Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, qui ex nostra infirmitate deficimus,
intercedente Unigeniti Filii tui passione, respiremus.
Today’s’prayer was in the 1962 Missale Romanum and its predecessors. It was in the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary in both the Hadrianum and Paduense manuscripts as well as in the Tridentinum. However, the used to read: Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut, qui in tot adversis ex nostra infirmitate deficimus; intercedente unigeniti Filii tui passione respiremus. In their ineffable wisdom The Redactors of the Novus Ordo excised the reference to the obstacles we face because of our fallen nature and the pressures of unrestrained appetites and habits. There are calamities and adversities which put us off our purposes. And then there are the diabolical adversaries, the enemies of our soul. *tisk tisk* These things shold not be deleted from prayers. We need to be reminded of them constantly, lest we forget what our true state is in this earthly vale.
In Christian contexts respiro is “to revive”, as if after the resurrection. It can also be taken in a moral sense.
The mighty Lewis & Short has an interesting explanation of deficio: “to loosen, set free, remove from; but it passed over at a very early period into the middle sense, to loosen from one’s self, to remove one’s self, to break loose from; and then gradually assumed the character of a new verbal action, with the meaning to leave, desert, depart from something, or absolutely, to depart, cease, fail. (For synonyms cf.: desum, absum, descisco, negligo.)” Think of the hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, the Pange Lingua. In the third to the last verse we will sing on Holy Thursday during the procession to repose the Eucharistic Christ:
Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem efficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit.
The Word/Flesh, by a word,
made flesh into true bread,
and wine became the Blood of Christ
and even if sensory perception fails,
only faith suffices
in the strengthening of the pure heart.
We have today an ablative absolute. Many students of Latin fall into the trap of rendering this into English with a phrase like, “with X,Y,Z happening”, the offending word being “with”. “With” in an ablative absolute gives the impression of accompaniment. We have to twist Latin ablative absolutes around a bit in order to get at the force of establishing circumstances or conditions for the actions of the verbs. In my version today, I am leaving the ablative absolute as literally as I can, even though I am sacrificing English elegance to do so. It is more important that students of Latin see what is going on in the prayer. You can work up your own version as you choose.
Grant, we beg You, O God Almighty,
that we who are flagging from our weakness,
may be revived, as the Passion of Your Only-Begotten Son is interceding.
What I take away from this is the image of a very weary man who is struggling in the last stages of his journey. Sometimes the old adage in finem citius (“things go faster the closer they get to the end”) just doesn’t hold true. I think you have all had the experience of having something seem like it takes forever to end. For example, I have been fairly seriously ill for about the last eight weeks. In the last couple weeks I have been slowly improving and now feel pretty darn good again. However, it seems like forever since I felt halfway decent. On the other hand, every week as I prepare my articles for the paper, it seems like I rocket towards that deadline at mach speed. Our perception of time and events makes a huge difference. This is not necessary a point for Lenten reflection, unless you take into consideration my comments the other day about the passage of our days being as swift as a shuttle of a loom, that image taken from Job.
By this point in Lent, however, I am sure we have all been doing penance and, while it may be somewhat habitual now after all these days, we still are looking forward with great anticipation to the joy, and relief, of Easter.
In the meantime, do not forget (like the Redactors of the Novus Ordo perhaps did) that the Devil is real. The might of his powers and those of his fallen lot are angelic and by far surpass our own. They hate you and want to see you damned to an eternity of suffering and despair in flames and lonely torment of hell.
Have a nice day!