Today I had a text from the Great Roman Fabrizio™ about the fact that the word commercium is in the Secret for today’s Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
So, let’s drill into that wonderful prayer…. and be sure to get the bit at the end.
This Sunday’s Secret is found in ancient Liber Sacramentorum Engolismensis, on the 3rd Sunday after Octave of Easter (in other words today the 4th Sunday after Easter). It survived Fr. Bugnini’s liturgical experts of the Consilium to live on in the Novus Ordo as the Super Oblata for 5th Sunday of Easter (in other words today).
This is a rare instance of the prayer remaining in its place over the reforms of the centuries.
In the 1962MR this prayer is also the Secret for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Deus, qui nos, per huius sacrificii veneranda commercia, unius summaeque divinitatis participes effecisti: praesta, quaesumus; ut, sicut tuam cognovimus veritatem, sic eam dignis moribus assequamur.
Let’s look at vocabulary using the mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary. Since my computer’s automatic spelling checker is simply with child to change commercia into “commercial”, let’s start there. Commercium means, as you might suspect, “trade, traffic, commerce” but also “intercourse, communication, correspondence, fellowship.” Every student of Latin knows that epistolarum commercium is an exchange of letters, back and forth correspondence. You might know the phrase “O admirabile commercium … O wondrous exchange!”, the antiphon of the Octave of Christmas, set to music many times. In the Vulgate for the Old Testament commercium describes the covenant between man and God, a contract or exchange (though between very unequal partners). The new covenant with God is also commercium, the mysterious participation of the Second Person of the Trinity in our humanity. As some of the Fathers of the Church say, the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we might be the sons of God. There is also a strong juridical overtone to commercium. Ancient Romans classified people in roughly three different categories, cives, latini, and peregrini. The civis had the rights, among other things, of connubium et commercium, the rights to contract legal marriage and to conduct business and commerce (Latini had commercium and the peregrini had neither). Eventually in the dissolution of the Republic into the Empire these were the only two rights in the civitas (think of St. Augustine’s City of God…De civitate Dei) that were really valuable.
And to think that in our day, the liberals, with their twisted values, and others who share deviant notions or appetites, want to destroy marriage and they have made it harder and harder to conduct business so that people can prosper. Augustine and the Romans had to deal with Alaric the Visigoth, we have liberals and homosexualists. But I digress….
That was a very secular, earthly commercium. We want insight into the mysterious and sacred exchange, especially as it applies to today’s prayer.
Augustine explains often (cf esp. his commentary on Ps 30(2)) that Christ, as the Head of the body who takes us for His own, makes us… Him… in “divine commerce/transactions/exchanges” (divina commercia). That is how we can do things that have any merit: He makes it possible for our works to have merit, and He, with and in us, is taking them, giving them to us, working them with and for us. They are of Christ and they are gifts, graces. They are truly ours and they are truly His. He crowns His own merits in us. Read this aloud:
“What, therefore, before grace is man’s merit, by which merit he receives except by grace and since God crowns nothing other than His own gifts when He crowns our merits?” (ep. 194, 19)
O God, who through the exchanges of this sacrifice which are to be venerated made us participants of the one and supreme Godhead, grant, we beg, that, just as we recognize Your truth, we may in that way grasp it by means of worthy practices of life.
The New Marian Missal (1958):
O God, who by the holy intercourse of this Sacrifice dost make us partakers of the One Supreme Godhead: grant, we beseech Thee, that as we know Thy truth, so we may follow it by worthy lives.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who by the wonderful exchange effected in this sacrifice have made us partakers of the one supreme Godhead, grant, we pray, that, as we have come to know your truth, we may make it ours by a worthy way of life.
Prof. Eamon Duffy gives us some insight into the style of Roman prayers, translation, and the concept of a holy commercium (cf. The Tablet 6 July 1996 – my emphases):
In marked contrast to many of the longer and more discursive prayers of other rites, especially those of the East, these crisp and often tightly structured prayers (read: Collect, “secret”, post-Communion) offer a unique glimpse of Roman tradition at its most profound and most memorable. Fidelity to the tradition would demand faithfulness in transmitting something at least of the quality of these prayers into the vernacular. In discussing the distinctive theological merits of the Roman liturgy, Cipriano Vagaggini, one of the key figures in the production of the Post-Conciliar Mass, singled out the notion of a “sacrum commercium”, a holy exchange, in the eucharistic offering, which is so central in the Roman canon. Bread and wine, he wrote, “are chosen from among the gifts God has given us and are offered to him as a symbol of the offering of ourselves, of what we possess and of the whole of material creation. In this offering we pray God to accept them, to bless them and to transform them through his Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ, asking him to give them back to us transformed in such a way that through them we may, in the Spirit, be united to Christ and to one another, sharing in fact in the divine nature.” Vagaggini was discussing the theological focus of the Roman Canon, but this notion of a “holy exchange” in fact underlies many of the most characteristic prayers of the Roman Rite, and could even be claimed, I think, as one of its defining features…. In the Missal its characteristic form is binary: prayers over the offerings or after Communion repeatedly explore the paradox that earthly and temporal things become, by the power of God, vehicles of eternal life. The Missal is never tired of this dialectic, and prayer after prayer rings the changes on it.
Translations are important, are they not?