WDTPRS Sexagesima Sunday: “that we may be fortified against every adverse thing”

SexagesimaIn the traditional Roman calendar this Sunday is called Sexagesima, Latin for the “Sixtieth” day before Easter.  This number is more symbolic than arithmetical. Last week was the first of these pre-Lenten Sundays, Septuagesima or “Seventieth.

The pre-Lenten Sundays prepare us for the discipline of Lent, which once was far stricter. Purple is worn rather than the green of the season after Epiphany and there is a Tract instead of an Alleluia.

The prayers and readings for the pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great (+604).

In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent, which was a real loss.  Yet another reason to be grateful for Summorum Pontificum.

This prayer was in the 8th c. Liber sacramentorum Engolismensis.  The Romas Station is at St. Paul’s outside-the-walls.

Deus, qui conspicis, quia ex nulla nostra actione confidimus:
concede propitius; ut, contra adversa omnia,
Doctoris gentium protectione muniamur.

I don’t think this prayer in any form survived to live in the Novus Ordo.  The jam-packed Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that conspicio means “to look at attentively”.  In the passive, it is “to attract attention, to be conspicuous”.  Conspicio is a compound of “cvm…with” and *specio. The asterisk indicates a theoretical form which has to do with perception. The useful French dictionary of liturgical Latin we call Blaise/Dumas says that conspicio refers to God’s “regard”, presumably because God “sees” all things “together”.

The last word here is from munio, which is “to build a wall around, to fortify, …protect, secure, put in a state of defence; to guard, secure, strengthen, support”.

O God, You who perceive that we trust in no action of our own:
propitiously grant; that we may be fortified against every adverse thing
by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles.

This is a very interesting and ancient prayer, in that it makes explicit reference to St. Paul, the Doctor of the Gentiles.

Remember that the Roman Station today is the Major Basilica of St. Paul “outside the walls”.  Very few prayers of the Roman Missal display such an intimate connection with the place the Mass was celebrated in Rome and the readings.

In the Epistle from 2 Cor 11 and 12 St. Paul gives us a portrait of how we must live, the battle we face as Christians, the suffering we may be called to endure.  It is an apt reading before Lent, to inspire us to consider the discipline of our Christian life.  The Gospel is the Lord’s parable about the sower of seeds.  Some seeds make it but many do not.  Some people hear the Word of God, but many hear it and fail.  It is our own disposition that makes the difference, not the seed that the Sower sows in us.

We might consider that in the context of Holy Mass, the Eucharist, the Host we dare to receive, is the seed Christ the High Priest sows in us.  St. Paul teaches us a stern lesson the reception of the Eucharist by the worthy and the unworthy.  We are in control of our disposition to receive what God offers.  Our Lenten discipline, which these pre-Lenten Sundays remind us of ahead of time, helps us with God’s grace take better control of that over which we can exercise control.

Oblatum tibi, Domine,
sacrificium vivificet nos semper et muniat.

An oblatum is a thing that is “offered”.  This is from offero, “to bring before; to present, offer” and in Church Latin, “to offer to God, to consecrate, dedicate; sacrifice”.  An “oblation” is something sacrificed to the divinity.  An “oblate” is someone consecrated to God.  The sacrificium oblatum here is what has been placed on the altar for the Sacrifice: bread and wine.

May the sacrifice which is offered up to You, O Lord,
quicken us always and secure us.

This prayer, concise as it is, has layers of meaning.  First, we have the concept of “vivify… give life” which is also “restore”.  This is coupled with “defend… strengthen… protect”.  There is the positive, but also the dire.  If we need protection, that means there is something out there which is dangerous.  There is something in us that is dangerous as well, and this needs to be “restored… brought to life”.  So, the oblatum sacrificium on the altar must not only be the bread and wine, but also our own aspirations and weaknesses.

Think of the preparation of the chalice moments before.  A tiny amount of water, symbolizing our humanity is joined to the wine, representing Christ’s divinity.  The water is taken in and transformed in to what the wine is.

Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, quos tuis reficis sacramentis,
tibi etiam placitis moribus
dignanter deservire concedas.

This prayer survived into the Novus Ordo as the Post communionem of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time.  It is also, if I am not mistaken, used for the 2nd Sunday of Lent in the older Missal.  This would be a good question for you Latin students. Quaeritur – There are four instances of the ending is: How are they different/similar?

Humbly we beseech You, Almighty God,
that You may grant that those whom You refresh with Your sacramental mysteries,
may also serve You worthily
in pleasing moral conduct of life.

Here we are picking up on what is implied in the invocation of St. Paul at the beginning of Mass. Without a proper Christian conduct of life, there is no proper disposition for reception of the Blessed Sacrament, or admission to the Beatific Vision.  Good works, which are good through the merits of Christ, and the graces we are given in the sacraments, make us worthy of eternal life.

This time of pre-Lent reminds us that our season of penance is coming.

WDTPRS Sexagesima Sunday: “that we may be fortified against every adverse thing”
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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12 Responses to WDTPRS Sexagesima Sunday: “that we may be fortified against every adverse thing”

  1. Priam1184 says:

    Thank you Father for the Collect and the extra prayer analysis today. Tuis and sacramentis go together as “with your sacraments” and I think they are in the ablative case since the words denote instrumentality. Reficis is the second person singular present indicative conjugation “you refresh.” Placitis is an adjective in the ablative (I think) and gives a sense of some sort of locational/instrumental sense. Not locational as in a specific geographic space but in a specific way of living.

