Listen to the new translation for the Prayer After Communion composed for the Third Sunday of Lent:
As we receive the pledge
of things yet hidden in heaven
and are nourished while still on earth
with the Bread that comes from on high,
we humbly entreat you, O Lord,
that what is being brought about in us in mystery
may come to true completion.
This is simply exquisite. It emphasizes that the Mass is both a foretaste of and, in some mysterious way, a participation in the heavenly banquet. That pledge which “we receive” is the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist which unites heaven and earth. It nourishes us “while still on earth” and gives us a taste of “things yet hidden in heaven.” Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy describes the present time (that which is after the Resurrection but before the end of the world) as the proper time for liturgy, for it is the great “already, but not yet.” Only in such an era can something like a sacrament make sense. Only in such an era can “Bread that comes from on high” be an efficacious sign of heavenly realities.
In the same book, Ratzinger speaks of how the liturgy is anthropological. It took me several readings to fully understand the Cardinal’s words. The explanation goes something like this. We know that our completion (our “final cause” or telos) is to be found in God’s presence, that is, in heaven. In other words, we will be most fully human when we are standing before God’s loving gave in glory with the angels and the saints. Conversely, the souls of the damned are virtually inhuman, which is why even individual demons in the Gospel (though properly speaking these are fallen angels not fallen men) describe themselves in the plural: “We are Legion.” In hell, all individuality is lost, for the self is given over to sin. Said differently, sin consumes the person. Think here of the character of Gollum in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The ring, symbolic of evil, has all but claimed the identity of the wretched creature, so much so that Gollum refers to himself in the plural, experiencing the utmost of personality crises. Rather than giving the self over to evil, we are to empty ourselves out for the summum bonum: God himself. The Gospel paradox is: in giving ourselves away to God, we subsequently find our true selves. This is because all fulfillment (all telos) is found in God. From God we have come, and to God we must return. The soul who gives himself to evil merely empties the self; absent is the promise and possibility of finding the self.
Moreover, the Mass is our participation on earth in the reality that constitutes heaven, for heaven is nothing more than the eternal worship of the Almighty God. Putting these two things together, (1) if our fulfillment is found in heaven, and (2) if the Mass is a participation in the reality which is heaven, it follows that our fulfillment as human beings begins in the Mass. It is in the Mass that we find our true selves. It is in the Mass that we become that for which we are destined; it is here we become holy. This is simply an extended explanation of a sacrament as “an efficacious sign of God’s grace,” and this is what Cardinal Ratzinger means when he says that the liturgy is “anthropological.”
We return now ready to understand the Pray After Communion on the Third Sunday of Lent: “We humbly entreat you, O Lord, that what is being brought about in us in mystery may come to true completion.” I repeat that with which I started: this is simply exquisite.
It is so exquisite, in fact, that I hesitate to ruin it with the current, deficient translation. I even thought of letting it go and simply recommending that people listen carefully this coming Sunday. Alas, I am weak, and I cannot resist the opportunity to demonstrate just how deficient it is. I won’t go through the Latin; rest assured that the new translation is much more faithful. Without further adieu, here is what we will hear this weekend:
Lord, in sharing this sacrament
may we receive your forgiveness
and be brought together in unity and peace.
And with that, I leave you with that which has become my mantra as of late:
I feel like each Sunday this year presents a funeral of sorts … a passing of Mass texts that will never be heard again. Rather than mourning this passing, my heart finds solace in the assurance that these texts will rise again in a more perfect form with the ‘advent’ of the new translation. While we have a full year to pay our respects to the passing Ordinary, there is a rejoicing of sorts that the current Propers have reached the end of the proverbial line: their days are numbered, their time has passed, and blessed be God for that.
At least in terms of the Holy Mass, the 1973 ‘Prayer After Communion’ for the Third Sunday of Lent has met its maker, kicked the bucket, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed its last, and indeed … croaked. This is not a cause for mourning, but rather a looking forward to the day of resurrection; for the Latin soul of this prayer is indeed filled with grace, so when it rises again as the 2010 Prayer, it will be gloriously triumphant.”