The snippers and stitchers of the Consilium allowed this Sunday’s prayer to survive unscathed in the post-Conciliar editions of the Missale Romanum. The Collect still echoes the ancient sentiments of Holy Church wherever the Roman Rite’s Ordinary Use of Holy Mass is offered in Latin on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. We look forward to hearing its content echoed in English.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude:
ut mente et corpora partier expediti,
quae tuae sunt, liberis mentibus exsequamur.
In your distinguished Lewis & Short Dictionary you will find that pariter is an adverb, “equally, in like manner” and “at the same time”, connecting mens and corpus (think of the adage mens sana in corpore sano… “a healthy mind in a healthy body”). Adversantia, neuter plural active participle, is from adversor “to stand opposite to one, to be against, i.e. to resist or oppose (in his opinions, feelings, intentions, etc.); while resistere and obsistere denote resistance through external action.” It is constructed with the dative, which explains the nobis. The distinction between “internal” and “external” is useful crowbar to pry open this Collect.
We encounter many difficulties and challenges in life. There is resistance and adversity. Indeed, there is an Adversary. We are opposed from without and from within. We must constantly cope with the unreconstructed effects of original sin together with the diabolical workings of the enemy of the soul, who stirs up passions, memories, and implants wicked thoughts and images. Very wisely Holy Church prayed at Compline every night (but now only on Tuesdays) the passage: “Be sober and vigilant: for your adversary (adversarius) the devil is going around like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour: whom you must resist (resistite), strong in the faith. But you, O Lord, have mercy on us” (1 Peter 5: 8-9). God truly is a God of mercy, to protect us so from such a dire foe.
Excludo literally means, “to shut out, exclude; to cut off, remove, separate from any thing.” Therefore it also means, “to drive out, thrust out, hinder, prevent.” We are praying to God to keep away from us all things that actively hinder and oppose us and, if we stick closely to the distinction made between adversor, resisto, and obsisto, particularly interior dangers.
How will that come about? God must be appeased. He must be favorable towards us. In the Collect we find the word propitiatus, a perfect passive participle from propitio, “to render favorable, to appease, propitiate.” Propitiatus is “having been appeased.” Many forms of propitio appear in our liturgical prayers. Its use reflects our recognition that as a race and as individuals we have sinned in His sight and offended Him. Our offense required a Redeemer capable of appeasing the Father. We offend God as a society or as groups only on the basis of the personal sins of individuals. We must seek to make amends, but our efforts would be in vain without the merits of Christ’s sacrifice mediated through the Church.
The word expediti is from expedio, “to extricate, disengage, let loose, set free, liberate any thing entangled, involved.” When applied to persons, is means “to be without baggage”. Thus, the noun expeditus, i, m., is “a soldier lightly burdened, a swiftly marching soldier.” You might have heard of a “St. Expeditus” (feast day 19 April) a patron saint of procrastinators and computer programmers… for reasons which are perfectly clear. Expeditus is appropriately depicted as a Roman soldier holding aloft a Cross. Expediti refers, course, our freedom from the chains of sin which would have doomed us to eternal hell. Going on, exsequor is “to follow, go after, pursue” as well as “to follow up, prosecute, carry out; to perform, execute, accomplish, fulfill”. Finally, that quae tua sunt is literally “things which are yours”. There isn’t room here to get into why but it refers to God’s will which for us are God’s commands. Think of it this way, Jesus told His Mother and Joseph, “I must be about my Father’s business” (cf. Luke 2:49).
If you are going to Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form, in English, on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, you will hear the lame-duck version from the old incarnation of…
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
God of power and mercy,
protect us from all harm.
Give us freedom of spirit
and health in mind and body
to do your work on earth.
SLAVISHLY LITERAL TRANSLATION:
Almighty and merciful God,
having been appeased, keep away all things opposing us,
so that, having been unencumbered in mind and body equally,
we may with free minds accomplish the things which You command.
