What Does the Prayer Really Say? 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005
In the English version of the official message put out by the Synod of Bishops which met in Rome (October 2-23) to discuss the Eucharist, we read: "7. On the eve of his passion, ‘Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, "Take, eat, this is my body." Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, "Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"’ (Mt 26:25-28).‘"Do this in memory of me"’ (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25)." So, the Synod of Bishops got pro multis right. Of course, they were quoting The Gospel of Matthew.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude,
ut, mente et corpore partier expediti,
quae tua sunt liberis mentibus exsequamur.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of power and mercy,
protect us from all harm.
Give us freedom of spirit
and health in mind and body
to do your work on earth.
When you open your Lewis & Short Dictionary you will find that adversantia is from adverso(r) “to stand opposite to one, to be against, i.e. to resist or oppose (in his opinions, feelings, intentions, etc.); while resistere and obsistere denote resistance through external action.” It is constructed with the dative, which explains the nobis. Adversantia is the neuter plural form of the active participle. I think the distinction between “internal” and “external” is quite useful in understanding the prayer. Pariter, an adverb meaning “equally, in like manner” and “at the same time” connects mens and corpus (think of the adage mens sana in corpore sano… “a healthy mind in a healthy body”). We encounter many difficulties and challenges in life. There is resistance and adversity, indeed, an adversary. We are opposed from without, but the greatest challenges and dangers come from within. We must constantly cope with the unreconstructed effects of original sin together with the diabolical workings of the enemy of the soul, who stirs up passions, memories, and implants wicked thoughts and images. Very wisely the Church would pray at Compline every night (but now only on Tuesdays) the passage: “Be sober and vigilant: for your adversary (adversarius) the devil is going around like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour: whom you must resist (resistite), strong in the faith. But you, O Lord, have mercy on us.” God truly is a God of mercy, to protect us so from such a dire foe” (1 Peter 5: 8-9).” Excludo literally means, “to shut out, exclude; to cut off, remove, separate from any thing.” Therefore it also means, “to drive out, thrust out, hinder, prevent.” We are praying to God to keep away from us all things that actively hinder and oppose us and, if we stick closely to the distinction made between adverso(r), resisto, and obsisto, particularly interior dangers.
How will that come about? God must be appeased. He must be favorable towards us. In the Collect we find the word propitiatus, a perfect passive participle from propitio, “to render favorable, to appease, propitiate.” (NB: Even though in the dictionary the lemma form of verbs is in the first person singular, the definitions are presented as infinitives.) Propitiatus is “having been appeased.” Many forms of propitio appear in our liturgical prayers. Its use reflects our recognition that as a race and as individuals we have sinned in His sight and offended Him. Our offense required a Redeemer capable of appeasing the Father. We offend God as a society or as groups only on the basis of the personal sins of individuals. We must seek to make amends, but our efforts would be in vain without the merits of Christ’s sacrifice mediated through the Church.
The word expediti, also a perfect passive participle from expedio meaning,“to extricate, disengage, let loose, set free, liberate any thing entangled, involved.” By extension expedio signifies many other things including, when applied to persons, to be without baggage. Thus, the noun expeditus, i, m., is “a soldier lightly burdened, a swiftly marching soldier.” You might have heard of a “St. Expeditus” (feast day 19 April) a patron saint of procrastinators and, oddly enough, computer programmers… for reasons which are perfectly clear. Expeditus is appropriately depicted as a Roman solider holding aloft a Cross. The are some amusing suppositions about the origins this “saint’s” cult, but I am sure you now praying to Expeditus that I will stop this digression and swiftly march to my point. Expediti can also refer to how we have been freed from the chains of sin which would have doomed us to eternal hell. Going on, exsequor is “to follow, go after, pursue” as well as “to follow up, prosecute, carry out; to perform, execute, accomplish, fulfill” and also “to go through with in speaking, to relate, describe, say, tell.” Finally, that quae tua sunt is hard. Literally, it means “things which are yours”. There isn’t room here to get into why but it refers to things God wills or commands. Think of it this way, Jesus told His Mother and Joseph, “I must be about my Father’s business” (cf. Luke 2:49).
Almighty and merciful God,
having been appeased, keep away from us all things opposing us,
so that, having been unencumbered in mind and body equally,
we may with free minds accomplish the things which you will.
This Collect appears also in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1742 in the section on “Human Freedom in the Economy of Salvation”: “Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful, so that, made ready both in mind and body, we may freely accomplish your will.”
