WDTPRS 28th Ordinary Sunday: “our good works are a result of His grace”

Something to think about as we go into the weekend and your upcoming Sunday Mass.

COLLECT – (2002MR):
Tua nos, quaesumus, Domine, gratia
semper et praeveniat et sequatur,
ac bonis operibus iugiter praestet esse intentos

This dense little Collect was used for centuries on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (and still is by those enjoying the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum).  There is true elegance in this prayer.  Latin word order can be flexible because of the inflection of the word endings.  The wide separation of tua and gratia in the first line is a good example of the figure of speech called hyperbaton: unusual word order to produce a dramatic effect.     The et… et construction is also effective.   This is a lovely prayer to sing aloud with the traditional tone for Collects.

That use of praeveniat…sequatur reminds me of a prayer I would hear at my parish during the Tuesday night devotions, including the Novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by St. Alphonsus Liguori (+1787).  It is often employed as a prayer for the sick: “May the Lord Jesus Christ be with you that He may defend you, within you that He may sustain you, before you that He may lead you, behind you that He may protect you, above you that He may bless you. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
our help and guide,
make your love the foundation of our lives.
May our love for you express itself
in our eagerness to do good for others

This ICEL version, while probably a wonderful little prayer for use on a Catholic grade school playground, is appallingly bad as a translation for Mass. 

We need to examine some vocabulary.  The adjective intentus means “to stretch out or forth, extend” as well as “to strain or stretch towards, to extend.”  The action packed Lewis & Short Dictionary states that it also stands for, “to direct one’s thoughts or attention to.”  Latin has several particles that join parts of sentences and concepts together: et, – que, atque or (ac), etiam, and quoque.

These little words all basically mean “and” but they have their nuances.  For example, et simply means “and” while – que (which is always “enclitic”, that is, tacked onto the end of another word) joins elements that are closely enough associated that the second member completes or extends the first.  Another conjunction, atque (a compound of ad and – que) often adds something more important to a less important thing.  The useful Gildersleeve & Lodge Latin Grammar points out that “the second member often owes its importance to the necessity of having the complement (- que).”  Ac is a shorter form of atque and it does not stand before a vowel or the letter “h”.  G&L says that ac is “fainter” than atque and can mean nearly et.   Briefly, etiam means “even (now), yet, still”.  Etiam exaggerates and precedes the words to which it belongs while quoque is “so, also” and complements and follows the words it goes with.  There are some other copulative particles or joining words, but that is enough for now.

Let’s nit-pick a little more.  Our Collect has both semper and iugiter.  The adverb semper is always “always” whereas iugiter (the adverbial form of iugis) means “always” in the sense of “continuously.”  Here is the reason.  A iugum is a “yoke”, like that which yokes together oxen.  Iugum, or in English “juger”, was also a Roman measure of land (28,800 square feet or 240 by 120 feet)   It was so-called probably because it was plowed by yoked oxen.  Morever, iugum was the name of the constellation we call Libra, the Latin word for a “scale, balance” which has a kind of yoke on it, and thus also for the Roman weight measure the “pound”.  This is why the English abbreviation for a pound is “lbs”!  The iugum was the infamous ancient symbol of defeat.  The Romans would force the vanquished to pass under a yoke to symbolize that they had been subjugated.  Variously, iugum also means a connection between mountains or the beam of a weaver’s loom or even the marriage bond.  Our adverb iugiter means “always” in a continuous sense probably because of the concept of yoking things together, bridging them, one after another in a unending chain.  We get this same word in the famous prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) used at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament which is the Collect for Corpus Christi: “O God, who bequeathed to us a memorial of Thy Passion under a wondrous sacrament, grant, we implore, that we may venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, in such a way as to sense within us constantly (iugiter) the fruit of Thy redemption.”  This is an appropriate citation of iugiter here at the end of our Year of the Eucharist.

We beg, O Lord, that Your grace
may always both go before and follow after us,
and hence continuously grant us to be intent upon good works

It is important not to get overly picky about particles in our translation work and exaggerate the nuances.  Their meanings are close enough that at times one word will be chosen over another by reason of its pleasing sound in this or that context.   Still, I think in our prayer today these conjunctions are important.  That et…et is a classic “both…and” construction, but our Collect has et…et…ac...   The et…et joins praeveniat and sequatur and then that pair of verbs is followed by an ac.  If that ac informs us that what follows is of greater importance than what precedes it, then our Collect has built into it a logical climax of ideas.  This is why I added a “hence” to my literal version.  Keep firmly in mind that tua gratia… “your grace” is the subject of all these verbs.  We want God, by means of grace, always to be both before and behind us.  We want that so that, by His grace always, we may be attentive to good works.  Even our good works are a result of His grace.

We know not either the day or hour when the King of Fearful Majesty will return to unmake our world in fire:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Peter 3:10 RSV).

We must rely on God so absolutely that we do not fail in the vocations He has entrusted to us.  God has given us all something to do in this life.  If we attend to our work with real devotion He will give us every actual grace we need to accomplish our holy tasks.  Living and acting in this way and in the state of grace we merit, through Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice, to enjoy the happiness of the heaven for which we were made.  Good works must always be involved in this.

In our prayer we recognize that all good initiatives come from God beforehand.  Once we choose to embrace them and cooperate with Him in those initiatives, He is the one who ultimately brings them to completion.  He goes before, follows after, and is more present to us than we are to ourselves.  The only reason any of our good works have any merit for heaven is that God inspires them, informs them, and brings them to a good completion through us His knowing, willing, and loving servants.  The deeds are truly ours, of course, and therefore the reward for them is ours, but merit is God’s which He in love shares with us.

We see in today’s Collect how important our good works are and that they are all manifestations of God’s grace.  Just as we hope God will lavish His graces on us, so too ought we be generous with our good works.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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6 Responses to WDTPRS 28th Ordinary Sunday: “our good works are a result of His grace”

  1. SpesUnica says:

    Father, I always appreciate these, for though I studied it for a few years, my Latin patron saints have always been St. John Vianney and St. Jude, if you catch my drift. I didn’t see a citation of the CURRENT English translation, which is nice to have there for comparison’s sake. Unless I just missed it.

  2. I’m catching shades of St. Augustine in the background, Father :) beautiful article, thank you.

  3. StWinefride says:

    “He goes before, follows after, and is more present to us than we are to ourselves”.

    Thank God for that. I don’t know where I would be without Him.

    I liked the Collect for the OF Mass yesterday, 11 October:

    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. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

    Thanks, Fr Z!

  4. Corrected English (ICEL 2011)
    May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
    at all times go before us and follow after
    and make us always determined
    to carry out good works.

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you Fr. Z. That is good food for thought.
    I hope your day today was superb and all is going well.

  6. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Thank you, Henry Edwards, for giving us the 2011 ICEL – information for which especially, as well as for Father Zuhlsdorf’s comments, I look forward to these weekly posts.

    I see that the 2011 ICEL agrees with me in taking iugiter with esse intentos, rather than, as Father Zuhlsdorf does, with praestet. Many thanks to Father Z for his wonderful discussion of iugiter and its relation to iugum.