What Does the Prayer Really Say? 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
In his latest and always informative “The Word From Rome” (9 September 2005) Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., the ubiquitous and fair-minded Rome correspondent for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, relates how he queried Walter Card. Kasper (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) about a matter of great interest to WDTPRS readers. According to Mr. Allen, during the press conference before a congress to be held in Rome for the 40th anniversary of Dei Verbum (Vatican II’s document on Scripture) Card. Kasper had spoken favorably about, ‘“inter-confessional translations of the Bible in the various languages,’ i.e., joint projects involving Catholic and Protestant Scripture scholars, theologians, and linguists. Card. Kasper said he wants the congress to examine ‘the state of ecumenical collaboration’ in the Biblical field.” Mr. Allen asked His Eminence about the Congregation for Divine Worship’s document Liturgiam authenticam which states that “Great caution is to be taken to avoid a wording or style that the Catholic faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial communities or of other religions, so that such a factor will not cause them confusion or discomfort.” Mr. Allen inquired of Card. Kasper: “How are we to reconcile … (this) positive stance on inter-confessional translations with the caution urged by the Congregation for Worship, now under the leadership of Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze?” Card. Kasper replied, “I’ve written to Cardinal Arinze to suggest that we meet to discuss this. … There are some differences that exist. We haven’t yet had a chance to have the meeting. Perhaps after the congress we can talk about it.”
Fr. RF has written again in response to my comments last week about kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer of Holy Mass and obligation in the USA to do so (cf. GIRM 23) from the end of the Sanctus, through the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer, to the end of the great “Amen” (edited): “Thanks for your response in the column. The people here are kneeling. I have two small parishes. Regarding kneeling during the ‘Ecce’, one parish does, one doesn’t. The one that doesn’t has a large percentage of elderly. They decided, what with all the knee and hip replacements and walkers, it would be easier and safer! One doesn’t often think of the increasing age of the population as a formative factor in liturgical practice.” Thanks for that, Father RF. The key here is the common sense being applied: people who are physically impeded can remain standing or sitting as the case may be. However, people should not be instructed by an authority such as the celebrating priest to violate the law.
Veteran WDTPRSers undoubtedly know I think the “pro multis” question is the most important single issue in the ongoing battles being waged in the increasingly lengthy preparation of the new English text of Holy Mass. I have learned there is available now for sale on the internet a small lapel pin of a chalice with host and a motto banner with the words “pro multis” superimposed. I haven’t actually held one, but I saw the website of the group strc.org that sells them. The group in question, STRC or “Society of Traditional Roman Catholics” is highly critical of anything having to do with Vatican II or the Novus Ordo. I suspect this group is small. These are folks for whom the phrase “Latin Mass” is narrowed to refer exclusively to the older so-called “Tridentine” form. They pledge “fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church and to her teachings as handed down by the Sacred Magisterium through the centuries” but they are unburdened by respect for the present forms of Mass, even when not subject to the common abuses which so afflict many of us. For what it is worth, at least the pin is pretty spiffy. I wish I could give one to every reader and you in turn would send them to the members of ICEL and the Vox Clara Committee along with a kind, respectful note expressing warm hopes for a beautiful and accurate translation, especially of “pro multis”.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam
parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas,
gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde,
ut, ad tua promissa currentes,
caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
This was, in a slightly different form, in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary and in the 1962 Missale Romanum this Collect was prayed for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. Let’s now look at some vocabulary, the nuts and bolts of the prayer. Parco means, “to spare, have mercy, forbear to injure” and by extension, “forgive.” This verb is used quite frequently in liturgical prayer as, for example, in the responses during the beautiful litanies we sing as Catholics, especially in time of need: “Parce nobis, Domine… Spare us, O Lord!” During Lent the hauntingly poignant Latin chant informs our penitential spirit: “Parce, Domine… O Lord, spare your people: do not be wrathful with us forever.” The noun consors comes from the fusion of the preposition for “with” and sors (“lot”), in the sense of a chance or ticket when “casting lots”, destiny, fate). A consors is someone with whom you share a common destiny. The densely arranged Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that consors is “sharing property with one (as brother, sister, relative), living in community of goods, partaking of in common.” The English word “lot” can be both “fate” and a “parcel of land.” Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are to act as God acts: to know, will and love. Since God spares us and is merciful, then we must be similarly merciful and sparing if we want to be sharers and coheirs in the lot He has prepared for us. Shall we get the ICEL version out of the way and then get on to what the prayer really says?
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, you show your almighty power,
in your mercy and forgiveness.
