Sunday, December 9, 2007

Shrift and Housel

I went to visit an old priest today, now living in an old folks' home.  While he can't say much, often being unable to find the word he wants, after seeming to enjoy hearing all my news, when at length I asked him to hear my confession his voice suddenly firmed with authority, and he spoke clearly and confidently.  After I'd said my piece, he observed that Advent is about restoring wholeness, awaiting the coming of Christ at Christmas, He Who comes to restore wholeness (that original harmony lost by sin, but more than recovered by grace). 

(It's always good to hie oneself to be shriven: "Spit the poison out", avers that golden book, The Imitation of Christ.)

Father surprised me by asking what penance I'd like! – I didn't want to appear hoity-toity by asking for the Litanies of the Saints or Prayer of St Augustine, so I essayed to suggest "ten Hail Mary's": but he would have none of it (must have been seeing what I thought penance was), and observed that "It's about being, not doing" (better to grow in virtue than spin the prayer wheel).  He thought doing a kind turn for my parents was in order, and moreover to spend some time in silent prayer, repeating "Come, Lord Jesus" – to return to his theme of awaiting and reaching out for wholeness, brought only by Christ.  He is indeed a good confessor, giving good simple deep advice.

Coming home, driving and praying, I chewed over that phrase "Come, Lord Jesus" – also, Veni, Domine Jesu, each stemming from the Maranatha of the first Aramaic-speaking Christians, awaiting that imminent return still imminent, still to be eagerly awaited and anticipated.  This in turn lead me to sing over and over the refrain of James McAuley's Advent hymn, "Come, O Jesus, come, O Lord, Fulfiller of the Father's word."  (Luckily for others, I wound the windows up: I like to sing while driving, if I'm not using the time to say the Office or sometimes a Rosary, etc.)  

I further recall that some of the religious orders and old Breviaries used to vary Compline, as by, in Advent, using a different Nunc dimittis antiphon, and the general choice is a favourite Advent prayer of mine, an expansion of the simple aspirations above, which occurred in the 1962 Breviary only last night, as commemoration of the feria at 2nd Vespers of the Immaculate Conception (otherwise, it would have been the Magnificat antiphon at 1st Vespers of the 2nd Sunday of Advent, but 'twas trumped by Our Lady's 1st class feast):

Veni, Domine, visitare nos in pace: ut lætemur coram te corde perfecto.

(Come, O Lord, visit us in peace: that we may joy before thee with a perfect heart.)

NB For any zany Charismatics out there, the evovae is your chance to shine! – everyone else knows it simply indicates the differentia of the psalm tone, as set to the words sæculorum. Amen.

Yes, at Advent time and always, we needs must have the Lord restore to wholeness the perverted heart, that in perfectness it may joy before him, not remain ashamed in the 'region of dissimilarity' (Augustine).

Now I've had shrift, on to housel!  For the first time all year, being currently visiting my family, I slept in this morning, since Mum wanted to have a rest and go to evening Mass (ordinarily, not her preference): because it'll be ordinary form, I took the trouble to go over the prayers, chants and readings in their Latin original (all credit due to Fr Z at WDTPRS – see side bar for link to his masterly blog).  The super oblatio - prayer over the things offered up (not mere 'gifts' – wretched ICEL!) – of this day is most apposite, especially to one who's fallen into the same old sins again (but as a priest friend told me of when he complained about always confessing the same sins, his confessor told him to be glad at least he had nothing new to report!).  It also happens to be the same as in the old rite, with only verbal differences:

Placare, Domine, quæsumus, nostræ precibus humilitatis et hostiis, et, ubi nulla suppetunt suffragia meritorum, tuæ nobis indulgentiæ succurre præsidiis.  Per Christum Dominum nostrum.  R/.  Amen.

Tonight again, as daily at every altar, will stand the One Priest, Jesus Christ, invisibly acting in the person of his priest, offering sacrifice for the sins of sinful man: and the one oblation once offered will be accepted at the one heavenly altar, the Father smelling the sweet incense of the sacrifice, accepting in love the most costly sacrifice made freely by His Son, our Lamb taking our sins away.  Yet this one sacrifice is at once truly the sacrifice of the Church also, as the Body of Christ, Augustine's Christus Totus; and so we plead (loosely paraphrasing today's 'prayer over the oblations') that God be appeased by the prayers and by the hostiis, the (consecrated) hosts, the housel*, the one Victim offered we boldly call ours, but ours in our humble state: 'humility' stems from humus, the earth, from which we were made and to which we shall return.  Thus, where no merits (of ourselves, apart from Christ) are sufficient to plead for us, and we should fear instead to receive our just deserts, we plead the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and pray God to help us, aid us, by being indulgent towards us.

*'Housel', BTW, is the very rich ancient English term for Holy Communion, used by our long fathers until the disaster of the Reformation.  The word is cognate with Gothic hunsl, 'sacrifice', and may bear the same relation to the old Teuton word for 'holy' as sacrificium (=sacrum facere, to make sacred) does to sacer, 'sacred': thus neatly squaring the circle, in one word confessing that what we receive is the sacrifice of Christ and the Church: His Body.  I like it and that's that.

And as for 'shrift' - it literally means 'what is prescribed', whereas the verb 'shrive' means 'to decree, to decree after judgement, to impose a penance, to hear a confession': both words, used first in Old English, derive from the Latin scribere, 'to write', 'to decree' (long time ago, penances were arduous and lengthy).   The words nowadays survive mainly in the idiomatic phrase 'short shrift' – originally signifying the little pause before execution in which the condemned man's confession could be heard, and a necessarily very short penance imposed!  Only later did it acquire its more modern sense of treating with someone very impatiently.

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