Thursday in the 1st Week of Lent

1612 Missale RomanumToday’s prayer is unchanged from the Veronese Sacramentary and the Gelasian and so-called "Gregorian".  It was in the 1962 Missale Romanum too.  It was the used on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost.  I cannot fathom why the redactors of the Novus Ordo thought there were not enough ancient lenten prayers in the available venerable sacramentaries.  

I don’t get it.  Anyone have a reasonable, irenic explanation? 

On the other hand, there is this week a theme of the mind developing.  We have seen a mens / corpus paring this week.  Today, well… let’s see what we can find by looking at what the prayer really says.

COLLECT
Largire nobis, quaesumus, Domine,
semper spiritum cogitandi quae recta sunt,
promptius et agendi,
ut, qui sine te esse non possumus,
secundum te vivere valeamus.

Augustine of HippoOne of the meanings of secundum found in the prestigious Lewis & Short Dictionary is "agreeably to, in accordance with, according to".  Remember that largire is an imperative of a deponent verb, not an infinitive.   The famous verb cogito is more than simply "to think".  It reflects deeper reflection, true pursuit in the mind: "to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon, think".

LITERAL TRANSLATION
We beg you, O Lord, bestow upon us
the spirit of thinking always things which are correct,
and of carrying them out promptly,
so that we who are not able to exist without You
may be able to live according to Your will.

Yesterday in my Augustinian peregrinations I found a text which harks to at least the a part of the content of this prayer.  In Io. eu. tr. 51,3:

"For Christ, who humbled Himself, made obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, is the teacher of humility.  When He teaches us humility He doesn’t thus let go of His divinity: for in it (His divinity) He is the equal of the Father, while in this (His humility) He is like unto us; and in that He is the Father’s equal He created us in order that we might exist; and in that He is like to us, He redeemed us so that we would not perish."

DanteIn God, we live and move and have our being.  We are made to act as God acts: knowing, willing, loving.  When we cleave to God, seeking what is good and true and beautiful through the tangle of our wounded intellect, we are seeking God.  Once we know what is good, true and beautiful either because we reasoned to it or authority helped us, then we must act in accordance with the good, truth and beauty we have found.  Today we are praying to God to give us the actual graces we need in order to live more properly according to His image He placed within us.  For we are even more ourselves, even more free when, eschewing our own varying wills, we embrace Him who is Goodness, Truth and Beauty.

Yet there are times when we purposely (and thereafter habitually) choose against what reason and authority point to as good, truth and beauty.  We make the choice to stray and sin.  In doing so we diminish ourselves, who have our very existence from the One whom we have defied.  We must return to the correct path, like Dante who has strayed into the dark woods after leaving the path of the right reason.

So often, we could avoid straying and sinning if we would just act on that first proper of our minds and consciences.  Sometimes, of course, we must ponder to discern the correct path in difficult situations.  But most of the time, we get into trouble when we hesitate in doing what we know is right.  We mull and pick and dawdle and get ourselves into a whole hornet nest of problems.  Prompt action helps us to avoid many problems and many sins.  In a way, the phrase of the Nike commercial (and Nike means “victory” in ancient Greek) sums it up:  Just Do It.

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6 Responses to Thursday in the 1st Week of Lent

  1. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    Father,
    without you we can do nothing.
    By your Spirit help us to know what is right
    and to be eager in doing your will.

    None of that “deeper reflection, true pursuit of the mind” (cogito) for ICEL! The Spirit just automatically helps us to know what is right. Hmm … “can do nothing” versus “not able to exist”. I exist, therefore I do, I actively participate. But perhaps I stretch too far?

  2. Karen Russell says:

    With regard to your question, Fr. Z, about substituting this post-Pentecost prayer for a pre-existing Lenten one, my best hypothesis is this:

    I was a teenager/young adult through the 60’s. The spirit of that age was very much change for the sake of change; anything “old” was to be thrown out and done differently. That some of the “old” stuff might still be relevant or valuable was unthinkable.