Continue to fill us with your gifts of love.
Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise
and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
O God, who manifest Your omnipotence
especially by sparing and being merciful,
pour Your grace upon us unceasingly,
so that You may make us, rushing to the things You have promised,
to be partakers of heavenly benefits.
One of the ways God manifests His almighty nature is by being forgiving and sparing. God is the creator and ruler, guide and governor of all that is seen and unseen, who keeps everything in existence by an act of His will, and reveals His omnipotence especially (maxime in our Collect) by means of mercy. By violating God’s will our first parents, i.e. the entire human race, opened up an infinite gulf between us and God. Since the gulf was immeasurable, only an omnipotent God could bridge that gap and repair it. God did not repair the breach because of justice, but rather because in His goodness He is also merciful.
People often slip into the trap of associating manifestations of power with acts of justice. In this Collect, however, we affirm the other side of power’s coin. The miracles worked by Jesus in the Gospels, loving gestures to suffering individuals, were acts of mercy often connected to forgiveness of sins. The affirmation of divine mercy, however, does not diminish God’s justice. Mercy does not mean turning a blind eye to justice, for that would be tantamount to betraying truth and charity. Nevertheless, if justice must be upheld because God is Truth, so too must mercy be exercised because God is Love. For God, balancing justice and mercy is simplicity itself, since He is perfectly simple. Knowing all things which ever were, are or will be as well as the complexities of each act’s impact and every other throughout history God has no conflicts in the application of merciful justice or just mercy. For man, especially in times of trial, the simultaneous exercise of mercy and justice is very difficult indeed. Because of the wounds to our will and intellect, our struggle with passions, it is hard for us at times to see what is good and right and true or rein in our emotions even when we do discern things properly. We often oscillate between being first just and then merciful. Bringing the two streams of mercy and justice together is a tremendous challenge. When we encounter a person whom we find able to balance justice and mercy together, we are deeply impressed by him and hold him up as an example of wisdom because he is acting more perfectly as an image of God than many others. We are moved by his example because deep inside we know how we ought to be conforming to God’s image in us.
One way in which we act the most according to God’s image in us, behaving as the “coheirs” Christ made us to be, authentic Christian consortes, is precisely when we act with compassion. Is compassion the key to balancing mercy and justice? In biblical language, such as the Hebrew racham, compassion is often interchangeable with mercy. The Latin word compassio comes from Latin patior, “to suffer/endure with” someone. Our whole being is moved and stirred when we witness compassion and suffering because they reveal in a mysterious way who we are as human beings and how we ought to act. In a now famous passage from the Council’s Gaudium et spes, we are taught that Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself (GS 22). Christ did this in His every word and deed during His earthly life, but His supreme moment of revelation to us about who we are was His Passion and death on the Cross and subsequent rising from the tomb. When we imitate His Passion, in sacrificial love and in the genuine “with suffering” which is compassion, we act as we were made by God to act. In sincere and concrete acts of compassion we, in our own turn, reveal man more fully to himself! We in our own way show God’s image to our neighbor and our neighbor is moved. We cannot not be moved unless we are already stony and cold and dead. Pope John Paul II wrote, “man cannot live without love”, both the love he gives and the love he receives.
As I write, it is the anniversary of the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the flood waters of Katrina have still not receded from New Orleans. We have seen acts of genuine compassion from many people in the aftermath of both these disasters. Something in them has been deeply moved to action. Each gesture of compassion on the part of rescue workers, medical personnel (working in slow haste), members of the military, law enforcement, first responders, relief agency representatives, people in cities near and distant move the heart because in their actions we see that image after which every man, woman and child must resonate and long. Unmerited acts of charity, mercy, justice, and compassion all make visible to our neighbor the God after whose likeness we ourselves are fashioned. We are moved by these acts because we are seeing in other people something really real. We are also moved by the suffering of others because suffering is a foundational element of human nature now transformed and given meaning by Christ’s Passion. In sincere and concrete acts of compassion, in our biblical “bowels of mercy”, we in our turn reveal man more fully to himself. Individuals can by their example effect great changes in a society. If one person can do much, how much more could be done by armies of men and women thirsting for holiness and righteousness (i.e., a Church), striving to act in compassion, justice and mercy?
By His justice, God will give us what we deserve. By His mercy, He will not give us certain elements of what we deserve. By His pouring forth graces upon us, God gives us what we do not deserve. His justice must be received with joyful trepidation, whether we want it or not. His mercy we must beg with humble confidence. His grace, unmerited by us, we embrace with exultant gratitude.