COLLECT – (2002MR):
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
fac nos tibi semper et devotam gerere voluntatem,
et maiestati tuae sincero corde servire.
Those of you who are able to enjoy approved celebrations of Mass also according to the 1962 typical edition of the Missale Romanum will without question instantly recognize that this is the Collect for Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Almighty and ever-living God,
our source of power and inspiration,
give us strength and joy
in serving you as followers of Christ.
In your trusty Lewis & Short Dictionary you will learn that the complex verb gero means many things though basically it is “to bear, wear, carry, have”. However, in the supplement to the great L&S, Souter’s A Glossary of Later Latin, we find that after the 3rd century A.D. it is “to celebrate a festival, etc.”. This is confirmed in Blaise’s work on liturgical Latin vocabulary; we again find that gero is “celebrate”. The L&S says that in a construction with a dative pronoun (such as tibi) and morem (from mos as in the infamous exclamation O tempora! o mores!) it can mean “perform someone’s will.” It might be today’s tibi…gerere substitutes devotam voluntatem for morem. A close examination of L&S shows also that servio (“serve”) is one of those verbs constructed with an “object” in the dative case rather than accusative. This is the reason for the dative case of maiestas in our prayer.
Do you remember that maiestas is often synonymous with gloria? Early Latin writers such as Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose and in early liturgical texts, use this concept for far more than simple fame or celebrity or splendor of appearance. A liturgical Latin gloria can be the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Latins also translated doxa with the words like maiestas and claritas. This “glory” and “majesty” is a power of God that transforms us into what He is. It is a sharing with us of His own glory. Our contact with Him through the sacraments begins a transformation which will continue in the Beatific Vision. When God wished to speak with Moses His Presence would descend on the tent/tabernacle in a cloud of glory (Heb. shekina). Moses’ face would shine radiantly from his encounters with God and had to be covered with a veil. The shekina remains with us architecturally in our churches even now… in some places at least. Even more than the burning presence lamp, a baldachin over or a veil covering the tabernacle is the sign of the Real Presence.
When we enter the holy precincts of the church, our encounter must transform us. We must be well prepared to meet the Lord there. The new, corrected translation (or the use of Latin with good hand missals) will help in this regard.
It would also help to have the tabernacle front and center, and kneel at Communion rails, but I digress.
Almighty eternal God,
cause us always both to bear towards you a devout faith,
and serve your majesty with a sincere heart.
Today’s Collect brings to my mind a beautiful fresco by Piero della Francesca in a little town near Arezzo, Italy called Monterchi. The unique fresco is called “La Madonna del Parto”.
This important work shows Mary great with Child, a subject rare in Renaissance painting. One meaning of the Latin verb gero is precisely “to be pregnant” as in gerere uterum or partum.
In the fresco, on both sides twin angels in Renaissance dress delicately lift tent-like draperies to reveal La Madonna standing with eyes meditatively cast down, one hand placed for support on her hip, as women are wont to do in later weeks, and the other hand upon her unborn Child.
The fresco, this incredible depicting of Life, ironically originally in a cemetery chapel, evokes a baldacchino and the veil of the tabernacle. It calls to mind the tent in the wilderness where the Ark with the tablets and its golden angelic cherubim were preserved, where Moses spoke to God and his face shown with God’s splendor. Mary also is Ark of the Real Presence, the Tabernacle in which Christ reposed. She, like the tent of the Ark, was overshadowed.
Our Collect this Sunday can remind us to look to Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, our Mother. She is the perfect example of service coming from bearing a devout faith. In the faithful way she lived her life Mary gives us a model of preparation for service.