What Does the Prayer Really Say? 6th Sunday after Pentecost (1962 Missale Romanum)
Now please flip open your own trusty copy of the Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Aeclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli edited by Leo Cunibert Mohlberg, OSB (in other words the Gelasian Sacramentary and yes, it is “Aeclesiae”.) you find today’s ancient prayer in the second group of prayers for Sundays. I noted that the Collect we examined last week was in the first group. Today’s prayer survived the scissor and paste-pot wielding liturgical experts who, under the aegis of the late Fr. Annibale Bugnini, revised and shuffled the ancient prayers for the Novus Ordo. With only slight changes, this prayer is still heard today on the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
COLLECT – (1962 Missale Romanum):
Deus virtutum, cuius est totum quod est optimum:
insere pectoribus nostris amorem tui nominis,
et praesta in nobis religionis augmentum;
ut, quae sunt bona, nutrias, ac pietatis studio,
quae sunt nutrita, custodias.
In the 2002 Roman Missal it appears this way (variations underscored): Deus virtutum, cuius est totum quod est optimum, insere pectoribus nostris tui nominis amorem, et praesta, ut in nobis, religionis augmento, quae sunt bona nutrias, ac, vigilanti studio, quae nutrita custodias. But in the ancient Gelasian it is like this: Deus uirtutum, cuius est totum quod est optimum, insere pectoribus nostris amorem tui nominis et praesta, ut et nobis relegionis augmentum quae sunt bona nutrias ac uigilantia studium quaesomus nutrita custodias. However, the apparatus criticus at the bottom of the page, where variations in different manuscripts are listed, also suggests vigilanti studio. Thus, the Novus Ordo redactors attempted to restore the prayer in some respects to the version pre-dating by many centuries the “Tridentine” Missale Romanum, making also changes in style. But they changed the conceptual grounding of the Collect by removing pietas.
Your even trustier copy of the Lewis & Short Dictionary informs you that insero means “to sow, plant in, ingraft, implant.” Virtutum is genitive plural of virtus, “manliness; strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; power” and so forth. Virtutum translates the Hebrew tsaba’, “that which goes forth, an army, war, a host.” Tsaba’ is applied to hosts of angels, of soldiers, and the sun, moon and stars. In the Sanctus of Holy Mass and in the great hymn called the Te Deum we echo the myriads of saints and angels bowed before God’s throne in the celestial liturgy: “Holy Holy Holy LORD GOD SABAOTH…. God of “heavenly hosts”, or as the lame-duck ICEL version puts it, God “of power and might”. “O mighty God of hosts” is a fair attempt at what Deus virtutum is saying. We find in old translations of the Latin Vulgate Psalter that this address for God is rendered as: “God of hosts.” The Holy See’s document which lays down the norms for liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam 51, says, “deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text.” We must drill into these tougher phrases and not simply gloss over them.
Lame-Duck ICEL version (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
every good thing comes from you.
Fill our hearts with love for you,
increase our faith,
and by your constant care
protect the good you have given us.
O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect:
graft the love of Your Name into our hearts,
and grant in us an increase of religion;
so that You may nourish the things which are good
and, by zeal for dutifulness, guard what has been nourished.
Here are images having to do with armies and also with vine tending. On the one hand we have the God of hosts who guards the good things we have. On the other, God grafts love into us and then nourishes it into growth.
Notice that we pray to God for an increase in “religion.” Ancient Roman religio is a complicated term. The word derives from the root lig- , “to bind”, hence, religio means sometimes the same as obligatio. As our obliging L&S explains, Romans understood reverence for God (or their gods), the fear of God, “connected with a careful pondering of divine things; piety, religion, both pure inward piety and that which is manifested in religious rites and ceremonies; hence the rites and ceremonies, as well as the entire system of religion and worship, the res divinae or sacrae, were frequently called religio or religions.” Note the reference to “piety”. This description also resonates closely with our Catholic axiom that the “lex orandi lex credenda… law of praying is the law of believing”, if we believe certain things inwardly, we are duty bound to express them outwardly in worship.
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) in Book X of City of God states that pietas concerns honor and service to God and that it does not much differ from religio. The Roman sense of pietas is especially the honor we are bound to show toward our parents, especially our father, but by extension to children and the one’s fatherland, patria. In liturgical language, when pietas is applied to us humans it is the due respect we show supremely to God the Father, but also to His children in the foreshadowing of our true heavenly patria, the Church. When in liturgical texts we talk of the pietas of God, we are mostly talking about His mercy. God cannot be under obligations, as we can be, but He has made us promises.
So, in our prayer is a strong conceptual link between pietas and religio. It is fair to take religio to be the virtue of religion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines religion in the glossary toward the back of the newer English edition, “Religion: a set of beliefs and practices followed by those committed to the service and worship of God. The first commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of the virtue of religion. (Cf. also CCC 2084 and 2135) Religion is the virtue by which men exhibit due worship and reverence to God (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh, 2-2a, 81, 1) as the creator and supreme ruler of all things, and to acknowledge dependence on God by rendering Him a due and fitting worship both interiorly (e.g. by acts of devotion, reverence, thanksgiving, etc.) and exteriorly (e.g., external reverence, liturgical acts, etc.). The virtue of religion can be sinned against by idolatry, superstitions, sacrilege, blasphemy, etc.”
In sum, we must recognize God and act accordingly both inwardly and outwardly. When that comes easily for us and is habitual, then we have the virtue of religion. A virtue is a habit. If it is hard to do something virtuous (be prudent, be temperate, be just, etc.) you don’t yet have the virtue.
Notice also that this petition of the Collect directly follows from the desire that God graft love of His Holy Name into our hearts. Our thought in this prayer moves from the title given to God by the angels and saints in heaven in their unending liturgy: “HOLY”, they say again and again. Then we ask for love of the Holy Name of God. Then we want all good things nourished in us by God increasing in us the virtue of religion, the proper interior and exterior action that flows from recognizing who God truly is for us.
I find interesting the choice to change the phrase with pietatis in the “Tridentine” version of the Collect to vigilianti studio. The 1962 version says, “…by means of zeal for dutifulness/mercy, you may guard the things which have been nourished.” The 1970 edition says, “by means of vigilant zeal.” We should also decide if the prayer is talking about God’s zeal or about our zeal, resulting from God’s increase of our religion. From the Latin it is not entirely clear whose zeal it is.
Certainly in all ages and everywhere the powers of hell attack the Christian and attempt to pervert his soul. It is always necessary to attend to one’s soul dutifully, striving to acquire and to practice the virtue of religion. I get a somewhat greater sense of urgency in “vigilance” than I do from “duty”. Consider the image of the soldier at a sentry post. In peacetime he carries out his duty and is vigilant. In wartime he is intensely vigilant. Think of 1 Peter 5: 8-9, so long the chapter for every night at Compline in the Roman Breviary: “Be sober and vigilant (vigilate): for your adversary the devil is going around like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour: whom you must resist, strong in the faith. But you, O Lord, have mercy (miserere) on us.”