Advent begins a new liturgical year. Each year Holy Church presents the history of our salvation and the mysteries of the life, death, resurrection and the return of the Lord. Each year we ourselves are a little different. The unchanging mysteries touch us in a fresh way. Through His Church, Christ, the true content of our prayers, the true Actor in the liturgy, shapes us so that we in turn can shape the world around us.
The Latin Church’s liturgy is officially in the Latin language. As a result, liturgical translations bear the burden of what the Church, from divine inspiration and human wisdom, desires to convey to us and say to God. The translations we had until 2011 were dreadful. The current translations are not perfect, but they are better by far. They reflect more accurately what the Latin prayers really say.
Many of the orations in the Latin Missale Romanum are ancient in origin, either in whole or in some of the bits recycled by those who in the 1960’s welded together the so-called Novus Ordo. Today’s Collect is a new composition for the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form, based in part on a prayer in the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary.
Let us see now the very first oration of the new liturgical year.
Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,
eius dextrae sociati, regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.
Voluntas is “will, freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination”, but in our Collect it has also the nuance of a “disposition” toward a thing or person. Occurro is “to run up to, run to meet”.
AWKWARD SLAVISH VERSION:
Almighty God, we beseech You, grant
to Your faithful this disposition of will,
that, those rushing with just works to meet Your Christ, now coming,
may, united at His right hand, merit to possess the heavenly kingdom.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
This Collect harks to last week’s Solemnity of Christ the King, honoring His future Second Coming at the end of the world, even while it prepares us for celebrating His First Coming at Christmas.
Advent is mainly focused on our preparation for our personal encounter with the Just Judge and King at the Second Coming (or at our death, whichever comes first). This season is also about other ways in which Our Lord comes to us. For example, the Lord comes to us when the priest says, “This is my Body.” He comes in Holy Communion, actual graces, the words of Scripture, the person of the priest, and in all who need our “righteous deeds”, especially corporal and spiritual works of mercy. With His help we must “Make straight the paths!”, as the liturgy of Advent cries out with the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist.
Our Collect describes us as rushing forward (occurrentes), readying the path for our King by our righteous deeds. We should start the smoothing and straightening now, in our earthly days, while we still can. When the moment of truth arrives for us all, Christ will come by the straightest path whether we have prepared His way or not.
I am reminded of the image of an street-sweeper. Not the kind with the trigger. Neither the street-sweeper with the cart going about collecting litter. Rather, the sweeper, more accurately “crossing sweeper”, in the ages before paved streets and adequate drainage. After a rain the roads would be a sea of filth and water and muck that could suck the boots right off your feet. Poor boys or men would go backwards before a person, sweeping at the repulsive goo like crazy, trying to clear a less problematic path to get across the street. On the other side, the boy would get a coin from the crosser.
We don’t earn our way into heaven by works alone, but the image is still apt, I think. Spend time examining your conscience and think about the Last Things. The image is still apt, I think.
We the baptized, the faithful in the state of grace, are new creations and God the Holy Trinity works in us. We cooperate with God’s gifts. Our good or just works, our righteous deeds, do not by themselves merit anything. Once we are transformed and renewed by sanctifying grace, “gathered at His right hand” already in this life, our works merit an increase of grace and the reward of heaven because they are actually His even while they are truly ours.
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached that, “When God crowns our merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts” (ep. 194, 5, 19). We merit salvation on the foundation of habitual, sanctifying grace, through the virtuous works which we perform. Living in grace and virtue while striving in good works is how we rush forward to meet the Lord. This is true Advent preparation.
We begin our year with a language of deep humility: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God.…”
Straighten all the paths by which the Lord comes to you.