Friday, October 23, 2020

The Orations of the Feast of Christ the King

Jan van Eyck, Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece

Lost in Translation #22

In an earlier article, we described some of the differences between Pius XI’s original Feast of Christ the King and Paul VI’s feast that replaced it, the chief difference being the stress that the original places on the social reign of Jesus Christ in the here and now. Today, we examine all three orations of that feast in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of what this social reign entails.

But first, a stylistic curiosity. Most orations in the Roman Missal are addressed to God the Father, and most do not mention the Son until the conclusion. When the Son is mentioned at the beginning of the prayer, the ending is changed from “Through our Lord Jesus Christ” to “Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ.” And when the Son is mentioned near the end of the prayer, the ending is changed to “Who with Thee liveth and reigneth...” It is rare to have all three orations in the same Mass--the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion--end like this. In fact, the only two times in the 1962 Missal that it does are the Christmas Midnight Mass and the Feast of Christ the King.

The Collect
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui in dilecto Filio tuo, universórum Rege, omnia instauráre voluisti: concéde propitius; ut cunctae familiae gentium, peccáti vúlnere disgregátae, ejus suavíssimo subdantur imperio: Qui tecum vivit. 
Which I translate as:
Almighty everlasting God, who in Thy beloved Son, King of all men, hast willed to restore all things; mercifully grant that all the families of nations, rent asunder by the wound of sin, may be placed under His most pleasant rule. Who liveth. 
A few observations about diction. Used in the plural as it is here, universus can mean either “the whole word” or “all men”, and thus has more of a social or political connotation than a cosmic one. Disgregatae, the past participle translated as “rent asunder,” is a nice choice. Grego means to gather, and grex can be a flock of sheep. Disgrego means to break up, but with the ovine association, one cannot help but think of what Jesus told the disciples before His agony in the Garden: “All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed.” (Matthew 26, 31) Finally, “to restore all things in Christ” is from Ephesians 1,10, as well as the motto of Pope St. Pius X, Pius XI’s predecessor but one, who likewise wished to see a renewed Christian society replace a rudderless or pernicious secularism.
Pope St. Pius X
The Collect diagnoses an international disease and prescribes a spiritual cure. The cause of division and rancor among nations is not nationalism per se but sin, and the solution is not a one-world government or a stronger United Nations or any other international agency, but global subjection to the most sweet rule of Christ (imperium suavissimum). “Subjection” is, of course, a dirty word these days, an affront to our egalitarian sensibilities. But Jesus Christ Himself deigned to be subject to Mary and Joseph, (Luke 2, 51); indeed, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus points out, He made Himself “subject to all that He saved,” becoming a slave to flesh, to birth, and to all our human experiences. [1] To be subject to such a King, who lovingly subjected Himself to death for our sake, is to accept a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. To be subject to such a Lord is at last to breathe the air of freedom. 
Such subjection, incidentally, need not involve changes to existing political structures since it is an internal conversion, but it will obviously have beneficent social effects.
The Secret
Hostiam tibi, Dómine, humánae reconciliatiónis offérimus: praesta, quáesumus; ut quem sacrificiis praeséntibus immolámus, ipse cunctis géntibus unitátis et pacis dona concédat, Jesus Christus, Filius tuus, Dóminus noster: Qui tecum vivit.
Which I temporarily translate as:
We offer Thee, O Lord, the victim of human reconciliation; grant, we beseech Thee, that He whom we immolate in the present sacrifices, may Himself concede to all nations the gifts of unity and peace, our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who with Thee liveth and reigneth. 
The arresting phrase “human reconciliation” is found in the Collect of Easter Friday, “O God, who didst institute the Paschal Sacrament as a covenant of human reconciliation,” where it is unclear whether paschale sacramentum means the actual events of the Paschal Mystery or the Blessed Sacrament. The adjective keeps the focus on the Atonement; through Christ all things have been reconciled to the Father (Col. 1, 20), but we are particularly interested in His reconciliation of us (2 Cor. 5, 18). And, of course, He reconciles us by “making peace through the Blood of His Cross” (Col. 1, 20), the same peace we pray that God will give to all the nations and the same Blood that, even if we receive only the Host, we will be receiving shortly.
The clause ut quem sacrificiis praeséntibus immolámus indirectly reminds us of the importance of a good translation. The word immolare here is potentially dangerous, which may explain why the 1969 Missal omits this phrase entirely in its Prayer over the Offerings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The St. Andrew Daily Missal, for which I have great respect, translates the clause as: “He whom we immolate in the present sacrifíces.” Usually in the 1962 Missal, the Church immolates the “victim of praise” (hostia laudis) or the offertory gifts (munera) or the “sacrifice” (sacrificium), which in this case means the ritual action itself. But to say that we are immolating Jesus Himself makes it sound like we are sacrificing Him on the altar repeatedly (which was Martin Luther’s fear) and that the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of Calvary are not one. The solution is to recall that immolare can also mean to “present as an offering” and does not require the shedding of blood. “Offer up” is therefore a much safer translation than the English “immolate,” which maintains a link to ritual violence. If you have a St. Andrew Daily Missal, pencil out “immolate.”
The Postcommunion
Immortalitátis alimoniam consecúti, quáesumus, Dómine: ut, qui sub Christi Regis vexillis militáre gloriámur, cum Ipso in caelesti sede júgiter regnáre possímus: Qui tecum vivit.
Which I translate as:
Having received the food of immortality, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we who glory in our service under the standards of Christ the King, may be able to reign with Him forever on His heavenly throne. Who with Thee.
Immortalitatis alimonia is not a common phrase in the Roman orations, but when it does occur, it is in a Postcommunion Prayer. (Coincidentally, the such occurrence in the Time after Pentecost besides the Feast of Christ the King is the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, which happens to fall on this Sunday as well). Alimonia means food, but it also means provisions or support (hence the word “alimony”), and thus fits in well with the military imagery of this prayer. And biblically, alimonia has a liturgical meaning: in the Vulgate’s Leviticus 3, 16 and 1 Maccabees 14, 10, it is the food used in a burnt offering.
Christi Regis vexillis. The phrase is adapted from Fortunatus’ magnificent hymn Vexilla Regis, which was composed for a grand procession of a relic of the True Cross from Tours, France, to St. Radegunda’s monastery in Poitiers on November 19, 659. [2] A vexillum (in the singular) is a military ensign or standard or banner. As orations on the Feasts of the Holy Cross and the Finding of the Holy Cross make clear, the supreme vexillum of Jesus Christ is the Cross on which He was crucified. Fortunatus and the Postcommunion Prayer for Christ the King, however, speak of the standards (plural) of Christ. According to one theory, the various instruments of the Passion, such as the lance and the scourge, are Our Lord’s other vexilla.
“We glory in our service under the standards of Christ the King.” This stirring image is worthy of a scene from The Lord of the RingsThe Chronicles of Narnia or Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech (say, St. Crispin’s Day is October 25, the date of the Feast of Christ the King this year!). Clad in the armor of God (see Eph. 6, 10), we hear the call of the trumpet and join our lion-hearted Lord on the field of battle, where we enter into spiritual combat to advance the Kingdom of God in ourselves and others, all the while suffering the slings and arrows of a world that increasingly holds us in contempt. The word translated as “in our service” is militare, which literally means to serve in the army as a solider; it is the source of our term “the Church Militant.” 
Apparently, this muscular martial metaphor was deemed too militaristic for the cosmological focus of the Ordinary Form’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, which replaces this clause with “we glory in obedience to the commands of Christ.” I can’t quite see Good King Harry winning the Battle of Agincourt with that one. The new wording is also out of tune with the biblical and liturgical use of “glory” and “obedience” and omits all reference to spiritual combat or struggle in the public square. But “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?” (1 Cor 14, 8).
Eugene Lenepveu, Jeanne d’Arc au siège d’Orléans, ca. 1886

