Saturday, September 22, 2012

My new home

I am re-launching my blog at

I will not delete content from this blog, and I do not yet have plans for copying posts from here to there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I have a bunch of Catholic study tools online at, most notably a new version of the Catechism search engine, but also a Church Fathers search engine, a Summa Theologiae search engine, and a beta version of a new online approach to reading and studying the Bible.  Check them out!

I'm also planning on re-starting my blogging at that new web site.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Church and Social Media Today

Here is my recommended reading list:

Catholic New Media Conference - Day 1

I'm in Arlington, TX through Saturday morning for the Catholic New Media Conference.  It's being held in the same place and at the same time as the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and the Catholic Writers' Guild meet-up, at the Arlington Convention Center.

I arrived Tuesday night, and the CNMC began Wednesday.  There were two tracks:  the standard track and the developers' track.  I attended the developers' track, which was focused on apps, APIs, and collaboration.  I have recently put together an API (CatechismAPI) for searching and presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have a web site that uses it very simply to let people search the Catechism how (I think) people really need to search it.

The first session was on seven strategies for building a good web site for your organization, presented by Josh of eCatholic.  The second session was an expo of Catholic apps, programs, and APIs.  There were presentations on the Catholic Diocese App, Logos, Divine Office, CatechismAPI (my work), and Flocknote.

I received great feedback and a very positive response to my work.  More about that in another post.

I met Matthew Warner, Jeff Geerling, and Brandon Vogt, who I knew through Twitter.  I can't say I put a face to a name, since we've all got pictures of our heads on Twitter.  It was nice to meet them in the flesh; it was very Catholic, very incarnational.  I also met other Twitter friends: Sr. Anne (the Nun Blogger), Jeffrey Ketterer, and Craig Berry.  And I began to network with people who do app development and could help make the CatechismAPI come alive on the mobile platform.

After lunch I stopped by the Our Sunday Visitor booth to get a copy of Brandon Vogt's book The Church and the New Media, signed by the author of course.  Then I attended a session on the importance of standards in app and API development.

Next I did a book signing at the Catholic Writers' Guild booth at the CMN Trade Show.  I also spoke with a few book distributors to see if there was any interest in my books.  After that I went to the developers' session on collaboration.

I had dinner with Matthew, Jeff, Jeff, Dane Falkner (of the Divine Office app), Kevin Knight (of, and Ian Rutherford (of Aquinas and More Books), and a few others; we ate across the street from the hotel and conference center, at El Fenix.

After dinner I listened in on Jeff Cavins' talk/pitch about Walking Toward Eternity, his new series from Ascension Press.  That was followed by a screening of Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine, a feature-film-length non-animated dramatization of the life of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.  It was really quite good.

That was a full day.  Today there's a single track... but I'll post about it later.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Imitating Jesus

(This post is the fruit of a brief Twitter conversation I had yesterday with Rev. Bosco Peters of, who has blogged about it as well.)

Sometime around March of 2010, I spoke with a group of students at Princeton University's Aquinas Institute (their Catholic chaplaincy) about the Mass and the coming new translation of the Roman Missal.  My overall theme was about how our participation in the liturgy should direct our actions outside the liturgy.  I explained how during the Mass there are moments of reception:  during the Penitential Act, we receive God's mercy; during the liturgy of the Word, we receive God's Word; during the Rite of Peace, we receive God's peace; during the Communion Rite, we receive God's very Self in the Eucharist; and in the Concluding Rites, we receive God's blessing.  These five gifts (graces) — God's mercy, word, peace, self, and blessing — are just what we need to get on with the rest of our day (and week).  We receive these graces not for ourselves only, but also for others, for everyone we come in contact with, either in person or in prayer.

The Concluding Rites of the Mass present liturgically Christ's sending His disciples out into the world shortly before His Ascension.  We receive a blessing and are sent forth, uniting the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 with the Great Blessing of Luke 24:50-51.  The link between the dismissal and the Great Commission may not be immediately evident, despite their etymological link: dismissal, commission, both from the Latin mittere (to send), missio (mission, sending).  But I expect that for most Christians, etymology is the last thing on their minds during their liturgical worship... especially at the very end of the liturgy!  So it falls to liturgical catechists (as I imagine myself to be) to point these things out.

