The Church begins to sing in a new key today. We are arrived at Pre-Lent. The seriousness of the upcoming time of discipline rings in our ears.
The antiphons for the first part of Mass carry a theme of affliction, war, oppression. We hear from 1 Corinthians on how Christians must strive on to the end of the race. The Tract (which substitutes the Gradual and Alleluia) is Ps 130 (older 129) the De profundis.
This has been set to music by many composers. But the chanted version is special.
Preces populi tui, quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi: ut, qui iuste pro peccatis nostris affligimur, pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur.
This prayer, as well as the other two we will see, is in versions of ancient sacramentaries, such as the Gregorian. Our wonderful Lewis & Short Dictionary says ex-audio means “listen to” in the sense of “harken, perceive clearly.” There is a greater urgency to exaudi (an imperative, or command form) than in the simple audi. Clementer is an adverb from clemens, meaning among other things “Mild in respect to the faults and failures of others, i.e. forbearing, indulgent, compassionate, merciful.” We are asking God the omnipotent Creator to listen to us little finite sinful creatures in a manner that is not only attentive but also patient and indulgent.
We beseech You, O Lord, graciously to hark to the prayers of Your people: so that we who are justly afflicted for our sins, may mercifully be freed for the glory of Your Name.
The first thing you who attend mainly the Novus Ordo will note, is the profoundly different tone of this prayer.
The focus on our responsibility and guilt for our sins is alien to the style of the Ordinary Form. Such direct references to our sinful state were systematically excised from the ancient prayers which survived, in some form, in the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum.
We need them back.
It is just as succinct as most ancient Roman prayers. It has the classic structure. But the focus on our responsibility and guilt for our sins is very alien to the style of the Novus Ordo. For the most part, such direct references to our sinful state were systematically excised from the ancient prayers which survived in some form on the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum.
Muneribus nostris, quaesumus, Domine, precibusque susceptis: et caelestibus nos munda mysteriis, et clementer exaudi.
This ancient prayer was also in the Mass “Puer natus” for 1 January for the Octave of Christmas. The first part of the prayer is an ablative absolute. In the second part there is a standard et…et construction. The prayer is terse, elegant.
Our gifts and prayers having been received, we beseech You, O Lord: both cleanse us by these heavenly mysteries, and mercifully hark to us.
In the first prayer we acknowledge our sinfulness and beg God’s mercy. In this prayer we show humble confidence that God is attending to our actions and we focus on the means by which we will be cleansed from the filth of our sins, namely, the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, about to be renewed upon the altar.
As the Mass develops there is a shift in tone after the Gospel parable about the man hiring day-laborers. An attitude of praise is introduced into the cries to God for help.
Fideles tui, Deus, per tua dona firmentur: ut éadem et percipiendo requirant, et quaerendo sine fine percipiant.
In an ancient variation we find per[pe]tua, turning “by means of your…” into “perpetual”. That éadem (neuter plural to go with dona, “gifts”) is the object of both of the subjunctive verbs which live in another et…et construction. Requiro means “to seek or search for; to seek to know, … with the accessory idea of need, to ask for something needed; to need, want, lack, miss, be in want of, require (synonym: desidero)”. Think of how it is used in Ps. 26(27),4: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after (unum petivi a Domino hoc requiram); that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Quaero is another verb for “to seek”, as well as “to think over, meditate, aim at, plan a thing.” The first meaning of the verb percipio is “to take wholly, to seize entirely” and then by extension “to perceive, feel and “to learn, know, conceive, comprehend, understand.”
Notice that these verbs all have a dimension of the search of the soul for something that must be grasped in the sense of being comprehended.
Just to show you that we can steer this in another direction, let’s take those “seeking/graping/perceiving” verbs and emphasize the possible dimension of the eternal fascinating that the Beatific Vision will eventually produce.
A LITERAL ALTERNATIVE:
May Your faithful, O God, be strengthened by Your gifts: so that in grasping them they will need to seek after them and in the seeking they will know them without end.
In this life, the closest thing we have to the eternal contemplation of God is the moment of making a good Holy Communion.
At this moment of Mass, which so much concerned struggling in time of oppression, we strive to grasp our lot here in terms of our fallen nature, God’s plan, and our eternal reward.
I don’t believe this prayer, like Septuagesima Sunday, made it into the Novus Ordo, to our great impoverishment.
Start thinking about Lent NOW, not on the morning of Ash Wednesday.