Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Votive Office of St Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican Rite

Lost in Translation #98

Before Pope St. Pius X’s reform of the breviary, enacted by his 1911 apostolic constitution Divino Afflatu, the Dominicans enjoyed the privilege of celebrating all their canonized Saints with an octave. Today is the old octave day of St Thomas Aquinas (March 14), but because the octave Mass and Office are not that different from the festal Mass and Office (here and here), we honor the occasion by examining another peculiarity of the Dominican Rite; a Wednesday Votive Office to St. Thomas Aquinas.

In addition to its canonical Office and a daily Office to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dominican Rite had a Votive Office for each day of the week.
Monday or Friday, St. Vincent Ferrer
Tuesday, St. Dominic
Wednesday, St. Thomas Aquinas
Thursday, The Body of Christ
Saturday, The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Wednesday Office of St Thomas could be used throughout the year. The Oratio is the Collect from the Mass for his feast day, (see here), and the Matin readings are from the Bull of Pope John XXII (1316-34) by which Thomas was canonized in 1323.
The antiphons for Vespers and Lauds are noteworthy. The Magnificat Antiphon for the former is:
O Thoma, laus et gloria Prædicatórum Ordinis, nos transfer ad cælestia, professor sacri Numinis.
Before I provide a translation, I wish to point out three linguistic curiosities. First, the choice of the main verb is distinctive. Transferre, which means to bring, carry, or transport, is usually used in ecclesiastical Latin to denote the translation of a saint’s relics from one location to another. In liturgical prayer, verbs like ducere or perducere are more likely to be used to convey the notion of bringing.
Second, there is an ambiguity with the word professor. In an ecclesiastical context, it can refer to one who professes the Faith, which St. Thomas certainly did and with great clarity. In an academic context, it can refer to a high-ranking teacher. The ambiguity therefore works well for St. Thomas, who was both a great Confessor and a great professor at the University of Paris.
Third, the phrase professor sacri Numinis presents challenges. The most obvious translation is “professor of sacred divinity,” where sacri functions as the adjective of the noun Numen. A perusal of the Dominican office, however, shows that Numen, which in classical Latin refers to divine will or divinity, is used for God, perhaps especially God the Son. In the Matins hymn for the Immaculate Conception, for example, Mary is hailed as Intacta mater Numinis. It is still possible that sacri is an adjective and that the phrase should therefore be translated as “professor of the sacred Holy One.” The other possibility is that sacri is a noun and hence the correct translation would be “professor of the sacred [things] of the Holy One.” In my opinion, this is the more likely intention, for the Dominican Breviary’s hymn to St. Thomas praises the saint for illuminating the Scriptúræ sacræ Núminis or the “Sacred Scriptures of the Holy One.”
Therefore, I believe the correct translation of the Magnificat Antiphon is:
O Thomas, praise and glory of the Order of Preachers, transport us to heavenly things, O professor of the sacred things of the Holy One.
The Antiphon for the Benedictus during Lauds is:
Collaudétur Christus Rex gloriae, qui per Thomam lumen Ecclesiæ mundum replet doctrína gratiae.
Which I translate as:
May Christ the King of glory be praised, Who fills the world with a doctrine of grace through Thomas, a lamp of the Church.
Replet (fills) is in the present tense. Thomas’ teachings on grace did not simply have a good effect in the thirteenth century; they continue to enrich the world today.
Collaudetur (be praised) is from the verb co+laudo. The prefix co modifies the verb “to praise” to mean “to praise together” or as an intensifier to mean “to praise highly.” In this antiphon, I suspect that it means both.
Finally, the antiphon draws attention to Thomas’ doctrine of grace. St. Augustine may be nicknamed the Doctor of Grace for his groundbreaking work on the subject, but it is St. Thomas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s understanding of nature that ironically sets into sharper relief the beauty and necessity of the grace bought so dearly for us on the cross by Jesus Christ. Thomas’ other distinctions are equally valuable, such as acquired vs. infused virtue and operative vs. cooperative grace, to say nothing of his delicate balancing of free will and predestination. The Angelic Doctor’s teachings on grace do indeed fill the world.

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