WDTPRS: Conversion of St. Paul

In this Pauline Year, we should pay attention to the prayers for this great Apostle’s feast.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for The Wanderer.

in honor of the Apostle to the Gentiles let us make a rapid comparison of the Collects, or “Opening Prayers”, for this great feast.  We’ll look first at the 1962 Missale Romanum and then the 2002 edition.  The Collect is nearly the same in both.

COLLECT (1962MR):
Deus, qui universum mundum
beati Pauli Apostoli praedicatione docuisti:
da nobis, quaesumus;
ut, qui eius hodie Conversionem colimus,
per eius exempla gradiamur.

This prayer is ancient.  It is found already in the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Engolismensis (Angoulême) and the 9th century Augustodunensis (Autun) as well as the Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae ordine excarpsus, but with the variation in the Engolismensis multitidinem gentium” in place of “universum mundum”. 

Our precious copies of the increasingly costly Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary inform us that the deponent verb gradior is “to take steps, to step, walk, go;” and in ecclesiastical Latin “of the conduct of life, to walk, live, conduct one’s self”.  The French source for liturgical Latin I call Blaise/Dumas indicates that gradior is “to behave oneself”.   An exemplum is, “a sample for imitation, instruction, proof, a pattern, model, original, example….” For the Fathers, so steeped in Greek and Roman rhetoric and philosophy, exemplum could mean many things.  Mainly, an exemplum brings auctoritas to your argument, “authority”, which means among other things the moral persuasive force of an argument.  When we hear this prayer with ancient and Patristic ears, exemplum is not merely an “example” to imitate. It brings deeper moral force. The historic event of Paul’s conversion is a reason for hope. It is an incitement to lead the kind of life which will lead ultimately to being raised up after the perfect exemplum, the Risen Christ.  The core of this exemplum is St. Paul’s response to the call of the Lord to turn his life around, his conversio or in Greek metánoia.

I especially like the word gradior in this prayer.  It invokes the image of St. Paul trudging the byways.  Thus are we called, also.

LITERAL VERSION:
O God, who instructed the whole world
by the preaching of the Blessed Apostle Paul:
grant us, we beseech You,
that, we who are today honoring his Conversion,
may walk according to his examples.

Many (many many) of the prayers of the pre-Conciliar form of the Missale Romanum, were cut up and changed for the Novus Ordo, if they made the cut at all. Today’s prayer is a case in point.

COLLECT (2002MR):
Deus, qui universum mundum
beati Pauli Apostoli praedicatione docuisti,
da nobis, quaesumus,
ut, cuius conversionem hodie celebramus,
per eius ad te exempla gradientes,
tuae simus mundo testes veritatis.

LITERAL VERSION:
O God, who instructed the whole world
by the preaching of the Blessed Apostle Paul:
grant us, we beseech You,
that we, walking in life toward You according to the examples of him,
whose conversion we are celebrating today,
may be witnesses of Your truth in the world.

I am not convinced the ancient prayer needed these changes. 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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5 Responses to WDTPRS: Conversion of St. Paul

  1. Christopher says:

    *Seconds the motion.*

    What was the significance of changing eius to cuius in the reference to “Conversionem?” In this particular example I definitively see the language as “dumbed down,” as if one were speaking to God but realy slow like so that it is obvious to everyone else that you are speaking to Him as a didactic moment for them, in a didactic moment for them set contrary to the primary importance of offering Him Thanksgiving.

    On “gradientes:” This is rather presumptuous. It could be true if the Church were only ever made of saints at anygiven moment, but this is not the doctrine of the Church, She Who is made up of sinners and saints. Too, does this not dimish an aspect of hope, i.e., “We already walk like your most blessed Apostle Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Please, let all those other poor persons out there expereince the example that is us, so that you may be glolrfied.” So much for didactic in Christianity. Didactic, sure, but in what resspect. The prayer itself could be taken in a particular context, but it seems to require more explination and catechesis that is suitable or necessary in the Divine Public Worship of God.

    I liked the length range into which this post fell.

    May God bless you.
    -Christopher

  2. Rellis says:

    To heck with the “length range.” I love the Fr. Z marathon sessions.

  3. Michael Val Hietter says:

    From Christopher: “In this particular example I definitively see the language as “dumbed down,” as if one were speaking to God but realy slow like so that it is obvious to everyone else that you are speaking to Him as a didactic moment for them, in a didactic moment for them set contrary to the primary importance of offering Him Thanksgiving.”

    Well, maybe that is exactly what is going on, but maybe the “dumbing down” charge is not necessarily valid. The example that comes to mind right off is Jesus’ prayer in front of the tomb of Lazarus, where he states, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (Jn 11:41-42) I look at the prayers being read (in the vernacular) during Mass in the same way.

    However, I see no reason why this prayer needed to be changed one iota, and agree that the “change of tense” from hoping to walk to already walking in St. Paul’s path is really troubling.

    Michael Val Hietter

  4. CPKS says:

    The biggest change I detect between the two versions is that whereas in the former version, the accent is on how we inwardly orient our lives (colimus/gradiamur), in the latter it has shifted into a more outgoing, energetic form (celebramus/simus testes). Perhaps one might describe it as a shift from a contemplative to a more missionary position.

  5. Rob F says:

    I guess I’m in the minority here. I think the new prayer is a slight improvement, although I don’t think the change was in any way a necessity, as the mandate to reform the liturgy demanded.

    As for presumption, I really see very little change in meaning between “gradiamur” and “gradientes simus”. What I like is that now we have a concrete direction, “ad Deum”, which gives the whole prayer a more personal nature, and indicates exactly what we should be doing in the liturgy. And the new prayer states what we would be if we did this – “mundo testes veritatis”.

    It is in turning toward God that we may be witnesses, not in some activities program or parish outreach.