Here is part of a piece I wrote for the weekly The Wanderer.
In the traditional Roman calendar this is the Season after Epiphany, called in the typical edition of the 1962 Missale Romanum the “Tempus per annum ante Septuagesimam… Time through the year before Septuagesima”. On Monday 2 February, forty days after Christmas, we observe the feast of the Purification or “Candlemas”, third and last “peak”, bringing to a close the cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany. Next Sunday is the first the pre-Lenten Sundays, Septuagesima.
The Season after Epiphany echoes with the mystery of the revelation of Christ’s divinity. On Epiphany itself we celebrated the coming of the Magi to the manger, the Baptism of the Lord at the Jordan, and the miracle at Cana. On the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany we heard once again about Christ’s first public miracle at Cana. On 13 January we observed again the Baptism of the Lord. On the Third Sunday Christ by divine power cleanses a leper and healed the Centurion’s servant from afar. On this Sunday the Lord reveals His godhood by commanding the wind and waves.
In this season after Epiphany, in the readings and prayers of Holy Mass, we strengthen our faith in Christ as God.
Today’s prayer survived the cutters and pasters of Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium to live on, intact, in the Novus Ordo on Thursday of the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The prayer is ancient. You can find it in many of the manuscripts we find in these columns. In the Liber Sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae ordine exscarpsus it is found on the 4th Sunday after “Theophany”, which is another word for “Epiphany”. Therefore, it has been prayed at the same point in Mass for well over one thousand years. But the redactors of the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum thought it should be somewhere else.
But there might have been some method to their seemingly odd choice.
At this point in the Season of Epiphany, which is shorter or longer depending on the moving date of Easter, we already are getting hints of Lent to come. In the Gospel reading for today’s Mass the Apostles are terrified in their little boat as the wind and surging waves threaten to engulf them. The Lord rises to face the danger on their behalf. The Lord not only manifests His divinity, but stands at the juncture of conflict between the world in disharmony because of sin and the salvation that is ours through His reconciliation. The storm on the sea foreshadows the paradigmatic struggle of the God Man Savior with sin, death and evil in His upcoming Passion. The little boat, tossed about on the sea, is a symbol of the Church, the survival of which depends solely on the Lord’s intervention. Lent is the season when the Church lives again this spiritual conflict so as to be cleansed before the Feast of the Resurrection.
Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus:
ut huius sacrificii munus oblatum fragilitatem nostram
ab omni malo purget semper et muniat.
The vocabulary doesn’t present us with any special challenges. Still, when we put a word under the microscope, something interesting usually pops out. The trusty Lewis & Short Dictionary reminds us that fragilitas is, “brittleness; weakness, frailness, fragility”, which includes a moral sense, human weakness from original and personal sin. When we consult Blaise/Dumas we find that fragilitas is associated with nostra infirmitas, nostra mortalitas, and, here is an interesting bit, nostra possibilitas. Possibilitas is our “ability to do a thing; strength”.
When we see possibilitas I suspect our modern minds turn to the lofty, the horizons open to us, the conviction that we can do anything if we set our mind to it. But in this ancient Christian case, possibilitas is delimited by our fallen human nature. We can go only so far on our own. We can’t cleanse ourselves of our sins or choose by our own strength alone never to sin and simply to be safe rather than saved. Turning the phrase around and looking at it from the other end of the microscope, St. Pope Leo the Great (+461) calls Christ possibilitas nostra in all that we do and all we are.
Grant, we beg, Almighty God:
that the gift of this Sacrifice offered up
may always purge our frailness from every evil and secure it.
The Saint Andrew Bible Missal (1962):
Grant us, we pray, almighty God,
that the offering of this sacrifice may always
cleanse our frailty from every evil, and be our protection.
Roman Catholic Daily Missal (Angelus Press 2004)
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God,
that the offering of the gifts of this Sacrifice,
may ever cleanse us and in our frailty protect us from all evil.
And to be complete let us take a look at what people will hear during the 4th Week of Lent through the lame-duck version by…
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
look upon our weakness.
May the sacrifice we offer
bring us purity and strength.