I am going to drag you through a sustained rant about liturgy, punctuated by Latin vocabulary and Neo-Platonism.
First, to be grown up Catholics we need a Mass for grown ups.
Our Mass should give us thick red steak and Cabernet, not pureed carrots and milk for baby teeth.
I want meat for you, not goop.
Goop is fine for babies. Babies need goop. But when you grow up, you need more. You might be able to survive for a while on goop, but you won’t thrive.
I want you to thrive through our Mass not just survive.
Mass must be succulent, not insipid.
With the help of preachers we can crack them open with adult teeth, chew their marrow.
In the snipping and pasting together of the Novus Ordo, with the revision of its prayers, we lost concepts important to our Catholic identity. That is not the case with this week’s prayer, happily. Moreover, the revised Novus Ordo prayers sometimes emphasize positive elements of our Christian Catholic thing not so evident in the older prayers.
However, what we lost, perhaps characterized as “negative” concepts, are vital to who we are as Catholics. Grown up Catholics, that is. Catholics who understand that we are sinners, and that one day we are going to die and meet our Maker, who is our Savior and our Judge.
Summorum Pontificum is already helping us reclaim as a praying Church much of what has been lost in our worship and therefore provide nourishment for a revitalized Catholic identity.
In the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary today’s Collect is found on the Fourth Sunday after the close of the Easter Octave. The Gelasian or Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae (Book of Sacraments of the Church of Rome) was assembled from older material in Paris around 750.
It has elements of both the Roman and Gallican (French) liturgies of the Merovingian period (5th – 8th cc.). This Collect survived the cutters and snippers who pasted the Novus Ordo together on their desks. You hear it now on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time where the Ordinary Form.
COLLECT - (1962MR):
Deus, a quo bona cuncta procedunt, largire supplicibus tuis:
ut cogitemus, te inspirante, quae recta sunt;
et, te gubernante, eadem faciamus.
The Novus Ordo version slightly rearranges the word order, saying “tuis largire supplicibus”, which I actually prefer since it flows better, but the more ancient version in the Gelasian omits the “tuis” altogether.
Our never distant Lewis & Short Dictionary, unsullied by coffee cup rings, says procedo means “to go forth or before, to go forwards, advance, proceed” and more importantly “to go or come forth or out, to advance, issue” and even “to issue from the mouth, to be uttered”. Largire looks like an infinitive but is really an imperative form of the deponent largior, “to give bountifully, to lavish, bestow, dispense, distribute, impart… to confer, bestow, grant, yield”. The neuter substantive rectum, i (from rego), is “that which is right, good, virtuous; uprightness, rectitude, virtue”. Rego involves “to keep straight or from going wrong, to lead straight; to guide, conduct, direct”. The core concepts are “straight” and “upwards”. In its adjectival form, rectus, a, um, there is a moral content, “right, correct, proper, appropriate, befitting” again having reference to that which is “above”. Cogito is more than simply “to think”. As in Descartes’ often quoted “Cogito ergo sum… I think, therefore I am”, it is really, “to pursue something in the mind” and “to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon”. The English derivative is “cogitate”.
O God, from whom all good things issue forth, bountifully grant to Your supplicants,
that, as You are inspiring, we may think things which are right,
and, as You are guiding, we may accomplish the same.
CURRENT ICEL (2011 from the Ordinary Form):
O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it.
In today’s classically sculpted Collect there is a concept important for theological reflection by the ancient Church through the medieval period. A theological key helps us to open up what the Church is really saying to God, on our behalf, locked up in words.
Ancient theologians, both pagan and Christian struggled alike for answers to the same questions. If all things come from God, did God create evil? If all things come from God, then are all things, in fact, also God? If in the cosmos there are only God and everything else which is not-God, and if God is the only Good, then are all created not-God things evil? Is matter evil by nature? Are we evil, destined to doom or nothingness? Pagans and Christians, using the same starting points and categories of thought, came up with differing solutions.
Rejecting the idea of both a good god principle and an evil god principle, pagan theologians of the Platonic stream of thought posited a kind of creation through an endless series of intermediaries to avoid the conclusion that God, the highest good, created evil. For them, the perfectly transcendent One overflowed with being through descending triads of intermediaries down to the corrupt material world from which we must be freed. This solved nothing, of course, because no matter how many hierarchies of intermediaries you propose, those hierarchies always must be further divided into more hierarchies. Christian theologians, who were also Platonists, using the same categories of thought found another solution: creatio ex nihilo… immediate (that is “unmediated”) creation of the universe from nothing. Evil was explained as a deprivation of being, essentially a “nothingness”, not created by God. All things which have being come forth from God, are good, and will go back to God. This is the key for unlocking our prayer.
Let us now look at the lame-duck version people have had to hear in church for over thirty years on the 10th Sunday of Ordinary, brought to you by…
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 10th Ord. Sunday):
God of wisdom and love,
source of all good,
send your Spirit to teach us your truth
and guide our actions
in your way of peace.
BLECH! Folks, translation is hard but it ain’t that hard.
If our prayer today is like a nice plate of ossobucco, it’s time to dig out some of that good rich marrow.
When our Collect was composed (probably), Western theologians (still really Platonists in many respects) were mightily struggling to solve thorny problems about, for example, predestination. This required them to gaze deeply at man’s nature and the problem of evil.
In this titanic theological battle we find on all sides the ancient Platonic view of creation. All creation proceeds (procedo) forth from God in indeterminate form. In a reflection of the eternal procession of uncreated divine Persons of the Trinity, the rational component of creation (man) turned around when proceeding forth in order to regard his Source and, in that turning, that conversio, took determinate form and began to return to God. This going forth and returning, this descent and rising (in theology exitus and reditus or Greek exodos and proodos) is everywhere present in ancient and medieval thought… and in liturgical prayer today when the ancient form was too messed up by the redactors.
For Christians of the Neoplatonic Augustinian tradition, man, the pinnacle of creation, “drags” as it were all of created nature with him in a contemplative “conversion” back to God. Man’s rational nature was not destroyed by sin in the Fall. However, were it not for the Incarnate Logos, the Word made flesh, the union of uncreated with created, the descent of creation would have simply continued “exiting” away from God for eternity.
If not for the Incarnation man and all creation with him would never turn back, doomed to become ever more indeterminate. Instead, rational man, the image of the rational Word, and all creation with him can turn back to God. The Son entered our created realm and made possible man’s conversio after the Fall. As John Scotus Eriugena (+877) put it, man is “nature’s priest”. Through rational acts man plays a part in God’s saving plan for creation.
This pattern of exitus and reditus is exemplified in the writings of theologians in a line from pagan Neoplatonic writers like Plotinus (+270), to Christian Platonists like St. Augustine (+430), Boethius (+525), Eriugena, St. Bonaventure (+1274) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). This is the theology behind many ancient prayers. Our Collect echoes the Neoplationic theology of late antiquity and early Middle Ages together with the Scriptural James 1:17, a text used frequently by these same Merovingian and Carolingian thinkers.
We need what our prayers really say. They are the bones of our daily lives. We need a Mass for grown ups.
Demand Grown-up Mass.