Let’s have a look at the Collect for the Ordinary Form’s 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time.
This same Collect is used for the Monday of the Fifth week of Easter and also in the 1962MR on the Fourth Sunday after Easter. Therefore we have seen this prayer before. In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary you find it on the Third Sunday after the close of Easter. All those long eeee sounds produced by the Latin letter i are marvelous. Note the nice parallels: id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis as well as ibi…sint corda and ubi…sunt gaudia. In the first line the genitives unius…voluntatis are elegantly split by the verb efficis. A master made this prayer.
COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis,
da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis,
id desiderare quod promittis,
ut, inter mundanas varietates,
ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
The pages of our opportunely situated Lewis & Short Dictionary divulge that varietas means “difference, diversity, variety.” It is commonly used to indicate “changeableness, fickleness, inconstancy.” I like “vicissitude.” The adjective mundanus, a, um, “of or belonging to the world”, must be teased out in a paraphrase. Efficio (formed from facio) means, “to make out, work out; hence, to bring to pass, to effect, execute, complete, accomplish, make, form”. Voluntas means basically “will” but it can also mean things like “freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination” and even “disposition towards a thing or person”.
LITERAL WDTPRS TRANSLATION:
O God, You who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will,
grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command,
to desire that which You promise,
so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world,
our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.
Let us revisit that id…quod construction. We could simply say “love that which you command,” or “love what you command”, but to me that seems vague and generic. Of course, we must love everything God commands, but the feeling I get from that id…quod is closer to what the Anglican version expresses: “love the thing which you command… desire the thing which you promise.” This seems more concrete. We love and desire God’s will in the concrete situation, this concrete task. A challenge of living as a good Christian in “the world” is to love God in the details of life, especially when those details little to our liking. We must love him in this beggar, this annoying creep, not in beggars or creeps in general. We must love him in this act of fasting, not in fasting in general. This basket of laundry, this paperwork, this ICEL translation…. Hmmm…, didn’t I say it was a challenge? God’s will must not be reduced to something abstract, as if it is merely a “heavenly” or “ideal” reality. “Thy will (voluntas) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Association For English Worship in 1985 put out an examination of the Prayers of the Roman Missal comparing two different English versions, ICEL and their own. Here is the AEW version of the Collect: “O God, by whom alone the faithful are made one in mind and heart, grant us to love what you command and to long for what you promise, that so, amid the changes and chances of this mortal life, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” In the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer of 1662 they hear on the Fifth Sunday in Lent: “O almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandment, and desire that which thou dost promise, that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.” You have to love that!
LAME-DUCK ICEL (1973):
help us to seek the values
that will bring us lasting joy
in this changing world.
In our desire for what you promise
make us one in mind and heart.
God does more than “help”. And what happened in this version to loving God’s commands? How do “commands” become “values”? Did no one in Rome, ICEL or the episcopal conferences see a problem in the phrase “lasting joy in this changing world”? The Latin says that “the world” is fickle (mundanas varietates). It cannot give us the “lasting” joy to be found only in the life to come. This ICEL version makes me want to scream.
NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
More about the slippery word “values”. We should make a distinction between values and virtues. To my mind, values have an ever shifting subjective starting point while virtues are rooted in something objective and meaningful. In 1995 Gertude Himmelfarb wrote in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values: “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’”
Rem acu tetigit!
In this post-Christian, post-modern world the term “values” seems to indicate little more than our own self-projection. I suspect this is at work in the lame-duck ICEL prayer with its “help us” and the excision of God’s commands and promises. Can the word “values” be rescued, interpreted properly? Not in the defunct ICEL’s wretched version. Could “values” be used in future prayers? Perhaps.
The late John Paul II spoke about “values” in his speeches and writings, but in contrast to the way “values” are commonly understood today. For example, in Evangelium vitae 71 we read (emphasis added): “it is urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote.”
How does that wash with the stem-cell research debate and the “values” of human life and scientific advancement being discussed today?
In the 1985 letter to young people Dilecti amici 4, John Paul II taught: “Only God is the ultimate basis of all values…. in Him and Him alone all values have their first source and final completion… Without Him – without the reference to God – the whole world of created values remains as it were suspended in an absolute vacuum.” Our Latin Collect today is a prayer for God to grant that His will be the basis of our values in concrete action, not in abstractions or mere good intentions.
Care with the word “values” must reflect the present growing awareness of the Church’s growing conflict with relativism.
Benedict XVI has already spoken eloquently and more than once about the threats we in the Church face from religious/secular relativism, the reduction of the supernatural to the natural, caving in to “the world”. “The world” has its Prince who still dominates it until Christ the King comes again. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2 – RSV). Christ put His Apostles on guard about “the world”: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).
When what “the world” has to give is given preeminence over what God has to give through His Church, we have the crisis Pope Paul VI described on the ninth anniversary of his coronation (29 June 1972):
“Da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio…
Through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God”.
Today’s Collect, properly translated, is a spiritual safeguard for the vicissitudes of “the world”.