23 December 2014

Not the Crib again?

Oh dear! What new devotional message about the wretched animals looming over the manger can Father deliver as the tinies and their smirking parents gather round for the Blessing of the Crib on yet another Chtristmas Eve? Not the same platitudes as last year, surely? No worries. Rescue is at hand in the ancient pages of the Gelasian Sacramentary, which includes material used in Sixth Century Rome. Here is part of a Preface used at Mass on January 1 ... rather more over-the-top than modern liturgical committee-persons could stomache, but still ...

'' ...suckle, O Mother, our Food; suckle the Bread which cometh down from heaven, placed in the manger as feed for devout pack-animals. For there the Ox (bos) that is, Circumcisio, hath recognised its Owner, and the Donkey (asinus), that is, Praeputium, hath recognised the manger of its Lord.''

At first sight, this is uncannily like a piece of Counter-Reformation piety in the sentimentalism of its sudden baroque apostrophe to our Lady, even if the primacy of dogma, as always in the classical liturgical texts, soon reasserts itself in the powerful identification made between the manger-enthroned Flesh of the Incarnate Word and his Sacramental Flesh upon its Altar-throne to be received by the mouths of the Faithful. And there is something distinctly pre-modern (and pre-Enlightenment) in characterising Christians as 'devout pack-animals (pia iumenta). But what on earth are we to make of Circumcision (Circumcisio) and Foreskin (Praeputium)?

Explanation tomorrow.

4 comments:

GOR said...

Yes Father - eagerly awaiting the explanation.

Now if you were to use it without cloaking the descriptive terms in Latin, the congregation might suffer from “shock and awe” – well, shock anyway. Or, in modern parlance: be ‘gob-smacked’…

I would envision mothers holding hands over tender ears to avoid scandalum – or to prevent subsequent awkward enquiries!

S Thorfinn said...

I can only guess the Ox/Circumcisio & Ass/Praeputium represent Jew & Gentile. Once this connection is made a layer of devotional insight connecting Luke with the related debate among the Apostles could be, likely has been, fertile ground for devotional insight.

There is debate in some quarters whether the preferred English term should be donkey or ass. As a traditionalist I prefer to use 'ass' -- but it is undeniable that 'donkey' is more popular, and is seemingly preferred when meeting people where they are and accompanying them...

Stephen said...

Wonderful! Language is everything: In the beginning was the Word, what comes out of the mouth more important than what goes into it, made to be perfect as our Father is. Many thanks!

Am reminded too of Tolkien constantly pulling his hair out over the use of latter day imported French words in English over their older synonyms. Normans begone!

A blessed Christmas to you for all your labours and insights!

Don Dorito said...

Presumably, Circumcision is intended to denote the Jews and the Prepuce the Gentiles, similar to Paul's use of circumcision versus uncircumcision.