    This certainly shows in the extensive and unmandated changes that were made in the Mass, and it is not surprising that it also led to a rearrangement of the prayers for different days and seasons.

    And now we have to try and clean up the mess . . .

  3. Karen: I am not quite ready to dismiss the idea that the prayer from the time of Pentecost was interpolated for a reason, however inufficient we think that reason might be. There seems to be a thematic progression in the collects for this first week of Lent. I haven’t analyzed this yet. I suppose one of you readers might beat me too it and offer views. I don’t think the redactors of the Missal simply shifted prayers around for the sake of shifting prayers around, however. They had something up their sleeves.

  4. martin says:

    what is so enlightening about this lenten series is the continuity – and development – of thought from day to day. the collect is so short, of course, that the essential message must be gradually engrafted over the span of the season. “valere” can mean “can” or “to be able”, but it means “have the resources to”, “be robust enough to”, “be strong enough to”. its about being tough enough. the military metaphor of training and discipline has not, then, entirely disappeared today either.

    my second thought is an appreciation of how fr. z’s project is is so informed by charity in all things. and, indeed, im gaining a growing understanding of how immense is the task still facing the ICEL (like legions of others, i havent yet proposed a single translation of a collect – but
    im ready to criticise all those i see). by way of complimenting his prayer before accessing the internet, maybe fr. z can supply a closing prayer to be offered for those who have the onerous and ungrateful task of translating the MR into english – as an antidote to the uncharitable thoughts that can arise (unbidden often) about the ability, motives, and achievement of those who produced the existing translation.

    finally, im elevated by the pictures that adorn the page. a beautiful view of st peter’s across the rooftops yesterday, and today the sumptuous painting by piero della francesca of an austere (well, intimidating, actually) st augustine of hippo.

  5. Karen Russell says:

    Fr. Z, you have access to these prayers that I don’t, both to the texts themselves and in comprehension of their meaning. If you see a possible theme developing in the way they have been brought together, that will be very interesting to follow.

  6. Regarding Fr Z.’squestion as to why the compilers of the ’69 Missal took prayers
    from here, there and everywhere, both in the ’62 Missal and in older sources
    (e.g. various ancient Sacramentaries and the 1738 Paris Missal), installing
    collects in Lent that were previously used at other times, etc., it is useful to
    note that in the “Corpus Orationem” (CCSL 160, vols. I-XII), the 7000 or so
    collects, secrets, and postcommunions assembled therein from extant Western
    sacramentaries &c. are notated with details about their use; and it is
    astonishing how many times a given oration has been used on different days in
    different MSS. Louis Bouyer, in his fascinating book “Eucharist” (p.331ff),
    supplies the answer: the variable prayers characteristic of the Western Rites –
    Ambrosian and Mozarabic as well as Roman – are not (pace Dix) the result of
    specially composing prayers for each and every liturgical day; but rather the
    ancient improvisation of such prayers, first orally, then in writing, led
    ultimately to the assemblange of an immense corpus, from which assignation of
    prayers was made more or less logically to various days; in later times, this
    process was reversed, as when special prayers are composed for new feasts, and
    even in earlier times, this happened for the great feasts; but always there have
    been a large number of orations, particularly secrets and postcommunions, which
    could really be used on virtually any day. Those who assembled the euchological
    texts of the Pauline Missal tried, one assumes, to bring together suitable
    prayers for the different feasts and seasons, taking one collect from a Sunday
    after Pentecost and moving it to Lent, for instance, if it seemed more suited to
    being used at that time (or vice versa). Leaving aside whatever one may make of
    such rearrangement, the principles apparently followed, or the results, it may
    be said that this process is not inherently incorrect; though given that the
    liturgy had been more or less fixed for hundreds of years, the fact that in even
    earlier times collects had been switched about does not necessarily mean that a
    return to that primitive fluidity was merited. It is rather like the issue of
    the reassignment of saints’ days; was it pastorally (?!) wise to change the day
    St N. was customarily feasted; were the reasons for the change weighty enough?
    I thank Fr Z. for inviting comments, and trust this makes some contribution.