The term “Spy” Wednesday probably is an allusion to Christ’s betrayal by Judas.
Deus, qui pro nobis Filium tuum
crucis patibulum subire voluisti,
ut inimici a nobis expelleres potestatem,
concede nobis famulis tuis,
ut resurrectionis gratiam consequamur.
This prayer was the Collect for this same day in the 1962 Missale Romanum. It was also in the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary in both the Hadrianum and Paduense manuscripts.
The impressive and informative Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that patibulum (deriving from pateo) is “a fork-shaped yoke, placed on the necks of criminals, and to which their hands were tied; also, a fork-shaped gibbet”. In turn, English “gibbet” means “an upright post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals as a warning”.
The verb subeo in its basic meaning is “to come or go under any thing” and by logical extension “to subject one’s self to, take upon one’s self an evil; to undergo, submit to, sustain, endure, suffer”. The L&S explains that “The figure taken from stooping under a load, under blows, etc.)” There are other shades of meaning, including “to come on secretly, to advance or approach stealthily, to steal upon, steal into”. Keep this one in mind.
Consequor is very interesting. It signifies “to follow, follow up, press upon, go after, attend, accompany, pursue any person or thing” and then it extends to concepts like “to follow a model, copy, an authority, example, opinion, etc.; to imitate, adopt, obey, etc.” and “to reach, overtake, obtain”. Going beyond even these definitions, there is this: “to become like or equal to a person or thing in any property or quality, to attain, come up to, to equal (cf. adsequor).” I know, I know - mentio non fit expositio. Still it is interesting to make connections in the words, which often have subtle overlaps. Remember that interesting meaning of subeo, above? There is a shade of “pursuit” and “imitation” in the prayer’s vocabulary.
O God, who desired Your Son to undergo
on our behalf the gibbet of the Cross
so that You might drive away from us the power of the enemy,
grant to us Your servants,
that we may attain the grace of the resurrection.
This is an austere prayer, razor like, cutting to the heart of the matter. By our sins we are in the clutches of the enemy, who mercilessly attacks us. Christ freed us from dire consequences of slavery to sin by His Passion.
The ancient Romans would have their conquered foes pass under a yoke (iugum), to show that they were now subjugated. Their juridical status changed. Christ went under the Cross in its carrying and then underwent the Cross in its hideous torments. In his liberating act of salvation, we passed from the servitude of the enemy to the service of the Lord, not as slaves, but as members of a family. We are not merely household servants (famuli), we are according the status of children of the master of the house, able to inherit what He already has.