Friday, June 24, 2022

The Merciful Orations of the Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Parable of the Lost Sheep, depicted in a stained-glass window in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland.
Lost in Translation #75

The traditional Roman rite observes at this point of the calendar the “Time After Pentecost.” Extending over almost half of the year, it is the great season of the Holy Spirit, the age between the first Whitsunday and the Last Judgment. While Advent commemorates the world before the Incarnation, and the Christmas and Easter cycles recall Christ’s earthly life, the Time after Pentecost corresponds to the age, broadly speaking, in which we currently live. The Preface of the Holy Trinity reminds us of the ongoing work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our lives, while the green vestments betoken our hope in God while we await the Second Coming.

Each Sunday of the Time after Pentecost equips us with the graces and lessons we need in order to remain faithful disciples in this post-apostolic age. While reminding us of the “day of visitation” at the end of time (Epistle), today’s Sunday recalls our Lord’s infinite mercy and love for us and the immense value of penance: "There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance,” proclaims today’s Gospel. (Luke 15, 1-10) We should therefore cast our cares upon the Lord with confidence and hope (Epistle & Gradual).

The Collect is:
Protector in te sperantium, Deus, sine quo nihil est válidum, nihil sanctum: multíplica super nos misericordiam tuam, ut, te rectóre, te duce, sic transeámus per bona temporalia, ut non amittámus aeterna. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, the Protector of all who hope in Thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing holy, multiply upon us Thy mercy; that with Thee as our ruler, Thee as our guide, we may so pass through temporal goods in such a way that we not lose those which are eternal. Through our Lord.
We have already seen the phrase in te sperantium in the Collect for the First Sunday after Pentecost, where it was paired with fortitudo instead of protector. And the word order was different. In the Collect for the First Sunday, fortitudo was last: Deus, in te sperantium fortitudo. Placing the noun at the end has a powerful, suspenseful effect, and it contrasts nicely with our infirmitas or weakness mentioned in that prayer, which likewise occurs at the end of a clause. Latin syntax, miserable schoolboys are taught, doesn’t matter--until it does.
Here, Protector hits the hearer like a punch in the face, right out of the gate. Indeed, God is the gate, the One who establishes the boundaries and erects the fences and protects the flock within. And the flock is not everyone on the planet but only those who hope in Him. And once God has set the bounds, He can multiply His mercy upon those within the bounds.
The rest of the prayer is notable for its elegance. The Protasis (first part) of this Collect, Sr. Mary Haessly writes,
is unusually elaborate, consisting of the Address, the Appositional phrase, and the Statement of Fact. The Appositional phrase presents the positive aspect, the relative the negative: God is the Protector of those who hope in Him, and without His protection, nothing is strong; God is strength, everything else weakness. The antithesis imparts vigor to the thought. [1]
The Collect is also notable for its double use of asyndeton, that is, the omission of  “and” when you would expect it. “Without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy” is thus subtly contrasted with “Thee as our ruler, Thee as our guide,” and the omission of a conjunction gives the prayer a certain poetic flair as well as a kind of urgency.
The word that I translate as “strong” is validus, which appears nowhere else in the Roman orations of the 1962 Missal. Validus is different from mere strength insofar as it refers to something that is potent, powerful, robust, or efficacious. To give an anachronist example of the meaning of validus: the Vatican’s lexicon for new Latin defines gin as valida potio junipera, “strong juniper-based beverage.” [2] This concept of strength is evocative of Ogden Nash’s cheeky poem “A Drink with Something in It,” where in each stanza the “something” in a cocktail that creates the desired effect on the quaffer is the main alcoholic ingredient. The prayer, then, is declaring that without God, nothing has a kick to it, nothing has verve, vim, or vigor.
But lest we seek that kick in a bottle and only a bottle, let us heed the Collect's main petition. “May we so pass through temporal goods that we may not lose goods eternal.” Temporal goods are not to be rejected per se but made use of in such a way that we can enjoy the eternal. The Collect calls to mind St. Augustine’s classic distinction between uti and frui in On Christian Doctrine, making good use of a thing versus resting in the delight of the thing. God gave us temporal goods for our benefit, but they are flagstones on the way to true happiness, so long as we don’t get stalled on those flagstones. For the well-ordered Christian soul, we can have our cake and eat it too, savoring the temporal and reveling in the eternal, provided we remember which is which.
The Secret builds upon these themes:
Réspice, Dómine, múnera supplicantis Ecclesiae: et salúti credentium perpétua sanctificatióne sumenda concéde. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Look upon, O Lord, the offerings of Thy suppliant Church, and grant to Those believing in Thee, who are about to receive them, salvation through perpetual sanctification. Through our Lord.
“Perpetual sanctification” anticipates the petition of the Postcommunion, and it also underlines the Catholic notion of salvation. Pace Martin Luther, we are not lumps of dung blanketed with snow even in Heaven. Rather, our salvation goes beyond a mere external or forensic justification to an internal transformation that renders us shiny clean little icons of Christ.
The choice of credentium also forms a nice supplement to the sperantium in the Collect. We hope in the Lord, and we believe in the Lord.
Finally, respice, from which our word “respect” is derived, literally means to look back on, to do a double take. After God has protected us by setting up the boundaries in the Collect, we ask that He keep an eye on what He has established.
The Postcommunion is:
Sancta tua nos, Dómine, sumpta vivíficent: et misericordiae sempiternae prǽparent expiátos. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May Thy holy things which we have received quicken us, O Lord: and may they prepare us who have been expiated for a sempiternal mercy. Through our Lord.
The Postcommunion resumes the theme of mercy, but instead of asking for mercy now, it asks that we be prepared for sempiternal mercy. I don’t know why “sempiternal” was chosen instead of “eternal” or “perpetual” (different ecclesiastical authors have different definitions of these words), but the point remains the same: God not only shows mercy to us now, but for His elect He shows mercy forever. In Heaven, we will be just as dependent on His mercy as we are on earth.

Expiatos is not an easy word to translate. I tentatively suggest the clunky “us who have been expiated,” for it keeps the original Latin sense of purification or purgation. The verb pio, from which “piety” is derived, means to appease. [3] Ex-pio, on the other hand, suggests pulling the piety out of (ex) something, that is, to make amends or satisfaction or to purify anything defiled by a crime.[4]
The St. Andrew’s Missal translates expiatos as “atoning for our sins.” “Atonement,” it has been said, is the only English word that has contributed to Catholic theology: At-one-ment rightly expresses the effects of the Paschal Mystery, which makes us one with God. Whether the ancient Latin author of this prayer had this in mind, God only knows. But it is worth contemplating as we pray for God’s abundant mercy during this Time after Pentecost, for surely, Christ’s expiation and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification unite us with Him whom we have offended.
[1] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 78.
[2] Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis (Libraria Editoria Vaticana, 2003), 344
[3] Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), Pio, 1379.
[4] Lewis and Short, Expio, 695.

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