Let us have a swift look at the Collect (“Opening Prayer” as it has been called) for the upcoming 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Because Easter comes rather late this year we have more “green”, Ordinary Sundays than usual before Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent.
[There is a treat for students and parents of home-schoolers below.]
Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, semper rationabilia meditantes,
quae tibi sunt placita, et dictis exsequamur et factis.
Note the spiffy separation of et dictis…et factis by the verb. Every first year Latinist knows the et… et construction means “both… and”. It provides a parallel structure in that clause and lends it a nice rhythm when sung. Note the two neuter plurals rationabilia… placita.
The excellent Lewis & Short Dictionary shows that rationabilis is an adjective meaning “reasonable, rational”. I make a choice for “rational” here, partly because of an association I make between this prayer and another I know. But first, a Biblical connection.
In John 8,28-29 Jesus gives a warning to unbelieving Jews:
So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him (quae placita sunt ei, facio semper).
Now for the connection I mentioned above.
When I was studying philosophy, at the beginning of all the classes, we would always recite a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274):
Concede mihi, miséricors
Deus, quae tibi sunt plácita,
ardenter concupíscere, prudenter
investigáre, veráciter agnóscere,
et perfecte adimplére ad laudem
et gloriam Nominis tui. Amen.
Grant me, O merciful God,
to desire eagerly, to investigate
prudently, to acknowledge
sincerely, and perfectly to fulfill
those things which are pleasing to
Thee, to the praise and glory of
Thy Name. Amen.
Students and parents of home-schoolers… you might want to jot down that prayer and use it.
Here we have total submission of the higher faculties of man to God, who created them and gave them to us as gifts. That is to say, “have authority over me so that I can be more who I am supposed to be.”
SLAVISHLY LITERAL VERSION:
Grant, we beg, Almighty God,
that we, meditating always on rational things,
may fulfill those things which are pleasing to You
by both words and deeds.
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
keep before us the wisdom and love
you have revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like him
in word and deed.
Quite simply dreadful. Good riddance.
CORRECTED ICEL TRANSLATION:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed
that which is pleasing to you.
I opted for “rational things” when dealing with rationabilia. The new, corrected ICEL has “spiritual things”. Why? I looked in the French language dictionary of liturgical Latin by Albert Blaise revised by Antoine Dumas and found “spirituel” under the voice rationabilis. Blaise/Dumas says in a note (p. 574) that “right conduct presupposes a right conscience da nobis in eodem Spiritu recta sapere (oration for Pentecost from the Gregorian Sacramentary 112,1)” in turn this gives us a desire for what is right. Blaise/Dumas then cites the ancient version of the very Collect we are looking at here and identifying it as an oration for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany in the 8th century Gregorian Sacramentary.
This prayer has been associated in our Catholic prayer with roughly this same time of the year, between Epiphany and Lent, for many hundreds of years.
We are creatures made in the image and likeness of God. We are made to act like God acts, using our gifts and powers of intellect and will. These faculties are wounded because of Original Sin, but they still separate us from irrational animals. Thus, we can distinguish between “acts of humans” (such as breathing and digesting) that are not much different than what brute animals do except that a human does them, and human acts (like painting, repairing a car, conversing, choosing to love) which involve the use of the higher faculties. We must be interiorly engaged and focused with mind and will on the action we, as agents in God’s image, are carrying out.
This is important for understanding “active participation” in the liturgy.
Many people think “active participation” means carrying things around, clapping, singing, etc. We can do all those things and actually be thinking about the grocery list or wondering what the score of the game is. We all have the experience of catching ourselves whistling without have realized we were doing it, reading and not remembering what we read. We are doing something, but we are not acting as “humanly” as we ought.
That is not the kind of participation we need at Mass.
We need to be actively receptive to what is taking place in the sacred action of the liturgy. Watching carefully and quietly with actively receptive listening to the spoken Word or to excellent sacred music is far more active than distracted singing, poor reading, or carrying things around. This takes concentration and desire, mind and will. It looks passive, but it isn’t. We submit and receive what Christ, the true actor in the Mass, gives us not as passive animals, but as engaged and actively receptive images of God.
The inner participation leads to outward expression. The former has logical priority over the latter.
Participation at Holy Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form can help us as a Church learn true active participation in both forms of the Roman Rite.
We are grateful to Pope Benedict for the provisions of Summorum Pontificum.