So what does this have to do with "imitating Jesus", as I've titled this blog post?  Well, to make my point at this same meeting with Princeton students, I asked "Why are we dismissed from the Mass?"  That is, to what end are we sent forth from the church?  It's not so that we can get home in time to watch the football game.  It's not because we've worn out our welcome in God's house.  It's not because the Mass has been dragging on too long... although hearing "The Mass is ended" may elicit more genuine "Thanks be to God!"s than we think.  But no, we are dismissed from the liturgy for a particular reason, which the third edition of the Roman Missal attempts to make clear in its new formulae for dismissal.  As Pope Benedict pointed out in Sacramentum Caritatis, the dismissal of the liturgy is a missionary sending-forth.  But to what end?

The end is to imitate Jesus.  I came to this conclusion when I noticed a pattern of speech in the Gospel of John.  In the Gospels, Jesus often makes remarks about "as that..., so this..."  Examples from Matthew and Luke are the signs of Jonah (Mt 12:40; Lk 11:30), of lightning (Mt 24:27; Lk 17:24), and of Noah (Mt 24:37; Lk 17:26).  This pattern of speech is particularly pronounce in John's Gospel, where the comparisons are less about events than they are about persons.  On five occasions, Christ spoke about how, just as the Father does something, so too the Son does it:
  • For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
    so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (Jn 5:21)
  • For as the Father has life in himself,
    so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (Jn 5:26)
  • As the Father has loved me,
    so have I loved you; abide in my love. (Jn 15:9)
  • As thou didst send me into the world,
    so I have sent them into the world. (Jn 17:18)
  • As the Father has sent me,
    even so I send you. (Jn 20:21)
This is simply the principle of John 5:19 put into action: "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise."  As the Father gives life to the dead, so too does the Son; as the Father has life in Himself, so too does the Son; as the Father loves the Son, so too does the Son love us; and as the Father sends the Son, so too does the Son send... us.

That last one is the key:  Jesus sent His disciples into the world just as the Father sent Jesus into the world.  Jesus is not speaking simply of the similarity between two people who send others out; Jesus is saying that as the Father sent Him, so He sends His disciples.  The purpose, the reason, the mission (missio, sending) is the same; from paragraph 858 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Jesus is the Father's Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he "called to him those whom he desired; . ... And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach." From then on, they would also be his "emissaries" (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." The apostles' ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: "he who receives you receives me."
Our imitation of Christ requires knowledge of why the Father sent the Son.  John's Gospel is the Gospel of Siloam, "the sent" (Jn 9:7), and a whole Bible study could be centered upon the theology of "sending" in John's Gospel.  The first answer John's Gospel gives to the question of why the Father sent the Son is "that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3:17), so that as the serpent in the desert was lifted up, so too the Son will be lifted up, to draw all to Himself. (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32)  While we cannot claim to be Christ, the Savior of the world, we are anointed ("christed") to share in Christ's threefold mission as priest, prophet, and king, and so our mission is the same as His: if not to bring salvation to the world, then to bring the world to its salvation, to its Savior.

There is another set of verses in John's Gospel with the "as-so" pattern, but instead of "as the Father... so the Son," these verses are "as the Father (or: as I)... so you."
  • As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father,
    so he who eats me will live because of me. (Jn 6:57)
  • Even as I have loved you,
    that you also love one another. (Jn 13:34)
  • Even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee,
    that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17:21)
These verses teach us how to imitate Christ:
  • as He lives because of the One Who sent Him,
    so we are to live by the One Who sends us;
  • as the Father loves Him, and as He loves us,
    so we are to love one another;
  • and as the Father and the Son are in each other,
    so we are to be in God (and God in us!).
This is why we are dismissed from the liturgy: to live by the One Who sends us, to love one another (even those not yet within the fold) as He loves us, and to participate in His divine life as He Himself lives it.  And this is all so that the world may believe that the Father sent His Son, and thus believe in the Son, who came for the salvation of the world.  And in this way, we are carrying out the same mission as Christ; in this way, we are sent that the world may be saved.

