WDTPRS 27th Ordinary Sunday: soap was made from ashes

When we pray with the right attitude, particularly kneeling before the altar of Sacrifice, joined in heart and mind with the our mediator, the priest, Christ Himself makes up for what we are incapable of accomplishing on our own.

St Augustine (d 430) says that Jesus “prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God.  Therefore, let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us” (en Ps 85, 1).

With a minor variation this week’s Collect, for the 27th Ordinary Sunday (Novus Ordo), was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary and in the post-Tridentine editions of the Missale Romanum for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et merita supplicum excedis et vota, effunde super nos misericordiam tuam, ut dimittas quae conscientia metuit, et adicias quod oratio non praesumit.

Supplex, an adjective used also as a substantive, is “humbly begging or entreating; beseeching; supplicant.”  In the ancient world it was not uncommon for the supplicant to wrap his arms around (plecto) the knees of the one from whom he was begging the favor.


Almighty and everlasting God, who in the abundance of Your goodness surpass both the merits and the prayerful vows of suppliants, pour forth Your mercy upon us, so that You set aside those things which our conscience fears, and apply what our prayer dares not.


Father, your love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires. Forgive our failings, keep us in your peace and lead us in the way of salvation.


Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.

We have a contrasting pair: God must remove from us our sins which merit punishment in justice, and He must add to us His graces which we can never merit.

We are unworthy, incredibly audacious beggars.

Our Collect gives us a model for an attitude of prayer.

We present ourselves, in the priest’s prayer, as one who is supplex, a suppliant frightened by the Judge because of the sins which bother his conscience.  This lowly beggar prays and prays, entwining his arms about the knees of his only hope.  He petitions the Almighty Father, merciful and good, to calm his fears by removing his damning sins totally and then by supplying him with whatever he dares not ask or does not even know that he ought to beg for (non praesumit).  He simultaneously has the humility of the kneeling suppliant and the boldness of sonship.  He dares that which is far beyond his own capacity because God the Father made him His son through a mysterious adoption.  He is emboldened to ask many things of the Father with faith and confidence (cf Mark 11:24 and 9:23).  Luke recounts in chapters 11 and 18 Christ’s parables about the persistent, even audacious, prayer of petition.

In many places, celebrations of Holy Mass have been stripped of humility. 

Liberals will now respond “But Father! But Father! That’t right!  People like YOU want ARROGANT Masses loaded down with gold and lace and music the commong little people can’t understand.  We need humble Masses, with guitars and clay cups and burlap vesments – if any vestment at all – and children holding hands around the altar, and women distrib…. ”

No, that’s rubbish, the product of narrow-minded self-centeredness.  Only people who misunderstand what sacred liturgical worship is talk like that.

What I mean by liturgy stripped of humility means that, in many places, instead of abasing ourselves humbly before our awesome and mysterious God during the renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, we celebrate ourselves while remembering somewhat our non-judgmental buddy Jesus.  Vesting Holy Mass in the very best that human arts can attain is a response to the need to recognize who we are before God’s transcendent majesty, His just mercy.

It is no wonder that many liberals have screwy ideas about how to express humility in liturgical worship.  The concept of humility inherent in supplex was systematically expunged from the now–obsolete translations of prayers, contemporary music in parishes, and (in churches now lacking kneelers) architecture.  Change how we pray, and you change what we believe, our very identity.  One of the most Catholic of prayers, nearly eliminated after Vatican II, underscores an important dimension of healthy spirituality.  In the Dies Irae, the haunting sequence of the Requiem Mass, we contemplate our inevitable judgment by the Rex tremendae maiestatis… the King of fearful majesty, the iustus Iudex… our just Judge:

“Once the accursed have been confounded / delivered up to the stinging flames, / call me with the blessed. / Suppliant and bowing down (supplex et acclinis), / my heart ground down like ash, I pray: / Have a care for my end.”

The use of supplex in our prayers prompts an attitude of contrition for our sins which in turn gives greater joy to our more confident petitions.  A lowly attitude keeps in focus the reality of our sins, God’s promises of forgiveness, the ordinary means of their cleansing, and thus the great joy we have in forgiveness and the hope of heaven.  We need these contrasts in our prayers.

God takes our sins away, but only when we beg Him to.  We remember them, but they no longer stain us.  When we recall that we are ashes and we confess our sins to the priest, those sins are washed clean away.

Soap, by the way, was once made in part from ashes.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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13 Responses to WDTPRS 27th Ordinary Sunday: soap was made from ashes

  1. Priam1184 says:

    We all seem to lack the proper attitude of humility in this day and age Father. Thank you for the reminder to kneel before Our Lord and Redeemer and to take the posture of the audacious beggars that we are. Laudetur Jesus Christus! Nunc et in aeternum.

  2. Transportsjoie says:

    Great hitting-the-nail-on-the-head post, Fr. Z – thank you.
    Though its not a liturgical work, I have always loved Verdi’s Requiem for instilling that sense of holy fear.
    Salve me, fons pietatis

  3. Sonshine135 says:

    You are in my head today Father. Thank you for this reflection.

