Friday, January 1, 2010

The Angel of Great Council

For a number of years, I have been turning over in my mind a prayer from the Roman Canon, and a peculiar phrase there. The prayer occurs after the Consecration, and reads as follows, in Latin,
Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: jube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae: ut quotquot, ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filli tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
And in English, using the same capitalization as in Latin,
Humbly we implore thee, almighty God, bid these offerings to be carried by the hands of thy holy Angel to thy altar on high, in the sight of thy divine majesty, that all we who are partakers at the altar of the precious Body and Blood of thy Son, may be filled with all heavenly grace and blessing. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Aside from the first word of the paragraph, and the traditional conclusion, the words capitalized here are the following: God, Angel, Body, Blood, Son.

Why do I find that meaningful? Well, for one thing, earlier versions of this same prayer from the Canon of the Mass do not use "Angeli", but "angelorum". At the early times when these sources were copied punctualization (including capitalization) may not have been very significant, so "Angel" in the upper case must be a relatively late touch-up; but the change from "angels" to "Angel", which might otherwise appear to be a minor editorial change makes me think that this was to indicate that the Angel in question was the person of Jesus Christ himself, at this point in the Mass, present on the altar under the appearances of bread and wine.

I say this without being certain about it, because if that is the purpose of this phrase, i.e., to bid the Father to accept "our offering" at the hands of His Beloved Son, who was sent to us for our salvation, it must be a reference to some phrase from Scripture, and the word "angel" must be taken in its sense of "messenger", rather than referring to Christ himself as if he were of Angelic nature, which is an ancient heresy.

It is such an old heresy, in fact, that St. Paul (?) explicitly makes the case that Christ is "higher" than the angels in the first couple of chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews! St. Paul asks: "For to which of the angels has he said at any time: Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee? (Heb 1, 5; quoting Psalm 2).

Happily, however, I have been able to find the passage that was clanging about in the back of my mind. Today, January 1, the Octave of Christ's Nativity, I attended the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at my parish, and the Introit of today's Mass is from the Prophet Isaiah (Is 9, 6):
Puer natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis: cuius imperium super humerum eius: et vocabitur nomen eius, magni consilii Angelus.
A child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, whose rule is upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called the Angel of great counsel.
The Latin and English here, i.e., in the Liturgy of the Mass, follow the words of the Septuagint Greek, μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος. It seems like a very good expression of the sacramental mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass, for which Christ's Incarnation, which we celebrate today on its Octave, is a precondition.

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