Monday, September 14, 2009

What's wrong with this prayer?

Today, 14 September, in both forms of the Roman Rite, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Post-communion prayer in the ordinary form reads:

Refectione tua sancta enutriti, Domine Iesu Christe, supplices deprecamur, ut, quos per lignum crucis vivificæ redemisti, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducas. Qui vivis et regnas in sæcula sæculorum.
The English translation currently in use renders the prayer as follows:
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the holy bread of life. Bring to the glory of the resurrection the people you have redeemed by the wood of the cross. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Other than the poor translation of the body of the prayer, what else is wrong? (I expect most readers have already caught it.)

Ordinarily, the prayers of the Sacred Liturgy are addressed to God the Father. This is one of those rare instances when a "presidential prayer" is addressed to the Son. Fine. But one might understandably ask whether the translators (and the Roman officials who approved the translation) were asleep at the switch, especially on this one. I know: mistakes crop up from time to time, despite the unflagging efforts of translators and proofreaders. But concluding a prayer addressed to the Son with the phrase "through Christ our Lord" is just plain asinine. So, why make an issue of it, when a new and improved translation is forthcoming?

Trinitarian attentiveness, that's why. (At least, that's what I like to call it.) The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once observed that Christians, despite their professed faith in God as a Trinity, are "practical unitarians" who do not understand or live trinitarian faith. For most Christians, "God" means God the Father, even if they would never consciously deny the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit. It probably has something to do with that fact that, in the liturgy of the Western Church, it is nearly always the Father who is invoked as Deus (God) or Domine (Lord), with the default conclusion "through [our Lord Jesus] Christ...". Prayers addressed to the Son are few; where they do occur, the conclusion is: "You who live and reign [with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit]...".

The fact that the liturgical books vary the conclusion according to which divine Person is invoked is evidence of trinitarian attentiveness. On the other hand, the conclusion of today's Post-communion (the English translation, that is) is a glaring example of editorial oversight (at best) or trinitarian oblivion (at worst).

I cannot help but think that such carelessness was somehow facilitated by the omission, in the Missal of 1970, of one little word. In the extraordinary form, when reference to the Son is made at the beginning or in the body of a prayer, or when mention is made of the Person of the Holy Spirit, the word "same" (eiusdem or eundem) appears in the conclusion, just before the reference to the aforementioned divine Person. Take, for example, the Collect of the Mass of Pentecost Sunday:
Deus, qui hodierna die corda fidelium Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti.... Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate eiusdem Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum... (O God, who this day hast taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit.... [We ask this] through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.)
The eiusdem recalls the mention of the Paraclete in the body of the prayer. Trinitarian attentiveness is enhanced by that single word. Granted, without the eiusdem it is still obvious that the Spirit mentioned in the prayer and the Spirit mentioned in the conclusion are one and the same Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the eiusdem implicitly acknowledges that the Spirit has already been referred to. Similarly, in prayers referring to the Son, the eundem in Per eundem D. N. Iesum Christum underscores the fact that Christ has already been mentioned. This, to me, suggests a great deal of attentiveness, not only to Whom we are praying, but also to what we have prayed about.

Maybe I'm making too much of it. Still, I would be interested to know why the postconciliar liturgical reformers thought it expedient to discontinue the use of eiusdem/eundem. And I wonder whether others share my suspicion that this omission has weakened an already weak trinitarian consciousness in the West. (I would welcome a scholarly paper on this subject for possible publication in Antiphon.)

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