Friday, December 16, AD 2011
The Collect for this Sunday should give us pause and a moment to think about Catholic identity. Before giving you the new text, let’s take a gander at what we heard this past year:
fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through his suffering and death
to the glory of his resurrection,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now, we could go through the Latin and point out the deficiencies in this translation, but there is something larger at stake here. To see it, let’s look at the Latin, but more importantly the new translation. The Latin text reads,
Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde,
ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.
Some people may already see the connection I am hinting at. For the rest of us, myself included, reading the new translation brought the whole thing to light:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
|The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet
The above is the familiar prayer from the close of the Angelus. The Angelus is the prayer of the Incarnation that has been recited by Catholics throughout the centuries three times daily: 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm. The prayer itself goes back at least 700 years, but probably even to the eleventh century or earlier. In times past, it was one of the most familiar and celebrated prayers in our Catholic heritage, and as such it provided a distinctive mark of Catholic identity. A priest friend of mine has often recalled the story of his family’s restaurant/bar on the east side of Columbus. Growing up, every day when the noontime bells rang out from the Catholic Church across the street, everyone in the bar dropped what they were doing and said the Angelus. Even those who were not Catholic sat in silence during the recitation of the prayer because they know if they didn’t, they would not be served. This story is an illustration of Catholic identity. If the same bells were to ring today, how many Catholics would know why, let alone be able to rattle off the words to the Angelus?
Having the Collect from the last Sunday of Advent taken from this timeless prayer is important for establishing the link between the ritual liturgy and the lived liturgy. In the spirit of lex orandi, lex credendi, if congregations were to hear the Angelus Collect in the context of Mass, those familiar with it would be immediately placed in the presence of the three-times-daily ritual. Conversely, if the Collect were to be used, more people would become familiar with the Angelus prayer itself.
Unfortunately, until now, the prayer has been disguised beneath a mistranslation. I am someone who is very familiar with the Angelus, yet I never realized that the Advent Collect was one and the same. Of course, there are others who have. It only took a quick Google search to turn up and article from Fr. Zuhlsdorf written in 2004 (and reprinted in 2006) on precisely this issue.
I am not one to debate these chicken-and-egg questions. Has the mistranslation led to an abandonment of the Angelus, or was the Angelus abandoned long before, and therefore the “retranslating” of the traditional words for the purpose of the Mass Collect was not seen as such a big deal? Quite frankly, it is probably both. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the loss of the Angelus is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of Catholic identity, and recovering the translation in the Roman Missal can go a long way towards the process of its restoration. At the very least, it provides an impetus for a stellar homily. (Imagine, actually, if the priest on this Sunday were to give a homily that begins with the Angelus and ends with an explanation of the term “consubstantial.”)
Let’s put it this way. When I read the words for the corrected translation of the Collect from the First Sunday of Advent, my eyes “perked” up from line one: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord…” Imagine how much more will my ears do the same when, blessed be God, they hear the glorious recitation of this prayer this Sunday. Who knows, maybe they’ll even hear the ever faint echo of the Angelus bells accompanying the text.