Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine,
perseverantem in tua voluntate famulatum,
ut in diebus nostris
et merito et numero populus tibi serviens augeatur.
In the Tridentinum and in the 1962 Roman Missal this prayer is listed for Tuesday after Passion Sunday as the Oratio super populum. It also has roots in the Gelasian.
The verb famulor gives us famulatus, which in the Lewis & Short means "servitude, slavery". In Blaise/Chirat there is an additional meaning, which is predictable, "service de Dieu, dÃƒÂ©votion" attested to by, for example, St. Augustine of Hippo (cf. conf 10.35.56).
Grant us, we beg, O Lord,
persevering service in Your will,
so that in our days
the people serving You may be increased both in merit and in number.
My instant reaction to this prayer is rather bittersweet. The Church’s shifting demographics in wealthy countries reveals that, while more people may be identifying themselves as Catholic, the percentage of Catholics going to Mass remains steady or is falling. This means that we are going backward. Also, in European countries which were once Catholic countries, such as Italy, the birth rate is far below replacement rate. Yet "Eur-Arabia" is swiftly muliplying. Contraception and abortion is killing off one dimension of the life of the Church. The forces of the "Prince of this world" prevail in some places.
While Our Lord promised that "the gate of Hell" would not ultimately prevail, He did not promise they would not prevail in some places, such as the United States or Europe. We can take an example from the fate of North Africa, the land of the great St. Augustine. Where there was a powerful, vital and thriving Church, to which we in the modern world are so indebted, there are now… well… not much. The word famulatus is rooted in the ancient Oscan word faama. In its root, this word for service derives from the house or household and the extended relationships within a household. As a Church, we are, as the young Joseph Ratzinger explored and contributed to the thought of the Second Vatican Council, the "house and people of God".
The prayer’s force turns on the ut with the subjunctive. Our increase in merit and number depends on our perseverance in dedicated service to God’s will not our will. Rather, our will also insofar as it is in conformity with God’s will. As we have seen in many of these Lenten articles, however, even our ability to persevere is a grace given to us by God. He begins good things in us and, when we chose to cooperate, He makes us strong enough to bring to completion what He began in us.
A lot of work is to be done to bring people back to regular use of the sacraments. Perhaps the new vernacular translations now in preparation around the world will help. I am convinced they will help only if a) they are faithful to the original Latin and b) accompanied by a reclamation of our liturgical traditions. There are many elements which must be refitted so as to bring about a healthy organic whole. I am impressed by the recent efforts of Bishop Slattery in Tulsa in writing to his people about these things. We need a sound and widespread liturgical catechesis as part of a larger effort to present and instill a Catholic identity in many of the last two generations who know nothing of their Church, what she teaches or who she really is.