This is the 4th Sunday after Easter according to the older, traditional Roman calendar.
Today’s Collect survived the slash and hack editors of the Novus Ordo. Find it for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time as well as Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter. That is… of Easter. In the post-Conciliar calendar Sundays are reckoned “of Easter”. In the pre-Conciliar calendar they are “after Easter”. In the newer calendar Easter Sunday itself is included in the reckoning of Sundays of the Easter season. In the older calendar Sundays are counted from the first Sunday after Easter. So, in the new calendar today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter and in the older it is the Fourth Sunday after Easter.
However, today’s Collect is in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary for the Third Sunday after the close of Easter! Our more distant ancestors counted Easter Sunday, the days of the Octave, and “Low” Sunday in albis as being one single liturgical idea, one day, as if the clock stopped for that whole Octave. Thus, what is the Fifth Sunday of Easter (2002MR) and the Fourth Sunday after Easter (1962MR) is also the Third Sunday after the close of Easter (GelSacr). Is it clear now?
COLLECT - (1962MR):
Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis:
da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis,
id desiderare quod promittis;
ut inter mundanas varietates
ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
The Novus Ordo version adds commas “ …ut, inter mundanas varietates,…” All those long eeee sounds produced by the Latin letter “i” are marvelous to hear and sing. Note the nice parallels in the construction: id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis as well as ibi…sint corda with ubi…sunt gaudia. In the first line the genitives unius…voluntatis are elegantly split by the verb efficis. A genius wrote this prayer. Let’s find out what it really says.
The densely packed leaves of your own copy of the thick Lewis & Short Dictionary show that varietas means “difference, diversity, variety.” It is commonly used to indicate “changeableness, fickleness, inconstancy”; “vicissitude” hits it square and sounds wonderful to boot. The adjective mundanus, a, um, “of or belonging to the world”, must be teased out in a paraphrase. Efficio (formed from facio) means, “to make out, work out; hence, to bring to pass, to effect, execute, complete, accomplish, make, form”. Voluntas means basically “will” but it can also mean things like “freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination” and even “disposition towards a thing or person”.
O God, You who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will,
grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command,
to desire that which You promise,
so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world,
our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.
Let us revisit that id…quod construction. We could simply say “love that which you command,” or “love what you command”, but to me that seems vague and generic. Of course, we must love everything God commands, but the feeling I get from that id…quod is very concrete. We love and desire God’s will in the concrete situation, this concrete task. A challenge of living as a good Christian in “the world” is to love God in the details of life, especially when those details are little to our liking. We must love him in this beggar, this annoying creep, not in beggars or creeps in general. We must love him in this act of fasting, not in fasting in general. This basket of laundry, this paperwork, this lame-duck ICEL translation…. Didn’t I say it was a challenge? God’s will must not be reduced to something abstract, as if it is merely a “heavenly” or “ideal” reality. “Thy will (voluntas) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What did the Anglican Church do with this back in the day?
1662 Book of Common Prayer (Fifth Sunday in Lent):
O almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men:
Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest,
and desire that which thou dost promise,
that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.
You have to love that! I often wonder why the original incarnation of ICEL didn’t use the Book of Common Prayer as a model. But… right… first the redactors of the Novus Ordo cut certain unpleasantries, such as guilt and sin, out of the Latin original and then the people working for ICEL cut out all the rest of the meaningful concepts.
When you slaughter a critter, first you bang it on the head, then you tear its guts out, and afterwards hang upside down to drain out all its blood. So what did the pre-reformed ICEL do to this prayer? What will people hear at Holy Mass with the Novus Ordo on Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter?
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
help us to seek the values
that will bring us lasting joy
in this changing world.
In our desire for what you promise
make us one in mind and heart.
This … version makes me want to scream.
Note the theological catch-all word “help”, a technical term in lame-duck ICELese and rather Pelagian. Does “help us” underscore our total reliance on God? He does a bit more than “help”. What did ICEL did to God’s “commands”? Presto-chango they are now “values”. And did no one in ICEL or in Rome, where blame for this translation disaster must also be ascribed, see a theological problem with “lasting joy in this changing world”? The Latin says the world is “fickle” (mundanas varietates). We cannot have “lasting” joy in this world. It can be attained only in the life to come.
More about the slippery word “values”. We should make a distinction between values and virtues. To my mind, values have an ever shifting subjective starting point while virtues are rooted in something objective. In 1995 Gertude Himmelfarb wrote in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values: “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’” Rem acu tetigisti! In this post-Christian, post-modern world the term “values” seems to indicate little more than our own self-projection. I suspect this is at work in the lame-duck ICEL prayer with its “help us” and the excision of God’s commands and promises.
We should be on guard about that word “values”, in this time of growing conflict between what the Church embraces and worldly relativism. Can “values” be rescued, used properly? Perhaps. John Paul II used it in Evangelium vitae, but in a concrete way.
Benedict XVI is constantly presenting us with the threats we face from both religious and secular relativism, the reduction of the supernatural to the natural, caving in to “the world”, that which shifts constantly, is subjective.
Holy Scripture also warns us about “the world” which has its Prince. The Enemy still dominates this world until Christ the King will come again. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2 – RSV). Christ put His Apostles on guard about “the world”: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).
When what “the world” has to give is given preeminence over what God has to give through His Church, we wind up in the crisis Pope Paul VI described on the ninth anniversary of his coronation (29 June 1972):
“…da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio… through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God”.
Today’s Collect, in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, is a spiritual safeguard in the vicissitudes of this world.