Friday, May 10, 2024

The Vidi Aquam

Lost in Translation #86

In the days that remain of Paschaltide, we turn to the Vidi Aquam, which is used from Easter to Pentecost at the Asperges rite instead of the antiphon Asperges Me and the verse, Psalm 50,3.

The Antiphon
The antiphon for the season is:
Vidi aquam egredientem de templo a látere dextro, allelúja: et omnes ad quos pervénit aqua ista salvi facti sunt, et dicent: allelúja, allelúja.
Which I translate as:
I saw water coming out of the right side of the Temple, alleluia; and all they to whom that water of yours came were saved, and they shall say, alleluia, alleluia.
The antiphon pieces together three Scriptural threads.
The first is Our Lord’s identification of His Body with the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, an identification that was used against Him at His trial. (see John 2, 19-22; Matt. 26,62 and 27, 40)
The second is the water and blood that flowed from the heart of Jesus on the Cross after it was pierced by the soldier’s lance. (John 19, 34)
The third is a vision in which a man shows the prophet Ezekiel waters coming out of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:
Et convertit me ad portam domus, et ecce aquae egrediebantur subter limen domus ad orientem: facies enim domus respiciebat ad orientem, aquae autem descendebant in latus templi dextrum, ad meridiem altaris.
Which the Douay Rheims translates as:
And he brought me again to the gate of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house toward the east: for the forefront, of the house looked toward the east: but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar.
The man leads Ezekiel to the waters, first up to his ankles, then to his knees, and then to his loins. The water is described as a torrent that gives much life. Many fruit trees are on both of its sides as it flows through the desert to the sea. It “heals” the waters of the sea, and “all things shall live to which the torrent shall come,” (Ezec. 47, 9) especially the fish, which shall be abundant, and shall be caught by the fishermen who stand over these waters.
In light of the Risen Christ, the water that flows from the Temple’s right side is the saving baptismal water that flows out from Our Lord’s Sacred Heart and gives life to whomever it touches. And it is the Apostles, who have become “fishers of men,” who will give these healing waters to a multitude of fishes.
The relevance of this sentiment to the Paschal season is clear. And to these three biblical threads we may add a historical thread not explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the site of numerous animal sacrifices that were offered every day of the year, the result being that blood continually drenched the courtyard. As anyone knows who has butchered a goose or field-dressed a deer, even the harvesting of one animal makes a mess. Now imagine dozens of oxen, calves, goats, rams, and lambs being slaughtered from morning to evening. Some of this blood was collected for the ritual sprinkling of the altar inside the Holy Place, variously known as the inner altar, the golden altar, and the altar of incense.
The inner altar
After the priest finished sprinkling the inner altar, he went outside to the so-called brazen altar or outer altar, which was more of a large platform on which the priests walked in order to burn the sacrificed animals. The animals themselves were sacrificed in the courtyard to the north of the outer altar. In this illustration, the north side is behind the outer altar.
Outer altar
When the priest arrived at the outer altar, he poured the remainder of the blood on its western base. Blood that had not been collected for sprinkling, on the other hand, would be poured into the southern base. The blood from both bases then drained into a canal beneath the altar and flowed out, according to the Jewish Mishna,
with the water used to rinse the area to the Kidron River. This water was sold to gardeners for use as fertilizer. The gardeners paid for this water and thereby redeemed it from its sanctity. Failure to do so would render them guilty of misuse of consecrated property (Mishna Yoma 5:6).
The Kidron River, which flows in a southerly direction into the Red Sea, is east of the Temple; and although there is no evidence as to whether the aforementioned canal drained into the river from the north side of the Temple or the south, it is not unreasonable to think of it exiting from the south side, in conformity with Ezekiel’s vision. And since YHWH was present in a special way facing eastward in the Holy of Holies, the south side was to His right, that is, from His perspective the south was “the right side of the Temple.” The Mishna passage also aligns with Ezekiel’s vision of water proceeding from the Temple, becoming a river, and purifying a sea.
Finally, it is worth noting that the Asperges Me antiphon, used during most Sundays of the year, refers to the sprinkling of the blood, while the Vidi Aquam antiphon for the Sundays of Eastertide refers to the blood not used for sprinkling. All of the blood of the immolated animal—and typologically, our immolated Lord—has been accounted for.
