Friday, May 07, 2021

The School of Love in the Orations of the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, A Sailing Boat in Full Sail (1832)
Lost in Translation #51

Last week, we saw how the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter carries out the task of schooling our desires in service to the “great school of love” that is the Eucharist. This week we observe a similar pedagogy at work in the orations of the Fifth Sunday after Easter. We begin with the Collect:

Deus, a quo bona cuncta procédunt, largíre supplicíbus tuis: ut cogitémus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt; et, te gubernante, éadem faciámus. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
O God, from whom all good things proceed, grant unto Thy suppliants that, with Thou inspiring them, they may think the things that are right and, with Thou guiding them, they may do the very same. Through our Lord.
It is a Collect filled with flowing motion. All things proceed from God, God’s Spirit moves His suppliants to think right things, and His guidance moves them to do right things. The pairing of inspiration/thinking and guiding/doing is well done. To inspire (inspiro) is literally to put the breath or spirit into someone, where thoughts reside, while to guide (guberno) is literally to pilot a ship or to steer from without, where actions reside. One wonders if the image as a whole is not meant to be nautical: God breathes into the sails (inspires) and takes the helm (guides). In any event, the final petition to do what is right aligns with the central theme of the Epistle, James 1, 22-27, that we must be doers of the Word.
The Collect, in turn, is supplemented by the Postcommunion:
Tríbue nobis, Dómine, caelestis mensae virtúte satiátis, et desideráre quae recta sunt, et desideráta percípere. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Grant to us, O Lord, that having been satiated by the power of this heavenly table, we may both desire the things that are right and obtain the things we desire. Through our Lord.
A not-infrequent paradox in the Roman Postcommunions is how the Eucharist is a food that increases our hunger. Here we see a contrast between satiation and desire: filled with the Eucharist, we ask to be made hungry for the good.
The petition also adds to our schooling in how to approach the things that are right. In the Collect we asked for the ability to think on right things and to do them; here we ask for a desire of right things and to obtain them. Not just our minds and our deeds must be corrected, but our hearts must fall in love with what is right in order to achieve the good life. It is a recurring temptation to think of happiness as simply getting what one wants; if I want a nice house, a nice car, and a nice bank account and get them, I will be happy. But this view overlooks one crucial factor. As Cicero writes:
To want what is not decent is itself the very worst misery. And not obtaining what you want is not so miserable as wanting to obtain what is not right, for depravity of the will brings more evil than fortune brings good to anyone. (Hortensius frg. 39 (Muller)) 
Or as St. Monica succinctly puts it after her son St. Augustine asks her if everyone who has what he wants is happy:
If he wants good things and has them, he is happy; but if he wants bad things, he is unhappy, even if he has them. (St Aug. On the Happy Life, 2, 10)
Incidentally, a lesson in what and what not to want is timely, for immediately after the Fifth Sunday after Easter, the Church observes Rogationtide for three days in a row, when the faithful petition for a multitude of blessings and protections from God. But as the old saying has it, be careful what you ask for.
As for the Secret, it does not speak explicitly of desire or of the things that are right, but it does speak of both the means and the result of wanting and getting what is right.
Súscipe, Dómine, fidelium preces cum oblatiónibus hostiárum: ut per haec piae devotiónis offíicia, ad caelestem gloriam transeámus. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Receive, O Lord, the prayers of the faithful along with the oblations of their sacrificial offerings: that by these offices of loving devotion we may cross over to heavenly glory. Through our Lord.
The prayer has a rich concentration of sacrificial language: the word preces (prayers) has a sacrificial connotation, [note] and obviously so do oblatio and hostia (sacrificial offering, victim, etc.). Officium or office is essentially the Latin word for leitourgia, a public service offered on behalf of the people. The Secret links the earthly sacrificial liturgy we are performing to the glory of the Heavenly Liturgy. And the petition “may we cross over to heavenly glory” can be read as an anticipation of the upcoming feast of the Ascension, which celebrates our Lord’s passing over into heavenly glory. Heavenly glory is what we too wish to attain. Glory is the reward for thinking, desiring, and doing what is right, and heavenly glory is the reward for thinking, desiring, and doing what is right in the eyes of God. We pray that this liturgical office or school of “loving devotion” will make it so for us.
Note: Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker & Van de Vegt N.V.), 141.

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