Respice, Domine, familiam tuam, et praesta,
ut apud te mens nostra tuo desiderio fulgeat,
quae se corporalium moderatione castigat.
Today’s prayer was in the 1962 Missale Romanum and, long before that, in the so-called ancient "Gregorian Sacramentary". This has been adapted for the Novus Ordo, however. More about that later.
Again mens, right? By now, if you have been following these daily briefings on what the lenten Collects really say, you will know that mens means a range of things, including mind, intellect, heart, etc. The really interesting word today is moderatio.
Moderatio basically means "a moderating, moderation in any thing; moderateness, temperateness of the weather" and then extends to "guidance, government." A moderator is a "governor" as in the governor of a state. The verb form, modero (and deponent moderor) is "to regulate a thing", in the sense of keeping it within bounds. You can see conceptually how moderatio would be considered by the ancients to be one of the political virtues. It refers to self-governance in the personal sense, and broader governance in the social sense. Moderatio had a particularly strong meaning for Romans who, in a stoic sense, were to remain cool and controlled. The opposite of moderatio would be expressed by words like saevitia, savageness.
I said that this prayer was changed from its earlier form. The earlier form says: "…quae se carnis maceratione castigat…. which checks itself by a softening up of the flesh." A couple things are evident. First, mens and caro are more sharply in contrast to each other than mens and corporalia. Caro is more immediately pertainent to us, our own person while corporalia might be fleshly things in general. Second, maceratio, a "softening up". Sounds strange, right? You would think we want to toughen, not soften. Think of the cooking term maceration. We macerate things by immersing them in some substance in order to break them down. This is done with meat, for example to tenderize it, to break down the fibers of muscle so that they will not contract under heat and make the meat tough. We do the same thing by pounding flesh with a spikey hammer. Maceratio means tenderize. Think of softening up an entrenched position of the enemy by hammering it with artillery. That is what maceratio means. The best way to translate carnis maceratio is "mortification of the flesh". The newer version speaks of "self-governance of bodily things." These two versions create very different effects in my ear.
Look up Your family, O Lord, and grant,
that our soul, which is checking itself by means of moderation of corporal things
may shine in Your sight with Your longing.
The phrase tuo desiderio is very elegant. It can be looked at as being either "subjective" or "objective". If we say "your desire", we leave open the possibility that we are speaking of "our desire for you" or "your desire for us". We can’t tell which it is. So, in the English version I will leave the phrase just as ambiguous as the Latin so that you can decide for yourselves which direction to take it. Which way do I go? I like the idea of God’s love and desire for us being such that its reaches out to us, into our very souls, and makes our souls shine with something of the same glory that our Lord revealed on Mt. Tabor in His transfiguration. At the same time, as God’s images we are made to act as God acts, to know, to will, to love. So, as we come to know ourselves and Him better, will in a more discplined matter and love the things proper to our state in life, we show forth even in a dazzling way God’s image in us.
Bl. Pope John XXIII cited this prayer in his 1962 letter Paenitentiam agere by which asked people to do penance on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. The English version of that letter found on the Vatican website translates one phrase as "Make our souls to glow in Thy sight with desire of Thee."Take your pick.
One rad-trad site renders the Collect in this way:
RAD TRAD VERSION
Let us pray. Look down upon Thy household, O Lord,
and grant that our minds may be made glow [sic] by the desire of Thee,
which have been chastened by the tormenting of their bodies
Okay. I have nothing against slavishly literal translations in order to get to the foundation of the prayer’s content. But this version can be of little use to us other than as a starting point for a deeper examination. This is just wrong in several ways. Castigo is not "torment" as much as it is "to set right by word or deed, to correct, chastise, punish; to blame, reprove, chide, censure, find fault with". In its roots it means to "correct, set right, mend", not "torment". We looked at the meaning of maceratio and I don’t think in this context it can be construed as "torment". "Mortify" yes, "torment" no. The rad trad version, the source of which I am not quite sure, seems imbued with a weird Janenistic tinge. Familia as "household" is a pretty idea, because of the roots of the word in ancient Oscan fama.
More about moderatio. In a very interesting letter to a woman named Ecdicia St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) talks about moderatio. Ecdicia and her husband, mostly be her instigation, chose to live in a continent relationship. She pretty much imposed this on her husband, but he went along. Then she started to dress like a widow. Then she alienated some of their property by giving it o itinerant monks. Then she started to disinherit their son by given money to the Church. Her husband, frustrated beyond endurance, eventually started taking up with other women, etc. Ecdicia wrote to Augustine to get him to intervene with her husband, assuming that he would be on her side. Augustine takes her apart, effectively, saying that she had violated the virtue of moderatio. The referred not just to the excesses she got into but the fact that she violated the order of things and did not exercise proper governance within her sphere. Of course in those days, the clear hierarchy was that women were immediately subservient to men in marriage. However, Augustine says that she needed to exercise "goveranance", moderatio. A very good image was offered to me about this seeming contrast by someone here in Rome. If you saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding you will remember the scene when the daughter wants to go to school. The father is against it and mother will intervene saying that even though he might be the "head" of the family, she is the "neck". The neck makes the head point in this direction or that. This is effectively what Augustine tells Ecdicia in his letter. He tells her to start behaving like a real wife and knock off all the widow-like business and stop cutting her husband off, etc.
Moderatio is a virtue that all of us must cultivate in our lives, not just in the sense of avoiding excess, but in the sense of active self-governance in respect to our spheres of living.