Friday, January 22, 2021

The Secret for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Giambattista Tiepolo, the Prophet Isaiah and the Burning Coal, 1726-1729

Lost in Translation #35

When I first came across the Epistle for the Third Sunday after Epiphany as a boy, I thought that this verse

But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink: for doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. (Prov. 25, 22, Rom. 12, 20)
meant that the best way to deal with an enemy is to be nice to him, because that will really infuriate him. Little did I know that a lit coal is a symbol of purification, and that the Bible is admonishing us to purify our enemy, [1] not tweak him with sanctimonious passive aggression.

Purification is also the theme of the Secret for the Third Sunday after Epiphany:
Haec hostia, Dómine, quásumus, emundet nostra delicta: et ad sacrificium celebrandum, subditórum tibi córpora mentesque sanctíficet. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May this offering, O Lord, we pray Thee, cleanse away our offenses, and sanctify the bodies and minds of Thy subjects for the celebration of this sacrifice. Through our Lord.
Hostia (“offering”) is not an easy word to translate. It is a common term for a victim (that which is sacrificed), but it can also refer to an offering or the act of sacrifice itself. It appears 43 times in the orations of the traditional Roman Missal, always in the Secret. In these prayers hostia usually refers to the gifts brought by the faithful but sometimes, as it does here, it also has "a ritual, sacramental character." [2]
Delicta (“offenses”) can also be surprisingly slippery. It is usually, and not inaccurately, translated as “sins.” But delictum is derived from delinquo, to fail in one’s duty or to fall short. According to a Gloss on Ephesians 2, 1 with which St. Thomas Aquinas was familiar, delictum signifies a sin of omission. [3] On the other hand, St. Jerome uses delicta as the genus and sins of thought, word, and deed as the different species. [4] What paradigm the authors of the ancient Roman orations had in mind is difficult to determine.
Subditi (“subjects”) is often translated as “servants,” but a more literal rendering is “those who are subject to Thee.” As we have discussed earlier, subjection is not a popular concept in an egalitarian age such as ours, yet the biblical worldview sees only two alternatives: you are either subject to God or subject to the devil (see Jas. 4, 7). Subjection to God is paradoxically liberating; the more we are subject to Him, the more we are truly free and truly ourselves.
But the most curious part of this prayer is the second petition to sanctify our bodies and minds. The mind or soul is sanctified by an infusion of sanctifying grace and by a healthy reordering of one’s desires. But how is the body sanctified? What indeed is the meaning of Romans 12, 1, from which this prayer is no doubt drawing?
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service.
I await your thoughts.
[1] See Isaiah 6, 7 and the prayer Munda cor meum before the Gospel.
[2] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 76.
[3] The verse is “And you, when you were dead in your offences, and sins” (Et vos, cum essetis mortui delictis et peccatis vestris). See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II.72.6.
[4] Tria sunt generalia delicta quibus humanum subiacet genus, aut enim cogitatione, aut sermone, aut opere peccamus (Commentary on Ezechiel 43.23, as cited by Aquinas in Summa Theologiae I-II.72.77, sed contra).

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