Friday, July 31, 2020

Weeping Over Jerusalem: The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost and Two of Its Prayers

Francesco Hayez, Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple of Jerusalem (1861)
Lost in Translation #10

This Sunday is unique: it is, as far as I can tell, the only time that the Catholic liturgical year commemorates a Jewish event or feast that happens after the birth of the Church. It is one thing for a Christian calendar to incorporate Jewish feasts like the Passover (Good Friday) or Shavuot (Pentecost) that Jesus of Nazareth Himself kept, or that the Holy Spirit sanctified, but the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost hearkens to the Ninth of the Month of Av or Tisha B’av, the “saddest day in the Jewish calendar.” On this day – which like the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost falls some time in July or August – pious Jews remember the destruction of the first Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C., and the destruction of the second by the Romans in A.D. 70. Observances include a twenty five-hour period in which all eating and drinking, washing and bathing, application of creams and oils, wearing of (leather) shoes, and marital relations are forbidden.

In the Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 19, 41-47), our Lord sheds tears over Jerusalem’s fate after coming from the Mount of Olives where, more than thirty years later, the Roman legions would commence their horrific and devastating campaign against the holy city. (Readers interested in learning more about this terrible event can read Josephus’ harrowing account of it, or Dom Gueranger’s entry for this Sunday in The Liturgical Year.) The destruction of the Temple is a stern reminder of divine chastisement and the need for our repentance and conversion. As St Paul teaches in the day’s Epistle (1 Cor. 10, 6-13), we must never think we stand on our own, lest we fall.

The Collect and Secret offer two aids to our conversion and staying on the right side of divine justice, so to speak. The Collect reads:
Páteant aures misericordiae tuae, Dómine, précibus sup­plicantium: et ut peténtibus desideráta concédas; fac eos, quæ tibi sunt plácita, postu­láre. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Let the ears of Thy mercy, O Lord, be open to the prayers of the suppliant; and so that Thou wilt grant the things desired by the petitioners, make them to ask for the things that are pleasing to Thee. Through our Lord.
The function of a Collect is to collect the individual prayers of the congregation into a unified whole to present to God, but this Collect keeps a rather aloof tone. Rather than speak of “Thy people” or “Thy family” as other Collects do, it generically mentions suppliant petitioners (of course, in Latin the possessive pronoun is often implied, so the Collect is not disowning these supplicants either). The aloofness, as I am calling it, creates a rhetorical space that puts an onus on the listener or reader to do what the Collect prays for, namely, submit only good petitions. Even though the Collect is beseeching God to make us ask for things that are pleasing to Him, it is clearly pressuring us (in a good way, of course) to start thinking in these terms so that we are part of those Elect supplicants. And what are those terms? Not simply to ask for things that are pleasing to God, but to desire them. The early Collects for the Time after Pentecost (the fifth through the thirteenth Sunday) tend to focus – as we will see in the coming weeks – on retooling and heightening our very desires.

How far is this schooling of desire from the gussied-up materialism of “the Prayer of Jabez” fad, in which Christians were encouraged to pray for the trinkets of this life as if they had no eternal longings at all! The Roman Rite, by contrasts, aims both to expand and reorder our desires so that higher goods take priority over lower, and then, once they are reordered, to transcend even them. 
The Secret for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost also implies an internal transformation, for it prays that we may frequent the mysteries of the Mass worthily
Concéde nobis, quáesumus, Dómine, haec digne frequentáre mysteria: quia, quoties hujus hostiae commemoratio celebrátur, opus nostrae red­emptiónis exercétur. Per Dó­minum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, to frequent these mysteries: for as often as the memory of this sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our redemption is performed. Through our Lord.
The Secret, the meaning of which was once the subject of much debate in 20th century liturgical studies, abounds in references to the Eucharist. “Hujus hostiae commemoratio”, which I have translated as “the memory of this sacrifice,” is an example of a genitivus inversus, that is, “an abstract noun accompanied by another noun in the genitive case, used instead of a combination of an adjective with a noun.” Therefore, the phrase can also be translated as “this memorial sacrifice.” Translating “opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur” also presents challenges. A very literal translation is “the work of our redemption is exercised.” As Sr. Mary Ellebracht argues, redemptio in the Roman orations is not “the historical Sacrifice of the Cross extended and made numerically present in the Eucharistic Sacrifice”, but rather “the sacramental effect of the cultic action” of the Mass itself. She continues: “What we, in more abstract terminology, would call the ‘graces which flow from the Work of Redemption,’ the liturgy expresses with its characteristic concreteness as redemptio.” [1] We need the graces which flow from the work of redemption in order to be worthy of receiving the Eucharist; if we are worthy of the Eucharist, we are persons who desire and ask for the things that are pleasing to God. Finally, we need to desire and ask for the things that are pleasing to God to avoid being like the unhappy earthly Jerusalem, over which the Chosen People, like Our Lord, still weep.

[1] Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker, 1966), 53.

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