  4. Quanah says:

    Thank you for this reflections, Father. This prayer is exactly what I needed to hear this Sunday. I am so thankful for the new translation. We were missing so many spiritual jewels with the previous hack job.

  5. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Transportsjoie, it’s salvA (1st conj.): salva me, fons pietatis.

    Thank you for bringing to us a phrase of that tremendous hymn. Tantus labor non sit cassus. . . . Gere curam mei finis.

  6. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Thank you also for mentioning the Verdi Requiem. I always think of that work as something like The Little Drummer Boy: “Composing flamboyant operatic music is WHAT I DO. Take it, Lord, and grant to Manzoni eternal rest.” IF the man had been Catholic, and IF England were a Catholic country (as it once was), then MAYBE the Verdi Requiem would have been appropriate, pace St. Pius X, for the funeral of Winston Churchill.

  7. Ryan says:

    I’m not sure which Collect Father used tonight, but it was neither the current nor the obsolete ICEL. Additionally, there was a sign of peace thing at the beginning, right after the opening prayer. Words were inserted into the “Eucharistic Prayer” (I suspect it too was completely ad-lib), the words of consecration and my “absolution.” Father wouldn’t give me a penance. The homily opened with not one or two but eight jokes. Jokes at the end. Shout-outs to parishioners throughout. Ad-lib blessing before dismissal.
    This is the same priest who has most recently, and for some months, been my spiritual director. Mentioned something about ordaining women.
    I’m sorry this is rambling. I’m kinda freaking out and I don’t know what to do. I’m new to the faith and this modern/traditional dichotomy is killing me.

  8. Priam1184 says:

    @Ryan Pray the Rosary (while meditating on the mysteries; read and understand the brief portions of the Gospels that correspond to each mystery beforehand) and read the Scriptures, especially Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, and the Gospels. And then you may want to look over the Catechism. There is no modern/traditional dichotomy. The Truth is the Truth: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Duc in altum!

  9. Imrahil says:

    Unworthy yes.

    Audacious maybe, and this because we’ve told to be so.

    Incredibly audacious no, and this because we’ve, after all, told to be audacious.

  10. The Cobbler says:

    You got me to actually read this post waiting for a discussion of traditional soapmaking. 8^)

  11. Arele says:

    Ryan, wow, for a minute there, I thought you were at my parish on Sunday! We had a visiting priest, with the same ad lib before, during and after prayers, jokes throughout. Oh, and we got told we were all good people, over and over again (in stark contrast with our Archbishop, who just the day before called himself a sinner in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, and all of us the same). We got lectured about the horrors of the death penalty, and told to stop focusing so much on abortion (on the same day as the Life Chain in our downtown area was to convene later that afternoon), and on and on…

    Anyway, I really did think you had been to the same mass except for that our visiting priest did not mention women’s ordination!

    I am fairly new also to the Catholic Church, and experiences like this are hard on me too, so I can relate.

    One thing I have found to help me in times like this is that Jesus said in the Bible in Matthew 16:18 that, “Upon this rock I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I take comfort in this, because this IS the one, true church, and we really are gonna be okay no matter what happens in the day-to-day trials of the modern church.

    Also, when I was still in RCIA, a friend of mine made the observation that, no matter how messed up the execution of the mass might be, through the grace of God, we still receive the Eucharist. We still get God through the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It’s truly a miracle, and a real, concrete demonstration of God’s love for us. And all the moreso when we have to endure masses like these where not even the exact liturgy is followed.

    So, I take my help where I can get it, like here in Fr. Z’s blog (thank you, Fr. Z!). I trust in God’s promise in Jesus’ words in the Bible that the gates of hell will not overpower this church. And I receive the gift of salvation through the graces flowing through His church, especially in the Sacraments, especially Confession (which work even when the priest is a mess) and most especially in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

    And I thank God!

    PS There are a lot of people who share your experiences and feelings. They are out there, and pray to God that He will help you find them, and the support you need to endure this sort of thing. There are parishes and communities within the church that can help you.

  12. APX says:

    If you want humility and self-abasement in liturgy, I strongly recommend attending the Anglican Use Mass. If those of a liberal leaning have issues with “I have sinned grievously” and striking their breast thrice during the Confiteor, I think they would need therapy after reciting the Prayer of Humble Access and their Penitential Act.

    We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

    Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men:
    We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
    which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
    by thought, word, and deed against thy divine Majesty,
    provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
    We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
    the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
    the burden of them is intolerable.
    Have mercy upon us,
    have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
    for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
    forgive us all that is past;
    and grant that we may ever hereafter
    serve and please thee in newness of life,
    to the honor and glory of thy Name;
    Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Ryan said:
    This is the same priest who has most recently, and for some months, been my spiritual director.

    I don’t mean to sound rude or condescending, but why would you ask such a priest to be your spiritual director?? It’s better to have no spiritual director than to have an unorthodox one.

  13. Ryan says:

    APX-That’s an outstanding prayer. I am eager to experience other rites of mass in the church universal.
    As for my spiritual director, it was our very last meeting when he made the comment about women being ordained. I intend to avoid this priest at all costs.
    Priam1184, Arele-Thank you for your words of encouragement.