Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dominica I In Quadragisma: Praefatio De Tentatione Domini

The prefaces of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI are often considered a striking (if not rare) example of its strengths. The body of prefaces was substantially increased over the pre-Conciliar missal. In many cases, their theological content is a clear instance of the Novus Ordo getting it right. The preface for the first Sunday of Lent is a fine exemplar of the benefits of the new corpus.

De Tentatione Domini

Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare,
nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere:
Dominie, sancte Paer, omnipotens aeterne Deus:
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Que quadraginta diebus,
terrenis abstines alimentis,
formam huius observantiae ieiunio dedicavit,
et, omnes evertens antiqui serpentis insidias,
fermentum malitiae nos docuit superare,
ut, paschale mysterium dignis mentibus celebrantes,
ad pascha demum perpetuum transeamus.

Et ideo cum Angelorum atque Sanctorum turba
hymnum laudis tibi canimus, sine fine dicentes:


For those who have access to the previous English language sacramentary, this preface has undergone considerable improvement with the third edition of the Roman Missal. I might argue that the new translation doesn't readily convey all of the connotations of the Latin, however, this is bane of every translation effort. Invariably, one needs annotations truly explore the world of the original language, however, such material, apart from redacting the translation to include such material, is hardly suitable for a liturgical context.
The text of the preface is a new composition, the result of centonizing a variety of ancient sources. You can find a detailed presentation of the ancient sources of this modern prayer Anthony Ward's and Cuthbert Johnson's essential The Prefaces of the Roman Missal: a Source Compendium with Concordance and Indices. Really, no discussion of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI is credible without this volume and it pains me that such scientific analysis of liturgical texts is falling by the wayside (if it was there at all) among popular liturgical devotees. Back to the text of the preface, this is one instance in which the centonized text is, in my estimation, superior to the original ancient texts.

The last decade has seen an increasing number of articles critiquing the reform of the Lenten liturgies, particularly on the grounds that the revisions of the concilium lessened the emphasis on fasting, corporeal mortification and repentence. The work of Lauren Pristas is perhaps the most notable of such critiques in the scholarly sphere. While it is true that the Sunday collects are often prime examples of such redaction, a broader study of the Lenten liturgies argues in favor of the position that fasting and repentence have not been de-emphasized but rather re-contextualized. The preface De Tentatione Domini makes the case for such a perspective. Liturgical prayer often operates on multiple levels. The preface is typically intended to recall the acts of God or, in Christian terms, the history of salvation. Appropriately, the first Sunday of Lent recalls Jesus' temptation. Yet, the preface also serves to provide grounding for Lenten fasting, abstinence and repentance. Renunciation of worldly pleasures and the discipline of fasting are set in the context of the immitatio Christi. It is not, then, solely for fasting for fasting's sake, rather, it is done specifically at this time of year in immitation of Jesus' own earthly existence, specifically the beginning of his ministry according to the synoptic accounts. In this respect, the preface focuses upon the paschal mystery theology that flourished in Roman liturgical theology prior to the Council, with touches of Dom. Odo Casel's mystery liturgiology - the notion that liturgy turns us into participants of the Deity's action.

For linguists and scripture buffs, there is a most interesting line that will often go unnoticed in the liturgy but is packed with meaning. Et, omnes evertens antiqui serpentis insidias, evokes the language of the Apocalypse of John 12:9, et proiectus est draco ille magnus, serpens antiquus, qui vocatur Diabolus et Satanas, qui seducit universum orbem; proiectus est in terram, et angeli eius cum illo proiecti sunt. (Nova Vulgata) This line is effectively contrasted by the invocation of the choirs of angels that concludes the preface in the Roman liturgy, reminding the participants of the celestial correspondence to our terrestrial reality. Textually, we are placed amid the celestial realities and the cosmic nature of the liturgical action is explicitly placed into focus.