November 30, 2012

Ends, Naps, Death

I haven't minded much having to pray in Italian; it's a pretty language in its way and it's lovely for singing. Though in this latter aspect, it's not quite Latin. After six months here I think I'm fairly well acquainted with the liturgy in Italian, though I'm aware that I have not yet heard nor prayed the Roman Canon. Funny, isn't it? Someone more innocent might think that in the diocese of Rome the Roman Eucharistic Prayer would be heard more. Also, as I've posted about before, I find it curious and a little bit amusing that after all the fuss and workshops and bulletin inserts at home regarding the pro multis, here in the diocese of Rome I concelebrate at a Mass wherein the cup is still 'poured out for you and for all.' I also haven't bothered to learn the quiet prayers of the Mass in Italian. And since I can't remember how they go in the new English translation, I just say them in Latin.

There's just one thing in the Italian liturgy that really irks me: the blessing at the end of Night Prayer. I guess I'm attached to the English: May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.

To me nighttime looks forward to death. It's the end of the day, when our day ceases to be subject to revision. We did what we did, we were who we were, for better or for worse. And so with our death; when it comes it marks the moment when we have made up our minds who we were and for whom in this life, and that's it. No more revision, no more re-invention. (Of course we believe in a God so gentle and compassionate that even if we fail to fully accept our sanctification in this life, a means is provided to continue the process afterwards, and this is what we call the doctrine of Purgatory.)

To me the night also looks forward to death in its emptiness, as an empty space that awaits a new light.

And so it just seems right and just and fitting to me to pray for my death at the hinge between the day and the night. That's why I just can't get used to the Italian version of the blessing: Il Signore ci conceda una notte serena e un riposo tranquillo. "May the Lord grant us a serene night and a tranquil rest." Riposo? That's just doesn't do it for me.  'Buon riposo' is what the brothers say to each other after lunch, in the sense of 'have a nice nap.' Now there's nothing wrong with praying for a night of tranquil repose; I often pray that I might sleep during the night. But I'm not that worried about it. More and more, whether I sleep or not during the night I feel the same during the day. I'm much more concerned about death. Not that I'm really afraid of dying, at least I don't think I am; I just want to do it well.

To be fair, the Latin is almost another thing entirely: Noctem quietam et finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens. 'May the Almighty Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.' I'll admit, I do like the 'end' here. It has a wonderful ambiguity; am I praying that my end as a historical person (i.e. my earthly death) might be perfect, or am I praying for my final end in eternity? The answer, of course, is both or at least whatever it is I need to be praying for. That's the beauty of ambiguous, mysterious language in prayer. It's what grace needs it to be. Fine, I'm happy to pray for my end, but in the end I like the English the best, when I pray for a peaceful death.

1 comment:

Judy Kallmeyer said...

While on the subject of Latin, I watched a televised Mass in the Extraordinary Form the other night. I truly do not understand the fascination people have with it. I found it confusing and, quite frankly, a bit of a three ring circus. What with the Bishop celebrant, the deacon, the subdeacon, the secondary deacon and the master of ceremonies and a zillion of servers, it looked very disorganized. The celebrant had his back to the congregation and did not say the prayers out loud. So even if you had a missal, you could not follow because you did not know where the celebrant was. No, no, no, this is definitely not for me. I profoundly hope that there will never be an ordered return to this liturgy. I find the new Liturgy far more conducive to prayer. The old one is more like watching a show. How sad!