2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: COLLECT (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005

I am glad to have received a note via snail-mail from Fr. VY, OFM who has corrected an error I made about the pre-Conciliar liturgical calendar.  I had said that in the 1962MR 1 January was the Feast of the Circumcision when, as Fr. VY points out, by 1962 it was simply Sunday in the Octave Christmas.   While 1 January had been still the Feast of the Circumcision in 1959 I gratefully stand corrected about the 1962MR.   I received an undated letter from Fr. BF, OSB who included some a copy of an article in The Tablet (22 May 2004) called “The Draft Order of the Mass”.  Apparently he shared his thoughts about the draft with Fr. Bruce Harbert, the Executive Secretary of ICEL but didn’t hear back from him at the time of his writing.  I note that The Tablet’s article says of the new draft that some people may be “alarmed” at the “hieratic, archaic nature of God’s relationship with humanity implicit in some of the prayers”.  I respond saying, “Goodie!” and “It’s not implicit in the Latin so why should it be in the English?  Let’s just make it all explicit for the sake of accuracy and honesty.”  I want to acknowledge also kind written notes from CC of IL and EL of AZ and others.  Your feedback is valuable.

We have into the Sundays “Ordinary Time” (once called the Season of Epiphany) during which we wear the green vestments that some say symbolize of hope.  Even though these Sundays are not part of a sacral cycle such as Advent/Christmas with a focus on specific mysteries of Our Lord’s life and saving work, each Sunday is always an echo of Easter.  Pre-Conciliar liturgical books called the Sundays after Epiphany and the Sundays after Pentecost the tempus per annum… “the time through the year” and this terminology has remained in the Novus Ordo.   We are entering the liturgical span stretching from the adoration of kings and shepherds at the feet of the infant King to the end of the year and the solemn feast of Christ the King, the King of fearful majesty who will come as judge and will separate the goats from the sheep and usher in the unending reign of peace.

COLLECT – LATIN TEXT (2002MR):
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
qui caelestia simul et terrena moderaris,
supplicationibus populi tui clementer exaudi,
et pacem tuam nostris concede temporibus.

This prayer was the Collect for the Second Sunday after Epiphany in the 1962MR.    We should look at some words before getting at what the prayer really says.  The unrivaled Lewis & Short Dictionary says that simul et connects two or more co-ordinate terms or facts and represents them as simultaneous and is the equivalent of simul etiam meaning “and at the same time, and also”.  The deponent verb moderor means “to manage, regulate, rule, guide, govern, direct”.  The word moderator is what we use in Latin for people like the state governor or the president of the United States: governing officials.  A gubernator was the steersman or pilot of a sailing ship.  

When we pray in Latin we often ask God to pay attention in some way, usually by “hearing” us.  Exaudio signifies “listen to” in the sense of “harken, perceive clearly.”  The imperative exaudi is more urgent than a simple audi (the imperative from audio, not the car).   I like “harken.”  Different words are used for this in Latin and though they mean subtly different things, they are all pretty much the same thing.  A good example is the beginning of one of the Litanies in Latin: Christe audi nos… Christe exaudi nos… which is often translated as “Christ hear us… Christ graciously hear us.”  

Clementer is an adverb from clemens, means among other things, “mild in respect to the faults and failures of others, i.e. forbearing, indulgent, compassionate, merciful.”  We have seen this many times in the last four years.  In the religious language of the ancient Romans a supplicatio was a public prayer or supplication, a solemn religious ceremony in consequence of certain public events, good or ill.  So, what we have here is a phrase something like, “in an indulgent manner graciously pay close attention to the humble petitions of your people, bent down in prayer.”  Tempus means many things but primarily, “time in general, or a season of time; the state of the times, position, state, condition; circumstances.”  It can also be “the appointed time, the right season, an opportunity (Greek kairos)”.   In the plural tempora gives us the word for the “temples” of the sides of your head.  The word “temporal” ultimately derives from tempus and it often indicates worldly or earthly things, material things, as opposed to sacred, eternal or spiritual.   

LITERAL TRANSLATION:
Almighty eternal God,
who at the same time does govern things heavenly and earthly,
mercifully harken to the supplications of Your people,
and grant Your peace in our temporal affairs.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father of heaven and earth,
hear our prayers, and show us the way
to peace in the world.

