WDTPRS – 5th Ordinary Sunday – On the march!

Let’s look for a bit at Sunday’s Collect.

Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine,
continua pietate custodi,
ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur,
tua semper protectione muniatur.

This Collect was in the pre-Conciliar 1962MR, the so-called “Tridentine” Missal, for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany.

Custodio means “to watch, protect, keep, defend, guard.”  It is common in military language.  Innitor, a deponent verb, means “to lean or rest upon, to support one’s self by any thing.”   Innitor also has military overtones. The thorough and replete Lewis & Short Dictionary provides examples from Caesar and Livy describing soldiers leaning on their spears and shields (e.g., scutis innixi … “leaning upon their shields” cf. Caesar, De bello Gallico 2.27).   Munio is a similarly military term for walling up something up, putting in a state of defense, fortifying so as to guard.  Are you sensing a theme?  We need a closer look.

We must make a distinction about pietas when applied to us and when applied to God.  When pietas is attributed to God, it means “mercy”.   But let’s drill at pietas a little more.  Pietas gives us the English word “piety”, we have seen before in the last few years but it bears review.  L&S says pietas is “dutiful conduct toward the gods, one’s parents, relatives, benefactors, country, etc., sense of duty.”  It furthermore describes pietas in Jerome’s Vulgate in both Old and New Testament as “conscientiousness, scrupulousness regarding love and duty toward God.”  The heart of pietas is “duty.”  Pietas is also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. CCC 733-36; Isaiah 11:2), by which we are duly affectionate and grateful toward our parents, relatives and country, as well as to all men living insofar as they belong to God or are godly, and especially to the saints.  In loose or common parlance, “piety” indicates fulfilling the duties of religion.  Sometimes “pious” is used in a negative way, as when people take aim at external displays of religious dutifulness as opposed to what they is “genuine” practice (cf. Luke 18:9-14).

watch over your family
and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.

They went to the zoo in the second part of this Collect, didn’t they?

Guard your family, we beseech you, O Lord,
with continual mercy,
so that that (family) which is propping itself up upon the sole hope of heavenly grace
may always be defended by your protection.

Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection

Better than the obsolete version?

There is rich imagery of contrasting images.  On the one hand we see a family and on the other a group of dutiful soldiers leaning on their shields or spears, these being for us “the sole hope of heavenly grace”!  In fact, we Catholics are both a family, children of a common Father, and a Church Militant, the Body of Christ which is a corps (French for “body” from Latin corpus) marching in this vale of tears towards our heavenly fatherland.

Many of us were confirmed by bishops as “soldiers of Christ” and given a blow on the cheek as a reminder of what suffering we might face as Christians: not the first time we have suffered at the hands of bishops, perhaps, and maybe not the last.

By our baptism we are integrated in Christ’s Mystical Body, indeed His Person, the Church. We are given the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Through the sacramental graces that flow from baptism and confirmation, nourished by the Eucharist and healed and strengthened with the other sacraments, we are capable of facing the challenges of daily life and face down the attacks of hell.  We ought rather desire to die like soldiers rather than sin in the manner of those who have no gratitude toward God or sense of duty toward Him.

In today’s prayer we beg the protection and provisions Christ our King and commander can give us soldiers while on the march.  We need a proper attitude of obedience toward God, our ultimate superior, dutifulness our earthly parents, our heavenly home and our earthly country, our heavenly brothers and sisters the saints and our earthly siblings and relatives, our heavenly patrons and worldly benefactors, and so forth. 

This is also what it means to belong to a family: there is both a profound interconnection between the members but also an inequality – children are no less members of the family than parents, but they are dependent they are not the equals of their parents.

The Latin prayers often reflect the Church’s profound awareness of our lack of equality with God.  The prayers are radically hierarchical, just as God’s design reveals hierarchy and order.  Compare this with prevailing societal norms.  Nowadays individual soldiers might be praised but the military is still being looked at by the intelligentsia with suspicion.  Rights of individual people are validated, but the family as a unit is under severe attack.

