WDTPRS “Low” Sunday, “Mercy” Sunday, “Quasimodo” Sunday, Sunday “in albis”

Thomas CaravaggioThis Sunday has many nicknames.  In the post-Conciliar calendar it is the “Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy)”.  It is also called “Thomas Sunday” (because of the Gospel reading about the doubting Apostle), and “Quasimodo Sunday” (from the first word of the Introit), and “Low Sunday”.

This is also the conclusion of the Octave of Easter, during which we halted our liturgical clocks and contemplated the mysteries we celebrated from different points of view.

Since ancient times this Sunday has been called “Dominica in albis” or “in albis depositis”, the Sunday of the “white robes having been taken off.”  1 Peter 2:2-3 says:

“Like (Quasimodo – from a Latin Scripture translation that pre-dated the Vulgate by St Jerome) newborn babes (infantes), long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

Holy Mass on “Low Sunday” begins with an exhortation of the newly baptized, who were called infantes.  The infantes wore their white baptismal robes for the “octave” period following Easter during which they received special instruction from the bishop about the sacred mysteries and about the Christian life.  Today they put off their robes and, in some places, left them in the cathedral treasury as a perpetual witness to their baptismal vows.

Today’s Collect, based on a prayer in the Missale Gothicum, begins by calling God merciful:

Deus misericordiae sempiternae, qui in ipso paschalis festi recursu fidem sacratae tibi plebis accendis, auge gratiam quam dedisti, ut digna omnes intellegentia comprehendant, quo lavacro abluti, quo spiritu regenerati, quo sanguine sunt redempti.

Those clauses with quo, having no conjunctions (a trope called asyndeton) gives this prayer a forceful feeling, as do those abluti…regenerati…redempti with the single sunt.

Accendo means “to kindle anything above so that it burns downward” and also “to illuminate, to inflame a person or thing”.  It recalls the fiery liturgical imagery of the Vigil.  Comprehendo, a vast verb, is “to lay hold of something on all sides.” Think of “comprehensive”. It concerns grasping something with the mind in a thorough way (on all sides).  A lavacrum is “a bath”.  In Titus 3:5 we read, “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy (misericordiam), by the washing of regeneration (lavacrum regenerationis)…”.  Abluo, “to wash off, wash away, cleanse, purify”, is used by Cicero (d 43 BC) to describe a calming of the passions through a religious rite of washing away sin (Tusc 4, 28, 60) and also by the poet philosopher Lucretius (d AD 55) to describe the removal of darkness by the bringing in of light (De rerum natura 4, 378).  Early Latin speaking Christians adapted and “baptized” existing religious vocabulary to express their faith as it grew over time with new theological insights.  Abluo was ready made to be adapted to describe the effects of baptism.

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.

A LITERAL TRANSLATION:

O God of eternal mercy,
who on this recurrence of the paschal feast
do kindle the faith of a people sanctified for Yourself,
increase the grace which You have given,
so that all may comprehend with worthy understanding
by what laver they were washed,
by what Spirit they were regenerated,
by what Blood they were redeemed
.

The priest prays that, by the recurring sacred mysteries we veteran Christians and neophytes, together as a people, will be always renewed and that our grasp of how we have been redeemed and our comprehension of the effects of that redemption will continually deepen.

We who were once set on fire with the indwelling of the Spirit, should each day ask God to rekindle us, burn us up again from above.  We should pray daily for an increase of a faith that seeks to grasp, comprehend, understand ever more fully who Our Lord is and who we have become in Him.  Grace and faith precede and prepare our fuller comprehension.  On our own we can grasp only so much.  Faith brings to completion what reason begins to explore. As the ancient adage goes: “Nisi credideritis non intellegetis… Unless you will have first believed, you will not understand.”

St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached to his infantes with the imagery of spring, and compared the newly baptized to little birds trying to fly from the nest while the parent bird (Augustine himself) flapped around them chirping noisily to encourage them (s. 376a).  Then they were then out of the nest of the bishop, as it were, on their own in living their Catholic lives.

Holy Church wants us to comprehend these mysteries in a way that makes a concrete difference.  The infantes had to get to the business of living as Catholics after they put off their white robes.  Those of us who were baptized long ago must remember always to continue wearing our baptismal garments in our hearts and to live outwardly the Catholic faith we put on within.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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15 Responses to WDTPRS “Low” Sunday, “Mercy” Sunday, “Quasimodo” Sunday, Sunday “in albis”

  1. msc says:

    Thanks, again, Father. I continue to be impressed by your sensitivity to words and language. I’d be happy to have you in one of my literature classes.

