WDTPRS – 1st Sunday of Advent – SUPER OBLATA (2002MR): thresholds

Today’s Ordinary Form Super Oblata prayer, the prayer over the offerings during the Offertory, is found in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary amidst prayers for the month of July.

Suscipe, quaesumus, Domine, munera
quae de tuis offerimus collata beneficiis,
et, quod nostrae devotioni concedis effici temporali,
tuae nobis fiat praemium redemptionis aeternae

Note the scrambling of word order for rhetorical effect.  Words that go together are separated and concepts are embedded between them.  This elegant rhetorical interlocking delights both ear and mind.  It also reflects how the concepts are interconnected.  Latin challenges us to hold different ideas in our minds as we wait for the final word and the sentence’s resolution, almost as a juggler foils the fall of many objects of differing shapes.  This sometimes makes rendering Latin into smooth English rather hard.

In ancient Roman terms, a devotio, a form of a consecratio, was the ritual dedication of an enemy, or self-dedication, to the gods of the underworld, the dii manes.  For example, when the Romans were struggling for their existence against a coalition of Gauls and Samnites in 295 BC, the consul Publius Decius Mus performed a devotio and then rode to the enemy with his toga drawn over his head, and the enemy killed him.  Romans didn’t want to die with their head or feet uncovered.  You might remember that when Julius Caesar was killed, before he died he struggled to cover his feet and head.  The Roman pontifex maximus prayed and sacrifice with the toga drawn over the head.  For a military devotio, a the “devoted” general, in a toga, leaned on a spear and repeated it a pray spoken by the pontifiex. With the toga over his head, like a priest (“Gabine fashion”) he rode over to the enemy.  If the “devoted” one survived, he was never again to perform a religious act.  If “devoted” survived, a large statue had to be buried in his stead.  Another kind of devotio is in the example during the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC, when some senators remained in their homes, in togas, waiting to be killed by the invaders.  A famous instance of the devotio was that of a senator who pledged to commit suicide if the emperor Caligula recovered from an illness.  Caligula recovered and demanded payment.  The episode is in I, Claudius if I recall.

In any event, the devotio was an act of self-sacrifice, ritually performed, to take upon oneself the salvation of others.  There was a spiritual dedication for a temporal effect.  Devotio is a word super-charged by centuries of Roman habits of prayer and the concept of sacrifice.

Take up, O Lord, we beg You, the gifts we are offering
which were gathered together from Your favors,
and let that which You grant to be accomplished by our temporal dedication
become for us the reward of Your eternal redemption

Remember that the first part of Roman prayers will invoke God according to some characteristic and the, in light of that characteristic, will present a petition.

In this case we recognize God as the source of benefits and that what we have on the altar is from Him. In light of that, the prayer sets up a contrast between the eternal and the temporal, that which is bound to time now. In the temporal sphere, God responds to our devotio, and what is granted then becomes, eventually, an eternal reward.  Note the way the clauses end in “temporal” and “eternal”

Father, from all you give us
we present this bread and wine.
As we serve you now,
accept our offering
and sustain us with your promise of eternal life

The now obsolete – HURRAY! – ICEL version emphasized the “meal” aspect of Mass rather than the transforming “sacrificial” dimension. The Latin says munera, “gifts”, but ICEL says “bread and wine”; panem et vinum are not in the Latin original. Of course at this point in Mass munera indicates the bread and wine on the altar. Tthe obsolete ICEL restricts us to the obvious elements of bread and wine. The Latin is less restrictive. Munera embraces all that we bring to the Lord at Mass, material and spiritual sacrifices.

The Latin word collata brings to my mind an image of laborers in fields and vineyards, quarries, orchards and forests, reaping, gathering, mining, collecting what their own labor and God’s blessings produce. Obsolete ICEL did not deal with collata. Collata (means “gathered together” – like English “collate” cf. confero in the useful Lewis & Short Dictionary: “to collect, gather together” and thence “to bring together for comparison” which is where we get the abbreviation “cf.” meaning “compare with”).

The Latin juxtaposes what we do and what God does. In the obsolete ICEL version we want God to “sustain” us with a “promise”. In the Latin we beg God to receive back from us what He already gave and subsequently cause those things to be entirely transformed (fiat) into the “reward of eternal salvation” – Himself. The structure of the prayer, by the complex way it weaves concepts between words that go together grammatically, hints at what the prayer really says: by our work and dedication we must give back to Him good things which were already His in anticipation of His transforming them as only He can.

Christ makes Himself the reward of our efforts.

Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make,
gathered from among your gifts to us,
and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below
gain for us the prize of eternal redemption

Keep our context in mind: this is the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for the Coming of the Lord.

Advent is back to back with the observance of the Lord’s final coming at the end of the world. Advent is a time of penance before the First Coming of the Infant King.

Advent is liminal season, like a threshold, blending the end of the world with its rebirth in the new Adam. Advent is also about the how the Lord comes in actual graces, in the words of the priest…Hoc est enim corpus meum….This is my Body, in Holy Communion and in the person neighbor, especially the needy.

St. John the Baptist admonishes us during Advent to make straight Christ’s path, for He truly is coming. Christ Himself will straighten our paths His own way if have not taken care to straighten them beforehand.

It is a new liturgical year. Pray that this upcoming season of preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas will bring us and our loved one many material and spiritual blessings.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you Father Z for taking the time to teach us – especially on the Lord’s Day.

  2. I find ancient Roman superstition very entertaining. There’s also the episode of “devotion” where a young knight rides in full armour into a giant chasm that had formed in the middle of the Forum in order to expiate this prodigy, as the Romans would put it:

    “6. eodem anno, seu motu terrae seu qua ui alia, forum medium ferme specu uasto conlapsum in immensam altitudinem dicitur; [2] neque eam uoraginem coniectu terrae, cum pro se quisque gereret, expleri potuisse, priusquam deum monitu quaeri coeptum quo plurimum populus Romanus posset; [3] id enim illi loco dicandum uates canebant, si rem publicam Romanam perpetuam esse uellent. tum M. Curtium, iuuenem bello egregium, castigasse ferunt dubitantes an ullum magis Romanum bonum quam arma uirtusque esset; [4] silentio facto templa deorum immortalium, quae foro imminent, Capitoliumque intuentem et manus nunc in caelum, nunc in patentes terrae hiatus ad deos manes porrigentem, se deuouisse; [5] equo deinde quam poterat maxime exornato insidentem, armatum se in specum immisisse; donaque ac fruges super eum a multitudine uirorum ac mulierum congestas lacumque Curtium non ab antiquo illo T. Tati milite Curtio Mettio sed ab hoc appellatum.” (Ab Urbe Condita, 7.6)

  3. Patruus says:

    Fr. Z.

    In the literal translation you posted on 1 December 2008, “nostrae devotioni temporali” came out as “for our temporal devotion”, which strikes me as a better fit for the Latin datives than the above ablative-sounding “by our temporal dedication”.

  4. James Joseph says:

    In this regard,

    I offer up True Devotion to Mary for the souls in Purgatory.

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