Too rarely these days are our young people instructed about Holy Mother Church distinguished as Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant. We who are still in this earthly vale belong to the Church Militant. Having put on our baptismal character we become soldier pilgrims journeying toward the triumph of heaven. As good Christians who love both our God and our neighbor, along our road we help other members of the Church who are suffering (in Purgatory, the Church Suffering). When we ourselves are in need, we turn for aid to members of the Church who have obtained what we long for – the bliss of heaven. They are still members of the Church and they love us and wish us well as intercessors with God.
Our Collect this week provides us with military language consonant with this three-fold understanding of the Church. In this prayer we are like lightly burdened foot soldiers (expediti) who are on an urgent mission. All around us there are enemies around us, lying in wait. There are obstacles without and within (adversantia). Before going into battle soldiers will often shed some of their heavier gear so that they can move more freely, taking only what will be of immediate need when the clash begins. They need to be free to expedite (expediti) their orders and accomplish their mission (quae tua sunt). By their training, grueling, repetitious and extensive, their bodies are strengthened and hardened. Because of the habits they developed through the sometimes tedious drills they endured, when danger is near their minds are to an extent freed up (liberis mentibus). They are prepared for the challenges of the mission. Though they may be afraid, they can act with confidence when their commanders act with sure and true competence. This is the ideal for the soldier. But it must be the ideal for every Christian too. Virtues are habits developed over time by repetition and discipline. Our Church’s pastors are our officers who will lead us through adversities towards our objective of heaven. We must diligently learn and then review the content of our Faith, especially in the fundamentals, and with discipline and dedication frequent the sacraments. This rule of life should after a measure of time become so much a part of us that it is nearly automatic. It will carry us through even the worst things we might have to face.
Some years ago I had an experience which confirmed for me the value of the old-fashioned methods of catechism: long and hard practice, memorization, and repetition. I was called to a hospital to assist in a patient’s difficult death. I gave the man Last Rites and talked with the family as they struggled with the reality of the end of the earthly life of a loved one. A daughter of the dying man had been estranged from her faith and her family for a long time. She was beyond her life’s middle years, which clearly had been pretty rough. She was bitter and cursed life, fate and God for the cruelty of such an end as her father was experiencing. She shouted at me, “Why did God make us if this is all there is?” I responded asking, “Why did God make you?” She became very still and stared at me. Then she said, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” I continued, “What must we do to save our souls?” On cue she responded with something that she hadn’t perhaps thought of for decades, “To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity. We must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.” “Did your father do that?”, I asked. “Oh, yes…. oh yes.” She had obviously been taught very well as a child. One can imagine that she was at times forced to study and to learn, to repeat over and over what at the time seemed boring and pointless. She had been drilled at school by the Sisters, whom these days we see mocked and abused in the media by ungrateful cads who benefited from their dedication. More importantly, she had parents who fulfilled their obligations to see that she learned her faith. I imagine they had to work hard to make her work hard. Her father had done his duty to give her what she needed when the battle was joined. Whatever they all did worked. In the moment of truth, by the grace of God and the help of her guardian angel, the gift her dying father had given her years before was rediscovered and put to its proper use.
Can we relate this to the purpose of this series of articles? Together with helping you to love the Church’s prayers and understand them better, we also want to urge and encourage a sound, accurate and beautiful English translation of Holy Mass and our other liturgies. The norms for that translation were issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in a document called Liturgiam authenticam. In that document we read:
48. The texts for the principal celebrations occurring throughout the liturgical year should be offered to the faithful in a translation that is easily committed to memory, so as to render them usable in private prayers as well.
Many people today criticize the old method of education by memorization and repetition. They say that children just wind up mouthing things they do not understand. On the other hand, while they might not understand it at the moment, one day they will be ready for it and they will have it because it had been given them. Countless soldier and sailors, for example, griped (and gripe) about their training. Many Marines entertain homicidal thoughts about their drill instructor. But when that Anchor, Globe and Eagle is finally pinned on, not a few Marines return to their DI and shake his hand and thank him for what he gave them. In later service, when the time comes for that single skill or tool or piece of knowledge to be used in its critical time, it is there. It gleams with purpose. Polished and tended, it is tried and true. We of the Church Militant are pilgrim soldiers and, if we are going to reach our goal of heaven, we need training, sacrifice, and leadership.