WDTPRS – Thursday after Ash Wednesday – God crowns His own merits in us

Sacramentary of Charlemagne's son Drogo c. 850

Where does today’s Collect come from? It is present in the Hadrianum and Paduense manuscripts of the so-called “Gregorian Sacramentary“.

“But Father! But Father!”, I am sure you say all the time.  “What on earth is that?”.

The Roman usage over a couple centuries had an influence on Gallican (French) practice. This blending of rites was superseded when the Emperor Charlemagne asked Pope Hadrian for a Roman Sacramentary to impose on lands under his control, for the sake of unity. So, in about 786, Hadrian produced what we know call the Sacramentarium Hadrianum a version of the sacramentary or missal used by the papal court in Rome, called the Gregorian Sacramentary. This formed the basis of the sacramentary produced for use in the Carolingian realm. As a result, our prayer today represents the very best of ancient Roman liturgical tradition. It is elegant, erudite and hand picked for use by Charlemagne in his project to create liturgical unity.

COLLECT (2002MR):
Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine,
aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere,
ut cuncta nostra operatio a te semper incipiat,
et per te coepta finiatur.

This is elegant. Note the braiding of the words and concepts.

actio <–> operatio with both secular and liturgical overtones
adspirando praeveni <–> adiuvando prosequere
a te
<–> per te
incipiat
<–> coepta

First, do not be fooled by prosequere, which is an imperative, not an infinitive. Prosequor is deponent and means “to follow” or “to accompany”. It can also be “to follow up”. Neither is it to be confused with Italian prosecco, by the way. On the other hand, praevenio is “to come before, precede” and thus it is “anticipate”. 

Actio can refer to an “action” or, more precisely, to liturgical celebrations of the sacred mysteries. Sometimes the Eucharistic prayer is called an Actio. In a sacristy you might see a little pro memoria card framed for priests indicating the name of the local bishop so that the priest can say his name properly “infra Actionem … during the Eucharistic Prayer”. Interestingly, operatio is not simply a “work” or “labor” but also a “religious performance, service, or solemnity, a bringing of offerings”. That meshes nicely with the deeper Christian meaning of actio and gives us a hint as to how to translate this prayer with something more than just a superficial rendering.

LITERAL TRANSLATION
We beg You, O Lord, by instilling them anticipate our actions,
and by helping follow up on them,
so that our every service always begins from You,
and what was begun is brought to conclusion through You.

This subtle prayer cuts two ways. The words actio and operatio, conceptually related “doing” connected to the verbs ago and operor, both have a connotation of sacred liturgical service. At the same time, they can simply point to our own daily undertakings. These layers of meaning overlap and show us how there must be a continuity between how we participate at Holy Mass and how we act outside of the sacred precincts of the church or chapel we frequent. The highest form of active participation is the reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace following a willed, active receptivity to what has been carried out in the sacred action of the Mass.

Christ is the ACTOR par excellence in the Mass. In the actions of the priest, Christ is acting as the Head of the Body. In the actions and receptivity of the congregation, Christ is in action as the Body, responding to and being directed by the Head. Both together form Christ, Christus Totus, raising sacrifice on high to the Father. Our participation then must be first and foremost active receptivity so that we have what is good to give back to God.

The dynamic implied in active receptivity is also found in the play of the pairings of aspirando praeveni and adiuvando prosequere. God initiates every good thing in us. If we knowingly and willing cooperate with what He initiates, He Himself them brings to conclusion through us by making our hands strong enough to grasp hold of the good things He has given for us to accomplish.

Each good thing we have and do is simultaneously God’s, first and foremost, but also authentically ours. As the great St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) said, God crowns His own merits in us.

Here is some more trivia: Priests who are so inclined as to be a bit old fashioned and recite the classic “Prayers after Mass” will recognize this right away as belong to the conclusion. This prayer was used during the last Synod of Bishops focusing on the Eucharist for the beginning of the 17th General Congregation. The translation on the Vatican web site is: Inspire, we beg You, Lord, our actions and accompany them, so that all our prayers and work always begins with You and through You we have fulfillment. This prayer was also the last of those concluding the Litany of Saints in the older way of singing it, and it is sometimes translated as: “Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every prayer and work of ours may always begin with Thee and through Thee be happily ended.” Another translation I found is: “Go before us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, in all our doings with Thy gracious inspiration, and further us with Thy continual help, that every prayer and work of ours may begin from Thee, and by Thee be duly ended.”

This is a great prayer to recite before beginning a project…. such as we are now doing with Lent!

Meanwhile…

LAME DUCK ICEL VERSION:
Lord, may everything we do
begin with your inspiration,
continue with your help,
and reach perfection under your guidance
.

