What Does the Prayer Really Say? Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001
This prayer comes in a time when we see in the newsworthy activities being covered by the media that love of God and neighbor should be prayed for with great and intense fervor. The season of the liturgical year called “Ordinary Time” is particularly helpful in guiding us into a proper Christian approach to the nitty-gritty details of the routine of daily living through the year. It might not be an exaggeration to suggest that the two-fold great command of Jesus is to be found at the foundation of daily life.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum)
Concede nobis, Domine Deus noster,
ut te tota mente veneremur,
et omnes homines rationabili diligamus affectu.
A probably not very significant detail: the phrase Domine Deus noster is used in only three collects of Ordinary Time, this week, the 5th and 33rd.
Grant us, O Lord our God,
that we may venerate you with our whole mind,
and may love all men with rational good-will.
We are asking God to permit us, to allow us as a great gift and favor granted, to “venerate” God with our whole mind. This veneror, as the great The Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary provides, has a deeply religious connotation and means, “to reverence with religious awe, to worship, adore, revere, venerate… to do homage.” Think of its use in the well-known Tantum Ergo, which describes us as cernui, “heads bowed to the ground.” To “venerate” as we should, it will be necessary to seek to know Him for we are to do this with our “whole mind.” But there is a close link between knowing and loving. More on this below.
What we are hearing in this collect is clearly an echo of the two-fold command of Jesus, teaching and expanding the repeated command in Deuteronomy (cf. especially 6:5, the Shema – “Hear, O Israel…”), to love God and neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:36-38; Mark 12:2-31; Luke 10:26-28 – which has omni mente rather than tota). In the three Synoptic Gospels where a version of the two-fold command appears we have the Greek word dianoia for “mind.” Jerome in the Vulgate used mens to translate the Greek dianoia. Dianoia is used in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint (usually abbreviated LXX). But looking at the Deuteronomy passage, we find in English translations “heart.” Dianoia translates the Hebrew lebab: heart…. and a lot more besides. Furthermore, in the Latin Vulgate for the Deuteronomy, we find for dianoia the word cor - “heart”. Like the English “heart”, Hebrew lebab can mean very many things, including “inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding, mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, determination (of will), conscience. “Heart” can mean the seat of moral character or courage. Biblical anthropology and the relationship of “mind, heart, soul” is a complicated study, and we do not have time and space for it here. By looking into that mens of our prayer we are digging for a road map to avoid the pitfalls and traps that the word “love” carries around today like so much baggage. “Mind” and “heart” are closely related faculties in man and cannot be separated from each other.
We are commanded by the Savior to love. Mother Church remembers this in this week’s prayer. But “love” can mean so many things today. Many of you reading this will remember C.S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves. Commonly used, “love” today usually refers not to the kind of love which is really Christian “charity”, that sacrificial love which in seeking always the good of the other resembles the sacrificial love of Christ, the theological virtue that permits us to love as images of God. Bob can “love” his Ferrari, Susie can “love” her kitty, and without doubt we all “love” baseball and spaghetti. We can talk about the different tenors of love, such as the love of benevolence, or of complacence, of enemies, concupiscence. But we are called to a special sort of love in this prayer… true charity: the infused virtue which makes it possible for us to love God for His own sake and love all those who are made in His image. This is more than benevolence or tolerance, more than appetitive desire. Love is not merely a response to some appetite, like seeing a beautiful member of the opposite sex, a well-turned double-play, or a plate of spaghetti all’amatriciana. It isn’t the sloppy gazing of passion drunk sweethearts or what we see on TV primetime. I call that luv. Real love is the adhesion of the will to an object which is grasped by the intellect to be good. Real love, the sort of love invoked in our prayer, is an act of will. This love delights in the other and is informed by a longing for the good of the other. It makes two resound with one spirit. Love, in the sense this prayer offers, is an act of will based on the work of a discerning intellect that is reshaped and informed by grace. This why we find in our prayer that phrase rationabilis affectus. Rationabilis is an adjective meaning: rational, reasonable. Our stupendous Lewis & Short Dictionary shows us that affectus indicates “A state of body, and esp. of mind produced in one by some influence, a state or disposition of mind, affection, mood: Love, desire, fondness, good-will, compassion, sympathy.” Rationabilis affectus reflects what it is to be truly human, made in God’s image and likeness, with faculties of willing and knowing and, therefore, loving.
We come back to the connection of knowledge and love, mentioned above. It seems to me that these two are so closely related that they cannot be easily distinguished at times. I am willing to bet that all of us have had the experience of getting to know something or someone and then, “falling in love.” Billy might be fascinated by bugs. From this love for bugs he simply must come to know everything there is to know about them, thus setting the stage for a brilliant career in entomology. On the other hand, we get to know a person or a city and, the more we learn about this complex object of our intellectual effort, we slowly come to appreciate their beauty and come even to a genuine love. Simply put, when we love someone, we want to know everything about him or her and the more we learn the more we love. This is how we must be with God: constantly seeking to understand Him more and more so as to love Him more and more, and by that very love coming to understand things about God that, without love, would not be possible for us to learn. The desire for both love and knowledge are built into who we are and we have a relationship with the objects of both love and knowledge. The great 13th century saint and doctor of the Church Bonaventure described “ecstatic knowledge.” This kind of knowledge is merely the product of abstract investigation. Rather, it starts first from standing back and contemplating. By contemplation, the knower becomes engaged with the object, becomes fascinated by it and wants to know it more deeply. This longing draws the knower into the object. Consider: we can study about God and our faith. But really the object of study is a living Person, not a set of abstractions. We need the sort of knowledge of God that draws us into Him. This is a “knowledge” which reaches into us, seizes us, pulls us into itself and transforms us. To experience God’s love is to have certain knowledge, more certain than any knowledge which can be arrived at by means of merely rational examination (but not in opposition to it).
And we are commanded to love our neighbor, all made in God’s image and all individually intriguing – fascinating, in a way that resembles the way we love God and ourselves. This we are to do with our minds, hearts, and our strength.
Lord our God,
help us to love you with all our hearts
and to love all men as you love them.
This version of the collect we examine this week leaves me a bit disappointed. The sound of it is really quite flat and uninteresting, repetitive, rather like the 1967 John Lennon/Beatles song: “Love… love… love… all you need is luv”. I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment it expresses: “Help us to… love all men as you love them”, is a fine thing if we consider with what sort of love God loves. Also, there is a profound difference between concede (“grant”) and “help.” Concede indicates our dependance on God, whereas “help” indicates a much more limited role for God. God does more than “help” us and we fallen human beings need more than “help.” When I hear “help” over and over again in ICEL prayers, I get a whiff (imagined or not) of Pelgaianism. That said, I don’t see how this really translates the Latin original.