Let us has a swift look at the Collect (“Opening Prayer” as it has been called) for the upcoming 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Easter comes rather late this year. We have more “green”, Ordinary Sundays than usual before Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent. Last week would have been Septuagesima Sunday in the older Roman calendar. This week would be Sexagesima. Lent is around the corner.
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine,
ut et mundi cursus pacifico nobis tuo ordine dirigatur,
et Ecclesia tua tranquilla devotione laetetur.
This prayer was in the 7th century manuscript called the Veronese Sacramentary, though it is surely much older. It was prayed on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost where it remained for centuries in the Missale Romanum until it was moved in the 1960’s. In the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum we find the adverb pacifice. The Novus Ordo redactors changed this back to the more ancient pacifico which goes with ordine.
Some vocabulary with the help of our jam-packed Lewis & Short Dictionary. Cursus can mean anything from “course, way, journey” to “course of a ship”, the “flow of conversation” and “postal route”. Dirigo is “to give a particular direction” or “to lay or draw a straight line”. It was used, among other things, to indicate ordering an army to march to a certain point or to direct or steer a ship on its course. Ordo means too many things to get into in depth. Suffice to say that it can refer to the “methodical arrangement, class or condition.” By extension it is applied to everything from the “orders” of the clergy, the way trees are planted, the lines of an army, or the banks of rowers in a ship.” And of course, it refers to the order of the prayers of Holy Mass. Cursus and ordo, conceptually related, set up a nice internal chiasmus, putting us, nobis, at the center of the construction. Pacificus is a composite of pax and facio meaning “peacemaker” or “peaceable”. Among the things devotio means are “fealty, allegiance, piety, devotion, zeal.”
I think tranquilla is ablative and that it goes with devotione instead of being nominative and thus matching up with Ecclesia.
Our Collect’s vocabulary gives us military and nautical imagery. Try reading this prayer with the mental image of a ship. Our ship’s great Captain sets our course upon the sea. The Captain is so great that He can command the waters and winds. I can see the ship as the Church in the world, the Church Militant. We call the Catholic Church the “Barque of Peter”. The sea it sails upon is the deep and turbulent world we live in. The Captain is our Lord Jesus Christ, who calmed the stormy waters and commanded Peter to walk to Him upon them. He entrusted His ship to Peter to steer it in His stead. Once all has been made “ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, the Captain and His sailing-master use our zeal and work to steer the ship upon the course He sets, carrying us its crew to a safe haven.
The imagery almost vanishes when we have to wrench it out of Latin and into English.
SLAVISHLY AWKWARD LITERAL RENDERING:
Grant us, we beg, O Lord,
both that the course of the world be set by your methodical peace producing plan for usand that your Church may be made joyful by means of tranquil devotion.
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
guide the course of world events
and give your Church the joy and peace
of serving you in freedom.
Quite simply dreadful. Not as bad as next week’s, however.
CORRECTED ICEL TRANSLATION:
Grant us, O Lord, we pray,
that the course of our world
may be directed by your peaceful rule
and that your Church may rejoice,
untroubled in her devotion.
The translators thought tranquilla was nominative rather than ablative. You decide. Either way, this version is a great improvement over the dreadful lame-duck version and it maintains the sense of the Latin original.
When I compare the lame-duck versions with the corrected versions I am more convinced than ever that people will receive the new translation happily.
Before the creation of the universe God knew each one of us and desired us and loved us. He called us into existence at a precise point in His great plan. He gives us a part to play in that plan. He gives us the tools and talents we need to fulfill it. If we devote ourselves to our state-in-life and strive to carry out His will, God will give us the actual graces we need because we are furthering His great plan. In keeping with the imagery of the prayer, I suggest that our devotion can be like the wind the Captain uses to direct our courses. We are more than just the “hands on deck”, hauling a rope or swabbing the deck. We are not merely being pushed along. We play a vital part in the actual forward motion of the ship. We truly depend on Him and Him alone. We do not of ourselves merit what He provides.
This could be a point of reflection as you receive Holy Communion devoutly and frequently. Mysteriously, it is His plan and will that His work becomes our work and ours His.
He gives Himself to us so that we can be wholly His.