Friday, October 16, 2020

A Worthy Location? The Postcommunion Prayer of the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Rembrandt, Moses with the Ten Commandments (1659)

Lost in Translation #21

The Postcommunion Prayer for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost presents something of a puzzle:

Ut sacris, Dómine, reddámur digni munéribus: fac nos, quáesumus, tuis semper obedíre mandátis. Per Dóminum nostrum...
Which the St. Andrew Daily Missal translates as:
That we may become worthy, O Lord, to receive Thy holy gifts, make us ever, we beseech Thee, obedient to Thy command­ments. Through our Lord...
The puzzle lies in the fact that this is a postcommunion prayer, and yet it would seem to function better as a prayer for the proper reception of Holy Communion. Munera in liturgical Latin almost always refers either to the Eucharistic offerings or to the ritual action of the Mass, so the prayer is not referring to generic gifts from God. And reinforcing the preparatory dimension is the petition for obedience to God’s commandments. Commenting on this facet of the oration, Bl. Ildefonso Schuster writes:
The Sacraments work indeed by divine institution, but their effect is proportionate to the capacity and the disposition of him who receives them . What better disposition can a soul possess in order to receive the sacramental body of Christ than that of communicating constantly with the Spirit of Christ himself and of faithfully obeying his holy will? [1]
As this explanation reveals, Schuster interprets this postcommunion prayer “as a most helpful preparation for Holy Communion” but does not explain why we should be preparing for something after it has happened. [2] The authors of the 1969 Missale Romanum likewise seem to think that this is more of a preparatory prayer than anything else: assuming that the Prayer over the Offerings for the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time is a modified version of this oration, they eliminated the confusion by relocating it to the Offertory Rite. [3]
But the authors of the 1570/1962 Missal do not seem to have made a mistake, or if they did, it is a mistake they made twice, since the same prayer also appears as the Postcommunion for the Tuesday after the Second Sunday of Lent. And the same “mistake” (in both locations) is at least as old as the Gregorian Sacramentary in the late 8th century. [4]
There are two ways to resolve the dilemma. First, we need a more literal translation. The St. Andrew Missaltook the considerable liberty of adding “to receive,” as if we had not just received the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The Father Lasance Missal, along with other editions, has a better version:
That we may be rendered worthy of Thy sacred gifts, O Lord, grant us, we beseech Thee, ever to obey Thy commandments. Through.
There is nothing unreasonable about asking to be worthy of a gift after one has received it. If I can pray to be made worthy of the gift of eternal life that I was given decades ago through the sacrament of Baptism, I can pray to be made worthy of the gift of the Eucharist that I was given moments ago. Nor is there anything unreasonable about praying that the effect of Holy Communion be a greater adherence to the law of God. True, to be properly disposed to receive the graces of the sacrament one must have a certain amount of moral rectitude, but it is also true that the graces of the sacrament help with the increase of moral rectitude.
And for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, there is a further consideration. The Introit of the day is taken from Daniel 3.31, 29, and 35:
All that Thou hast done to us, O Lord, Thou hast done in true judgment; because we have sinned against Thee, and we have not obeyed Thy commandments: but give glory to Thy name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercy. Ps. 118.1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way; who walk in the law of the Lord.
Daniel the prophet is referring to the Babylonian Exile which, he asserts, was a just punishment on the Hebrews because of their consistent failure to keep God’s law. Divine chastisement, about which we have spoken elsewhere, was real then and, as these Mass propers imply, it is real now. And so it is fitting that just as we began Mass acknowledging the justice of being punished for not obeying God's commandments, so too do we end Mass by praying for the Eucharistic grace, paid for by the death of our Savior, to obey God’s commandments unfailingly. Rather tidily, the Postcommunion Prayer brings us full circle.
Finally, the Introit’s allusion to the Babylonian Exile is not random, for it is also the explicit theme of the Offertory Verse: “Upon the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept; when we remembered Thee, O Sion” (Ps. 136.1). We are in the final phase of the Time after Pentecost, a mini-season that anticipates the final days of human history. The Epistle of the day contributes nicely to this theme. “Walk with care,” the Apostle warns, for “the days are evil” (Eph. 5, 15-21). During the End Times, faithful Catholics will feel very much out of place, perhaps more than they have ever felt before. Or to put it in today's jargon, the Church will then have “a heightened awareness” of the fact that she is in exile, far from her true home. All the more reason to “walk in the law of the Lord” (Introit) and to “walk with care” (Epistle) by ever obeying God’s commandments.

[1] The Sacramentary, vol. 3 (Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1927), 178.
[2] The Sacramentary,178.
[3] Súscipe, Dómine, sacra múnera, quae tuo nómini iussisti dicanda, et, ut per ea tuae pietáti reddámur accepti, fac nos tuis semper oboedíre mandátis.Per Christum. Which ICEL translates as: “Accept, O Lord, the sacred offerings which at your bidding we dedicate to your name, and, in order that through these gifts we may become worthy of your love, grant us unfailing obedience to your commands. Through Christ our Lord."
[4] In the Gregorianum, the prayers for what is currently the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost appear as the prayers for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost (The Gregorian Sacramentary, ed. H.A. Wilson [London: Harrison and Sons, 1915], 176). The same oration, incidentally, appears as the Postcommunion for the Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary (The Gelasian Sacramentary, ed. H.A. Wilson [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894],360).

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