Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hoping For Good Gifts

Today we complete our brief study of the Golden Sequence, the hymn Veni, Sancte Spiritus. The final verse has truly the nature of a cadence, a solemn and grand conclusion, made all the more effective when it appears on Pentecost by the addition of "Amen. Alleluia" (since that day is still effectively within Paschaltide!) But let us see it then discuss it:
Da tuis fidelibus,
In te confidentibus
Sacrum septenarium.
Da virutis meritum,
Da salutis exitum,
Da perenne gaudium.

Give to Thy faithful
confiding in Thee
Thy sevenfold gifts.
Give them the reward of virtue,
Give them the death of safety (a happy death)
Give them eternal joy. [Fr. Britt's translation]
Ah, sacrum septenarium - the Sacred Seven. What "seven" is this? But hark there is a chime from another part of the realm of words.... Yes, and instructive, too. Any of us who have ever peered into anything Latin from the Church which deals with our country will have seen words like these, maybe with different endings depending on how they are used:
Americae Septentrionalis Foederatae
which might be roughly rendered as
America of the Covenant of the Seven
Huh? Seven What?

Ah, yes. This is perhaps one of the most poetic and elegant words, about which I wonder whether any American poets have ever tried to apply.
The seven stars! The word septentrionalis does mean "north" but by alluding to the seven "north" stars of the Dipper. So, even though the precise sense of the Seven in our hymn refers to the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit - Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord - there is also a resonance which ought to make us attentive to directions, and to our own country. The stars, after all, are not ours in America, or even in the northern hemisphere - they belong to all, and are useful to all - so are these Gifts, which are given to each of us, are truly ours to use, and yet are no more "owned" than a star is owned. Even when we fail, or squander our Gifts - as when we close our eyes and ignore the stars - we only hurt ourselves, and wander, lost in our blindness. We cannot hurt the stars.

Then there is the curious "fide" doublet: the Faithful who confide. Do we ever realize that the common dog name "Fido" means "I trust"? Do we also know that this "trust" is really synonymous with "faith" - that when we say "I believe" (as in the Creed) or even in the secular sense "In God We Trust" we are saying that we have put firm reliance on these credal articles or on this God? We take them as the dog takes his master - humbly, unquestioningly, without doubt, without fear, without hesitation.

Let us therefore trust in the Holy Spirit. He is the only one in Whom we can trust, in Whom we can have true hope. If we ask Him, He will surely come, and bring us His Sacred Seven gifts...


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