The Latin Collects we are given each week have a magnificent content. When the alter Christus, the priest, lifts these prayers on high in the context of the sacred mysteries of Holy Mass, the words have power to shape us.
Christ, the Head of the Body, is speaking. As Catholics we should long to be formed according to the mind of the Church so that we can understand ourselves to be one Body and then shape our world according to that content as a consequence. As Christ’s Body in the world it is our solemn duty to bring the content of these prayers (namely Christ Himself!) into every corner of the world we affect. Once society and our culture are properly shaped and informed, then that culture has something worthy to give back to the Church. Inculturation really is a two-way street, but what the Church has to give must always have the logical priority. Let’s pull this apart a little.
Inculturation is a dynamic exchange: the Church shapes us; we shape our world around us; we give our holy gifts, good and true and beautiful, the very best we can conceive, back to the Church who integrates them into herself. The favors God offers through Holy Church must always have logical priority in the interchange between the Church and the world, even though the two-way process is unceasing and simultaneous. This is authentic inculturation! This is a critical feature of the Congregation for Divine worship’s document Liturgiam authenticam which lays down translation norms. Liturgiam authenticam was also a document about liturgy and inculturation. We shall see in time whether or not the project inhering in the new, corrected translations bears fruit.
This Sunday’s Collect, for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, was not in any previous edition of the Missale Romanum. In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary our prayer is present but in slightly different form. The Veronese Sacramentary reveals that a close cousin of our Collect was used by our ancestors during the month of September. Our modern version simplified the grammar. In looking for possible sources for this Collect I found some similar key vocabulary combinations in the works of M. Tullius Cicero (+ B.C. 43 – Ep. ad fam. 2.6.4), the writings of Milan’s great bishop and doctor Ambrose (+397 – Hexameron Day 1.2.7) and in the sermons of the grand Augustine (+430 – s. 293d, 5). When we hunt for sources for our prayers we verify how deeply interwoven the Church and culture have been over the millennia.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Adesto, Domine, famulis tuis,
et perpetuam benignitatem largire poscentibus,
ut his, qui te auctorem et gubernatorem gloriantur habere,
et grata restaures, et restaurata conserves.
We looked in depth before at famulus, a “servant” who was seen in antiquity as part of a household, the extended family. This word appears frequently in our prayers. Adesto is the “future” imperative from the verb adsum, “be present” in both the physical and the moral sense. By logical extension, adsum means, “to be present with one’s aid or support; to stand by, to assist, aid, help, protect, defend, sustain.” You can understand that a word pointing to the concept of “presence” can have many levels of meaning. It can also mean, “to be present in mind, with attention, interest, sympathy; also, with courage; to give attention to something, to give heed, observe, attend to; also, to be fearless, be of good courage.” “Adsum!” is a famous word for Catholics. In the Rite of Ordination for Bishops, Priests and Deacons, men are ritually “called” to receive Holy Orders. The names of the ordinands are called out one by one and they respond, “Adsum! … I am present!” There is much talk of a “calling” or “vocation” to the priesthood. While men can have inklings and interior experiences of being called by God, this moment in the rite is the formal moment of a “calling” – vocation.
We are into the nuts and bolts of our prayer now. Largire is an imperative form of largior which is deponent (active meaning, but passive in form). According to the always useful Lewis & Short Dictionary, it is “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart.” The deponent verb glorior means “to glory, boast, vaunt, to brag of any thing, pride one’s self.” Glorior is constructed with the accusative object (as it is in our prayer with an accusative with infinitive) or with the ablative either absolutely or with a preposition. Something which is gratus, a, um is “beloved, dear, acceptable, pleasing, agreeable” while someone who is gratus is “thankful, grateful; thankworthy, deserving or procuring thanks.” I am going to translate grata as “favors”, which I hope gets both at the sense of being thankful for something we longed for done for or given to us as well as the beneficial dimension of what God does.
Many of our Collects at this time of year use similar vocabulary, not just the usual sort of words standard for a Roman prayer, but slightly unusual words which perk up our attention.
For example, last week we saw dux (“leader, guide, commander”) and rector (“ruler, leader, governor; helmsman”). This week we have gubernator, which is “a steersman, pilot” or “a director, ruler, governor”. Thematically, these terms are equivalent.
During the Ordinary Time of our liturgical year there are little groupings of modern Collects linked by vocabulary or theme. Themes and vocabulary might be, for example, military or agricultural or judicial.
The Collects in the Novus Ordo are mostly prayers derived in some way from ancient sacramentaries even if they were also in previous editions of the Missale Romanum. While they are grouped together now, they were taken from different times of the year. I cannot help but think that the choice to group them together was a conscious choice.
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973):
Father of everlasting goodness,
our origin and guide,
be close to us and hear the prayers of all who praise you.
Forgive our sins and restore us to life.
Keep us safe in your love.
Some concepts of the Latin found their way in here, but this “Opening prayer”, while undeniably expressing nice thoughts is pretty detached from what the Church wants us to hear.
But wait… what’s this I see?
Uncharacteristically, ICEL allowed the word “sins” into their version!
Our weekly examinations demonstrate that, way back when and with the complicity of many, ICEL consistently expunged references to sin and grace, our own needy humility, God’s majesty, the possibility of hell for the unrepentant, etc., from the prayers we are compelled to use today. Therefore, I am elated to find in today’s ICEL prayer a reference to sin!
It is all the more amusingly ironic that the original Latin does not talk about sin.
LITERAL WDTPRS VERSION:
Be present to Your servants, O Lord,
and grant Your unending kindness to those seeking it,
so that You may restore favors to those who
glory in having You as author and guide,
and You may preserve them once restored.
My main problem with the ICEL prayer, as nice as it is, is that it has nothing of the urgency and earnestness of the Latin. It lacks something fundamental in its attitude.
Our recognition of who we are and who we are not together with who God is, is fundamental to this Collect.
NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
Draw near to your servants, O Lord,
and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness,
that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide,
you may restore what you have created
and keep safe what you have restored.
Take note of the different status of those to whom the Latin prayer refers. On the one hand, God is our creator. He directs our paths. He is eternal and kind. He gives gifts. He can be present to us. On the other hand, we are servants and needy seekers. We need favors and things for which we must be grateful. They are unattainable apart from God’s kindness. We do not deserve them apart from Him.
Some of us have lost God’s favors. We are incomplete until He restores them to us. We are weak and incapable of retaining God’s kind gifts unless He Himself preserves them in us once He has given them back. He will not restore them unless we beg Him in His kindness to do so. Our lowly status of servant is the key to everything received or regained.
The clear, crisp and cold reality of our neediness is masterfully juxtaposed with the warming, healing and reassuring confidence to be found in God’s presence.