Here is a short excerpt from my weekly column for The Wanderer.
Let us move to this week’s Collect, which historically was in the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis. It was also the prayer over the people, Super populum, in the 1962MR for Wednesday after the 4th Sunday of Lent. It was not, I believe, in the 1970MR or 1975MR (Novus Ordo), but it was reinserted on Saturday of the 2nd week of Lent in the third edition of 2002, which revived the ancient Lenten Super populum blessings.
Pateant aures misericoridae tuae, Domine,
et, ut petentibus desiderata concedas;
fac eos, quae tibi sunt placita, postulare.
Supplico, so we are instructed by the Lewis & Short Dictionary, is formed from sub and plico, meaning “to fold, double up.” The image is of one who is doubled-over, bent over praying. Someone who is supplex is bent down, at least at the knees, in an attitude of prayer. Postulo is “to ask, demand, require, request, desire”.
Open the ears of Your mercy, O Lord,
to the prayers of those humbly beseeching:
and, that You might grant the things desired to those seeking them,
cause them to desire the things which are pleasing to You.
We often use anthropomorphic expressions in our prayer, giving God physical, human characteristics. The image of God opening or inclining His ears is common. Our Latin liturgical prayer constantly has God harking to us or lending His celestial ear, or inclining toward us so that He can listen more closely, not miss our meaning, our sincerity, our need. We want to be in His hearing and in His sight. We want Him to hurry to us and to be near.
This language is normal in the human experience of praying to our mysterious and transcendent God, who is infinitely removed from us, but who is nevertheless closer to us than we are to ourselves. St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) in his Confessions gives expression to this tension of transcendence and immanence in words unsurpassed by man for over fifteen centuries.
Perhaps in the light of the events of the last week, we might linger over the great Doctor of Grace’s words (Conf. 5.2; 6.3):
Thou alone art near even to those that remove far from You. Let them, then, be converted and seek You; because not as they have forsaken their Creator have You forsaken Your creature. Let them be converted and seek You; and behold, You are there in their hearts, in the hearts of those who confess to You, and cast themselves upon You, and weep on Your bosom after their obdurate ways, even Thou gently wiping away their tears. And they weep the more, and rejoice in weeping, since Thou, O Lord, not man, flesh and blood, but Thou, Lord, who made, remakest and comfortest them. And where was I when I was seeking You? And You were before me, but I had gone away even from myself; nor did I find myself, much less You! …
O crooked ways! Woe to the audacious soul which hoped that by forsaking thee it would find some better thing! It tossed and turned, upon back and side and belly – but the bed is hard, and thou alone givest it rest. And lo, thou art near, and thou deliverest us from our wretched wanderings and establishest us in thy way, and thou comfortest us and sayest, “Run, I will carry you; yea, I will lead you home and then I will set you free.”