This week’s Collect is rich. The ancient author was skilled. The translators of the current ICEL version blew it. We will see where they went wrong and then drill into a pair of words leading us back to the 3rd century.
Our Collect for the 33rd Ordinary Sunday was in the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis and also in the more ancient Veronese Sacramentary.
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine Deus noster, in tua semper devotione gaudere, quia perpetua est et plena felicitas, si bonorum omnium iugiter serviamus auctori.
First, the conditional particle si means “if”. Iugiter (related to “yoke”) and servio (constructed with the dative) are old friends now. We can leave them aside. Briefly, devotio can be read as “a devotion to duty”. Our “devotion” must lead the soul to keep the commandments of God and the duties of our state before all else. If we are devout in respect to God and intent on fulfilling the duties of our state in life as it truly is here and now, then God will give us the actual graces we need to fulfill our vocations. He helps us because we are fulfilling our proper role in His great plan.
I like the parallels between perpetua and iugiter, and plena and omnium followed by felicitas and bonorum. If you work on it, this is an ABCCBA pattern. Elegant.
Grant to us, we beseech You, O Lord our God, always to rejoice in Your devotion, for happiness is perpetual and full, if we serve continually the author of all good things.
Pay attention to the ideal conditional statement depending on “si…if” with the subjunctive: Y if X.
I can’t help but think of the many Catholics today who assume that heaven’s rewards are ours automatically without our having to do anything more than just feel good about ourselves. The fact is, we can lose what Christ won for us through presumption, neglect, laziness, and sin. Heaven is not automatic. We must pray for the dead, examine our lives, go to confession, and perform good works. We must serve.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Father of all that is good, keep us faithful in serving you, for to serve you is our lasting joy.
What were they thinking?
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good.
FAIL. They eliminated the condition! The Latin says that happiness is perpetual and full, IF we serve God. They eliminated the protasis of an ideal condition. Why? Is the condition too demanding?
As it happens, the 2008 “Gray Book” (draft) version had “if” while the 1998 rejected ICEL version suggested the condition through a paraphrase (“for only through our faithfulness to you…”).
Note the words perpetua and felicitas. The Roman Canon (1st Eucharistic Prayer) raises up the names of two ancient martyrs, Sts Felicity and Perpetua. Coincidence? I think not. In the ancient sacramentaries today’s Collect was used for martyrs.
Who are Sts Felicity and Perpetua?
We have documents from the period of Roman persecutions of Christians in the early 3rd century, including the prison diary and trial accounts of a young noble woman named Perpetua, martyred around 202 in Carthage, North Africa. She was still a catechumen (not yet baptized), who identified herself as Christian. Perpetua gave up her still nursing baby and insisted on being put into the arena during games in honor of the Emperor Geta. Many tried to dissuade her, but she got her wish. With great heroism she faced the beasts. After many torments a gladiator was sent in to finish her off, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Perpetua grabbed his hand and pointed his sword at her own throat. Perpetua’s heroism inspired others to give strong witness to their faith and, subsequently, be imprisoned. A pregnant slave girl name Felicity went to prison with Perpetua. Felicity had her baby just before they were sent to the arena (from Latin harena, “sand” which covered the surface). The accounts of the trial and deaths of these martyrs attest to the amazing love they had for each other in prison. They also show that Christian solidarity crossed class boundaries. There is a touching moment in the account when Perpetua and Felicity arrange each other’s clothing so as to preserve their modesty even while they were suffering. They bade each other farewell with the kiss of peace.
Our Faith was nourished by the blood of martyrs. The farewell gesture of Perpetua and Felicity, the kiss of peace, should remind us today to be dignified during Holy Mass when the entirely optional “sign of peace” is invited.