for the sacred actions performed by the priest, where the high altar was the focal point of the entire church.

    And suddenly, the priest had turned his back on all that, and was standing behind a table altar facing the people, instead of standing before the high altar, facing the Lord.

    The Mass as we had known it all our lives, as it had existed for many centuries, was replaced with what appeared to be a Lutheran communion service.

    It was a complete revolution, culturally, visually, architecturally.
    But most of all theologically, because it was saying something very different from the old arrangement of the sanctuary.

    And it was introduced with great pastoral insensitivity.

    I never got used to it.

    Of course I understand the significance of celebrating ad orientem, facing liturgical east, etc.

    But I wonder if this is why I prefer to think of the priest facing ad Deum, ad Dominum, towards the Lord, towards the Holy, the Other, the transcendent.

    Now Pope Benedict has derestricted the “old” Mass.
    And he has shown us how the Novus Ordo can and should be celebrated.

    May many priests soon follow his example.

    Thank you, Father, for these translations .
    They are a a great help and there is much to meditate on.

    I hope you are enjoying you visit amongst us, here in England.
    You are very, very welcome.

  4. pjo says:


    Does anyone of you have the latin formula of St. Blasius blessing with candles?

  5. Kate Asjes says:

    Were my priest to celebrate the Novus Ordo ad orientum, he would literally face, hanging on the expansive white wall, a giant, androgenous “man”, in a white dress, cinched fetchingly at the waist, clearly not suffering (but a little down in the mouth), arms extended out from the wall. The “cross” is alluded to by four planks of wood, fixed to the wall around “him”, but not touching “him”. There is just something down-right creepy to me about all of the congregation following the priest THERE…

    My husband pointed out that at a certain time of the year, when the sun comes through the windows just so during the 8:30 Mass, its extended fingers actually cast a clear shadow which creates dark horns upon the head of the artistic representation of the “corpus”. How can one even describe this “crusifix” without dishonoring the Sacrifice of Jesus?

    Pope Benedict has a long row to hoe.

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