This is imitating Jesus.  This, not to take anything away from Thomas à Kempis, is imitation of Christ.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

As... so...

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mt 12:40)

For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. (Lk 11:30)

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. (Mt 13:40)

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. (Mt 24:27)

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day. (Lk 17:24)

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. (Mt 24:37)

As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man. (Lk 17:26)

And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. (Lk 6:31)

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up. (Jn 3:14)

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (Jn 5:21)

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (Jn 5:26)

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. (Jn 6:57)

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.' (Jn 13:33)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (Jn 13:34)

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. (Jn 15:9)

As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (Jn 17:18)

Even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17:21)

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." (Jn 20:21)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where are all these enormous circles?

The following quote from a poem by Edwin Markham is often cited by persons or groups who perceive themselves to be marginalized or excluded from the Catholic Church for one reason or another:

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

I do not wish to question the perceptions of these persons or groups; the marginalization or exclusion they feel may indeed be very real.  What I wonder about, though, is whether, in quoting this part of Markham's poem, they actually intend to "draw a circle" that takes in the very person or group they feel is excluding them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Perfectae Caritatis - Vatican II on consecrated religious life

(The material below comes from a post originally written three years ago.  I'm posting this again now, in April 2012, because of the news surrounding the LCWR in the United States.)

Perfectae Caritatis (the decree on the renewal of religious life), among others from Vatican II, could really have benefited from headings. It's not much to ask for. I mean, I finally caught on that the first couple words of a "paragraph" (really, a group of paragraphs with a single number) indicated the content matter for that numbered paragraph, but the organization of the document didn't jump out at me at first. For those of you reading along at home (and you are reading the documents of Vatican II, aren't you?), here's the breakdown of Perfectae Caritatis:
  1. Introduction (1)
  2. Principles of Renewal (2-6)
    1. Five General Principles of Renewal
    2. Call to Renewal
    3. Authority in Carrying Out the Renewal
    4. Dedication to Evangelical Counsels and Contemplation
    5. Sources of Renewal
  3. Types of Religious Life (7-11)
    1. Contemplative
    2. Apostolates (Active Communities)
    3. Monastic
    4. Lay Religious
    5. Secular
  4. Evangelical Counsels (12-14)
    1. Chastity
    2. Poverty
    3. Obedience
  5. Religious Lifestyle (15-18)
    1. Communal Living
    2. Papal Cloister
    3. Habits
    4. Education and Formation
  6. Lifecycle, Work, and Governance (19-24)
    1. Founding New Communities
    2. Community Identity (Ministry and Mission)
    3. Discontinuing a Community
    4. Combining Similar Communities
    5. Conferences or Councils of Major Superiors
    6. Fostering Vocations
  7. Conclusion (25)
I hope that's helpful for you, for when you read the documents of Vatican II.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Catholic Piazza

This morning I received an email from a woman in the UK named Margaret who invited me to participate on a Catholic forum she started up recently:

I've registered and, after the Easter weekend, I'll endeavor to participate there.  I tend to be more active on forums than blogs, for whatever reason.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Improperia

The Improperia (or "Reproaches") are a series of antiphons and responses which are part of the Good Friday liturgy in the Roman Rite (although you may not have ever heard them).  They are presented as Christ crying out to His people (contextually, the Israelites) for the injustices they showed their God after all the wonders God had performed for them.

Here is my own (somewhat loose) English translation of the Latin (and Greek) text:

O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?  Answer me!

For I brought you out of the land of Egypt,
but you brought out* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

For I led you through the desert for forty years,
and fed you with manna,
and brought you into a land of plenty,
but you prepared* a cross for your Savior.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

What more should I have done for you, that I did not do?
Indeed, I planted you, my precious chosen vine,
but you have become terribly bitter to me.
Indeed, you gave me vinegar to drink in my thirst,
and have pierced your Savior's side with a lance.

Holy is God!  Holy and mighty!  Holy and immortal!
Have mercy upon us!

I scourged the first-born of Egypt for your sake:
yet you scourged me and handed me over.

O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you?  Answer me!

I plunged Pharaoh into the Red Sea and plucked you out of Egypt's hand:
yet you handed me over to the high priests.

