USA National Propers in RM2011: Thanksgiving Day

Since I earlier posted on the National Proper texts for Ireland, I decided to spend some time examining National Proper texts for the United States. I begin with the changes in the proper texts appearing for the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day) in RM1974 and RM2011.

First of all, RM2011 supplies appropriate Entrance (Ephesians 5:19-20) and Communion (Psalm 138 [137]: 1 or Psalm 116 [115]: 12-13) Antiphons missing in RM1974. It might have been even more pastorally helpful if psalm verses yoked to these antiphons had been proposed when these texts are chanted.

Second, the Opening Prayer/Collect and Prayer over the Gifts/Prayer over the Offerings are all lightly revised to conform to syntactical style of RM2011 as well as for greater clarity in oral proclamation. The most substantive change occurs in the Prayer after Communion:

RM1974:

Lord God, / in this celebration / we have seen the depths of your love for every man and woman / and been reminded of our negligence toward others. / Help us to reach out in love to all your people, / so that we may share with them / the goods of time and eternity. / Grant this through Christ our Lord.

RM2011:

In this celebration, O Lord our God, / you have shown us the depths of your love for all your children; / help us, we pray, to reach out in love to all your people, / so that we may share with them / the good things of time and eternity. / Through Christ our Lord.

I think it is wise of the revision to concentrate on the liturgical celebration revealing the universal depths of God’s love rather than berating those who have partaken of the Eucharist for their neglect of the poor and the needy, especially at a time when generosity is culturally highlighted.

Third, the Preface is not only re-positioned in the book from the general mass of Prefaces to this unique feast, but its content is radically reworked. The protocol is rewritten to more closely mirror the transition the Latin makes from the final phrase of the Opening Dialogue to the priest’s praise and thanksgiving addressed to God the Father in the body of the Preface:

RM1974:

Father, / we do well to join all creation, / in heaven and on earth, / in praising you, our mighty God / through Jesus Christ our Lord.

RM2011:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, / always and everywhere to give you thanks, / Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, / through Christ our Lord.

Where the earlier version in effect ignores the congregation’s response, the RM2011 text incorporates it directly into its transition to divine praise.

The biblical narratives undergirding the new and revised bodies of this Preface evidence a profound rethinking of how biblical typology might be applied to United States history:

RM1974:

You made man to your own image / and set him over all creation. / Once you chose a people / and gave them a destiny / and, when you brought them out of bondage to freedom, / they carried with them the promise / that all men would be blessed / and all men could be free.

What the prophets pledged / was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, / your Son and our saving Lord. / It has come to pass in every generation / for all men who have believed that Jesus / by his death and resurrection / gave them a new freedom in his Spirit.

It happened to our fathers, / who came to this land as if out of a desert / into a place of promise and hope. / It happens to us still, in our time, / as you lead all men though your Church / to the blessed vision of peace.

RM2011:

You have entrusted to us / the great gift of freedom, / a gift that calls forth / responsibility and commitment / to the truth that all have a fundamental dignity before you. / In Jesus, through his Death and Resurrection, / we find our ultimate redemption, / freedom from sin, / and every blessing.

The earlier text directly (and problematically) applies the Jewish Exodus-from-slavery-in-Egypt to those immigrating to the United States, whether seeking political and religious freedom in the national mythology associated with the “pilgrim ancestors” or those seeking economic freedom in later waves of immigration. Inevitably this typology casts the places from which the immigrants came as well as the native peoples already here in a difficult light. The claim of the final sentence of the RM1974 body is also problematic; we might hope that the Church could offer humanity a vision of peace, but in fact ecclesial history is marked by fierce dissensions. Finally, the RM1974 text overemphasizes the use of the masculine generic and would be heard by many today as sexist in its formulation.
In contrast, the RM2011 eschews biblical narrative and typology in favor of a more abstract doctrinal declaration. The mythic image of native Americans and pilgrims feasting together probably has some resonance with the Christian truth that “all [humans] have a fundamental dignity before [God].” However, by foregoing the narrative in favor of abstractions, the text clearly appeals more to the head than the heart (one of the characteristics Bishop lists as part of the “genius” of the Roman Rite) and may not call forth as deep a sense of thanksgiving as the earlier text, even with all its problems.

The eschatocol in both versions is almost word-for-word the same, with the exception of the cue leading to the recitation or singing of the “Holy, Holy, Holy”:

RM1974/RM2011:

And so, with hearts full of love, / we join the angels, today and every day of our lives, / to sing of your glory / [RM1974: in a hymn of endless praise:] / [RM2011: as we acclaim:]

If those who were involved in preparing these texts are not bound by secrecy, I would be grateful if they would share with Pray, Tell’s readers the kinds of issues that they considered as they crafted these prayer texts for use in the dioceses of the United States. Since, as far as I know, these texts are generated in English and not translated from Latin originals, it would be interesting to discover what kinds of freedoms and constraints were in operation.

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5 comments

  1. The thing (other than what is mentioned above) that always struck me about the 1974 preface on Thanksgiving is its extreme length! It seems longer than any other preface in the liturgical year. Yes, Thanksgiving is important to the US, but to me it seemed needlessly overwrought. I would be interested in knowing the process, etc., as well.

    1. The thing that struck me this Thanksgiving about the preface was how it used exclusionary language:

      You made MAN to your own image
      and set HIM over all creation…
      …the promise
      that all MEN would be blessed
      and all MEN could be free…
      It has come to pass in every generation
      for all MEN who have believed that Jesus…
      gave them a new freedom in his Spirit. …
      It happened to our FATHERS…
      as you lead all MEN though your Church…

      WOW!

      1. This was composed in those heady post-conciliar days when everyone was all about the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. It was very progressive at the time (O tempora! O mores!.

      2. Which, like any other prayer in RM2, could be altered for inclusivity. Preface 5 for Sundays in OT (Creation) and much of EP 4 come to mind. Our previous bishop (Cooney) did this, which was in essence him granting approval to do this. Perhaps some are purists and will read the text exactly, I see no issue with changing man/men into us.

  2. I thought they did have to submit the National Proper prefaces in Latin so that they could be approved? And then they would be re-translated into English?

    I seem to recall the illustrious Fr. Zuhlsdorf comparing the 1974 Thanksgiving preface with its Latin and offer a particularly zealous denunciation for its wholesale departure from his famous “what the prayer really says”: i.e., nothing about pilgrims and the problematic Exodus-from-Egypt=Coming-to-America preface.

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