Saturday in the 1st Week of Lent

House of Mary and MarthaCOLLECT
Ad te corda nostra, Pater aeterne, converte,
ut nos, unum necessarium semper quaerentes
et opera caritatis exercentes,
tuo cultui praestes esse dicatos.

Don’t be confused by dicatos here and make the mistake of thinking it is from dico, dicere, dixi, dictum.  It is related to that, however.  Dico, dicare, dicavi, dicatum means in its basic meaning, "to proclaim, make known".  It extends itself to stand for "to dedicate, consecrate, devote any thing to a deity or to a deified person".   Often in Latin inscriptions  for places like church buildings or things like altars, you see this verb.  Cultus, is from colo, "to cultivate, till, tend, take care of a field, garden".  It also means "to frequent, cherish, care for, protect, be the guardian of, said of places where (the gods) were worshipped".   As a result it is used "of the reverence and worship of the gods, and the respect paid to objects pertaining thereto, to honor, respect, revere, reverence, worship". 

LITERAL TRANSLATION
Convert our hearts to You, Eternal Father,
with the result that you grant
us (who are) seeking always the one thing necessary
and carrying out works of charity,
to be dedicated to Your worship.

This prayer was not in the pre-Conciliar Roman Missal.  In the Veronese Sacramentary a cousin of this prayer appears twice during September: "Ad te corda nostra, pater aeternae, converte; quia nullis necessariis indigebunt, quos tuo cultui prestiteris esse subiectos."  I immediately knew when I saw this prayer that it was placed here in a very self conscious way by the redactors of the Novus Ordo. The first clue is the text of the Introit antiphon: "Lex Domini irreprehensibilis, convertens animas; testimonium Domini fidele, sapientiam praestans parvulis."  Also, note that the snipper-cutters of the Novus Ordo edited the prayer so as to insert an obvious reference to the "unum neccesarium" spoken of by Christ in Luke 10 during his dialog with Martha.

"Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."  (Luke 10: 38-42).

You might also think of Ps 27:4: "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple." 

There are any number of places in Scripture where we read about the necessity of a singular focus on God, of placing Him at the very summit of our desires and gratitude.

The interpolation of unum necessarium by the the Novus Ordo redactors creates in the prayer the classic Christian tension between the active and contemplative lives.  St. Augustine of Hippo explores this tension very often in his commentaries on Scripture, usually in homiletic form.  At times Augustine presents pairings figures representing these two differing dimensions, such as Leah and Rachel, Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary.  In his own life Augustine was torn between the pressing needs of his vocation as a bishop and civic figure and his desire for quiet and contemplation of deeper questions.  The bishop explains that the two different modes of Christian life seem conflicting in this world, while in the next they will be integrated in perfect unity.  In our own live we feel the tension between the bustle and the desire for calm and reflection. 

MarthaAugustine strove to balance the two seemingly conflicting dynamics of what he identified as otium and negotiumOtium is "leisure, vacant time, freedom from business.  Negotium is the opposite: "business, employment, occupation, affair".  Just as peace is not just the absence of war, neither is otium simply the absence of pressing business.  Otium might be very filled with action, but perhaps more interior active than outward physical action.  The otium/negotium pairing is a topos in classical thought.  Take for example a letter of Pliny wherein he nearly shouts: "O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius!"  (ep. 19)

What Augustine speaks of, however, is establishing otium in negotio, the freedom from care which can be dedicated to contemplation of God and the deeper questions within and in the midst of, united to the performance of the days work and needful tasks.  In simple terms, make even your laborious tasks, such as doing the laundry in that spirit crushing endlessly repetitively cycle be an occasion of contemplation of God.  God is involved in the smallest good performance of our vocations in life.  Thus, we must work to be aware of and foster that "God presence" in our own actions, in the daily grind.

Ps 27Our prayer shows the tension between these two dimensions of our lives in its reference to works of charity on the one hand and worship, on the other.  The quote from Luke 10 would show how this tension is seen by the Lord for our lives in this world.  The quote from Ps 27 would point to the final unity of action and contemplation.

Think of what all of this means for our participation at Mass.  We are called to "full, conscious and active participation."  Most liturgists, priests, musicians, etc., have been fooled into embracing the shallowest understanding of "active participation.  They think that it people are not doing stuff, clapping, carrying things around, singing, they are not participating actively.  What the Church means by "active participation" is primarily an interior participation.  Indeed, it is our baptismal character that allows us to participate.  An unbaptized Muslim might do everything at Mass he is directed to do, but he is not participating at Mass.  On the other hand, a crippled blind and deaf woman who is a baptized Catholic, sitting in the back of church, really knowing why she is there and uniting her heart mind and will to the action of Mass even though her diminished senses prevent her from knowing even precisely what is being said, participates at Mass in beautiful way.  Active participation is really active receptivity, as in when we listen to the Gospel, the priest’s prayers, the artistic sacred music sung by a good choir.  In fact, the highest form of active participation in reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.  In Communion, outward action and receptivity have their perfect unity.

How do you participate at Mass?  When you carry out your duties during the day, do you ever think of God?  Do you ever consider that doing x,y, or z for the hundredth time might be a means of grace?  Do you bring your participation in Holy Communion to a different kind of fruition by the performance of corporal and spiritual works of mercy?  Is your Lenten penance informed with the spirit of gratitude and prayer focused also on the "one thing which is necessary"? 

In a sense this Saturday Collect sums up many of the themes we have seen since last Sunday.

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One Response to Saturday in the 1st Week of Lent

  1. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    Eternal Father, turn our hearts to you.
    By seeking your kingdom and loving one another,
    may we become a people
    who worship you in spirit and truth.

    This is attractive. At least in that just “loving one another” sounds like less of a burden than actually “carrying out works of charity” (opera caritatis exercentes).