    I often get the datives and ablatives confused when parsing Latin if they are spelled the same because my first love was Greek; Greek lost its ablative case early on, before Homer even, and so many of its functions got rolled into the dative.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z., This post reveals your best intuitions and translations. Thanks so much. For those of us in the Church Militant, these words are not only comforting, but necessary. Every day we need to be protected and fortified. When I read this earlier in the day, I was surprised at the reference to St. Paul. How very interesting to know of the connection to the church of the day.

  3. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Thank you for this generous commentary, Father. What a natural harmony with each other the ancient readings have. Why abolishing them was thought to be a good idea, one cannot imagine.
    And that ?16/17c Gospel print is beautiful, with its eloquent visual details: the little formation of birds about to dive bomb the seed scattered on the road, the filled grain stores marked, like the ‘good earth’ with a triumphal F. The camel and the little detachment of helmeted Turkish janissary soldiers (the occupiers of the Holy Land until after WWI), and in the background, marked A, the figure of Christ preaching by the Lake of Galilee, a ship with oars etched in some detail, and a volcanic mountain in the distance.
    And the playful little pun of the text: ‘…falls on good ground, and is multiplied a hundredfold, ie sixtyfold (sexagesima)’.

  4. Rachel K says:

    “In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent, which was a real loss. ”
    Fr Z, can you explain why it was a loss? I am asking in all seriousness. I am wondering why then it was expunged from the liturgical calendar, there must have been a reason behind it. Perhaps there was a wish to emphasise the general nature of resurrection of each Sunday, rather than having a “pre-lent” which may have had an over-sombre quality, especially so soon after Christmas.

  5. jameeka says:

    Fr Z: As I keep pondering the nuances of these Pre-Lenten days ( not being familiar with them prior to your blog) I now see that they are the outlines of a deconstruction/reconstruction project in ourselves, leading us to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Him.
    It must have been fortifying to be at a Mass Station over St Paul’s tomb.

  6. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’m just blown away by the depth and richness your analysis provides access to; access that would be so difficult to find otherwise. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I sorely need this kick in the pants from St. Paul.

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  8. Robbie says:

    I always enjoy these breakdowns of the prayers, their meanings, and their origins. Whether we like the new rite or not, it’s a shame so much was discarded when the new rite was issued.

  9. Giuseppe says:

    Posts like these remind me why the blog was originally titled “What Does the Prayer Really Say?”
    Your translations, history, and exploration of the prayers of the mass are often the highlight of the week.
    Love the double wall (muniamur, muniat) verbs on St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

  10. Athelstan says:

    Hello Fr. Z,

    I don’t think this prayer in any form survived to live in the Novus Ordo.

    You are indeed correct: This collect did not survive in any form in the Pauline Missal. In fact, as Lauren Pristas notes in Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons Before and After the Second Vatican Council, “only one of the nine proper Mass prayers of the three Septuagesima Sundays appears in the post-Vatican II missal. The postcommunion of Sexagesima serves as the postcommunion of Week I per annum” (p. 103). Otherwise, the rest vanished.

    Which was interesting because, as Pristas notes,while the Calendar coetus of the Consilium voted to suppress the penitential elements of these three weeks, they *did* vote to preserve the formularies. Yet this was not done, in the end. The Consilium ended up eradicating pretty much every single trace of Septuagesima in these three weeks, readings included. And so we end up, as Andre Rose once notably put it, “parachuted straight into Lent on Ash Wednesday,” with no liturgical preparation.

    Which brings me to…

    Hello Rachel K,

    Fr Z, can you explain why it was a loss? I am asking in all seriousness. I am wondering why then it was expunged from the liturgical calendar, there must have been a reason behind it.

    I think what I just started digging into gives me, at least, an opportunity to take a stab at this. As Pristas notes in the very same chapter of her book, the records of Coetus I ( a special body of the Consilium) tell us that Septuagesima was suppressed for the sake of the faithful: “the penitential character of the time of Septuagesima or pre-Lent is difficult for the faithful to understand without many explanations.” Such suppression was necessary, it was thought, if the faithful were to see the progression of the liturgical year clearly and not be confused by diverse “anticipations.” They thought they could only drive home to the lay faithful the importance and nature of Lent, as they saw it, by stripping out everything around it.

    Which is ironic since Septuagesima first emerged in the Roman Rite in the 6th century as an expression of devotion on the part of the lay faithful in the first place.

  11. Athelstan says:

    One other side note: One of the more interesting aspects of the revised Anglican Use missal promulgated last year for the Personal Ordinariates was that Septuagesima was actually restored (along with a number of other aspects of the old calendar) in the Ordinariate Calendar.

    However, because the Ordinariates must also use the three year lectionary of the Modern Roman Rite (albeit in the far better Catholic RSV translation), it’s forced into the awkward situation of getting Septuagesima back without any of the Septuagesima readings. A strange compromise; but it was probably a bridge too far to hope that we in the Ordinariates could get either a) the old one year lectionary, or b) a special modified lectionary of our own that could accommodate these situations.

  12. jameeka says:

    Thanks, Athelstan, this is very helpful for those-of-us baffled by it all.