O my people...

I parted the sea before you:
yet you parted my side with a lance.

O my people...

I led you as a pillar of cloud:
yet you led me into Pilate's palace.

O my people...

I rained down manna for you in the desert:
yet you rained down blows and lashes on me.

O my people...

I gave you saving water from the rock to drink:
yet for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.

O my people...

I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites:
yet you struck the head of your King with a reed.

O my people...

In your hands I placed a royal scepter:
yet upon my head you placed a crown of thorns.

O my people...

I raised you up in great power:
yet you raised me up on a cross.

O my people...

* The Latin is the same for these two lines ("but you ... your Savior"), but I have chosen to render them differently.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Books: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

This Lent, I decided to read The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, edited by Benedicta Ward, SLG.  I bought this book last May at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.  My wife is currently pursuing her doctorate in history (and I think she's gaining on it), and her specific area of interest is medieval England.  For the past few years (three? four?) we have been attending the ICMS at Kalamazoo, and this past year we both presented papers: hers was on the Book of Hours belonging to Sir William Porter and what it reveals about him ("Affinity, Nationalism, and Religious Devotion"), and mine was on an eschatological perspective on JRR Tolkien's use of geography in his Middle Earth literature.  Sadly, we are not attending this year, as we have too many things on our plates, and too many plates in the air.

WMU is home to an Institute of Cistercian Studies, and there is a good showing of Cistercians at the ICMS each year.  One of the book vendors is Cistercian Publications.  It was at their booth last May that I found The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  I don't tend to buy too many books at the ICMS because most of them are, to be honest, over my head and out of my realm of interest.  I do get a few each year, though.  Last year I also bought a commentary on Second Corinthians (by CCSS) and a book about the medieval literature behind the writing of JRR Tolkien, The Keys of Middle-Earth.

These books are in good company in my man-cave in the unfinished basement of our house.  A man-cave I have not spent much time in lately, because it's been winter, and because we sometimes get floods down there, and because my part of the basement is a federal disaster relief site.  It's a real mess.  Now that the temperature is warming up, I might be able to straighten it up a bit.  A lot.

But about my books.  I have a lot of books down there, but many of them are unread or barely started.  I've decided to create a virtual bookshelf program (using Google Books' API) so that my wife and I can keep track of the books we own, categorize them, log a history of which ones we're reading, how far we are, and when we've finished them.  With a simple program in place (and enhancements to come in time), I've resolved to enter the books I own into the system, read them, and make notes about them.

So that brings us to The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  This 250 page alphabetical collection of sayings (not necessarily "wisdom" sayings, but sayings) from the eremitical men and women of the Egypt from the third through fifth centuries is the sort of book I like.  It introduces me to the writings and thoughts of people and potentially whets my appetite for more.  Case in point, my wife has suggested I read Athanasius' Life of St. Anthony, who has some 38 sayings in this book, four of which I marked as particularly meaningful to me.  The book is dog-eared and pencil-marked now: I put asterisks next to scriptural citations (for entry into a database later), and I turn down the corner of a page on which I find a saying that resonates with me, and draw a line down the margin next to it.

I imagine there are about two thousand sayings in this book, and they range from the utterly practical to the astonishingly absurd.  Some are amusing anecdotes about the trials of living as a well-known and sought-after hermit; a couple of these end up sounding like a fourth-century rendition of "Get off my lawn!"  Others are mind-blowing accounts of the severe ascetism of these secluded monks: eating only once every other day, fighting off sleep, not speaking a word unless it would be a sin not to do so (hospitality to one's neighbor — a funny concept among people living mostly solitary lives — was very big among the Desert Fathers and Mothers), and refusing to accept gifts or retain possessions.

Some are quite fantastic, like the story of Abba Sisoes of Calamon who, to avoid sleep, hung himself over a precipice.  It is related that "an angel came to take him down and ordered him not to do that again and not to transmit such teaching to others." (p. 219)  Others are quite mundane, like the story of Abba Macarius who had nothing in his cell but some stagnant water.  Two brothers noticed this and invited him to accompany them to a village where they would get clean water for him.  Abba Macarius asked if they knew the man who owned the bakery in the village; they did.  He asked if they knew of the field which lay adjacent to the river; they did.  Then he said to them, "I know it too.  So when I want to, I can go there myself, without your help."