The Ordinary Form also replaces the petition that we may reign with Him with the less ambitious “live with Him.” I can understand why. Although the idea of co-reigning with Christ is taken from 2 Timothy 2, 12, it sounds too good to be true. We started out as mere creatures (and sinful ones at that), then we were promoted to servants of God and then to His friends (see John 15, 14-15). Moreover, we were endowed with the incredible dignity of being adopted sons of God (see Ephesians 3, 20) who participate in His divinity and are coheirs of the Kingdom (see Galatians 4, 1-7). And now we dare to look forward to sharing in Christ’s rule--and on His very own throne no less. In a transferred sense, in caelesti sede means “in His heavenly abode” (the St. Andrew rendering), but it literally designates Christ’s “heavenly seat” and thus hearkens to Matthew 19, 28: “Amen, I say to you, that you who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat (sedes) of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [3] In one oration, we move from being lowly privates in the trenches to Joint Chiefs of Staff working with the Commander-in-Chief in the Situation Room, where together we shall rule the earth (Rev. 5, 10) and judge angels (1 Cor 6, 3). [4] Christ’s rule is indeed most sweet and rewarding.
[1] Oration 30.3.
[2] The hymn is used during Passiontide in the traditional Breviary.
[3] That said, the only other time that in caelesti sede is used in the Roman Missal (an alternative Collect for a deceased priest), it means “heavenly abode:” Praesta, quaesumus, Domine: ut anima famuli tui N. Sacerdotis, quem, in hoc saeculo commorantem, sacris muneribus decorasti; in caelesti sede gloriosa semper exsultet. Per Dominum. Here, I think, context supports a more literal translation.
[4] For other instances of co-reigning or co-judging with Christ, see Rev. 20, 4, 6; Daniel 7, 27; 1 Cor. 6, 1-3.

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