In the past we discovered in the course of this WDTPRS series that the ICEL versions of the prayers for the festal seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter were marginally better than those of Ordinary Time.  Now that we are in Ordinary Time again you will see a change in the quality of the “translations”.  They must have had a different committee work on the prayers of Ordinary Time.  First take note that the ICEL prayer is shorter than the Latin version, which set off flares and rings claxons.  Normally when you render a Latin text in English, the English will be considerably longer than the Latin.  This is a superficial but solid clue that not all is well.

To my mind the ICEL prayer is sterile, not just terse.  We can all agree that God is the “Father of heaven and earth”, but the Latin addresses “Almighty eternal God.”  “Father of heaven and earth” makes God smaller than He is, it seems to me, and is not what the Latin prayer really says.  “Hear our prayers”, indicates little of our humble posture before God which the Latin clearly proposes with “mercifully give ear to the supplications of your people”.  I suppose this is what The Tablet article mentioned above was referring to, namely, the “hieratic, archaic nature of God’s relationship with humanity implicit in some of the prayers”.  In the Latin, we are cast down, bent in prayer, asking the almighty God, indulgently to spare us a little attention.  I am perfectly content to grovel with penitentially confident joy before God even if the translators of the lame-duck ICEL version were not.   From what I have seen of the draft of the Ordinary we will be pleased in the future when a new translations finally comes forth.

The old ICEL version of the first Collect we see in Ordinary Time isn’t terribly successful when compared to the Latin, is it?  The bishops’ conferences, the Vox Clara Committee, the restructured, restaffed ICEL and the Holy See have their work cut out for them.  If the draft of the Ordinary of Mass is well under way, where are we with the Proper (i.e., the prayers which change according to the day).  Translating prayers is a daunting task and thus these people need our prayerful support and, may I say it, incessant positive urging and input.  I have provided addresses for the major figures involved on the internet (http://www.wdtprs.com/blog) or you can write e-mail to me for or snail-mail to The Wanderer.  Never forget when reading this column to say a prayer for our bishops and ask the Holy Spirit to guide them in their challenging mandate.  Also, be kind and respectful when writing.  Bishops are peculiar creatures to be sure, but they are still human beings.  They have more than enough to do in their busy days to deal with all the negative things which besiege them without getting some snippy letter from a disgruntled critic.  You can make your points and observations without being rude or demanding.  Look at it this way: if you want a cardinal or bishop or priest to read your thoughts and take them to heart, be nice, otherwise your note will probably wind up in the garbage can.

Getting back to our Collect we are begging God as omnipotent disposer of all things for peace in our temporal affairs now, not just later in heaven.  And we want not just any peace man can cobble together, but rather the peace which comes from Him.  During Holy Mass (before the entirely optional “sign of peace”) the priest repeats Christ’s words in John 14:27: “Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  Catholic Christians are confident.  Christ said He was going to give it to us.  

There is a great difference between the peace the world can offer and the peace that God offers.  This world of temporal goods (and ills) is passing and fragile, always susceptible to loss.  The goods of heaven are lasting, enduring, solid and dependable.   We must never fall into the sin of putting any created thing or person in the place which only eternal God may properly have.  No infinite and passing thing can provide lasting joy or eternal peace.  Any created thing can be lost through theft, wear and time.  The vicissitudes of this passing world roar over us like an inexorable wave and can sweep away any material thing to which we have clung, perhaps even in idolatry.  Our wealth, our family, our health, our appearance and our reputation can be taken in the blink of an eye.  God alone endures.

God knew each one of us outside of time, before the creation of both the visible and invisible universe.  He called us into existence at a precise moment in His eternal plan.  We have something to do in God’s plan.  He gives us work to fulfill and the talents and graces to fulfill it.  We must cooperate with Him, making His plan for us our own so that He can then make us strong enough to carry it out.  God knows our needs and in turn we confidently come to Him in prayer asking humbly in our trials during this earthly journey for peace only He can give, the peace which alone can make sense of what we experience in life.  Our sins lost this peace for us but it has been restored through the merits of Christ’s Sacrifice which we renewal and remember with each Holy Mass.  We ask God to bless us in this new year of salvation.  We beseech Him to give aid to all who suffer.  With bended knee and foreheads to the ground, bodies and wills both bent in supplication, we beg His patient indulgence and His peace.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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