We continue our Lenten journey through the prayers of Holy Mass with today’s
Miseratio tua, Deus, ad haec peragenda mysteria,
famulos tuos, quaesumus, et praeveniat competenter,
et devota conversatione perducat.
Per… prae… per. Interesting. con-petens… con-vers… Miseratio… devotio. This all should get your attention immediately. Someone put a lot of thought into this. Nothing is here by accident.
The vocabulary of this prayer, which originates in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary but not the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum, is supercharged. In the Gelasian we have percipienda rather than peragenda. First we have the problems inhering in praevenio.
Praevenio is "to come before, precede" and thus it is "anticipate".
The word praevenio will remind us right away of the theological distinction made when speaking of actual graces.
You recall that God gives us habitual grace, also called sanctifying grace. This is in us as a habit is in us, in a stable and abiding manner. Actual graces are given to us according to our needs here and now, in this or that circumstance. Theologians identify in this category of actual graces something called gratia praeveniens, or “prevenient grace” and sometimes even “preventing grace” (defined by the Council of Trent, cf. Session VI, ch. 5 – we will leave aside for the sake of brevity the erroneous use of this term in some Reformation theologians).
God made us with a free will, though that will is now wounded from the effects of original sin. When we are in need, especially when we have fallen into habitual sins and our will has little strength to extricate ourselves from our dark path, God gives the actual grace that, in a sense, “goes before” other graces, such as the actual graces we can receive, such as the sacramental graces from a good confession and absolution. He helps us to repent and be strong to confess before we take action. He does not constrain or bypass our will, but strengthens and cooperates with it through a freely given gift. We find examples of preventing or prevenient graces in the pages of Scripture as, for example, with a reluctant person hears the voice of God (e.g. Jeremiah or the person described in John 6:44).
The patristic formula that describes this is Gratia est in nobis, sed sine nobis, that is, grace (as a vital act) is in our soul, but it does not comes from the soul; it is a salutary act coming immediately from God (cf. (who else?) St. Augustine De grat. et lib. arbitr., 17, 33).
Competo, "to seek again, go back to" also has a strong baptismal connotation. Competentes were those being prepared for baptism at Easter and who were thus "asking [for baptism] together".
We have seen conversatio many times as not just "conversation", but rather outward behavior, the way one conducts oneself even with an element of how we behave towards others (con-).
I think for kicks (animi causa in Latin) I will let you all take a shot at this one: