Friday, November 05, 2021

Holy Leftovers: The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (quasi-Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)

Anonymous, Parable of the Wheat and Tares (1590-1610)
Lost in Translation #64

While the first twenty-three Sundays after Pentecost are the same every year, [1] the propers of the remaining Sundays of the liturgical year vary according to the date of Easter. The Mass for the Sunday before Advent, “the Last Sunday after Pentecost,” is always the same, and if there are twenty-four Sundays after Pentecost, it is used as the Mass for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. If there are twenty-five Sundays, the sixth Sunday after Epiphany (which had not been celebrated earlier that year) becomes the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; if there are twenty-six Sundays, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany holds that honor; if twenty-seven, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; and if twenty-eight (the maximum numbers of Sundays there can be after Pentecost), the Third Sunday after Epiphany. In this year of our Lord 2021, there are twenty-six Sundays after Pentecost, and therefore the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost is taken from the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.

Missals for the laity refer to these Sundays as the “Additional Sundays after Pentecost”; they also call them the “Movable Sundays after Epiphany” or “Resumed Sundays after Epiphany.” The latter two headings are less accurate because not all the propers of a Sunday after Epiphany are moved when it becomes a Sunday after Pentecost. The Orations (Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion), the Epistle, and the Gospel are moved, but the Introit, Gradual/Alleluia, Offertory Verse, and Communion Verse are repeated from the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost. The official Latin sobriquet for these Sundays is Dominicae quae superfuit post Epiphaniam – the “Sundays that are left over after Epiphany.” But like some cleverly-reconfigured gastronomic leftovers, these Sundays are not simply warmed up but altered and enhanced before being served to the faithful (hence our own title of being a “quasi” Sunday after Epiphany).
The Leftover Sundays afford a clear example of the power of context in shaping the meaning of what is read, heard, or prayed. As we saw several months ago, the Time after Epiphany meditates on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and the manifestation of His divinity during that ministry; and as we saw several weeks ago, the Eighteenth to the Last Sunday after Pentecost focus on the end of the world and the Last Judgment. Thus, the orations and biblical readings from these Sundays will be colored either by an epiphanic ambiance or an apocalyptic overtone. For example, the chants that are repeated from the Twenty-Third to the Last Sunday after Pentecost present “every mood in harmony with the Church’s Harvest Time”—fear, heavenly homesickness, confidence in God’s deliverance, reassurance, etc., [2] and hence they frame the reception of the Orations and Lessons in terms of that Harvest.
In the case of this Sunday, the Gospel reading is Matthew 13, 31-35, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. The parable consists of three main parts: 1) the sowing of grain and weeds, 2) the owner’s decision to let them grow up side by side, and 3) the harvest. When this Gospel is read on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, our attention turns to the second part, Christ’s announcement that the members of His Church will be a mixed bag, a fact that we will need to learn to accept. But when the Gospel is read as one of the last Sundays of the year, our attention naturally turns to the third part and its warning of the Final Judgment, with the rewards of Heaven and the punishments of Hell. [3] And whereas the Gospel describes the actual Church, the Epistle (Col. 3, 12-17) describes the ideal Church, a brotherhood of believers united in charity, thankful to God, and abounding in virtues. On the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, this description offers us a goal towards which to strive. But when read near the end of the Church calendar, that goal is made more urgent, for if we have not lived this way so far, we may be counted among the tares rather than the wheat. 
And what is true of the readings is true of the orations. The Collect for this Sunday is:
Familiam tuam, quáesumus, Dómine, contínua pietáte custódi: ut quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innítitur, tua semper protectióne muniátur.
Which I, following Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessley, translate as: [4]
Guard Thy family, we beseech Thee, O Lord, with continual loving-kindness: that, as it leans upon the hope of heavenly grace alone, it may ever be walled about with Thy protection.
Munio is usually translated as “defend,” but it literally means to “build a wall,” and that siege mentality, if you will, is justifiable during the final conflict between good and evil. There is also a nice pairing of a solid wall of defense and the people leaning on something secure. And when prayed after the Introit of the day (Jer. 29, 11; 12; 14), an image emerges. Thinking thoughts of peace, the Lord God gathers His people from a diaspora of captivity into one place, where he then builds a wall of safety around them, much like how the master in the parable gathers the wheat and puts it into his barn.

Context shapes our praying of the Secret as well. The End Times on their minds, the faithful hear today’s Gospel and the image of the tares burning eternally, and they are unsettled. In the Offertory Verse they cry from the depths of their being and beg for mercy and help (the De profundis, Ps. 129, 1). And in the Secret they continue in this vein, asking not only for forgiveness of their sins through the offering of this sacrifice but that God guide their wobbly hearts:
Hostias tibi, Dómine, placatiónis offérimus: ut et delicta nostra miserátus absolvas, et nutantia corda tu dírigas.
Which I translate as:
We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the sacrifices of appeasement, that Thou mayest mercifully absolve our sins, and do Thou Thyself direct our wavering hearts.
Their hearts are wavering, shaking in their boots, because of how the readings and the meaning of this season have affected them; they are afraid of the opening verses of the Dies Irae, which they hear around this time of year on All Souls’Day (November 2): “That day of wrath, that day [which] will melt the world into glowing embers.” And they ask for guidance from God Himself. The verb dirigo, which I translate as “direct,” forms a good contrast to wavering (nutans), for it literally means to set in a straight line (dis+rego). Because our hearts are apt to zigzag and not stay within the lines, we need God to steady us and stay the course. And there is an emphasis on God’s agency with the pronoun tu (you yourself). We don’t want a representative of God to guide us; we want God Himself, we insist, to take the tiller of our unsteady hearts.
Finally, in the Postcommunion we pray:
Quáesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut illíus salutáris capiámus effectum, cujus per haec mysteria pignus accépimus.
Which I translate as:
We beseech Thee, almighty God, that we may take hold of the effect of that salvation, the pledge of which we have received through these mysteries. Per Dóminum.
Despite proceeding in reverse chronological order, the petition is relatively straightforward. We have a received a pledge of salvation by virtue of the mysteries we have just received in Holy Communion; now we ask to take possession of the effect of that salvation. Capio (which I have translated as “take hold”) is an aggressive verb that means to seize or grab. There is almost a hint of the legend of Proteus, the god whom you must continue to grab despite the various appearances he assumes before he will relent and tell you the truth. In the case of the Eucharist, the appearance of bread and wine “hides” the Truth (who is a Divine Person) and a pledge of salvation. We ask to take hold of that salvation, even though our senses cannot detect it. And that pledge’s eschatological meaning becomes clearer around this time of year. The pledge of our salvation includes the pledge of our bodies rising from the dead after the Last Judgment and taking on the miraculous qualities of Christ’s risen and glorified body, for as the Postcommunion Prayer of Corpus Christi states, the Eucharist is the “pledge of our future glory.” And so our closing prayer for this Mass is that we be counted among the grains of wheat that, safely gathered into God’s barn, will be transformed into the glorious, risen, eternal bread that is Christ's Mystical Body.

[1] Unless, of course, a greater feast such as that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Sunday and takes their place.
[2] Pius Parsch, Year of Grace, vol. 5 (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1958), 125.
[3] Ibid., 124-25.
[4] Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 40

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