Friday, June 17, 2022

Heavenly Life on Earth: The Secret of the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Brunswick Monogrammist (fl. between 1525 and 1545), The Parable of the Great Banquet
Lost in Translation #74

Because of an indult from 1885, the Second Sunday after Pentecost in the United States is usually replaced by the feast of Corpus Christi. Even then, the propers for this Sunday are used during the ferial days of the week that follows. One of those propers, the Secret, is particularly arresting:

Oblatio nos, Dómine, tuo nómini dicanda puríficet: et de die in diem ad caelestis vitae tránsferat actiónem. Per Dóminum nostrum.
One edition of the St. Andrew’s Missal translates this prayer as:
May this sacrifice to be offered in Thy name, O Lord, cleanse us from sin, that by its virtue our daily life on earth may become likened unto that of Heaven. Through our Lord.
Another edition of the St. Andrew’s Missal has:
Lord, may we be cleansed by this sacrifice, which is to be offered in Your name; so that every day our life on earth may become more like the life of heaven. Through.
These are beautiful sentiments and entirely in keeping with Catholic thought. St. Philip Neri, for example, used to say, “In this life there is no Purgatory; it is either all hell or all paradise; for he who suffers tribulations with patience enjoys paradise, and he who does not suffers hell.” And yet, however noble the thought, it is not quite an accurate translation of the Secret. The St. Joseph’s Missal is a bit warmer:
May the offering about to be dedicated to Thy name purify us, O Lord, so that from day to day it may carry us on to the reality of heavenly life. Through.
The first half is spot on. Oblatio is an offering, not a sacrifice. In pre-Christian times, a sacrifice was an oblation that is altered when it is given to God, e.g., by being immolated or consumed in fire. An oblation or offering, on the other hand, can be given to God without undergoing change, as when bread and wine are offered to God but then given to the Levitical priests for their use. That said, you could reasonably pray during the Offertory Rite for the sacrifice that is about to be dedicated to God, for surely the bread and wine will be soon altered during the sacrificial act of consecration.
The second half of the prayer is also well translated, except perhaps for one word. The translator uses “reality” to translate the Latin actio, which obviously means “action” but also “performance.” The prayer is not so much asking for the reality of a heavenly paradigm to inform our lives on earth as it is for us to perform this reality on earth, to enact it or act it out. Whereas the Collect on the feast of the Ascension prays that our minds may dwell amidst heavenly things here on earth, this Secret focuses not on a transformation of our minds but our deeds. Be ye doers of the Word, it is saying.
Consequently, it also makes sense to think of the “heavenly life” mentioned here as “heavenly living” or even (I suggest with some hesitation) “heavenly lifestyle.” For the focus is not on the attainment of a permanent condition (like eternal life) but on a pattern of behavior that will last for the rest of our lives.
And speaking of which, did you notice that the author has the hutzpah to ask that this one Mass that we are celebrating affect us for the rest of our lives, “from day to day”? Talk about the power of a single Mass!
Here, then, is my revised translation:
May the offering about to be dedicated to Thy name purify us, O Lord, and from day to day may it carry us on to the performance of a heavenly life. Through.
Amen to that. And it ties in nicely with the Parable of the Great Banquet, which is the Gospel reading for today’s Mass. A great lord invites many to his supper, but they are all too busy: one has just bought a farm, another has bought five yoke of oxen, and another has just gotten married. Hot with anger, the lord commands that poor, feeble, blind, and lame be invited. And when there is still room, he tells his servant:
Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. But I say unto you, that none of these men that were invited shall taste of my supper.
The message is clear: if you do not translate the word of the Lord into action, you shall not enjoy the banquet. May the banquet of the Mass effect that translation, that we may enjoy the Great Banquet.

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