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  3. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Father,

    Since our clocks halted for a week, this prompts a question: why is Easter a privileged Octave, but Christmas not a privileged Octave? Other octaves exist — and some are privileged — but what makes an octave privileged?

  4. I wonder whether the Roman rite’s corpus of classical Latin orations contains a more elegant construction than this collect’s quo/quo/quo conclusion with its forceful rhyme and rhythm:

    quo lavacro abluti,
    quo spiritu regenerati,
    quo sanguine
    sunt redempti.

    In comparison with which the weak beginning of the original English translation seems all the more painfully clumsy:

    ICEL 1973
    God of mercy,
    you wash away our sins in water,
    you give us new birth in the Spirit,
    and redeem us in the blood of Christ.

    As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection
    increase our awareness of these blessings,
    and renew your gift of life within us.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    “I wonder whether the Roman rite’s corpus of classical Latin orations contains a more elegant construction than this collect’s quo/quo/quo conclusion with its forceful rhyme and rhythm” – Henry

    True enough, at least for those very few members of the assembly that are conversant in Latin and know what the words mean.

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  7. Cornelius says:

    But Father, but Father! The online Vulgate I consulted (www.sacred-texts.com) for 1 Peter 2:2-3 has “sicut modo”, not quasimodo. I much prefer the latter. What gives?

  8. Cornelius:

    Quasimodo reflects a Latin Scripture version which predates what became the Vulgate. Quasimodo and Sicut modo are interchangeable.

  9. “True enough, at least for those very few members of the assembly that are conversant in Latin and know what the words mean.”

    And now, thanks to Liturgiam authenticam and ICEL 2011, the force of the original Latin is (at long last) approached by the English:

    in what font they have been washed,
    by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
    by whose Blood they have been redeemed.

  10. jameeka says:

    Thank you Father Z–definitely one of the better Collects.
    That Caravaggio painting is worth several homilies in itself. What love is emanating from it, and future acts of love in store.

  11. albinus1 says:

    “Like (Quasimodo – from a Latin Scripture translation that pre-dated the Vulgate by St Jerome) newborn babes (infantes)”

    and

    “Quasimodo reflects a Latin Scripture version which predates what became the Vulgate. Quasimodo and Sicut modo are interchangeable.”

    In addition, modo as used here is a temporal adverb modifying geniti; it doesn’t go with quasi (or sicut), despite the fact that quasimodo in this verse is often written as one word: “Like (quasi/sicut) just-now (modo) -born (geniti) babes (infantes) …”

    So Hugo’s use of “Quasimodo” as a name makes sense only as a reference to this Scripture verse (and Introit); by itself, “quasimodo” doesn’t really mean anything. But then that goes for a lot of Latin mottos and tags, which are really snippets of longer quotations and only make sense in their original context.

    ***

    I wonder whether the Roman rite’s corpus of classical Latin orations contains a more elegant construction than this collect’s quo/quo/quo conclusion with its forceful rhyme and rhythm

    That sort of repetition is a rhetorical technique called anaphora. I agree that it makes this oration very powerful and memorable.

  12. Benjamin says:

    “Like (Quasimodo – from a Latin Scripture translation that pre-dated the Vulgate by St Jerome) newborn babes (infantes)”

    But Father! But Father! Modo is an adverb modifying geniti (the two meaning together something like ‘just born’ or ‘born not long ago’), it has absolutely nothing to do with quasi, they are two separate words.

    Believe me, I’m un unreconstructed ossified Latinist.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear Chris Garton-Zavesky,

    I won’t pretend I’m our reverent host, or a priest at all, but at any rate… here’s my try for an answer.

    “privileged” basically means that none (or less than usual) feasts falling into the octave may be celebrated. In the Easter Octave, no other office than that of the octave may be celebrated. (I think it used to be allowed to celebrate the Annunciation or the Mass of the Greater Litanies – but not on Easter Monday, and nothing else). With the Pentecost Octave, where we still have it, it is similar. (For what it’s worth, in Germany Pentecost Monday is upheld with a “votive-Mass” construction – but this votive Mass is to replace even the feast, say, of St. Boniface should it fall on the same day. That seems an exception from the law; maybe they asked for a privilege ;-) )

    As for Christmas, we obviously have the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John, Holy Innocents in it, and – not until 1962, but until shortly before – we also used to have St. Thomas and St. Silvester. Non-privileged octaves are more easy-going with feasts – though, in the old use, they always have to be commemorated.

    Before the number of Octaves was reduced to three, there were more Octaves, with Christmas in fact being one of the highest-ranked among the non-privileged – those lesser in rank allowing yet more feasts to be celebrated, and so on.

  14. Imrahil says:

    Btw. I meant to say “reverend” host (apologies!), though I’m sure he’s reverent, too.

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