What Does the Prayer Really Say? 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
Your feedback keeps flowing in but I need to get right to work this week. This week’s Collect was in the pre-Conciliar 1962 Missale Romanum on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (once the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi). In the ancient “Gelasian Sacramentary” it was a prayer used on the Sunday after the Ascension (which as everyone knows is on a Thursday). It is also prayed at the end of the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Here is a wonderful prayer to sing! It is both stark and lavish. Its elements are carefully balanced. It is a quintessentially Roman.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Sancti nominis tui, Domine,
timorem pariter et amorem fac nos habere perpetuum,
quia numquam tua gubernatione destituis,
quos in soliditate tuae dilectionis instituis.
Kindly open your properly maintained editions of the Lewis & Short Dictionary and look at the entry, or “lemma”, for timor: “fear, dread, apprehension, alarm, anxiety” and, in a good sense of “fear”, “awe, reverence, veneration”. Immediately there come to mind many citations from Scripture. All clerics once knew the phrase from good old Psalm 111 sung every Sunday afternoon at Vespers, “Initium sapientiae et timor Domini… Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Open also immediately your ever present copy of the Sacred Scriptures and look up the first chapter of Sirach, a profound meditation on wisdom and wisdom’s beginning, timor Domini. This concept is all through the Old Testament. However, it is also found in the New Testament as well. We will return to this. Gubernatio means “a steering, piloting of a ship” or “direction, management”, which is where we get the word “government”. A gubernator is the pilot of a ship. For the adverb pariter look under par, paris, meaning, “equally, in an equal degree, in like manner, as well” or like simul, “of equality in time or in association, at the same time, together.” The verb destituo is basically, “to set down” and thus it comes to mean literally, “to put away from one’s self” and therefore, “to leave alone, to forsake, abandon, desert”. This contrasts with instituo, “to put or place into, to plant, fix, set” and a range of other things including “to make, fabricate”, “take upon one’s self, to undertake”, “to order, govern, administer, regulate”. Perpetuus, -a, -um is the adjective for “continuing throughout, continuous, unbroken, uninterrupted; constant,…” etc. Italian trivia moment: Did you know that in Italian the housekeeper of the priest’s house is called “la perpetua”? This is because in Alessandro Manzoni’s great masterwork I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) the priest Don Abbondio’s housekeeper was named Perpetua who was so constant and patient with the priest’s grumbling. But I digress.
Make us to have, O Lord, constant fear
and in equal degree love of Your Holy Name,
for You never abandon with Your steering
those whom You establish in the firmness of Your love.
Note the balancing of ideas: timor/amor (fear and love) and instituo/destituo (establish and abandon). In instituo I hear a “setting down” in the sense of how God made us and by that making He takes us upon Himself. He has our care and our governance. God sets us down next to Himself, under His watchful eye, so that we don’t go wrong. In destituo I hear a “setting down” in the sense of a setting to one side away from Himself, an abandonment of interest. In gubernatio God is, our pilot, our steersman, keeping his hand on the wheel of our lives. We are solid because His loving hand is firm. Were He to abandon us, our ship would wreck and we would be “destitute”. Amidst the vicissitudes of this world we depend in fear and love on His Holy Name. We stand planted in the proper place before God’s fearful glance and under His guiding hand of love only through both love and fear His Name which points to His Person.
A name, in biblical and liturgical terms, is far more than just the unique combination of sounds by which we label a person or thing. Names refer to the essence of the one named. In the case of a divine Name we must be reverent and careful, like Moses putting off his shoes before the burning bush. Moses learned God’s Name to tell the captive Jews that the one who is Being Itself – “I AM” – would set them free (cf. Exodus 2). Once destitute, they were instituted as His People. So sacred was the terrible Name of God for the Jews that they would not pronounce the four Hebrew letters used to indicate it in Scripture, substituting instead “Adonai”, “Lord”.
The flexibility of Latin allows the concept of God’s Name to comprise the first phrase of the prayer. This helps us crack its content open. What does the Lord Jesus Himself says about His own Name? In John 16:23 Jesus reveals His unity with the Father and the power of His Name saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name.” In Mark 9:38-39 there is an exchange between the beloved disciple and the Lord: “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.’” The mighty Name “Jesus” can change hearts. The author of the Gospel of John says that, “these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). His Name – His Person – is our path to everlasting life.
Signs and wonders are connected with Jesus’ Holy Name. The Apostles and disciples worked many miracles through the Name of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38; 3:6; 3:16; 4:7-10; 4:29-31; 19:13-17). The Apostles of the Gentiles wrote to his flocks about the Name of Jesus. What he taught reveals a fundamental aspect of God’s will for us His images. Some background: God focuses in the Second Commandment on what we might do with our hands (Exodus 20:4: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image…”) and in the Third on what we might say (Exodus 20:7: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain”). God commanded the Jews to bind His Word upon their foreheads and their arms (Deut 6:8) so as to inform with the Word the totality of the man, that is, his thoughts and therefore the words by which he expresses them together with the outward physical actions. They reveal who we are interiorly. Centuries later St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17). Paul’s “word or deed” embraces the “everything” of our lives. The importance of Jesus’ Name goes beyond our interior actions (thoughts) or outward actions (deeds) but also to our contemplation, without which no one can truly be whole. Paul says that the Name of Jesus is a matter for stopping our ordinary activity, resting a moment and tending the whole of our person towards Him in humility. By means of humble outward physical gestures of word and deed we interiorize the transforming power wrapped up in the Name. Paul wrote: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
The Name of God, of God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit, is worthy of our fear and our love. Many today want to stress only the love of the Name of Jesus without the fear which is its due. We must not exclude reverential awe and fear of that which God’s Name implies. In Scripture forms of words for “fear” occur hundreds and hundreds of times. Scripture is imbued with loving fear of God, indeed, a fear leading to love.
We must never reduce the Son, the Divine Word spoken from all eternity, to the Word of God which is Scripture, but we can learn something of the Word – and His Name – from Holy Writ. Two passages about the end of the world and our judgment, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, can help us view the attitude of reverential love found in our Collect. First, concerning our timor of God’s Holy Name, this from Revelation: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” (Rev 19:11) The Name “Jesus” points to His saving mission for us: “God’s salvation” or “God is my help”. Still, the Son always remains an awesome mystery having a Name we can never grasp, just as we cannot grasp His Being. Before His mystery we must bend with fear while because of His mission we rise to Him in love, amor. The Prophet Malachi explains: “For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:1-2).
God’s Holy Name is sacred. We love it and fear it. How we use or react to the Holy Name of God indicates our interior disposition. Do we use it with reverential love? With loving fear? Is His name, uttered by another during the day or in the recesses of our consciences at night, a source of dread because we are destitute in our sins, terrified of the Judge? Rather than deal with His Name, do we fill our lives with noise and clamor so that we need never hear “GOD” with all that He implies? “God fearing” men and women need not have terror of the Lord. Today’s prayer reveals a way out of the terror for God. Through reverential fear of His Name, of who He is and what He has done, we move to love that know no fear (cf. 1 John 4:16-18).
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
guide and protector of your people,
grant us an unfailing respect for your name,
and keep us always in your love.
Sorry about that. I wonder… did the people who made this translation fear the Lord? ICEL reduced “love and fear” of the Holy Name to “respect”, avoiding any trace of the old idea that God is fearful indeed. The tension between timor/amor, between destituo/instituo is obliterated. How long must we endure this? The prayers of Holy Mass have a sacred content which the Church desires to convey to us. The content is more than mere sentiments or ideas. The content is a Person with a mysterious Holy Name. We want what the prayers really say. Give us what they really say!