A simple "No thanks" would have sufficed!

There are many real gems among these sayings as well.  Love of neighbor as love of Christ comes up often.  The radical nature of life for Christ alone, to the exclusion of virtually every worldly comfort, is a constant theme.  And then there are frequent reminders that we should be concerned for, and weep for, our own sins, rather than judge another person.  I was surprised at the sort of laissez-faire attitude towards sin that several of these sayings contain, along the lines of "If you see a brother sinning, say nothing to him."  A brother is being judged by the other brethren, and the abba shows up and asks to be judged too; or the abba appears carrying a large sack of sand on his back and holding a small satchel of sand in front of him: "In this sack with contains much sand, are my sins which are many; I have put them behind me so as not to be troubled about them and so as not to weep; and see here are the little sins of my brother which are in front of me and I spend my time judging them." (Abba Pior, p. 199)

I found one saying near the end of the book that aligns with the popular saying, "hate the sin, love the sinner."  Amma Syncletica says, "Hate sickness but not the sick person." (p. 233)  There were also striking encounters with sinners (often harlots) wherein the abba converts the sinner by sorrow for his or her life of sin and concern for his or her immortal soul.

There is practical wisdom to be found as well.  Abba Silvanus said, "Unhappy is the man whose reputation is greater than his work." (p. 224)  Abba Pambo lamented that a courtesan had greater desire to please wicked men than he had to please God. (p. 196)  Abba Poemen states matter-of-factly that "where there are enemies, I become a solider." (p. 194)

A few sayings remind me of the encounter between Jean Valjean and the bishop in Les misérables.  Valjean is shown hospitality by the bishop but in return steals some silverware and runs off in the night.  When Valjean is apprehended by lawmen and returned to the bishop, the bishop insists that the silver was a gift.  Not having read the book, but having seen the musical (does that count?), the event is told in this way:

Constables: Tell his reverence your story, let us see if he's impressed.
You were lodging here last night; you were the honest bishop's guest.
And then out of Christian goodness, when he learned about your plight,
You maintain he made a present of this silver.

Bishop:                                                               That is right.
But my friend you left so early, surely something slipped your mind.
You forgot I gave these also.  Would you leave the best behind?
So messieurs, you may release, for this man has spoken true.
I commend you for your duty: may God's blessing go with you.

And remember this, my brother: see in this some higher plan.
You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood,
God has raised you out of darkness.  I have bought your soul for God.

This is the sort of reaction some of the abbas have toward a brother who is sinning.  One brother is suspected of having given into the temptation of fornication, and the other brothers decide to search his cell for the woman.  The local abba, Ammonas, knowing what has happened, enters the cell first and sits upon a barrel; he knows the brother has hid the woman inside.  He lets the other brothers in to search the cell, but they do not find the woman.  When they leave, Abba Ammonas takes the brother by the hand and says, "Brother, be on your guard." (p. 28)  Other stories relate how an abba, upon seeing his cell being raided by thieves, would not cry out in alarm, but assist the thieves in stowing what little possessions he had on their camel.

Clearly this way of life is not for everyone.  The extreme asceticism and the "look the other way" mentality do not apply to every situation of life.  Still, there is a great deal to be learned from these wise (and probably thin) men and women of the desert.  They emphasize the need to cast off vices and grow in virtue, preferably in all the virtues a little, rather than in one particular virtue a lot.  They praise obedience and humility.

I give Abba Silvanus the last remark.  Abba Moses asked him, "Can a man lay a new foundation every day?" Abba Silvanus replied, "If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment." (p. 224)

Filling the void with books!

I'm finding it difficult to blog regularly lately.  It's probably because I read a lot of blogs and comment on a few of them fairly often, and I tweet, and I'm writing a book on the Eucharistic Prayers... oh yeah, and I have a wife and a job and a dog and teach Confirmation students.

