Friday, April 23, 2021

The Joyful Orations of the Third Sunday after Easter

Andrea Solario, Madonna with the Green Cushion, ca. 1507
Lost in Translation #49

During the forty days between Easter and Ascension Thursday, the Church exults in the sheer joy of the Resurrection, a joy likened to the euphoria of a mother holding her baby in her arms for the first time. “A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come,” says Our Lord in the Gospel for the day, “but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16, 21)

But the Church is also mindful of the neophytes who were given new life during the Easter Vigil, and continues to pray for them and instruct them. In the Epistle (1 Pet. 2, 11-19), St Peter tells us not to use our newly-gained liberty as a cloak for malice, but to think of ourselves as pilgrims passing through this world on our way to the eternal joy which our earthly Easter celebrations betoken. Such admonitions, of course, are equally applicable to all Christians, whether their baptism occurred weeks or years ago.
The orations for the Third Sunday after Easter are similarly well-suited to Christians both new and old. The Collect is:
Deus, qui errántibus, ut in viam possint redíre justitiae, veritátis tuae lumen ostendis: da cunctis qui christiána professióne censentur, et illa respúere, quae huic inimíca sunt nómini; et ea quae sunt apta sectári. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who dost show to them that go astray the light of Thy truth, that they may return to the path of justice; grant to all those who are marked by their profession of the Christian faith to reject those things which are hostile to this name, and to follow those things that befit it. Through our Lord.
The author plays upon the double meaning of errare, which in Latin can mean either “go astray” or “err.” Mankind does both, which is why it needs the light of truth to correct its errors and someone to put it back on the right path. Both the intellectual (light of truth) and the moral (path of justice) thus appear in the Collect's protasis or first part. And so does our risen Lord, who is the Light of the World, the Truth, and the Way (via, which we have translated as “path,” can also mean “way”). I also wonder if the idea of people going astray is a faint echo of Good Shepherd Sunday, for it evokes the image of sheep going astray and who need a Good Shepherd to reign them back in (see Isa. 53, 6).
The apodosis or second half of the Collect may have the neophytes in mind when it refers to the faithful as “those marked by their Christian profession,” for they had to make a profession of faith when they were received into the Church on Holy Saturday. But the Collect is clearly praying for all who claim to be Christian, that they live up to their calling: first, by driving out the bad (literally, “spitting out” whatever is hostile to the Christian faith), and second, by following after what is fitting for the Faith. The use of the word “Christian” is rare in the Sunday orations (while “Catholic” makes no appearance at all). Usually, reference to the Church or her members is made with terms like “Thy faithful” or “Thy household.” Here, we see the name “Christian” come to the fore as an indication of the Christian vocation to which the neophytes are called and of which veteran Catholics are reminded.
The Secret, in turn, discloses more about living out this Christian faith:
His nobis, Dómine, mysteriis conferátur, quo terréna desideria mitigantes, discámus amáre caelestia. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, O Lord, that by these mysteries it may be conferred upon us to mitigate our worldly desires and to learn to love the heavenly. Through our Lord.
Contemptus mundi, or disdain of the world, is not a virtue much talked about these days, but it is essential to the Christian life. For it is only when we see through the false allures of this world (and reduce our desires for them accordingly) that we get our priorities straight and learn to love what is above us. Note that it is not a question of quashing our desires, but of finding their true source of satisfaction, of heightening our desires for what is truly satisfying (the heavenly). The Secret calls not for a contraction of our desires but their expansion.
The Postcommuinon Prayer, on the other hand, guards against a Gnostic interpretation of the contrast between the worldly and the heavenly:
Sacramenta quae súmpsimus, quáesumus, Dómine, et spirituálibus nos instaurent alimentis, et corporálibus tueantur auxíliis. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May the sacraments that we have received, we beseech Thee, O Lord, restore us with spiritual nourishment and protect us with bodily aids. Through our Lord.
Instaurare, which we have translated as “restore,” is the same verb used in Ephesians 1, 10, “to restore all things in Christ,” or as the Douay Rheims puts it, “to re-establish all things in Christ.” We can only restore or re-establish all things in Christ once we have been restored by the saving mysteries of Christ. And we also pray, in a subsidiary way, that we may be protected from bodily harm, so that we may do the work of restoring all in Christ. The spiritual comes first, but it is not opposed to the bodily, for we were put on this earth as embodied beings to integrate the two and sanctify, as it were, our material existence. And what better reminder of this happy integration is there than the figure of the risen Christ, whose broken body is restored and walks among us during the forty days of Easter.

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