In both the military and in a family (and the Church) there must be order.  Yet, children today can take their parents to court for disciplining them.  In some places parents are forbidden their rights to protect children who can obtain contraception or even abortions through schools without parental notification.  Is there a parallel here with dissident priests and Holy Church?

Discipline is dissolving.  And yet that very discipline is precisely the protection needed by troops on the march, children in growing up, the flocks of the Church from their pastors, from their commanders so they can attain their goal.

Parents, officers and shepherds must fulfill their own roles with pietas also, religious and sacred duty.

Holy Mother Church has maintained this Collect for centuries now in this exact period of the year (5th Sunday after Pentecost and 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time).  She holds these petitions up to God because the concern constituent elements of who we are.  The Church is not afraid to combine images of family and soldiering, the symbiotic exchange of duty, obedience and protection.

Please keep something in mind: the prayer suggests to me a meaning which is founded on the possible military nuances of the vocabulary.  It is also possible to emphasize the familial dimension and say, “Watch over your family, …with continual mercy/religious dutifulness,…” invoking more something like the image of a father or mother checking into the bedrooms of their children while they sleep, listening in the night for sounds of distress or need.  Perhaps putting the military element in relief helps us to claim both sets of images.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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19 Responses to WDTPRS – 5th Ordinary Sunday – On the march!

  1. Iacobus M says:

    Thanks, Fr. Z, nice explication of the prayer. Pietas is a very important word: it is the primary quality Vergil attributes to Aeneas in the Aeneid; he is called” insignem pietate virum” (a man distinguished by his pietas) in the opening lines) and referred to as “Pius Aeneas” countless (by which I mean I haven’t counted myself) times thereafter. His escape from Troy is the iconic image of manly duty, holding the household gods in one hand, his young son in the other and his aged father riding on his shoulders – unfortunately, there was no hand left for his wife, which turned out rather badly for her. Anyway, pietas is a virtue that ought to be “drilled at” more often these days: self-sacrificing duty is rarely held up as a heroic virtue in our world. Thanks again.
    Iacobus M

    [Thanks. You may be new here. I write often about pietas and pius.]

  2. Wiktor says:

    1973 version is hilarious.

  3. OrthodoxChick says:


    Only ’cause it’s outta here. If we were still stuck with it, it’d be a whole different story.

  4. lana says:

    Father, while at Legatur you remembered ! This is above and beyond!

    Thank you!

  5. lana says:

    In Spanish, ” Lord, have mercy”, is “Senor, ten piedad.”. That must be the same way it is used in the Latin.

  6. Nicholas Shaler says:

    Thank you, Father!

    Spiritual reading and help with Latin.

    We just learned about deponents on Tuesday in my high school Latin class.

    Long live the Church Militant!

  7. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Father, I wonder if there is a connection between the imagery of ‘family’ and (as you say, quasi-military) ‘watching over’ in the Collect, with the theme of the Gospel of the same 5th Sunday of Epiphany?
    For those who don’t have the TLM Propers to hand, Matt 13:24-30 is the parable of the servants who tell the Lord that they have discovered weeds among the budding shoots of wheat. ‘An enemy has done this.’ They obediently ask him what they should do, and he tells them to wait until harvest time and reap both together, then burn and destroy the weeds, and gather the wheat.
    Servants – even slaves – were part of the household, part of the family of any gracious Lord. One thinks of the Latin ‘Liberi’ meaning ‘children’ or ‘freemen’ – ie the trusted slaves who had proved their loyalty and had lived as family members after having been given their freedom. Servants who do the Master’s bidding without question, as an extension of his hands, ‘unworthy to be under His roof,’ (another military image of the obedient centurion!) but following the Lord’s every Word ‘as the eyes of the servants are on the hands of their masters/As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.’ (Ps 122:2)
    I visualize them coming in an orderly group to ask the Lord’s will, and then at the appointed time marching purposefully together to the harvest with sickles and scythes, like a household army…
    Milton in his Sonnet ‘On his Blindness’ has a vision of God’s people as His servants, moving busily all over the globe: but there is also room and need for those who patiently watch and wait:
    ‘…who best
    Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
    Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and waite.’
    And that Gospel injunction not to act immediately but to watch and wait until harvest, could it perhaps be seen to chime with the military guarding word ‘innititur’ you point out in the Collect?

