Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Orations of Michaelmas

St Michael the Archangel, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome
Lost in Translation #78

The feast of St. Michael has a long and storied history in the Roman Rite. In the 1962 Missal it is known as the feast [of the anniversary of] the Dedication of St. Michael, a basilica that was dedicated to the Archangel on the Salarian Way about seven miles from Rome in A.D. 530 by Pope Boniface II. In the traditional rite, the feast maintains this title, even though the basilica it commemorates disappeared over a thousand years ago.

In the new Missal, the feast is that of “Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels,” although it is indirectly extended to all Angels. The old rite has separate feasts for Gabriel and Raphael (March 24 and October 24, respectively), but is also shares a broader sensibility for all of God’s faithful heavenly spirts. Thus the Collect:
Deus, qui, miro órdine, Angelórum ministeria hominumque dispensas: concéde propítius; ut, a quibus tibi ministrántibus in cælo semper assístitur, ab his in terra vita nostra muniátur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God who, through a wonderful order, dost manage the ministries of Angels and men: graciously grant that as our life is forever assisted by those ministering to Thee in Heaven, may it also be defended by them on earth. Through our Lord.
The 2011 English translation of the new Missal (which retains this Collect) gets the gist of the prayer’s grammar where the old St. Andrew’s Missal does not, for the latter less clearly connects the ministry of the Angels in Heaven to our life on earth:
O God, who in a wonderful order hast established the ministry of angels and of men, mercifully grant that even as Thy holy angels ever do Thee service in heaven so at all times they may defend our lives on earth. Through our Lord.
The key is that when the Angels are ministering to God in Heaven, they are ministering to us, preparing us for heavenly rewards. We know this, for this is what these marvelous spirits do: they serve God, who wants them to serve us. Our only petition is that they do the same on earth as well. There is a nice contrast between “assistitur - assisted” (literally, to sit or stand by) and “muniatur - defended” (building a wall). Just as the Angels stand at the court of Heaven to help us, like soldiers on guard, so too do we hope that they will build a wall on earth to protect us against evils.
The subordinate clause for God, “He who dispenses ministries of Angels and men through a wonderful order,” is also noteworthy. God has delegated roles for His two intellectual creatures, the pure spirits known as Angels as well as human beings, a unique union of reason/intellect and animality. He allocates these roles through a “mirus ordo - wonderful order”, that is, an order that is not fully grasped by the human mind but elicits wonder and awe. We will never know, this side of the grave, all that the Angels do for us.
The Secret is:
Hostias tibi, Domine, laudis offérimus, supplíciter deprecantes: ut easdem, angélico pro nobis interveniente suffragio, et placátus accipias, et ad salútem nostram proveníre concédas. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O Lord, we offer up to Thee the sacrifice of praise, humbly praying that: by the angelic suffrage interceding for us, Thou wouldst graciously receive it and grant to attain our salvation. Through our Lord.
Unlike the fallen angels, who resent our inclusion in the economy of salvation, the good Angels, though superior beings, want us measly creatures to be saved! We offer up our Mass that God will accept their intercession and make it so. Suffragio, which I have translated as “suffrage,” can also mean “applause.” The Angels, these great spirits, are cheering for us in Heaven! Commenting on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Monsignor Ronald Knox writes: “If you are ever feeling rather down-hearted about your second-rate efforts to live a good Christian life, think of the Saints in heaven bending over the balconies in front of them and shouting out ‘Stick it it!’ as people do when they are watching a race. (The Creed in Slow Motion (Aeterna Press, 2014; repr. Sheed & Ward, 1949), p. 122.)
And thanks be to God, the nine choirs of Angels are doing the same.
The Postcommunion is:
Beáti Archángeli tui Michaélis intercessióne suffulti: súpplices te Dómine, deprecámur; ut, quod ore proséquimur, contingámus et mente. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
Propped up by the intercession of Thy blessed Archangel Michael, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, that what we have pursued through our lips may also touch our souls. Through our Lord.
Ah, finally a reference to St. Michael on Michaelmas!
“Suffulti - Propped up” is rare in the Roman orations: it only appears one other time, in a Secret in a Votive Mass to Saint Joseph. If we are propped up by Saint Michael, the implication is that we need propping up, that we are constantly tottering without him in a world full of demons and other dangers. 
But here we make a more specific request: that St. Michael may help us have a more efficacious Holy Communion (which we have just received). Unlike the great Archangel, our heavenly aid is mediated through sacraments like the Eucharist, which we take through our carnal lips. But such a reception means nothing if it does not touch our souls, and so we ask God that through His faithful servant, Michael, our physical reception of the Eucharist may lead to a spiritual union with Him. Perhaps Michael is even guiding our souls to the divine target as he yells, “Stick it!”

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