Today’s Collect survived the liturgico-surgical scalpels of the Card. Lercaro’s and Fr. Bugnini’s Consilium to live on in the Novus Ordo for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time. The prayer is ancient, and results in the Gelasian Sacramentary as well as in the Veronese Sacramentary during the month of July.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus, de cuius munere venit,
ut tibi a fidelibus tuis digne et laudabiliter serviatur:
tribue, quaesumus, nobis;
ut ad promissiones tuas sine offensione curramus.
Let’s find out what this means by starting with some vocabulary.
We have a loaded word in our Collect today: munus. Munus means essentially “a service, office, post, employment, function, duty.” Some synonyms are: officium, ministerium, honos. A Greek equivalent of munus is “leitourgia” whence comes our word “liturgy”, originally standing in ancient Greek for a needed civic work or service one performs because he ought to for the sake of society.
In the New Testament this old word was applied to a new Christian context for concepts like taking up collections for the poor (i.e., what man does for man) and religious services (man’s worship of God). To make this more complicated, munus also means “a present, gift.” When it means “gift” it seems often to be in the ablative case, as in the construction mittere alicui aliquid munere… “to send something to someone as/for a gift”. I say munus is a loaded word because in theological writing we speak among other things of the three-fold office or tria munera which Christ passed to His Church, the Apostles and their successors: to teach, to govern, to sanctify.
When the Lord gives us commands (and He does – e.g., love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34-35), take up your Cross and follow me (Mark 8:34-38), be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), do this in memory of me (Luke 22:19), etc.) we can sum them up in the two-fold commandment of love of God and of neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:36-38; Mark 12:2-31; Luke 10:26-28).
All followers of Jesus have been given a two-fold munus to fulfill which reflects the three-fold munera Christ gave to the Church’s ordained priesthood.
I invite you to try an experiment. See what happens to your perception of the Collect if you make munus mean “office” rather than “gift.” When I wrote about this Collect the first time, in the first year of this WDTPRS series, I chose “office” over “gift”. We might be able to say “ministerial gift” so as to get at both sides of the content of munus. While reading this, can you keep both concepts simultaneously in mind?
Our dog-eared editions of the Lewis & Short Dictionary provide insight into offensio, closely related to the verb offendo. This verb has many meanings though some are not obvious. Primarily it stands for “to hit, thrust, strike or dash against something.” Therefore it is also, “to suffer damage, receive an injury” and “blunder, make a mistake, commit an offense.” From our knowledge of the English cognates, offendo also can mean, “be offensive, shock, mortify, vex.”
However, offendo can also simply mean, “to hit upon, light upon a person or thing, i. e. to come upon, meet with, find.”
Personal Anecdote: Many years ago in Rome, during my intensive studies of Latin, I used to write postcards in Latin to my home parish. During the summers the pastor, the late Msgr. Richard Schuler, was teaching some informal Latin courses to seminarians. They weren’t receiving this essential training from the seminary (as is required in the 1983 Code of Canon Law). I caused some surprise and not a little of anxiety once when I wrote: “Cardinalem Ratzinger offendi… I had by chance met Card. Ratzinger” or “I ran into Card. Ratzinger”, to get the sense of it, and greeted him from the aforementioned pastor whom the Cardinal knew. When they read, “Cardinalem Ratzinger offendi” and that I greeted him in the name of the pastor, I am told that at first they were mortified. They thought I had done something else to Card. Ratzinger, in the name of Msgr. Schuler and the parish. The moral: Latin words have layers of meanings and sometimes the English cognates lead us into a false or deficient understanding of what the Latin really says. But I digress…
Back to offensio. The first meaning of offensio is “a striking against anything; a tripping, stumbling.” By extension it can also mean the thing that causes one to trip or stumble, a “stumbling block.” As a result, offensio indicates also an offense, either given to someone or received from someone. In the Latin Vulgate offensio can be a thing which causes one to sin.
Some Latin grammatical constructions force us to scramble after an English paraphrase. This verb serviatur signals one of those hard constructions. First, servio is one those verbs constructed with an “object” in the dative case (tibi) rather than in the accusative. L&S tells us that servio is virtually never used as a passive. So, we can rule out saying something like munus … serviatur … “that the gift/office may be served”. What we have instead is a periphrastic (Greek peri- “around” and phrastic – “saying”) or “roundabout” way speaking, using the third person and the point of reference in the dative.
And, of course, the verb curro means “to run, to move quickly (on foot, on a horse, ship, etc.), to hasten, fly”.
LITERAL WDTPRS TRANSLATION (1962MR):
Almighty and merciful God, from whose gift it comes
that service be rendered unto You by the faithful worthily and laudably ,
grant us, we beseech You,
that we may run toward Your promises without stumbling.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 – 3rd Ord Sun.):
God of power and mercy,
only with your help
can we offer you fitting service and praise.
May we live the faith we profess
and trust your promise of eternal life.
CURRENT ICEL (2011 – 3rd Ord. Sun.):
Almighty and merciful God,
by whose gift your faithful offer you
right and praiseworthy service,
grant, we pray,
that we may hasten without stumbling
to receive the things you have promised.
This Collect gives me the image of a person, a servant, hurrying to fulfill a duty or command given by his master or superior. He is rushing, running. He is, as usual, carrying a heavy burden. While dashing forward, he is trying to be careful under his burden lest he stumble, fall, consequently spill what he is carrying and ruin it.
This could be a description of how we live our Christian vocations.
Each one of us was made in God’s image. We were given something to do here. When we discern God’s will and do our best to live well according to our state in life, we experience heavy burdens. We have the opportunity to participate in carrying the Cross of Jesus. By His incarnation, Passion and resurrection, Christ made us heirs of the Kingdom of heaven.
But we can lose the Kingdom.
The Lord Himself told us that if we want to be with Him, we must participate in His Cross. We must pick up our Crosses and follow Him each day.
During His fearful Passion, our Lord literally carried His (and our) Cross. Without a doubt He was hard pressed to stay on His feet under such a burden. Envision the soldiers, probably the Temple guards, prodding Him while the Roman soldiers cleared the way. They were forcing Him to go faster faster faster in order to beat sundown deadline and the Jewish holy days that followed. The road He walked would have been uneven and rough, with edges and corners to catch weary feet. He stumbled. He fell even though He surely was being as careful as possible.
We stumble and fall too, though not like the sinless Lord. We stumble mostly by choice.
In our Collect, we pray that we can hurry, even run (curro), rather than drag along toward the reward of heaven. We beg God (quaesumus) that we do so without mishap. We desire never to give offense to God by what we do (offensio) and we ask that the road be made free of stumbling blocks (offensio) for our feet as we run. Indeed, we desire to do so not just without fault, but also in a praiseworthy way (digne et laudabiliter). He understands the tough road we travel.
When we stumble in sin, we give offense to God.
Here is an echo of our petition in the Lord’s own Prayer: lead us not into temptation, let us not be faced with burdens we do not have the grace to bear.
Do not forget that there is a tempter out there, an Enemy who desires us to fall and give offense to the Lord. He with untiring malice and angelic guile will place obstacles before our feet.
That one we do not want to meet with (offendo) even by chance.
Pray without ceasing. Be confessed. Receive the sacraments. Do penance. Run forward.