So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, April 18, 2016

The beauty of the Roman Canon: Supplices te rogamus.

How many times in the last three months or so have you heard the Roman Canon, a.k.a., Eucharistic Prayer I, prayed at your parish Mass? If you attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, or the Ordinariate Mass, you already appreciate the Roman Canon for its beauty and majesty.

Read now the red and the black of the Roman Canon.
Bowing, with hands joined, he continues:
In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your son,
He stands upright again and signs himself with the Sign of the Cross, saying:
may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.
He joins his hands.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)
The prayer reminds us that in the Mass, by the grace of God, we are witnesses to earth united to heaven. That is one of many profound reasons one should go to Mass! We are time travellers, of sorts. Rather, the Lord of time makes present the main events of our man's redemption.

Is it not amazing that a mere man, a Catholic priest, can offer the Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ to His Father? How is this possible? Such an act is made possible because 1) a priest is ordained by God. Ordination configures a priest to Christ so that 2) he can, aided by the power of God, offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Throughout history non-Catholics have voiced objections to the sacrificial nature of the Mass. In particular, the notion that the Mass is the one and same Sacrifice of Calvary has caused many non-Catholics much distress. They, too, are unwilling to accept the fact that, as Jesus repeatedly made clear throughout His earthly ministry, the Eucharist really is His Body and Blood!

Faith in the Real Presence is a gift of God. Many disciples left His side when Jesus mentioned the topic of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (St. John 6:60-69). Jesus could have said He was merely speaking metaphorically, but He offered no such explanation. He made no attempt to soften His teaching about the Eucharist. And so, those who thought they knew better than the Son of God left the company of the Apostles.

Hear now the same beautiful prayer in Latin.
Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: iube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae; ut, quotquot ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur.
[ Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. ]
Mr. Jake Tawney provides a succinct and nuanced examination of the Supplices te rogamus. The original essay was a comparative analysis between the latest translation of the Mass and the previous, now defunct, (pre-2011 ICEL) paraphrase. For our purposes, edits to the original have been made to preserve the description of the current Missal text. Excepting necessary points of clarification (in red), references to the pre-2011 paraphrase have been omitted. 
The Roman Canon Part VI Supplices te Rogamus by Jake Tawney
A literal translation of these three words is a bit difficult: supplices is an adjective meaning “begging” or even “kneeling,” whereas rogamus is the verb meaning “we ask” or “we request.” The best translation I would offer is, “We humbly beg you” or “We humbly beseech you.” The new translation, “In humble prayer we ask you” is quite good too. [...] The phrase is left off entirely in the (pre-2011) translation. (p.1)
The (pre-2011 paraphrase) reads: “We pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven.” The new translation is exquisite: “Command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty.” The verb iube is a common first year Latin word, meaning “command” or “order.” Using the word “command” instead of “we pray” indicates the efficacy of God’s Word. God commands, and things happen. God’s Word, by its very nature, is creative. While it is not necessarily inappropriate to ask God that the sacrifice be taken up to heaven, the Latin iube emphasizes a slightly different (and stronger) reality of God’s omnipotence. I won’t go through the details in the Latin phrase iube hæc perférri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublíme altáre tuum in conspéctu divínæ maiestátis tuæ, but the new translation is accurate word-for-word: iube (command) hæc (these) perférri (be borne) per manus (hands) sancti (holy) Angeli (Angel) tui (your) in sublíme (high) altáre (altar) tuum (your), in conspéctu (sight) divínæ (divine) maiestátis (majesty) tuæ (your). (p.2)

Both (pre-and post-2011) translations contain the reference to the Angel taking the sacrifice up to heaven. There are numerous references to this sort of thing in both the Old and New Testaments, but let me offer just one from the Book of Revelation: 
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand” (Rev. 8:3-4, NAB).
The change from (the pre-2011 paraphrase) “as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son” to “so that all of us who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son” has a few important points. The Latin is quotquot ex hac altáris participatióne sacrosánctum Fílii tui Corpus et Sánguinem sumpsérimus, and it corresponds quite nicely to the new translation. We see the word sacrosanctum, for which “most holy” is a better rendering of this than “sacred,” though “most sacred” would also have been appropriate. (Sacrosanctum is actually a composition of two words, sacer and sanctus, both meaning “holy” or “sacred”.) The (pre-2011) translation seems to be afraid of superlatives, but when it comes to thing of God, there can be no excess of adjectives.
The critical theological point here not only involves the word “participation” but also the connection it draws to the current altar of sacrifice and the “high altar” in heaven. There is but one sacrifice of Christ, and by extension there is but one Mass. The “current” Mass in which we participate on any given Sunday is the same as the Mass form the previous Sunday, which is the same as the Last Supper as well as the sacrifice on Calvary. So too is it the same as the heavenly liturgy in which the angels and saints celebrate with Christ as the High Priest. There is but one altar of sacrifice, and by participating in the here-and-now liturgy we are also participating in the eternal supper of the Lamb. Such is the point of the entire Book of Revelation. The purpose of the Supplices te rogamus is to bring to mind how we are drawn up into the heavenly liturgy on the wings of an Angel. Our participation is a “real” participation, an “authentic” participation, an “actual” participation. This, indeed, is why Vatican II uses the phrase actuosa participatione (“actual participation”) in reference to the Holy Mass. (This phrase has been commonly mistranslated as “active participation.” The Latin in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy explicitly does not use the word activa. While there are certainly “actions” that the faithful are called to do during the liturgy, a mistranslation of actuosa places an undeserved emphasis on “action,” giving the incorrect impression that the liturgy should have as many people as possible doing as many things as possible. “Actual participation” is always primarily internal, for without the internal reality, the external actions become emptied of meaning.) (pp.2-3.)
The translation we now hear—that is, when a priest decides to employ the Roman Canon—is filled with the power of mystery, a subtle power hidden when priests become distant from and avoid the use of our first, foremost and ancient Canon!