  8. CharlesG says:

    Since I sing for both OF and EF masses, I was surprised to see the same collect today for both. I wonder how often that happens?

  9. CharlesG says: I wonder how often that happens?

    Not very often.

  10. Priam1184 says:

    Thanks Father. I noticed your slipping in the ‘donate’ button after the word ‘benefactors’; nice touch! Life is a war and we need all the help we can get…

  11. acardnal says:

    Today is the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form.

  12. CharlesG says: I wonder how often that happens?

    Only 2 Sundays each year out of 52, says Fr. Hunwicke today:


  13. Arele says:

    I was very happy to read this today, as we are snowed and iced in and can’t get to mass (our priest relieved us of the Sunday obligation due to weather.)all This puts it into particular focus for me.

    This really struck me especially, “The Latin prayers often reflect the Church’s profound awareness of our lack of equality with God. The prayers are radically hierarchical, just as God’s design reveals hierarchy and order. Compare this with prevailing societal norms. Nowadays individual soldiers might be praised but the military is still being looked at by the intelligentsia with suspicion. Rights of individual people are validated, but the family as a unit is under severe attack.”

    It sometimes seems so hopeless, how far from the truth things have gotten, not only in society, but in the church as well. It is heartening to see Fr. Z and so many readers as well keeping these truths alive in the church today.

    I know that nothing can change God’s truth. But it sure is hopeful to see it here too!

    PS I posted it in our Oregon Catholics Facebook page too. Lots of us Oregon Catholics snowed and iced in here this weekend with plenty of time on our hands reading Facebook today!

  14. acardnal says:

    I read Fr. Hunwicke’s comments. Thanks for posting it. Interesting.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    I barely survived three semesters of high school seminary Latin, and in fact I taught myself all the Latin I ever knew by locking myself in the A/V lab for a week. I thereby managed not to be thrown out of the seminary in the middle of sophomore year.

    So I am open to being instructed here. Where, O where is the word “O” found in the original Latin? Since LA and the Ratio call for a robotic parallel with the Latin at any expense (except for ideological purposes such as not giving people the idea that they can stand during the EP) why do we have “O” when it is nowhere to be found in the urtext? Or is this just an insertion by NewICEL and Vox Clara to make God appear more remote?

  16. Mr. Green says:

    Fr. Jim: Where, O where is the word “O” found in the original Latin?

    It’s right there in the vocative case: Domine.

    Since LA and the Ratio call for a robotic parallel with the Latin at any expense

    When I first heard that we’d be getting a “literal” translation, I was worried that it would be, well, robotic and stodgy. Fortunately, the new translation turned out not to be all that literal after all. (A better term for it would be a “good” translation.) Powerful translations do indeed require a certain dynamism, but it seems the term “dynamic translation” was already taken to mean “half-baked with every third word left out”. (And lacking implied vocatives, which is oft-times an acceptable alternative in English, but other times it really louses up the metre.)

  17. Bea says:

    That was great Fr. Z.
    yes, if parents and all in authority didn’t abrogate their duties it would be a different world we’d live in.

    I noticed that donate button. How perceptive of you to notice where Fr. Z slipped it in .

  18. frjim: “Or is this just an insertion by NewICEL and Vox Clara to make God appear more remote?”

    So the explicit answer to your question is No, the “O” was not just inserted by anyone. The vocative case, as signified by a vocative noun ending–Domine rather than Domini, Domino, Dominum, etc–which is ordinarily signaled in English translation by that “O”. (Hmm, noun declension in that first semester of Latin you took was a loong time ago, was it?) It often seems to me that most objections to the accurate and faithful English translation of the Roman missal reveal lacuna on this or a similar level (if not simply an ideological agenda).

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