So the blog has suffered a lot because of that.  Just look at the past few months:
  • February - 1 post
  • January - 1 post
  • December - 4 posts
  • November - 4 posts
  • October - 4 posts
I only posted 54 times in 2011, less than half of 2010's output, which was less than a third of 2009's output!  True, some of my posts have been short and a bit mundane, but I just don't write here much anymore.  I've got tons of "series" of blog posts which are stagnant, and a lot which never really ever got started.  I've also got two other blogs (related to the new liturgical translation) which haven't had much going on lately.

So, facing the decision of 1) not changing my blogging habits, 2) increasing my blogging, or 3) stopping blogging here altogether, I'm going to try #2.  I'm going to blog about the books I'm reading, because if there's one thing I have a lot of, it's unread books on Christianity!  I wouldn't call these book reviews, per se, although I'll tag them as such for good measure.

My first installment will be on The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scripture reference database

If you're like me, you have plenty of books on your bookshelves that contain references to passages from the Bible. I'm not talking just about scriptural commentaries; I have many books, which I would classify as spiritual reading (like I'm Not Being Fed! by Jeff Cavins and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis), that quote or refer to Scripture.

Several years ago, I compiled a list of scriptural annotations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and made a search engine so that I could look up paragraphs of the Catechism that refer to a specific biblical passage. I also went through a couple of books with collected excerpts from the writing of Pope Benedict XVI and made the same sort of database, but never got around to using it.

But that's going to change. I've recently started writing a little library database (using the Google Books API) for my wife and myself to keep track of all the books we own. I'm taking this opportunity to create a catalog of all the scripture references in the books I read, in the same library database. I'll eventually make this available to the public.

If you're interested in helping out, leave a comment here or tweet me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Treasures of the Roman Missal: Eucharistic Prayer IV

There are inexhaustible riches buried in the Eucharistic Prayers of the modern Roman Rite. The new English translation helps uncover them, but to delve even deeper, we need to look directly at the Latin. I recommend a look at Eucharistic Prayer IV, which is rarely used, but is a stellar recounting of salvation history filled with resonant biblical language and powerful imagery.

Here's a selection from the Post-sanctus of EP IV, first in the new English translation, and then in the underlying Latin:
You formed man in your own image
and entrusted the whole world to his care,
so that in serving you alone, the Creator,
he might have dominion over all creatures.
And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship,
you did not abandon him to the domain of death.
Here is the Latin:
Hominem ad tuam imaginem condidisti,
eique commisisti mundi curam universi,
ut, tibi soli Creatori serviens,
creaturis omnibus imperaret.
Et cum amicitiam tuam, non oboediens, amisisset,
non eum dereliquisti in mortis imperio.
There are two pairs of bolded words in the English and in the Latin: commisisti and amisisset, imperaret and imperio. The two pairs are translated in different manners. Let us look at the second pair first.

The word imperaret is a third person imperfect subjunctive form of the verb imperare "to order, command; to rule (over)." The word imperio is the noun form of that verb: "command; authority; rule". It is sensible to translate them into English as "might have dominion" and "the dominion", for this captures the sense of the Latin words and the linguistic link between them. The treasure I see here in the text is this: God gave dominion (mastery, you could say, or stewardship) of His creation to man, but when man sinned, He did not let death have dominion over man. This treasure is not too hard to spot in the new translation. (The previous English translation was another matter, translating these two words as "to rule" and "power", two words not immediately related to each other in English. The proposed 1998 text used "be stewards" and "power", even less associated with each other.)

But I think a more concealed treasure (partly due to the translation) is in the first pair: commisisti and amisisset. The first is the second person perfect form of the verb committere which means "to entrust" along with "to bring together, unite"; the second is the third person pluperfect subjunctive form of the verb amittere which means "to lose" along with "to send away; to part with". Both verbs are related to the root verb mittere which means "to send". The treasure to be uncovered here is that God unites — sends together, com-mittere — man and the rest of His creation as part of His friendship with man, but then man casts away — sends away, a-mittere — this friendship. God puts something special and precious into the hands of man, and man casts it aside.

These are just two pearls of great price I've uncovered as I study the Eucharistic Prayers (during the research phase of my work on Praying the Mass vol. 3, The Eucharistic Prayers). There are many more to be uncovered!