Regarding the diction of the antiphon: both the Vulgate translation of Ezekiel 47, 1 and the antiphon use the verb egredior for the issuing of the waters out from the Temple. In translations of the antiphon, it is common to see egredientem as “flowing from,” and given the context the choice makes perfect sense. Historically, however, egredior, which etymologically means, “to come out of,” has a more intentional meaning. In the military, it meant to move out or to march, and when used nautically, it meant to disembark. The water from the Temple and the water from Our Lord’s pierced heart do not simply trickle out; they launch out into the world with a purpose.
And in both cases, we do not come to this water; the water comes to us. Our hearts may be a hart panting after living waters, (see Ps. 41, 2) but ultimately it is the living waters that find us. The antiphon uses ista to demarcate this water. In classical Latin, there are three ways to signify the location of an object vis-à-vis you and me. When the object is closer to me than to you, I use the adjective or pronoun hic/haec/hoc, or “this.” When the object is equidistant from us, I use ille/illa/illud, or “that.” And when the object is closer to you than to me, I use iste/ista/istud, which can be translated “that thing of yours.” The water is God’s, and it comes to us to save.
The Verse
The verse for the Vidi Aquam rite is Psalm 117, 1:
Confitémini Dómino, quoniam bonus: quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus.
Which the Douay Rheims translates as:
Give praise to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
The distinctively patristic meaning of confession has long been an object of scholarly inquiry. When Clement Louis Hrdlicka published his dissertation on late Latin vocabulary in St Augustine’s Confessions in 1931, the subject was already well-trodden ground. “The words confessio and confiteri have [already] been treated at length by several scholars,” Hrdlicka writes, “chiefly for the purpose of throwing light upon the literary character of the Confessions.” [1] His own overview joins those of Joseph Ratzinger and Christine Mohrmann as among the most helpful. [2] For Mohrmann, the Christian use of the terms confiteri and confessio constitutes one of those cases in which the early Western Church imparted “to existing words a meaning completely foreign to the original Latin sense.” [3] While fateor in classical Latin simply meant to acknowledge something, confiteor (cum + fateor) meant acknowledging an error or fact previously denied, thus giving it the connotation of a concession. [4]
In the mouths of early Christians, however, the word was “abruptly forced” to take on a different and more specific set of meanings.[5] Confessio was first used to denote the profession of faith a martyr would make at his or her tribunal, often despite torture [6]; to this day, confessio is the architectural term for the crypt of a martyr directly below the high altar of a church. [7]
The Confessio in St. Peter Basilica in the Vatican
Further, because it was also used to translate the Hebrew hoda[h]), confiteri came to take on two additional meanings: acknowledging one’s sinfulness, and praising God. [8] The confession of sin was, needless to say, the predominant meaning of the word in the early Church’s penitential system, while the confession of praise was “especially at home in scriptural contexts.” [9]
All of which is to say that to “Confess to the Lord, for He is good” means more than simply to praise. It means to offer oneself up as a contrite sacrifice to God, in imitation of the Paschal Lamb whose season we celebrate now.
[1] A Study of the Late Latin Vocabulary and the Prepositions and Demonstrative Pronouns in the Confessions of St. Augustine (Catholic University of America Press, 1931), 102.
[2] See Joseph Ratzinger, “Originalität und Überlieferung in Augustins Begriff der confessio,” in Revue des Études Augustiniennes 3 (1957), 375-392; Christine Mohrmann, “The Confessions as a Literary Work of Art,” in Études sur le Latin des Chrétiens, Tome 1, 2nd ed. (Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1961), 371-381; “Quelques traits caractéristiques du latin du chrétiens,” in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, vol. 1 (Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, 1946), 437-66; Liturgical Latin: Its Origins and Character (Catholic University of America Press, 1957); “The New Latin Psalter: Its Diction and Style,” in Études sur le Latin des Chrétiens, Tome II, 2nd ed. (Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1961), 109-31.
[3] Liturgical Latin, 36.
[4] “Confiteor, fessus,” Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), 415A.
[5] Mohrmann, Liturgical Latin, 36-37.
[6] See Mohrmann, “New Latin Psalter,” 122; “Confessio, onis, f.,” II.B, Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, 412C.
[7] “Confessio,” James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2015), 191.
[8] See Mohrmann, “New Latin Psalter,” 122.
[9] Ibid.

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