Friday, September 11, 2020

The Sensational Postcommunion Prayer of the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Pierre Bouillon, Jesus Resurrecting the Son of the Widow of Naim (1817)
Lost in Translation #16
The Sunday that in former ages was called, on account of its Gospel, the Sunday of the Widow of Naim, contains the following Postcommunion Prayer:
Mentes nostras et córpora possídeat, quáesumus, Dómine, doni caelestis operatio: ut non noster sensus in nobis, sed júgiter ejus praeveniat effectus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May the working of [Thy] heavenly gift, O Lord, take possession of our minds and bodies so that not our sensus but its effect may ever take precedence in us. Through our Lord.
I leave sensus temporarily untranslated to highlight its peculiarity. Most Missals translate noster sensus as either “inclinations” (St. Joseph's and Fr. Stedman) or “impulses” (Fr. Lasance and Baronius Press) or even “natural impulses” (St. Andrew's). But these choices are problematic from a grammatical point of view.  As a fourth declension noun, sensus can be either singular or plural. In the Collect for the Monday of the Third Week of Lent, we find it in the plural, when the Church prays that by abstaining from carnal meats we may be able to “steer our senses (sensus) away from harmful excesses.” In this context sensus can indeed mean “impulses” or “inclinations.” In the Postcommunion Prayer of the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, however, the noun is singular, a fact we know from the adjective noster modifying it. Thus, sensus refers to a single faculty like “sensation” rather than a number of activities or conditions.
With the notion of sensation in mind, I argue that noster sensus means “our perception,” or better, “our sense of things,” which I take to include not only our initial perception but our entire judgment and opinion. If my hypothesis is correct, the prayer asks that a “Eucharistic worldview,” or at least a worldview nourished by the Eucharist, take precedence over our own perception of reality. One of the goals of the Christian believer is to see the world through the eyes of God. As one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, knowledge is that which “makes us see created things in a supernatural way as only a child of God can see them.” [1] There is nothing wrong with human perception or judgment per se; indeed, it is a rather impressive faculty for an animal. Nevertheless, it cannot see all there is to see. A scientific understanding of the world, for example, is a splendid thing, but if a scientist knows nothing more, he misses out on the great sacramental mystery of creation As St. Augustine points out, it would be better for him to know nothing more than “only God can make a tree” than for him to know everything about trees except the fact that God made them (see Confessions 5.4.7).
And seeing through the eyes of God is far more than seeing that nature is a divine gift. It is seeing everything sub specie aeternitatis; it is seeing through the eyes of Love and service; it is seeing through the eyes of the Spirit. The Postcommunion, accordingly, ties in nicely with the Epistle reading for this Sunday. In Galatians 5, 25-26, 6, 1-10, St. Paul exhorts us to live and walk in the Spirit, to bear one another's burdens, and not to deceive ourselves with an inflated self-knowledge. How can we do any of these things if we do not see through the eyes of God?
The Postcommunion also indicates the means by which we can replace our eyes with God's, so to speak: the grace of the Eucharist. In powerful language, the prayer asks that the Holy Communion we have just received may take possession of our minds and our bodies and that its effect may forever take precedence over our own sense of things. Or rather, it asks that the working (operatio) of Holy Communion may take possession of us. It is a vigorous prayer, conjuring up the image of Eucharistic grace working its way through our minds and our bodies, kneading, loosening, strengthening, healing, transforming. It is also worth noting that the prayer asks for our bodies to be taken possession of as well as our minds in order to have our perception of things changed. There is a profound union between body and soul, and perhaps in order to see through the eyes of love we need to change certain bodily habits. The word sensus, after all, straddles the line between the mental and the physical.

[1] Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul (Angelico Press, 2012), 122.

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