Thursday, March 07, 2024

The Mass of St Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican Rite

Portrait of St Thomas Aquinas, by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
Lost in Translation #96

In the Dominican Rite, there are two feasts to St. Thomas: the transfer of his relics on January 28 and the anniversary of his death on March 7.  

The Collect for the Mass on March 7, which is the same in the 1962 Roman Missal, is:
Deus, qui Ecclesiam tuam beáti Thomae Confessóris tui atque Doctóris mira eruditióne claríficas, et sancte operatióne fecundas: da nobis, quaesumus, et quae docuit, intellectu conspícere, et quae egit, imitatióne complére. Per Dominum.
Which I translate as:
O God, Who dost illuminate Thy Church with the marvelous erudition of Blessed Thomas, Thy Confessor and Doctor, and dost render Thy Church fruitful with his holy deeds: grant to us, we beseech, that we may glimpse with our intellect what he taught, and fulfill through imitation what he did. Through our Lord.
The two words in the first half of the prayer that pose a challenge to the translator are the main verbs clarificas and fecundas, which is perhaps why neither appears in the Collect for St Thomas in the new Missal. [1] Clarificare is to “make illustrious,” and that can be taken in two ways: to make bright and fill with light, or to make famous and fill with glory. The Saint Joseph Daily Missal thus translates clarificas as “give glory to” [2] while The Saint Andrew Daily Missal translates it as “enlightened.” [3] Although I think that the context supports the more intellectually oriented interpretation, both meanings should be kept in mind. Thomas’ marvelous learning is a light for the Church and a credit to the Church.
Fecundare, on the other hand, is to make fertile, to fecundate with offspring. It is a rather risqué verb for a friar renowned for his chastity, but our forebears in the Faith were not squeamish about using carnal images for spiritual realities. Fecundare, the second main verb of the protasis or first half of the prayer, also pairs nicely with complere, the second main verb of the apodosis or second half of the prayer, for one of the meanings of complere is “to make pregnant.”
And the first two main verbs of each part also pair with each other. Clarificare, as we noted, means “to shed light on,” while conspicere literally means “to catch sight of” (even though it is often translated as “understand”). We are asking that our intellects can get a good look at what St. Thomas has put a spotlight on. And it may be a coincidence, but there is a certain elegance to the fact that both verbs in the protasis are from the first conjugation and both verbs from the apodosis are from the second.
Finally, the verb complere means to fill up, but it is hardly ever translated as such. Most pre-Vatican hand missals use “follow” (even though that is not one of the definitions of complere), and the 2001 English translation of the new Missal circumvents the difficult entirely with “and imitate what he accomplished.” One can sympathize, for what does it mean to fill what someone did through imitation? I render complere “fulfill” (fill to the fullest) for two reasons. First, it has an echo of 1 Corinthians 1, 24, where St. Paul describes his sufferings as “filling up” (adimplere) what is missing in the passion of Christ. Second, Thomas’ humble and holy deeds set a precedent and mark in a sense a fresh beginning, as does the life of every saint. The best way to honor this fresh beginning is to finish it up with an army of good imitators. Thomas’ holy action (and operatio or “deeds” is actually in the singular) is filled up or completed when it is heeded and appropriated.
And, incidentally, the same can be said for his sacred teaching. The Thomists who honor Thomas best are not the knaves who slavishly parrot what he said on one hand or, on the other, the superficial innovators who latch on to one aspect and run with it slipshod. Rather, Thomas’ best disciples are those who study and internalize his teachings, emulate his spirit of inquiry, and develop his thought in ways that are consistent with his approach but possibly break ground that he could not have imagined. For Thomas did not want to produce clones; he wanted to produce pious and penetrating thinkers.
The Secret in the Dominican Rite, which is different from that of the 1962 Roman Missal, is:
Passiónis Filii tui, Dómine, memoriam recensentes depóscimus, ut quod tibi in beati Thomæ Confessóris tui atque Doctóris solemnitáte deférimus, sacrificium sit acceptum. Per eundem Dóminum nostrum...
Which I translate as:
Calling up the memory of the Passion of Thy Son, we earnestly request, O Lord, that what we offer to Thee on the solemnity of Blessed Thomas, Thy Confessor and Doctor, may be an acceptable sacrifice. Through the same...
Deposcimus (“we earnestly request”) is used here instead of the far more common way of saying that we are beseeching God, quaesumus. In the 1962 Roman Missal, the only time deposcimus is used instead of quaesumus is in the Collect of a Votive Mass for electing a Pope. The word is only slightly more common in the Dominican Rite, appearing on the feasts of two other Dominican saints, Hyacinth and Raymond of Capua.
The prayer as a whole corroborates the Offertory prayer In spiritu humilitatis, which is inspired by Daniel 3, 38-40, the petition of Ananias, Azarias, and Misael in the wicked king’s fiery furnace:
Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet, or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place of first-fruits before thee, That we may find thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted. As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee: for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.
The Secret thus combines Scripture, the (Offertory) prayers of sacred liturgy, and the memory of Our Lord’s Passion with a veneration of St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote well on all three topics.
The Dominican Postcommunion, which is also different from that of the 1962 Roman Missal, is:
Hæc nos, quaesumus Dómine, communio sancta laetíficet: qua beati Thomae Confessóris tui atque Doctóris suffragiis, virtútes roborentur interius; et actus exterius piae operatiónis excrescant. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
May this Holy Communion, we beseech, O Lord, gladden us: and by it as well as the prayers of Blessed Thomas, Thy Confessor and Doctor, may [our] virtues be strengthened internally, and may they grow externally into acts of pious work.
The verb excrescere, which means “to grow out of,” appears nowhere in the Roman Missals (old or new), but it ties into the fertile imagery of the Collect. And it is difficult to translate actus piae operationis, but operatio (again in the singular) calls to mind the sancta operatio of St. Thomas mentioned in the Collect.
The double petition in the apodosis, for virtues or habits of the mind to take root and blossom into good deeds, is classic Thomism, a fit summary of St. Thomas’ moral theology. But so is the petition of the protasis. For St. Thomas, a virtuous life is the only path to true happiness. Happiness, however, is a permanent condition and not a passing emotion such as gladness or joy. Therefore, the Postcommunion asks not for happiness in order to be virtuous (for the truth is vice versa) but for gladness in order to become more virtuous. A glad heart, nourished by the Eucharist and supported by the intercession of St. Thomas, is more likely to acquire good habits than a despondent heart bereft of spiritual food or support. In the midst of Lent, it is a point worth remembering.

Stefano di Giovanni, Saint Thomas before the Cross, 1423
[1] The 2002 Roman Missal has a new protasis or first half for the Collect: Deus, qui beátum Thomam sanctitátis zelo ac sacra doctrína stúdio conspícuum effecísti, It is translated in the 2011 English edition of the Missal as: “O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine.”
[2] The Saint Joseph Daily Missal, ed. Hugo H. Hoever (Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1953), 736.
[3] The Saint Andrew Daily Missal, ed. Gaspar Lefebvre (Liturgical Apostolate, 1959), 1152.

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