Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Orations of the Reconfigured Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, by Abraham Blomaert, 1624
Lost in Translation #85

The first twenty-one Sundays after Pentecost are the same every year—unless, of course, a higher-ranking feast like that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Sunday. After that, the Church uses the same Antiphonary (Introit, Graduale/Alleluia, Offertory Verse, and Communion Verse) for the remaining Sundays of the Time after Pentecost and pairs it with the Sundays after Epiphany that were not used earlier in the year (because of the date of Easter). [1] Lay Missals call these Sundays the “Additional Sundays after Pentecost,” the “Movable Sundays after Epiphany” or the “Resumed Sundays after Epiphany," while the official Latin sobriquet for these Sundays is Dominicæ quæ superfluit post Epiphaniam — the “Sundays that are left over after Epiphany.” But like some leftovers in the culinary world, these Sundays are not simply reheated; they are altered and enhanced before being served to the faithful. Hence I consider them not so much resumed but reconfigured, and that is why I call them the Reconfigured Sundays in my book Lost in Translation.

The main agent of reconfiguration for these leftover Sundays is the context of the liturgical year. The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany is is Matthew 13:31–35, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. The parable consists of three main parts: the sowing of grain and weeds, the owner’s decision to let them grow up side-by-side, and the harvest. When this Gospel is read during the Time after Epiphany, which focuses on Christ's earthly ministry and the proto-founding of His Church, our attention turns to the second part, Christ’s announcement that the members of His Church will be a mixed bag. But when the Gospel is read as one of the last Sundays of the year, which focuses on the End Times, our attention naturally turns to the third part and its warning of the Final Judgment, with the rewards of Heaven and the punishments of Hell.
And what is true of the readings is true of the Orations. The Collect for this Sunday is:
Famíliam tuam, quǽsumus, Dómine, contínua pietáte custódi: ut quæ in sola spe grátiæ cæléstis innítitur tua semper protectióne muniátur. Per Dóminum.
Which I, following Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, translate as:
Guard Thy family, we beseech Thee, O Lord, with continual loving-kindness: that, as it leans upon the hope of heavenly grace alone, it may ever be walled about with Thy protection. Through Our Lord.[2]
Munio is usually translated as “defend,” but it literally means to “build a wall,” and that siege mentality, if you will, is justifiable during the final conflict between good and evil. There is also a nice pairing of a solid wall of defense and the people leaning on something secure. And when prayed after the Introit of the day, (Jer. 29.11, 12, 14) an image emerges. Thinking thoughts of peace, the Lord God gathers His people from a diaspora of captivity into one place, where he then builds a wall of safety around them, much like how the master in the parable gathers the wheat and puts it into his barn.
Context shapes our praying of the Secret as well. The End Times on their minds, the faithful hear today’s Gospel with its image of tares burning eternally, and they are unsettled. In the Offertory verse they cry from the depths of their being and beg for mercy and help. (the De profundis, Ps. 129) And in the Secret they continue in this vein, asking not only for a forgiveness of their sins through the offering of this sacrifice but that God guide their wobbly hearts:
Hóstias tibi, Dómine, placatiónis offérimus: ut et delícta nostra miserátus absólvas, et nutántia corda tu dírigas. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the sacrifices of appeasement, that Thou mayest mercifully absolve our sins, and do Thou Thyself direct our wavering hearts. Through Our Lord.
Our hearts are wavering, shaking in their boots, because of how the readings and the meaning of this season have affected them; they are afraid of the opening verses of the Dies Irae, which they hear around this time of year on All Souls’ Day (November 2): “That day of wrath, that day [which] will melt the world into glowing embers.” And they ask for guidance from God Himself. The verb dirigo, which I have translates as “direct,” forms a good contrast to wavering (nutans), for it literally means to set in a straight line (dis+rego). Because our hearts are apt to zigzag and not stay within the lines, we need God to steady us and keep us on course. And there is an emphasis on God’s agency with the pronoun tu (you yourself). We don’t want a representative of God to guide us; we want God Himself, we insist, to take the tiller.
Finally, in the Postcommunion we pray:
Quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut illíus salutáris capiámus efféctum, cujus per hæc mystéria pignus accépimus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
We beseech Thee, almighty God, that we may take hold of the effect of that salvation, the pledge of which we have received through these mysteries. Through Our Lord.
Despite proceeding in reverse chronological order, the petition is relatively straightforward. We have a received a pledge of salvation by virtue of the mysteries we have just received in Holy Communion; now we ask to take possession of the effect of that salvation. Capio (which I have translated as “take hold”) is an aggressive verb that means to seize or grab. There is almost a hint of the legend of Proteus, the god whom you must continue to grab despite the various appearances he assumes before he will relent and tell you the truth. In the case of the Eucharist, the appearance of bread and wine “hides” the Truth (who is a Divine Person) and a pledge of salvation. We ask to take hold of that salvation, even though our senses cannot detect it.
The First Resurrection of the Dead, ca. 1330
And that pledge’s eschatological meaning becomes clearer around this time of year. The pledge of our salvation includes the pledge of our bodies rising from the dead after the Last Judgment and taking on the miraculous qualities of Christ’s risen and glorified body, for as the Postcommunion Prayer of Corpus Christi declares, the Eucharist is the “pledge of our future glory.”
And so our closing prayer for this Mass is that we be counted among the grains of wheat that, safely gathered into God’s barn, will be transformed into the glorious, risen, eternal bread that is Christ’s Mystical Body.
[1] If Easter comes late in the season, the Mass for Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost is replaced by the Mass for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Mass for the Sunday before Advent. If there are twenty- four Sundays after Pentecost, Mass for the Last Sunday after Pentecost is used then. If there are twenty-five Sundays, the sixth Sunday after Epiphany (which had not been celebrated earlier that year) becomes the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; if there are twenty-six Sundays, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany holds that honor; if twenty-seven, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; and if twenty-eight (the maximum numbers of Sundays there can be after Pentecost), the Third Sunday after Epiphany.
[2] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 45-46.

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