Friday, December 29, 2023

The Orations of the Sunday after Christmas

The Nativity, by Lorenzo Monaco (ca. 1406-10) 
Lost in Translation #87

The Mass for the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity (which no longer exists in the new rite) is significant for two reasons. First, as the only Sunday within the Christmas Octave, attention is implicitly drawn to its dominical character. According to an ancient tradition, Our Lord was born on a Sunday, and so on those years when December 25 does not fall on a Sunday, it is left to the Sunday after Christmas to honor the connection between the Lord’s Day and His Nativity. Second, thanks to the Epistle reading, (Gal. 4, 1-7) which includes the following verses, the Mass celebrates our divine adoption:

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying: “Abba,” Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son: and if a son, an heir also through God.
Although the theme of divine adoption appears several times throughout the liturgical year, this is its first and perhaps most important appearance, for it clearly establishes the link between the meaning of Christmas (the Incarnation) and its purpose (our supernatural adoption). Commenting on this passage, Dom Guéranger offers the colorful image of the Holy Infant turning heavenward and saying “My Father!” and then turning to us and saying “My brethren!” Guéranger continues:
This is the mystery of adoption, revealed to us by the great event we are solemnizing. All things are changed, both in heaven and on earth: God has not only one Son, He has many sons; henceforth we stand before this our God, not merely creatures drawn out of nothing by His power but children that He fondly loves. [1]
Similarly, the Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 2, 33-44, which recounts part of the story of the Presentation in the Temple. Significantly, the Presentation is never mentioned; instead, the reading is framed by the wonder that Mary and Joseph experience at the things that are said of Jesus (2, 33) and by the grace of God that was in Jesus (2, 44). The result is a focus on the marvelous identity of the God-Man rather than the specific mystery of the Presentation, which is celebrated instead on the feast of the Purification (February 2). The Gospel does, however, mention how a “sword” shall pierce the heart of Mary (2, 35). This sorrowful note in the midst of jubilation is not meant to make us morose but to supplement the teaching of the Epistle by identifying the price of our adoption. For “the mystery of man’s adoption by God,” Guéranger explains, “is to cost this Child of hers His life!” [2]

The doctrine of divine adoption is important because it lies at the center of God’s plan to redeem mankind. As Blessed Columba Marmion (who, I believe, will one day be designated the Doctor of Divine Adoption) explains, the Father out of sheer love and generosity has willed for all eternity to extend to us His Paternity, to recognize us as His sons so that we can be filled with holiness and share in His eternal happiness. Marmion stresses that although it is in accordance with our nature to call God our Creator, it is not natural for a creature to call his Creator “Father.” That privilege is the result of a purely supernatural act of adoption. “By nature God has only one Son,” Marmion observes; “by love He wills to have an innumerable multitude” (emphasis added). [3]
The Nativity of Jesus, (the Anjou Bible, folio 23)  
The Orations of what we are tempted to call Divine Adoption Sunday do not explicitly allude to this doctrine, but they can be fruitfully read as creating a profile or what good adopted sons of God look like. The Collect is:
Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, dírige actus nostros in beneplácito tuo: ut in nómine dilecti Filii tui mereámur bonis opéribus abundáre. Qui tecum vivit.
Which I translate as:
Almighty, everlasting God, direct our actions in the way of Thy good pleasure: that in the Name of Thy beloved Son we may deserve to abound in good works. Who liveth and reigneth with Tee.
The Collect appears to be influenced by Ephesians 1, where St. Paul explains our predestination as divinely adopted sons through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1, 9 uses the relatively uncommon word “beneplacitum – good pleasure”) to describe the way in which God has made known to us the mystery of His will; the Collect uses the same word as the means through which God will guide our actions. Ephesians 1, 8 states that Christ’s grace “superabundavit – has superabounded” in us, and in the Collect we pray that we may abound in good works. In both cases, the Collect redirects the language to right action; the focus here is on doing good like our adopted brother Jesus. But we do not wish to do good for our own sake but in the Holy Name of Jesus, a Name that is much on our minds during this season. There is even a bit of suspense about the Holy Name during this Sunday after Christmas, for we know that Jesus has been born, we know that His Name is Jesus (thanks to Saint Gabriel on March 25), but He will not officially receive His Holy Name until his forthcoming circumcision on January 1.
The Holy Family, by Giorgione (1478-1510)
The Secret is:
Concéde, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: ut óculis tuæ majestátis munus oblátum, et gratiam nobis piæ devotiónis obtíneat, et effectum beátæ perennitátis acquírat. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God: that the gift which has been offered before the eyes of Thy majesty may obtain for us the grace of pious devotion and the effect of a blessed perennity. Through Our Lord.
This rather unusual Secret is used four times in the 1962 Missal: here, Palm Sunday, the Ember Saturday of September, and the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The Secret is rather unusual because of the final prepositional phrase, beatae perennitatis. Clearly, the intended meaning is not “blessed perennity” but “perennial blessedness”: the author has switched the adjective and the noun. Perennitas was a title of the Roman Emperors; you could address an emperor as “Your Perennity.” Perhaps, then, the author chose the word to form a parallel with the majesty of God mentioned earlier in the prayer.
The content of the prayer is less puzzling than the diction. Of special note for our purposes is the petition for pious devotion. As we explain elsewhere, pietas has a rich meaning in ecclesiastical Latin, but it is still anchored in its original meaning of a loving loyalty to one’s gods, one’s family, and one’s country. To ask for pious devotion is to ask for the grace of being a good son to the Father and a good brother to the Son.
The Postcommunion is:
Per hujus, Dómine, operatiónem mystérii, et vítia nostra purgéntur, et justa desidéria compleántur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
By the virtue of this mystery, O Lord, may our vices be purged away and our just desires fulfilled. Through Our Lord.
In the Collect, we prayed to acquire good works or good acts; here in the Postcommunion we pray to be rid of vices. Vices (vitia) are not the same as sins, for sins are bad acts while vices are bad habits. The sacrament of penance, for example, may absolve me from the lies that I have been telling, but it does not cure me of my habit of lying. In Roman medical terminology, getting sick (morbus) was contrasted with having a defect (vitium). Most sicknesses are transitory, and most defects (like blindness or deafness) are permanent. [4] In the Epistle reading St. Paul teaches that God adopted us out of pity because we were “serving under the elements of this world,” that is, we were in a permanent state of vice.

Once purged of our vices, our remaining desires are ipso facto just, and once those desires are fulfilled, we are by definition happy. As St. Monica succinctly puts it in an early dialogue of St. Augustine: “If he wants good things and has them, he is happy; but if he wants bad things, he is unhappy, even if he has them.” [5] Freed from their enslavement to vice, God’s happy sons have just desires and total fulfillment.
[1] Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, vol. 2, trans. Dom Laurence Shepherd (Great Falls, MT: St. Bonaventure Publications, 2000), 342–43.
[2] Guéranger, 2:344.
[3] Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul (Tacoma, WA: Angelico Press, 2012), 24.
[4] See Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1963), 190.
[5] St. Augustine, On the Happy Life 2.10, translation mine.

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