In the older, pre-conciliar Missal, today’s Collect was used on Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Lent as an Oratio super populum or “Prayer over the people” which followed the Post Communions of the Mass. As such, take note that the priest in praying does not refer to “us” and “we” as he does in normal Collects. He prayers for the people on their behalf. This lends a different impact to today’s prayer.
Deus, innocentiae restitutor et amator,
dirige ad te tuorum corda servorum,
ut, Spiritus tui fervore concepto,
et in fide inveniantur stabiles,
et in opere efficaces.
The prayer has ancient roots in the Gelasian Sacramentary for the 7th day in the Octave of Easter though the prayer was somewhat different (Deus, innocentiae restitutor et amator, dirige ad te tuorum corda famulorum, ut quos de infidelitatis tenebris liberasti, numquam a tuae veritatis luce discedant). The second half of today’s prayer comes from another prayer in the Gelasian, from vespers in the Octave of Pentecost (Deus, qui discipulis tuis spiritum sanctum paraclytum in ingis fervore tui amoris mittere dignatus es, da populis tuis in unitate fidei esse ferventes, ut in tua semper dilectione permanentes et in fide inveniantur stabilies et in opere efficaces).
Now you know the rest of the story…. as your eyeballs roll up into your head, drool trickles onto the keyboard… your head lolls back and snaps forward again.
“Fervor”, in English, is a a bit weak in conveying the impact of Latin fervor, “a boiling or raging heat, a violent heat, a raging, boiling, fermenting”. It stands for “ardor, passion”.
We are going to have to really think about concipio. This verb has many meanings. In English we have the same problem with “conceive”, which mean “become pregnant” or “perceive with the mind”. Concipio is in its most fundamental sense “to take or lay hold of, to take to one’s self, to take in, take, receive”. Logically there extends from this fundamental meaning a physical idea of fecundation and an intellectual or sensory idea of “to take or seize something by the sense of sight, to see, perceive” and “to comprehend intellectually, to take in, imagine, conceive, think”. Then we take another conceptual step (sorry, about that) to “to receive in one’s self, adopt, harbor any disposition of mind, emotion, passion, evil design, etc., to give place to, foster, to take in, receive; to commit”.
O God, restorer and lover of innocence,
guide unto You the hearts of Your servants,
so that, once the ardor of Your Spirit has been taken in,
they may be found both to be steadfast in faith
and efficacious at work.
This prayer brings me to think of baptism and also the sacrament of penance.
In baptism, we are forgiven the original sin of which we are guilty by our being children of our first parents. When Adam and Eve sinned, the whole race sinned, but it just happens that the whole race was only two members. God restores us to a state of friendship with Him, of innocence, even though it is not the original innocence of the time before the fall. Baptism removes the stain of original sin and also of all the actual sins we have committed. The Holy Spirit makes His dwelling in our souls with the Father and the Son. In a sense the Holy Spirit is “conceived” in our souls, in the various senses of that word.
When we drive the indwelling Spirit from our souls through mortal sin, it can be restored to us through the sacrament of penance, when Christ Himself in the person of the priest, alter Christus, completely removes the sins from our soul, restoring us to God’s friendship.
There are may things in this changing and shifting world which can erode the steadfastness of a human heart. This world by its very nature is passing. If we give our hearts to these passing things, or set them in the place that belongs to the One who is eternal and ever faithful, we will be lost forever. When we are attached overly to the passing things of this world we cannot be effective in our work, in the vocation God conceived for us from before the creation of the universe.
NEW CORRECTED ICEL VERSION:
O God, who delight in innocence and restore it,
direct the hearts of your servants to yourself,
that, caught up in the fire of your Spirit,
we may be found steadfast in faith
and effective in works.
God of love, [You must be joking. Really?]
bring us back to you.
Send your Spirit to make us strong in faith,
and active in good works.