Friday, November 17, 2023

The Collect and Postcommunion of the Reconfigured Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

The Parable of the Mustard Seed, by Jan Kuyken (The Gospel readings of this Sunday.) 
Lost in Translation #86

Last week, I argued that when parts of the Sundays after Epiphany are used during the last Sundays after Pentecost, they are not “resumed”, as if we were simply picking up where we last left off, but reconfigured, made to fit into a new figure or framework and hence imbued with a somewhat different meaning.

The “Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost” this year (what I prefer to call the Reconfigured Sixth Sunday after Epiphany) affords us another opportunity to consider how context can shape the interpretation of a text. When hearing this Sunday’s Epistle (1 Thess. 1, 2–10) during the time after Epiphany, the verse about having just “turned to God from idols” assumes greater prominence, since that period indirectly continues to celebrate the conversion of the Gentiles that began with the visit of the Magi. But during this apocalyptic leg of the time after Pentecost, other verses from the same reading, such as Jesus delivering us “from the wrath to come,” naturally exert a stronger gravitational pull. One prayer that is fascinating both on its own and in different contexts is the Collect for this Sunday:
Praesta, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut semper rationabilia meditentes, quae tibi sunt plácita, et dictis exsequámur et factis. Per Dóminum nostrum...
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that ever meditating upon reasonable things, we may thoroughly carry out the things that are pleasing to Thee both in words and in deeds. Through Our Lord.
Elsewhere, I explained the rich meaning of the word rationabilia in the Collect of this Mass, and concluded that meditating on “the reasonable things” is a meditation on spiritual things, but also a sacrificial self-offering that transforms our existence in the direction of the Logos. To meditate on God’s reasonable things, and to make ourselves a rational, spiritual offering, are the gladsome duties of all Christians at all times and in all places, but they take on new meaning and urgency in the shadow of the world’s end. It is reasonable to expect that the final chapter of human history, awash with false prophets and Antichrists, will not be a Golden Age of Reason, let alone of Faith. It is reasonable to expect that tyrannical passions, a dictatorship of noise, and Orwellian newspeak will take the place of dispassionate discourse, quiet contemplation, and clear, honest communication. It is reasonable to expect (since it will be an age of persecution) that the few who keep their heads will be blamed by the many who have lost theirs. In short, it is reasonable to expect that during the End Times, it will be more difficult to meditate on the reasonable. And that is all the more reason to pray that we may ever meditate upon reasonable things and thoroughly carry out the things that are pleasing to God both in words and in deeds.
Detail of The Last Judgment, ca 1435, by the German artist Stephan Lochner. It will be difficult to remain calm and rational during the End Times.
Finally, whether or not the world will end tomorrow, we should remain solidly enrolled in the school of love. [1] The Postcommunion for this Mass is:
Caeléstibus, Dómine, pasti deliciis: quǽsumus: ut semper éadem, per quae veráciter vívimus, appetámus. Per Dóminum nostrum...
Which I translate as:
Having been fed, O Lord, on heavenly delights, we beseech Thee: that we may ever hunger after those same things by which we truly live. Through Our Lord.
The use of the passive voice (pasti) in the opening clause is noteworthy: we did not feed on heavenly delights; we were fed on heavenly delights. The emphasis is on our receptivity in the act of Holy Communion, a receptivity that is reflected well in the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.
The prayer itself is a delightful contrast of good satiation and good hunger. Normally the goal of eating is to end hunger, but our goal in receiving the Eucharist is to increase it, to give us an appetite for the right things. The Eucharist brings peace but it also brings passion, a desire for the reasonable things, characterized here “as the things by which we truly live.” We are most alive when we are most intent on Him who is Life itself.
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, “Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the 22nd World Youth Day, 2007.”

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