Friday, February 04, 2022

The Orations of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany and the Other Holy Family

Anonymous, Parable of the Wheat and Tares (1590-1610)
Lost in Translation #72  

The expression “holy family” (sancta familia) was applied to the Church long before it was applied to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. One might therefore say that the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, which coincidentally but suitably follows the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, is about the other Holy Family, the family of believers. [1] Specifically, this Sunday illustrates how this family should comport itself.

The Introit, Psalm 96, 7-8, 1, is joyous:
Adore God, all you His angels: Sion heard, and was glad: and the daughters of Juda rejoiced. The Lord hath reigned, let the earth rejoice: let many islands be glad. The daughters of Juda rejoice in God and adore Him. For man’s joy is to praise God.
Next comes the Collect:
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: [2]
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.” There is a nice pairing of a solid wall of defense and the people leaning on something secure, and the imagery of a wall anticipates the end of the Gospel, when the master in the parable gathers the wheat and puts it into his barn (which presumably has four walls). And following the Introit, the Collect takes on a joyful tone as well: the adorable God who reigns is the God who will guard His holy family with His lovingkindness.
The Epistle (Col. 3., 12-17) describes the ideal Church, a brotherhood of believers united in charity, thankful to God, and abounding in virtues. With our divine adoption still somewhat fresh on our minds (from the Sunday after Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany), this description offers us a goal towards which to strive as members of this august family as we wait.
Wait for what? The Gospel reading provides the answer. Whereas the Epistle describes the ideal Church, the Gospel (Matthew 13, 31-35, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares) provides the Church as it actually is in history and will remain for a very long time. 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 one of the last Sundays after Pentecost, our attention turns to the third part and its warning of the Final Judgment, with the rewards of Heaven and the punishments of Hell. But when it is read on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, our attention naturally 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 as we learn to minister to each other. [3]
Context shapes our praying of the Secret as well. It can be difficult living in a family of wheat and weeds, and yet confidently praise the right hand of the Lord that strengthens us and lifts us up (see the Offertory Verse). With the Lord’s right hand still on our minds, the priest prays the Secret:
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.
Hearts wobble and waver in their dealings with other family members, and invariably they commit sins against their brothers and sisters. And so the Church asks for guidance from God Himself. The verb dirigo, which I have translated 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 for the long haul. And there is an emphasis on God’s agency with the pronoun tu (you yourself). We do not want a representative of God to guide us; we want [the right hand of] God Himself, we insist, to take the tiller of our 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. Through our Lord.
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, the Word made flesh), and it hides a pledge of salvation (those who receive the Eucharist worthily are promised eternal life—see John 6, 51-55). We ask to take hold of that salvation, even though our senses cannot detect it.
The Communion Verse of the day adds another nuance to the prayer: “All wondered at these things which proceeded from the mouth of God.” The verse, Luke 4, 22, describes the reaction of the synagogue at Nazareth after Jesus essentially tells them that He is the Messiah. But the next verse is also telling: “Is not this the son of Joseph?” Well, yes and no. Those who hold onto the pledge of salvation, which they have received from the mouth of God and which they continue to marvel at, know that Joseph is Christ’s foster-father (and theirs too) and that His true Father is in Heaven. The holy family of God knows the Holy Family of Nazareth.
[1] See Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmos, Ps. 118, sermo 2, 1.
[2] Haessly, 40.
[3] Pius Parsch, Year of Grace, vol. 5 (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1958), 124-25.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: