WDTPRS – 19th Ordinary Sunday: trusting audacity and harrowing consolation

This coming Sunday’s Collect, or “Opening Prayer” as it has been called, was not in previous editions Missale Romanum before the 1970 Novus Ordo. It has roots in the 9th century Sacramentary of Bergamo and thus is ancient text.

Note that for the 2002 Missale Romanum there was a variation from the 1970MR.  In the 2002MR the ablative absolute clause “docente Spiritu Sancto” was inserted.

COLLECT – (2002MR):
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
quem [docente Spiritu Sancto -
not in the 1970MR]
paterno nomine invocare praesumimus,
perfice in cordibus nostris spiritum adoptionis filiorum,
ut promissam hereditatem ingredi mereamur

Paternus, a, um is an adjective, “fatherly”. Literally, a paternum nomen would be “Fatherly name”. In English we need to break that down a little, just as we do with the Latin for “Sunday”: dies dominica or “lordly Day” in place of what we say “the day of the Lord”. In English a paternum nomen is “the name of Father”. Latin uses adjectives and adverbs for more purposes than we do. Our trusted old friend Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that invoco means “to call upon, invoke” especially as a witness or as aid. So, there is an element of urgency and humility in the word. Praesumo gives us the English word and concept of “presumption”. At its root it means, “to take before, take first or beforehand.” The adverb and adjective prae, the prefix element of prae-sumo, is “before, in front of, in advance of”. In a less physical sense it can mean “anticipate”, in the sense of “to imagine or picture to one’s self beforehand” or in a moral nuance “to presume, take for granted”. It is even, more interestingly, “to undertake, venture, dare” together with “to trust, be confident”.

Almighty eternal God,
whom, [the Holy Spirit teaching,
added in the 2002MR]
we presume to invoke by the name of Father,
perfect in our hearts the spirit of the adoption of children,
so that we may merit to enter into the inheritance promised

Notice that I translate filii as “children” rather than as just “sons”, according to the literal meaning. Latin masculine plurals, depending on the context, can also include females even though the form of the word is masculine.

Almighty and ever-living God,
you Spirit made us your children,
confident to call you Father.
Increase your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance

Take careful note that the language of adoption has been expunged. Does this change the impact of the prayer? Does it present a different view of the Christian life than that presented in the Latin Collect?

An important element of our Collect comes from Paul: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. We can invoke God the Father with confidence, not fear, when we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15… and “Abba” does not mean “daddy”).

Almighty ever-living God,
whom, taught by the Holy Spirit,
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which you have promised

During the Holy Mass, through the words, actions and intentions of the ordained priest, as a Church we presume with trusting audacity to consecrate bread and wine and change them substantially to the Body and Body of the Second Person of the Trinity.

We do this because Jesus commanded us to do so, but it is a harrowing and consoling undertaking all the same.

We are laying hands upon truly sacred things, the most sacred things there can be: Christ’s Body, Blood, soul and divinity.

What could be more presumptuous?

Two sections of the great Corpus Christi sequence by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) remind us of what is at stake when we approach the Blessed Sacrament for Communion (not my translation):

“Here beneath these signs are hidden
priceless things, to sense forbidden;
signs, not things, are all we see.
Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine,
yet is Christ in either sign,
all entire confessed to be.
… Both the wicked and the good
eat of this celestial Food:
but with ends how opposite!
With this most substantial Bread,
unto life or death they’re fed,
in a difference infinite.”

That last part bears repeating: “Mors est malis, vita bonis: / vide paris sumptionis / quam sit dispar exitus.”

Eternal death for the wicked if they receive Communion improperly. Eternal life for the good if they receive well.

See how dissimilar the different outcomes from the same act of Holy Communion can be?

This is good to ponder during Mass and the lead up to Mass:

Am I properly disposed to receive what Christ and the Church have promised are truly His Body and Blood? Do I dare receive? When was my last good confession?

Immediately after the Eucharistic Prayer but before our intrepid reception of Communion, we dare to pray with the words that the same Son taught us.

In introducing the Lord’s Prayer the priest says in Latin, “Having been instructed/urged by saving commands and formed by divine institution, we dare/presume (audemus) to say, ‘Our Father…’”. Audeo is “to venture, to dare”, and in this it is a synonym of praesumo. Jesus taught us to see God as Father in a way that no ever one had before. Christ revolutionized our prayer. In our lowliness we now dare to raise our eyes and venture to speak to God in a new way. We come to Him as children of a new “sonship”.

We learned from our examination of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter that adoptio is “adoption” in the sense of “to take as one’s child”. We find the phrase in Paul: adoptionem filiorum Dei or “adoption of the sons of God” in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (cf. Romans 8:23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).

We do not approach God as fearful slaves. We are now also able to receive Communion with reverent confidence provided we have prepared well. God has done His part.

God will come to us not as a stranger God, but as a Father God.

What God does for us is not cold or impersonal. It is an act of love. Even in commanding us, God the Son did not mean to terrify us into paralysis. This, however, was the result for some who, when hearing Christ’s teaching about His flesh, left Him because what they heard was too hard (cf. John 6). We need not be terrified… overwhelmed with awe, certainly, but not by terror.

Warned, urged, instructed by a divine Person who taught us with divine precepts, let’s get straight who our Father is and who we are because of who He is.

We are children of a loving Father. He comes looking for us to draw us unto Him because of His fatherly heart. The Holy Father Pope John Paul II wrote for the Church’s preparation for the Millennium Jubilee:

“If God goes in search of man, created in his own image and likeness, he does so because he loves him eternally in the Word, and wishes to raise him in Christ to the dignity of an adoptive son” (Tertio millennio adveniente 6).

As God’s adopted children we have dignity.

The adoption brought by the Spirit is not some second rate relationship with God or mere juridical slight of hand. It is the fulfillment of an eternal love and longing. This is a primary and foundational dimension of everything we are as Catholic Christians. It is perhaps for this reason that that the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks so clearly to this point, in the first paragraph.

The adoption we speak about in this Collect is something far more profound than a juridical act by which one who is truly not of the same blood and bone is therefore considered, legally, to be so. Some Protestants see our return to righteousness in God’s sight, that is, justification through baptism, in these terms: a sort of legal sleight of hand whereby we remain in reality guilty and corrupt, but our disgusting sinful nature is ignored by the Father because the merits of Christ are interposed between His eyes and our debased nature.

However, we know by divine revelation and the continuing teaching of the Christian Church that by baptism more than a legal fiction takes place.

We are more than justified, we are sanctified.

Something of God’s divine grace is given to us, infused into our being so that we truly become sons and daughters of Almighty God, transformed radically from within, as members of Christ’s own Mystical Person. Thus, we too share Christ’s sonship. It is almost as if God infused His own Holiness DNA into us to make us His own in a sense far beyond any legal adoption could accomplish.  This transformation alters who we are without removing our individuality or dignity as persons. We are His and unified as One in Christ, and yet we remain ourselves. We are integrated into a new structure of Communion, indeed a new family.

By our discordant actions we can make this earthly dimension of our supernatural family, our Church, dysfunctional.

What a mystery it is that God, who lavishes upon us the mighty transforming graces we all have known and profess to love, leaves also in our hands the freedom to spurn Him and trivialize His gifts. This freedom, itself a gift, could only be a Father’s gift to beloved children.

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13 Responses to WDTPRS – 19th Ordinary Sunday: trusting audacity and harrowing consolation

  1. jameeka says:


  2. msc says:

    As usual, better than most sermons I hear (my parish does have one excellent homilist). Thanks.
    Since you brought up confession again, I would honestly and in all sincerity like to see from you a list of what you consider to be genuinely confession-worthy sins.

  3. Priam1184 says:

    Forgive me if I missed this somewhere in your exposition, but is the ‘docente Spiritu Sancto’ clause an ablative absolute? I have been trying (and mostly failing) to get a feel for that little bit of Latin grammar lately.

  4. StWinefride says:

    Fr Z says:“What a mystery it is that God…leaves also in our hands the freedom to spurn Him and trivialize His gifts”.

    I don’t feel it is too much of a mystery – God is Love and therefore I can’t imagine that He would break any of the rules of love. [Well... I guess that tells me off! o{];¬) ]

  5. truthfinder says:

    Hi Father,
    You’ve written on more than one occasion that Abba does not mean ‘daddy’. I’ve been trying to find a source that explains this, as I’ve never quite agreed with this translation but also have not been able to find a source which points to this.

