This Sunday’s dense Collect survived the scissors and paste-pots of the Consilium during the 1960’s and lived on in the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum: it is the Collect for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time. This prayer, used for centuries, is in the Sacramentarium Hadrianum, a form of the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary.
Tua nos, quaesumus, Domine, gratia
semper et praeveniat et sequatur,
ac bonis operibus iugiter praestet esse intentos.
This is elegance. This is a lovely prayer to sing. Latin’s flexibility, made possible by the inflection of the word endings, allows for amazing possibilities of word order. Latin permits rich variations in rhythm and conceptual nuances. For example, the wide separation of tua from gratia in the first line is a good example of the figure of speech called hyperbaton: unusual word order to produce a dramatic effect. It helps the prayer’s rhythm and emphasizes tua gratia. The use of conjunctions et and ac is very effective, as we shall see below.
The juxtaposition of praeveniat with sequatur reminds me of a prayer I used to hear at my home parish, now greatly missed. The Tuesday night devotions there, which featured the Novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by St. Alphonsus Liguori (+1787), always included: “May the Lord Jesus Christ be with you that He may defend you, within you that He may sustain you, before you that He may lead you, behind you that He may protect you, above you that He may bless you. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Let’s drill into vocabulary. The adjective intentus, means “to stretch out or forth, extend” as well as “to strain or stretch towards, to extend.” Think of English “tend towards”. The packed Lewis & Short Dictionary states that intentus is also “to direct one’s thoughts or attention to.”
Folks, looking at a word like this should convince any of you with children that they must study Latin. A firm grip on Latin will give shape to their ability to reason and provide insights into the meaning of our English words. Roughly 80 percent of the entries in an English dictionary reveal roots in Latin. Over 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. This is over 90 percent in the sciences and technology. Some 10 percent of Latin vocabulary merged into English without an intermediary language such as French. Words from Greek origin often entered English indirectly through Latin. Give your children, and yourselves, this splendid tool.
Latin has several particles that join parts of sentences and concepts together: et, – que, atque or (ac), etiam, and quoque. These little words all basically mean “and” but they have their nuances. For example, et simply means “and” while - que (always “enclitic”, i.e., tacked onto the end of a word) joins elements that are closely enough associated that the second member completes or extends the first. Another conjunction, atque (a compound of ad and – que) often adds something more important to a less important thing. The useful Gildersleeve & Lodge Latin Grammar points out that “the second member often owes its importance to the necessity of having the complement (- que).” Ac, a shorter form of atque, does not stand before a vowel or the letter “h” and is “fainter” than atque. Ac is much like et. Briefly, etiam means “even (now), yet, still”. Etiam exaggerates and precedes the words to which it belongs while quoque is “so, also” and complements and follows the words it goes with. There are some other copulative particles or joining words, but that is enough for now.
Let’s nitpick some more. Our Collect has two adverbs, semper and iugiter. Semper is always “always”. Iugiter, however, means “always” in the sense of “continuously.” A iugum is a “yoke”, like that which yokes animals together. Iugum (English “juger”, a Roman unit for land measuring 28,800 square feet or 240 by 120 feet), is probably so named because it was plowed by yoked oxen. Moreover, Iugum was the name of the constellation Libra, the Latin for “scale, balance”. Ancient scales had a yoke-shaped bar. Thus, libra is also the Roman the weight measure for “pound”. Ever wonder why the English abbreviation for a pound is “lbs”?
The iugum was the infamous ancient symbol of defeat. The Romans would force the vanquished to pass under a yoke to symbolize that they had been subjugated. Variously, iugum also means a connection between mountains or the beam of a weaver’s loom or even the marriage bond.
Today’s adverb iugiter means “always”, in the continuous sense, because of the concept of yoking things together, bridging them, one after another in a unending chain. We get this same word in the famous prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) used at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament which is the Collect for Corpus Christi:
“O God, who bequeathed to us a memorial of Thy Passion under a wondrous sacrament, grant, we implore, that we may venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, in such a way as to sense within us constantly (iugiter) the fruit of Thy redemption.”
We beg, O Lord, that Your grace
may always both go before us and follow after,
and hence continuously grant us to be intent on good works.
On the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time you who frequent parishes where only English is used will hear the following lame-duck version from
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
our help and guide,
make your love the foundation of our lives.
May our love for you express itself
in our eagerness to do good for others.
Yes… I did a double-take too. This version, a perfectly wonderful little prayer for use on a grade school playground, is really how ICEL rendered today’s Collect. The new draft translation being prepared will be more accurate. How long will some members of certain bishops conferences strive to block its completion?
Back to happier things: copulative particles! It is important not to get overly picky about particles or exaggerate their nuances. Still, today these conjunctions could be important. That et…et is a classic “both…and” construction. But our Collect has et…et…ac…. The et…et joins praeveniat and sequatur. That pair of verbs is followed by an ac. The author was providing more than a simply change of pace. While ac is not a very strong conjunction, the variation leads to a logical climax of ideas. This is why I add “hence” to my literal version.
As you read or, better yet, listen to the prayer being sung, attend to that tua gratia (“your grace”), underscored by means of hyperbaton. First, that “tua gratia” can be an ancient form of honorific address, as used today in some countries for nobility and certain prelates: “Your Grace”. So, in speaking of the gift, we speak of God Himself. Moreover, tua gratia is the subject of all the verbs. We beg God, by His grace, always to be both before us and behind us. We pray for this in order that we may always be attentive to good works. Our good works bound up in His grace.
We rely on grace so as not to fail in the vocations God entrusts to us.
God gives all of us something to do in this life. If we attend to our work with devotion He will give us every actual grace we need to accomplish our tasks. He knew us and our vocations from before the creation of the cosmos, and thus will help us to complete our part of His plan, so long as we cooperate. Living and acting in the state of grace and according to our vocations we come to merit, through Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice, to enjoy the happiness of the heaven for which God made us.
In our prayer we recognize that all good initiatives come from God. When we embrace them and cooperate, it is He who ultimately brings them to completion. He goes before. He follows after. Our good works have merit for heaven only because God inspires them, informs them, and brings them to a good completion. He works through us, His knowing, willing, loving servants. The good deeds are truly ours, of course, and therefore the reward for them is ours. But God freely shares with us His merits so that our works are meritorious.
Today’s Collect stresses how important our good works are for our salvation. They are manifestations of God’s grace, indeed, of God’s presence. We pray God will lavish His graces on us. In turn, we should be generous with our good works.