Here’s something a little different. Let’s look at the Secret for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, in the traditional use of the Roman Rite, also used on Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent, which has its Station Mass at San Nicola “in carcere”, my old haunt.
And because the other day I mentioned to priests that they should explain some “technical” language, let’s do that too.
This is an ancient prayer, to be found in the Gelasian Sacramentary. It survived the liturgical experts of Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium to live on unchanged on the very same day in the post-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum.
Because this prayer is connected to a Station Mass in Lent, it could have developed in conjunction with the preparation of catechumens.
Oblationibus nostris, quaesumus, Domine, placare susceptis: et ad te nostras etiam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates.
Roman prayers were typically terse. There are two examples of hyperbaton, the separation of words which grammatically go together to create a stylish effect: Oblationibus nostris, quaesumus, Domine, placare susceptis and in the second part et ad te nostras etiam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates. The two parts of the oration each have these “bookends”, each embracing an imperative, placare in the first, and compelle in the second. Do you see the structure? Elegant. Tight.
Placo, according to your constant friend the Lewis & Short Dictionary, is “to quiet, soothe, calm, assuage, appease, pacify”. At first glance the form here, placare, looks like an infinitive, but it is in fact a passive imperative. So, if the infinitive placare is “to appease”, the passive imperative is “be thou appeased!”. Compello, which gives us the other imperative, is a compound of the preposition cum (“with”) and pello (“to push, drive, hurl, impel, compel”) when constructed with preposition ad is “to drive, bring, move, impel, incite, urge, compel, force, constrain to something”. Compello has to do with driving things together as well as towards with that ad. Suscipio is “to take upon one, undertake, assume, begin, incur, enter upon” especially when done voluntarily and as a favor. The last thing remaining is to determine if in that first part the oblationis nostris susceptis is the ablative of the means by which the Lord is to be appeased (“be appeased by means of our up offerings that have been taken up”) or if that phrase is an ablative absolute (“now that our offerings have been taken up, be appeased”). They both aim at the same idea, but there is a nuance of meaning. Having pondered it for a while, I believe this is to be felt as an ablative absolute. The prayer is otherwise so elegantly constructed that the more elegant solution seems appropriate.
After you get those points, the prayer is so straightforward that it nearly translates itself. Right?
O Lord, we beg, be appeased by our offerings which have been raised up: and propitiously drive our wills, even when rebellious, toward You.
It is interesting to see the variety of solutions chosen by translators of past for hand missals used with the traditional form of the Roman Rite. Some heard those ablatives in the first part as the means by which God is appeased. For example:
Roman Catholic Daily Missal (Angelus Press, 2004):
Accept our oblations, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and be appeased by them: and mercifully compel even our rebel wills to turn to Thee.
New Marian Missal (1958):
Be appeased, O Lord, we beseech Thee, by our oblations, which Thou hast accepted, and mercifully compel even our rebellious wills to turn to Thee.
Some translators heard more the ablative absolute or something in between:
St. Andrew’s Bible Missal (1962):
O Lord, we ask you to be merciful to us as you receive our offerings and turn our wayward wills to your service.
St. Joseph Daily Missal (1959):
Be appeased, we beseech You, O Lord, by the acceptance of our offerings, and graciously compel our wills, even though rebellious, to turn to You.
New St. Joseph Daily Missal (1966):
Accept our gifts as a peace offering, O Lord, and by the constraint of Your mercy make our rebellious wills submit to You.
It could be that by 1966 for the New St. Joseph Daily Missal the translator was perhaps already veering away from the more literal as in the earlier 1959 edition into a dynamic equivalence approach that would dominate for decades after.
So, it seems that this prayer is rather tricky to render accurately into smooth English. Different translators, to avoid “translationese”, took some reasonable liberties. But that is not what the 1973 ICEL translator did! Let’s have a glance at what people used to hear during the Lenten Mass when the Novus Ordo is used and the priest uttered aloud the version from
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, accept our gifts and make our hearts obedient to your will.
Did you do a double take? I sure did when I first wrote about this prayer. I checked to verify, in both the Latin edition and in the lame-duck English Sacramentary that I was copying from the correct day. I could believe I was on the right page.
This ICEL version is the perfect example of how those who worked up the vernacular translation were more than just sloppy or incompetent.
This obsolete ICEL version eliminates the concept of appeasement. By doing this they expunged the conclusion that there are consequences for man if God has not been appeased. That conclusion is clearly drawn from the Latin. The ICEL version asks God to make our hearts obedient. The Latin asks God to compel our wills even when our wills are in rebellion.
The Latin version is built on the concept of mankind’s fall and the subsequent need for propitiatory sacrifice. The Latin version challenges us both in its content, with the underlying idea that something bad waits those who rebel against God, and in its elegant construction.
The ICEL version is perfectly insipid. It is so boring as to offer an insult to the priest who prays it and people who have to hear it. Nothing in it engages the mind or causes you to ponder what is about to happen on the altar.
We can glean from this little gem of a prayer – in Latin and a decent translation – that when we have fallen down through weakness, even when in arrogance we rebel against our Lord and God, He does not abandon us.
When we lose the grace which dwells in us to keep us in the friendship of God, He nevertheless gives us the actual graces which go before our choices in order to ease our choice to return to Him in the humble submission of adopted sons and daughters. This is what we call “prevenient (‘going before’) grace” by which God can guide us back to the sanctifying “habitual grace” we lose by mortal sins. By prevenient grace God moves our wills, gently, by inspirations, making the will incline back to Him. Once our will is aroused by God, these movements of God in us can be freely accepted or freely rejected. If they are accepted, we then receive others graces, “consequent” or “cooperative” graces.
God can act on our will so as to drive us in His directions. In the first move, however, God gives us something when we are not oriented to Him. Hence, there is a certain lack of freedom on our part, though He does not violate the freedom He gave us. Our created will has its source in God’s divine will. No human will, no matter how rebellious, is ever entirely autonomous from God’s influence. We are truly free but our freedom is the fruit of His will for us His images. God’s divine will can therefore influence acts of our human will which God does not permit. He can even bring about complete revolution of our inclinations without interfering with created freedom (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I. q. III, a. 2.)
It is as we are distracted on our road to Damascus, and God goes “HEY YOU!” and smacks us upside the head. That both leaves intact our freedom, while moving us somewhat unfreely to react. We are not, after all, Calvinists with their wrong notions of “irresistible” grace. Neither are we Jansenists.
God goes before us and helps us even when we lose the way, by weakness or on purpose.
This knowledge can give a priest the confidence to pray today’s silent Secret with great fervor. People in the congregation can unite their wills to his prayer with great hope.
God does not let us go.
CURRENT ICEL (2011 Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent):
Be pleased, O Lord, we pray,
with these oblations you receive from our hands,
and, even when our wills are defiant,
constrain them mercifully to turn to you.
Through Christ our Lord.