  6. yatzer says:

    What is the Catholic thought on how Christ saves us, anyway? The Protestant version I got was that Christ was the substitute for us and suffered what we deserved. That has never worked for me because others have and do suffer terribly before and since. I do believe that Christ actually does sanctify us, but don’t understand the connection between that and the Passion.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    Given that this is originally 9th Century Latin, the current 2011 ICEL text is actually a surprisingly good translation.

    bring … to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters” is a very sensible reading, and sensitive to the proto-Romance state of Latin in its final period as a living language.

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    truthfinder, “abba” = “papa” ; not “daddy”. It is intimate ; not childish.

  9. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Yes, Priam1184, docente Spiritu Sancto is an ablative absolute: “[with, the circumstances being]the Holy Spirit teaching.” I claim a measure of authority as one with a Ph.D. in classics, major in Latin, and over a dozen years teaching Latin. Fortunately, your question is easy to answer, and I do not think that my reassurance to you will find contradiction. Best of luck to you in your study of Latin. Those of you who did not have the opportunity cannot help it, but nothing beats beginning the study of Latin, or Greek, by age 13 or 14. Our project should be to get classes in Latin (and Greek) again common in junior high and high schools.

    By the way, I have loved your name. 1184 is of course the “traditional” date of the fall of Troy, and thus of the death of Priam. I trust you are familiar with the wonderful account in Iliad 24, “set” a while earlier, of Priam’s visit to the tent of Achilles to obtain the body of Hector. Do you know also the wonderful testimony of Helen at Hector’s funeral, later in Iliad 24, when she praises Hector’s kindness to her whenever any others in the household would cast some aspersion on her? She said, in effect, “Of course I do not say anything of my father-in-law; he was always kind.”

  10. Priam1184 says:

    @Minnesotan from Florida: A few years ago I worked my way through the first book of the Iliad using Clyde Pharr’s Introduction to Homeric Greek. When one learns to read even a little of that work in its original language and to sound out the power of the dactylic hexameter it is hard to escape the conclusion that it is the greatest non-Sacred work of art in human history. And its theme of Achilles raging at his own mortality, that scene in Book I where he laments to his immortal mother that he can do all of these wonderful things but that they are meaningless because he must die in the end; it must have been some memory, however distant, of Adam and Eve and their evil choice. The whole poem seems to me to be a cry in the dark from a dissolute and lost pagan world to a God they did not know (because the gods Homer depicts are certainly not capable of this) for a Redeemer.

  11. eben says:

    In the face of this, I am humbled. I had only recently come to wonder the two edged sword that is the taking of communion. As I’ve aged, I’ve found the making of a good confession ever more difficult. It seems the case that at the age of 60 my proclivity for commission of grievous sin is behind me. A friend of mine, in discussing confession jokingly noted that his bank robbing days were over. Thus, the examination of conscience becomes a near contemplation on the inventory of faults, omissions, rotten attitudes, poor habits, inattention to duties and proper attentions to prayer and study, and long held resentments. Once I dredge up this trash, I realize that, yes, at the age of 60 one can be guilty of grievous sin. And then, I’m called to bag this shame and carry it to the confessional. It isn’t easy, but I’m coming to see this as a process on the path. I thank Fr. Z for his urgings to confession and for having provided many references to the inventory and practices for a proper examination of conscience. One of his sources is: http://wdtprs.com/blog/fr-zs-20-tips-for-making-a-good-confession/ A source I’ve used is our Catechism. A good start can be found at: http://www.fatima.org/essentials/requests/examconc.asp

    Another resource can be found at: http://www.solemncharge.com/page/A-Thorough-Catholic-Examination-of-Conscience.aspx

    A good confession is a study. It is time consuming and isn’t easy. My grandmother’s favorite coffee cup was inscribed with the slogan, “Old age is no place for sissies”. Follow the inference.

  12. Tom in NY says:

    @Priam1184: congratulations on working through Homer without a teacher but with Pharr.
    Younger students can be reminded that commercial musicians today complete two-hour music shows without sheet music. They can do it because the meter, the tune and rehearsal help their memory. Also, the “epithets” such as “wine-dark sea” are known to be in meter. That’s how you can work your way to memorize a 200 – page book.
    An easy way to think of the ablative absolute (and its Greek counterpart) is that the clause is connected by meaning, but not by grammar, to the remainder of the sentence. Hence, it is “absolved” from the chain of meaning in the endings.
    Of course, the Graeco-Roman gods are nature gods whose “portfolios” changed over time, cf. Hermes the Thief, and the Nilsson books.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  13. Priam1184 says:

    @Tom in NY Thank you for your insight.