As mentioned above, the Mass also places us in the Upper Room with Jesus and the Apostles on that night Jesus established both the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. By the power of God, we can be present to both the Upper Room (Holy Thursday) and Calvary (the Crucifixion) during the Mass!

To complement Mr. Tawney's essay, next follows an excerpt from an transcription of a conference given on the same prayer by the distinguished Abbot of Solesmes. The good abbot reminds us that "the Angel" Who bears the gifts to God's altar on high is none other than God Himself, Jesus Christ. Abbot Guéranger also draws our attention to Saint John's Apocalypse. Note, too, the attention to the rubrics which reveal the actions of the priest in what is now referred to as the Extraordinary Form or Tridentine Mass.
Taken from notes made at the conferences of Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes. Translated from the French by Rev. Dom Laurence Shepherd, monk of the English Benedictine Congregation.
During the following Prayer, the Priest no longer has his hands out-stretched, because he is bowing down, in lowly supplication; placing his joined hands on the Altar, he says: Supplices Te rogamus, Omnipotens Deus: jube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime Altare tuum, in conspectu divinae Majestatis tuae. Dread words are these, says Innocent III in his treatise on the Mass! The Priest designates his offering by the simple word haec, these Things; he knows that God sees them, and knows their priceless worth, so he contents himself with merely saying: jube haec perferri, command that these Things be carried.
And whither does he want them to be carried? in sublime altare tuum. This altar of ours here on earth suffices us not; we aspire even so far, as that this our Offering may be placed on that Altar which St. John saw in heaven, and on which he pictures to us a Lamb, as it were, slain: et vidi Agnum stantem tamquam occisum. This Lamb is standing, says St. John; nevertheless, he adds: tamquam occisum, as it were, slain. Truly, Our Lord will ever bear the marks of His Five Wounds, but, now all resplendent as suns; and this Lamb is standing, because He is living, and dieth now no more; thus does St. John show Him unto us. Such is the Altar, on which the Lord standeth, in His Immortal Life, bearing the marks of what He has suffered for us: Agnum tamquam occisum, there is He for ever, before the Throne of Divine Majesty. So now, the Priest begs of God to send His Angel to take up the Victim from this our Altar on earth, and to place It on the Altar of Heaven.
To what Angel does the Priest here refer? There is neither Cherub, nor Seraph, nor Angel, nor Archangel that can possibly execute what the Priest here asks God to command to be done. It is an Act wholly beyond the power of any created being. Now, observe the meaning of the word Angel; it signifies sent, and the Son of God was the One Sent, by the Father; He came down upon earth among men, He is the true Missus, Sent, as He says of Himself: Et qui misit me Pater (S. John, v. 37). Our Lord is not simply in the rank of those spirits whom we term Angels and Archangels, placed near to us by God. No, He is the Angel by excellence, He is, as the Scripture expresses it, the Angel of the Great Counsel, Angelus magni consilii, of that great Counsel of God whereby willing to redeem the world, He gave His own Son. So then, the Priest begs of God that the Angel may bear away haec (What is upon the Altar), and may place It upon the Altar of heaven; he makes this petition in order to show the identity of the Sacrifice of Heaven, with the Sacrifice of earth.
The Priest then adds: ut quotquot ex hac altaris participatione. The Priest kisses the Altar, whilst pronouncing these words. Holy Church has the profoundest veneration for this Altar which represents Jesus Christ, Who is himself the Living Altar; therefore, in its sanctification and consecration, does she lavish her most beauteous rites. The Priest continues: Sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus (here he signs with the cross the Host and Chalice, as also himself), omni benedictione coelesti et gratia repleamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. So we here beg to be filled with all graces and blessings, just as if we were already admitted in Heaven, to the participation of that Living Altar there, Jesus Christ, Who sheds around Him grace and benediction. We crave these graces and blessings, in virtue of our participating at this Altar of earth, which Holy Church treats with such veneration. It is in the name of this Altar that the Priest asks all sorts of blessings for all mankind. Observe how the Priest never speaks for himself alone, so here he says repleamur, that we may be filled, he signs himself with the cross, whilst saying these last words, in order to show that this benediction comes to us by the Cross, and also to signify that we accept it with our whole heart.
Of all the Eucharistic Prayers, the Roman Canon is in a class all its own. It's sense of balance, sobriety, its poetry and Christocentric and subtle Trinitarian theology outclasses all other Eucharistic Prayers save those of our eastern brethren who are right to boast, too, about the sublime poetry of their liturgies.

For those looking to harp on the Roman Canon's deficiencies and thereby attempt to demean it and hinder its use, they should reflect a little longer on Abbot Guéranger's essay to discover the hidden layers of but one prayer among many beautiful, theologically rich prayers within the Canon, layers that reveal the most profound Mystery of Redemption and the nature of God and which invite us to bend the knee in adoration before the living God.

What is true for the Supplices te rogamus is true for all the prayers of the Roman Canon. Only a half-baked critic would dismiss the sublime Roman Canon and attempt to elevate above it the other three contrived canons which, though drawing on ancient sources to a greater or lesser degree, or not at all, have yet to approach the breadth and depth of the venerable Roman Canon.

The text of the Roman Rite conveys a humble confidence appropriate to the Catholic believer. We trust in Jesus. We know that, in the epic war between good and evil, light and dark, God always wins every battle. Though our faith may be weak, we can trust that God is in charge and that He wins. Ultimately and always, He wins, and with Him the faithful win. As the Holy Gospel reminds:
At that time, Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.—St. John 10:27-30.

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