Here is some work I did a while back on the Collect for the Mass for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. It was originally in The Wanderer.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
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.
With small differences this Collect is based on a prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary, subsequently in the 1962 Roman Missal on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. In the Anglican Church’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (The Alternative Service Book of 1980 for Pentecost 17) we find: “Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same.”
17th century English schismatics got it right. Can’t we? But what will you hear on Sunday?
ICEL (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.
What does the prayer really say? Your indomitable Lewis & Short Dictionary explains that insero means “to sow, plant in, engraft, implant.” I really like that “graft”, chosen also by the Anglicans of yore. Going on, optimum does not mean “perfect”, but rather “best.” I think we can get away with “perfect”, given that we are applying “best” to what God has.
Liturgiam authenticam 51 states that “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”. Today the priest invokes God as Deus virtutum, an expression in St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Psalter (Ps 58:6; 79:5 ff; 83:9; 88;9) often translated as “God of hosts.” Don’t confuse “host” as “army, multitude” with the wheat wafer used at Mass. Virtutum is genitive plural of virtus,“manliness; strength, vigor; bravery, courage; aptness, capacity; power” etc. Jerome chose virtutum to render the Hebrew tsaba’, “that which goes forth, an army, war, a host.” Tsaba’ describes variously hosts of soldiers, of celestial bodies, and of angels. In the Sanctus of Mass and in the great Te Deum we echo the myriads of angels bowed low in the liturgy of heaven before God’s throne: Holy, Holy, Holy LORD GOD SABAOTH …. God of “heavenly hosts” or, as ICEL put it in 1973, God “of power and might”. I think “O mighty God of hosts” conveys what LA 51 is saying we should have.
O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect,
graft into our hearts the love of your name, and grant,
that by means of an increase of the virtue of religion,
you may nourish in us the things which are good,
and, by means of vigilant zeal, guard the things which have been nourished.
Notice that we pray to God for an increase in “religion.” I take this to refer to the virtue of religion.
Last week I wrote about the difference between “values” and “virtues”. Let’s make more distinctions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “religion” in the glossary toward the back of the newer English edition: 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). The Angelic Doctor says in his mighty Summa (II-II, 81, 1) that religion is the virtue by which men exhibit due worship and reverence to God as the creator and supreme ruler of all things. We must 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, and blasphemy. We creatures must recognize who God is and act accordingly both inwardly and outwardly. When this at last becomes habitual for us, then we have the virtue of religion. A virtue is a habit. One good act does not make us virtuous. If being prudent or temperate or just, etc., is hard for us, then we don’t yet have the virtue. This petition in the Collect follows immediately from our desire that God “graft” (insere) love of His Holy Name into our hearts. We move from the title of God the angels and saints never tire of repeating in their everlasting liturgy in heaven: HOLY, they say, HOLY, again and again forever, HOLY. Then we beg for all good things to be nourished in us by God as He increases in us the virtue of religion leading to the proper interior and exterior actions that necessarily flow from recognizing who God truly is and who we are.
This Sunday’s Collect has images of armies. I think it not a stretch to imagine also orchard or vine tending. On the one hand, the God of hosts guards the good things we have. On the other, this same mighty God is grafting love into us and then nourishing it so it can grow.