NEW CORRECTED VERSION:
Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord,
and further them with your constant help,
that all we do may always begin from you
and by you be brought to completion
.

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11 Responses to WDTPRS – Thursday after Ash Wednesday – God crowns His own merits in us

  1. jcr says:

    This is a great prayer to recite before beginning a project

    The Church agrees, so much so that it grants a partial indulgence for this prayer (cf. Enchiridion of Indulgences, particular grant no. 26 §2 [4th ed. in Latin here]). The translation (at least in the 2nd. ed [1968]) is substantially the same as that cited above for the synod of Bishops, but a little more in the ICEL style: “you” instead of “thee”, “beg” instead of “beseech”.

    In the 2nd ed., the indulgence was specifically for this prayer. In the current (4th) ed. the indulgence is extended to similar approved prayers for beseeching God’s assistance or thanking Him for His blessings and limited to appropriate times for saying such prayers, namely: (1) at the beginning and end of the day, (2) when beginning or ending some task, and (3) before and after meals. Obviously, this prayer is appropriate at the beginning of the day or before carrying out some duty, and other prayers would be used in the other cases.

  2. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    A centuries old translation, not very literal, that is popular is some places, is:

    Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help : that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life.

  3. jcr says:

    aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere also seems to allude to the distinction between gratia praeveniens, a divine initiative that precedes our willing and acting, and gratia adiuvans (a.k.a gratia cooperans), a divine assistance that accompanies our willing and acting, enabling us to do supernatural good.

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    I detect the delicious fragrance of Cranmer, yes? “Prevent” – being one of those words that has stood on its head since the 17th century – was changed to “direct” somewhere along the line. But “begun, continued and ended in thee” is something that I recall very plainly from the old communion service.

    Thank you Fr Z for this detailed explication of the Latin grammar. I always learn something from you!

  5. digdigby says:

    Dear Father Z,

    I owe you a simple thank you for these exquisitely reverent translations of the Collects and other liturgical texts. Today’s entry was full of that ‘splendor’, that ineffable quality that made me a Catholic. Please don’t be offended, but I can imagine you on your deathbed like St. Jane de Chantel. She listened with complete and transfixed attention to the prayers for the dying being said over her and murmured “What beautiful prayers! My God, what beautiful prayers!”

  6. Centristian says:

    I love these little glimpses into the history of the liturgy.

    “hand picked for use by Charlemagne in his project to create liturgical unity.”

    A reminder, perhaps, of the heavy Gallican influence upon the Roman Rite, before it was re-Romanized (as many liturgists claim) after Vatican II. What I would not give to be able to travel back through time and experience the Pre-Tridentine Mass in her various stages and local interpretations.

    It would be fascinating to see how closely any of it compares to today’s Roman Rite Mass. Was there a time and a place in history at which we could arrive at and see Mass celebrated almost precisely as it is celebrated today, I wonder?

    Minus the awful ICEL translations, of course.

  7. John UK says:

    Thank you for again showing us the hidden depths of these prayers. Cranmer, with his usual adherence to the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam tempered with the very lightest touch of “dynamic equivalence” renders it:
    PREVENT us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
    Today, the opening word “Prevent” is more usually replaced by “Go before” or Direct”.

    In addition to its use in the Litany of the Saints, it is also in the Sarum Missal as the fifth Collect for Mass of the Saturday in the Ember Week of Lent.

    Kind regards,
    John U.K.

  8. John UK: Thanks for that! Very useful.

  9. forzajuv says:

    I am familiar with the Latin of this prayer, it being the conclusion of Canticum Trium Puerorum. When I heard the ICEL version said at Mass yesterday, I suspect that it could be a translation of this familiar prayer. But boy was it a horrible translation, taking away all the content and poetry of the original prayer.

    Fr. Z, thanks for the explanation of this prayer.

  10. Denis Crnkovic says:

    We used to say this prayer at the beginning of Latin class in high school four or five decades ago. The text was slightly different:
    Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine,
    aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere,
    ut cuncta nostra
    oratio et operatio
    a te semper incipiat,
    et per te coepta finiatur.

    Does anyone know the textual history of the word oratio here? It is included in most versions I looked up. The inclusion of oratio makes for nicer isocola.

  11. John UK says:

    As a post scriptum to my comment above, Fr.Andrew Burnham (quondam Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, now Catholic priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham), writing in today’s Catholic Herald [U.K. Catholic weekly] reminds us that the English version of this Collect was set to music by William Byrd, the Catholic court composer to Elizabeth I.
    It can be heard here
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNLQSdbboS0
    and the score is here:
    http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/images/sheet/byrd-pre.pdf

    Kind regards,
    John U.K.