Friday, August 25, 2023

The Vigil of St Augustine, According to the Order Formerly Known as the Hermits of St Augustine

St Augustine, attributed to Gerard Seghers, 1600-50
Lost in Translation #83

Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day falls on August 28, left an indelible mark on the theology of Western Christianity, as well as on the priesthood and religious life. Augustine was one of the earliest bishop to establish what were later called Canons Regular, originally, priests that live with their bishop and share a common life, and his Rule led to the formation of several religious orders. The largest and most familiar of these is the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA), founded in 1244 and originally known as the Hermits of Saint Augustine (OESA).

In addition to the universal feast on August 28, the old Augustinians kept proper several feasts of their own, including a vigil on August 27 and an octave, which ended on September 4. Today, we look at the vigil and its orations.
The Collect is:
Da, quǽsumus, omnípotens, Deus: ut beáti Patris nostri Augustíni Confessóris tui Pontíficis, quam prævenímus, veneránda solémnitas; et devotiónem nobis áugeat et salútem. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God: that the solemnity about to be celebrated for our Blessed Father Augustine, Confessor and Bishop, which we anticipate, may increase in us devotion and salvation. Through Our Lord.
The one verb (besides “we beseech”) that runs throughout all three Orations is praevenimus. The Douay-Rheims translates this word as “prevent,” but English has attached new meanings to this word in the ensuing centuries. The safest way today to translate prae-venimus, or “come before,” is “anticipate.”
The Secret is:
Ut accépta tibi sint, Dómine, nostra jejúnia, præsta nobis, quǽsumus, beáti Patris nostri Augustíni suffrágiis, cujus natalítia prævénimus, purificátum tibi pectus offérre. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
In order for our fasts to be accepted by Thee, O Lord, grant us, we beseech, to offer Thee a purified heart through the supplications of our blessed Father Augustine and whose birthday we anticipate. Through Our Lord.
The Secret draws attention to the fact that the Vigil was--as traditional vigils usually are--a day of fasting. The Augustinians kept this practice, and so did the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, which was aggregated to the Hermits in 1575. But fasts mean little without a humbled and contrite heart behind them (a subject on which Augustine was a master), and so the Augustinian community asks for such a heart through the intercession of their patron saint. Curiously, no reference is made to the Eucharistic offering, which is the most common theme of a Secret.
St Augustine, by Sandro Botticelli, 1490 
As for the reference to Augustine’s “birthday,” we turn to the Postcommunion:
Sancti Patris nostri Augustíni Confessóris tui atque Pontíficis, cujus natalítia praevenímus, quǽsumus, Dómine, supplicatióne placátus; et véniam nobis tríbue, et remédia sempitérna concéde. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Being pleased, O Lord, we beseech, by the supplication of our Holy Father Augustine, Thy Confessor and Bishop, whose birthday we anticipate: that Thou wouldst grant us pardon, and concede to us sempiternal remedies. Through Our Lord.
The prayer relies, perhaps boldly, on Augustine’s intercession or supplication and not on the Sacrifice just offered. But we should not dismiss this petition as a lack of faith in the efficacity of Holy Mass; rather, it directs our attention to the Saint, who prayed, and who continues to pray, for his spiritual sons and daughters. On this vigil, we anticipate his birthday—not his earthly birthday, which is on November 13, but on his heavenly birthday, when he passed away on August 28 while the barbarians (the Vandals) were literally at the gate of his beloved city of Hippo and as he prayed (successfully) for their deliverance.
It is, still, a somewhat cheeky assumption. Normally, only the martyrs were granted the privilege of having their “birthday” on the day that they were martyred. But these sons of Augustine are confident that the same privilege applies to their Holy Father who, they believe, went from this life to the next without any stay in Purgatory.
In 1965, the Hermits of Saint Augustine eliminated the vigil of St. Augustine, and in 1969, the General Calendar moved the feast of St. Monica from May 4 to August 27, which further cemented the fate of this Vigil, since it is not easy to fast on the feast of St. Augustine’s mother.

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