The Collect for the 29th Ordinary Sunday is found the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary among the prayers for the 5th Sunday after Easter. Those of you who participate in celebrations of Holy Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum will hear this Collect on the Sunday after Ascension.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, fac nos tibi semper et devotam gerere voluntatem, et maiestati tuae sincero corde servire.
Almighty eternal God, cause us always both to bear towards You a devout faith, and to serve Your majesty with a sincere heart.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Almighty and ever-living God, our source of power and inspiration, give us strength and joy in serving you as followers of Christ.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
The complex verb gero means basically “to bear, wear, carry, have”. In the supplement to the great Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary, Souter’s A Glossary of Later Latin, we find that after the 3rd century A.D. gero can be “to celebrate a festival”. This is confirmed in Blaise’s dictionary of liturgical Latin vocabulary; gero is “celebrate”. In a construction with a dative pronoun (such as tibi) and morem (from mos as in the infamous exclamation O tempora! O mores!) it can mean “perform someone’s will.” I think today’s tibi…gerere substitutes devotam voluntatem for morem. That servio (“serve”) is one of those verbs constructed with the dative case, as in “to be useful for, be of service to”.
In our Latin prayers maiestas is usually synonymous with gloria. Fathers of the Church St. Hilary of Poitiers (+368) and St. Ambrose of Milan (+397), and also early liturgical texts, use this concept of “glory” or “majesty” for more than simple fame or splendor of appearance. A liturgical Latin gloria can be the equivalent of biblical Greek doxa and Hebrew kabod. Doxa was translated into Latin also with the words like maiestas and claritas, which in some contexts become forms of address (“Your Majesty”). This “glory” or “majesty” is a divine characteristic. God will share His gloria with us in heaven. We will be transformed by it, made more radiant as the images of God we are meant to be. Our contact with God in the sacraments and liturgical worship advances the transformation which will continue in the Beatific Vision. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (a claritate in claritatem); for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
When God wished to speak with Moses, His Presence would descend on the meeting tent as a cloud of glory (Hebrew shekhinah). Moses’ face would shine radiantly from his encounters with God and had to be covered with a veil (cf. Exodus 34). The shekhinah remains with us architecturally in our churches… in some places at least. Even more than the burning presence lamp, a baldachin or a veil covering the tabernacle is the sign of the Lord’s Presence.
When we enter the holy precincts of a church, our encounter with the Lord in mystery must continue the transformation which began with baptism. During the Year of Faith, which is fast coming to a close, commit to be well-prepared to meet the Lord in your parish church. Be properly disposed in body through your fast, in spirit through confession.
Today’s Collect always brings to my mind a fresco by Piero della Francesca (+1492) in little Monterchi near Arezzo. “La Madonna del Parto” shows Mary great with Child, a subject rare in Renaissance painting.
One meaning of the Latin verb gero is “to be pregnant” as in gerere partum. In the fresco, twin angels in Renaissance garb delicately lift tent-like draperies on each side to reveal Mary standing with eyes meditatively cast down, one hand placed on her hip for support, her other hand upon her unborn Child.
The fresco, this wonder depiction of life, was ironically painted originally for a cemetery chapel. The drapery and the angels invoke the image of a baldachin and the veil of a tabernacle. It calls to mind the tent in the wilderness where the Ark with the tablets and its golden angels were preserved, wherein Moses spoke to God so that his face reflected God’s majesty.
Mary, too, is Ark of the Real Presence, the Tabernacle in which Christ reposed. She, like the tent of the Ark, was overshadowed. Our Sunday Collect reminds us also to look to Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, our Mother. She is the perfect example of the service to others that flows from loving her Son, bearing the faith, serving God’s transforming glory.