29 September 2009

More Mohrmann (see earlier post)

The ancient Romans were very legalistically minded. When they prayed to the Gods, they did their best to ensure that they covered everything; that they addressed the Gods by the right titles (and all of them) so that they could be assured that they were heard; that they asked for everything that they required so that an accidental omission would not frustrate their petitions. Christine Mohrmann showed that there is more than a little of this attitude in the prayers which comprise the Roman Rite of the ancient Latin Church.

In the Canon of the Mass, perhaps this is shown most clearly in the word 'adscriptam'. It means, I suppose, "written on the list". It's lawyer-like. If something's in the Statute, in the inventory, then it's covered. If not, not. We pray that our oblation be "written up". The old ICEL version simply ignored the word; the new ICEL, authorised and imminent, renders it "acknowledged", which is still a trifle coy.

It is not difficult to understand the nervousness of the translators. "Legalism" is not instinctively seen as a virtue in modern culture, still less in modern religious thought. God is not, we feel, a crabbed old backwoods attorney or solicitor just looking all the time for an opportunity or a pedantic excuse to catch us out. He's loving, merciful, generous, understanding. Perhaps the authors of the Roman Canon were a little bit too Roman and a little bit less Christian than they should have been.

But No. Long before the Roman Canon was written, S Ignatius of Antioch wrote that the Eucharist had to be celebrated by the Bishop, or by one to whom the bishop committed it, for it to be bebaios: a Greek word meaning sure, certain, secure, safe. Conditions have to be fulfilled. And this in turn is based on two root principles of our Faith.

God is true and will do what he has promised. We are called to be faithful and to do what he has commanded in the way that he has commanded. When we are obedient we know that what we have done is official, valid, in the archive, stamped by the clerk. Praise to him for his faithfulness.


Steve said...

But what if S Ignatius of Antioch was wrong? (He didn't come from the right place to be infallible....)

Steve Cavanaugh said...

True, S. Ignatius was from the "other" Petrine see. But thereby is a witness that what Fr. Hunwicke has written about the Roman mind was not unique to them. That we must "do what He has commanded in the way that He has commanded" reflects Jesus' words in Matthew to those who claim that he taught in their streets and that he has supped with them: I never knew you. Listening to the teaching, and partaking of the sacrifice is not enough to live a Christian life; we must have, as Paul begins and closes the epistle to the Romans "the obedience of faith".

austin said...

I found these observations moving and compelling -- not what one expects from comments on liturgical lexis. But what else is a covenant but a binding legal agreement? And how can one be faithful without one. Another reason to be grateful to the industrious and perceptive Fr. H.