Notice that the old ICEL version does nothing with the concept of propitiation. The Latin makes a connection between the Father’s power, His mercy, and what was done according to His plan so that we could be saved. Also, whereas soon-to-be-abandoned ICEL version refers to “freedom”, the Latin does so but with a sense that we are impeded or encumbered, or could be. But I think the real objection to the old ICEL version must be how bland it is. It is entirely unremarkable.
For those of you who may need to preach, or who want to drill more deeply into what our Collect really says, notice that it is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1742 in the section on “Human Freedom in the Economy of Salvation”, but with a different, more accurate translation:
“Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful, so that, made ready both in mind and body, we may freely accomplish your will.”
You could look up that section of the Catechism and study it, perhaps reflection during this election cycle about how human freedom doesn’t mean that we can do anything it pleases us to do, but rather that our actions must conform to our dignity as God’s living images, and that we must respect that image in others, at every stage of human life. God has a plan in the economy of salvation for every one of His images, from conception to death.
Our Collect’s military language reminds me of the three-fold understanding of the Church: Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant. We are lightly burdened foot soldiers (expediti) of the Church Militant on an urgent mission. Enemies are all around. Obstacles abound without and within (adversantia). Before going into battle soldiers shed their heaviest gear so they can move more freely. They take only what they need for clash about to begin and to fulfill commands (quae tua sunt). Their training was grueling, repetitious, often boring. Their bodies are now strengthened, hardened. They developed habits through the tedious drills so that when danger looms their minds are freed up (liberis mentibus). Though they may be afraid, they can act with confidence when their commanders act with sure and true competence.
This is the ideal for the soldier. It is the ideal for every Christian. Virtues are habits developed over time by repetition and discipline. Our Church’s pastors are our officers who must lead us through adversities towards our objective of heaven. We must diligently learn and review the content of our Faith, especially in the fundamentals, basic catechism. With discipline we must frequent the sacraments. We must train our children, din into them the catechism use of the sacraments. They must be given a rule of life which, after a measure of time, becomes so much a part of them that it is nearly automatic. We must foster it in ourselves as well. It will carry us through even the worst things we might have to face.
Years ago I had an experience which confirmed the value of old-fashioned methods of catechism: rote memorization and repetition aloud. I was called to a hospital to assist in a man’s difficult death. I gave him Last Rites and talked with the family as they struggled with the end of their loved-one’s life. An estranged daughter, beyond her middle years, which had clearly been pretty rough, was severely bitter. She cursed life, fate and God for the cruelty her father’s dying. She shouted at me, “Why did God make us if this is ALL THERE IS?” I responded asking, “You tell me. Why did God make you?” She became very still. Then she said, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” I continued, “What must we do to save our souls?” On cue she responded with something that she hadn’t probably thought of for decades: “To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity. We must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.” “Did your father do that?”, I asked. “Oh, yes”, she said, “…. oh yes.”
She had been taught well as a child. Without question there were times when she had to be forced to learn and to repeat over and over what seemed boring and pointless. She had been drilled at school, perhaps, by the Sisters, the sort in habits with rulers, whom we now see mocked in the media by ungrateful cads who benefited from their dedication. Her parents did their duty and gave her what she would one day need. By the grace of God the gift her dying father pressed on her years before was rediscovered – in the moment when the battle over her soul was joined.
Many today criticize the old method of education by memorization and repetition. They say that children just mouth things they do not understand. Children might not understand what they are learning at that moment, but one day they will. It will be ready for them. They will have it because it had been given them. Soldiers, sailors and Marines gripe about their training and entertain homicidal thoughts about their drill instructor. But when the time comes, they have the skills that will win battles and save lives. Not a few Marines return to their DI to shake his hand and thank him. We are pilgrim soldiers of the Church Militant. To reach our goal of heaven, we need training, sacrifice, and leadership.
In these days of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, I believe we are seeing a recovery of Catholic identity through a renewal of authentic worship in continuity with our tradition and a rise of strong leadership among our bishops and priests, who are no longer permitting Holy Church to be shoved off the field of battle.
Do all you can to support our bishops and priests. Pray and fast for them. Support their needs and projects. Express that support to them. And in your march of life be prepared always to give reasons for the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).