WDTPRS: 1st Sunday of Advent (Novus Ordo) – “they are His while they are ours”

AdventWe’ve come around again to the 1st Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year.

In the newer, post-Conciliar calendar this Sunday is back to back with the Solemnity of Christ the King, honoring the future Second Coming at the end of the world, even while Advent prepares us for celebrating His First Coming at Christmas.

Advent is about how the Lord comes… not just in His Nativity and at the Second Coming, but in every way. He comes in actual graces. He comes when the priest says, “Hoc est enim corpus meum….This is my Body.” He comes in Holy Communion and in the person of the needy.

“Make straight the paths!”, the liturgy of Advent cries out with the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist.

As we begin Advent, perhaps you would do well to remember that when the Lord comes, He is going to come by a straight path whether you have done your best to straighten it ahead of time or not. He will do the straightening for you, one way or another. Better to start doing now, don’t you think?

Let us drill into the very first oration of our liturgical year, according to the Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form

This is a new prayer for the Novus Ordo but based on ancient prayer from the so-called “Gelasian Sacramentary”.

COLLECT:

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,
eius dextrae sociati, regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.

This is how we begin our year, suffused with the language of deep humility: “Grant, we beseech You….”

There may be a current of Matthew 25 flowing into this prayer, with its parables of the wise and foolish virgins, waiting for the Bridegroom to come, and image of the Lord’s right hand, where we hope to be gathered after the separation of the goats from the sheep.  Both parables have to do with the coming of the Lord, as Bridegroom and as Judge.

The prestigious Lewis & Short Dictionary says that voluntas is basically, “will, freewill, wish, choice, desire, inclination”, but in our collect I think it has also the nuance of a “disposition” toward a thing or person. Occurro is, “to run up to, run to meet” and the deponent verb mereor, “to deserve, merit, to be entitled to, be worthy of a thing”. The usually active socio, “to join or unite together, to associate; to do or hold in common, to share a thing with another”, has a “middle” impact in this passive construction with the dative.

SLAVISHLY LITERAL RENDERING:

Almighty God, we beseech You, grant
to Your faithful this (disposition of) will,
that those rushing with just works to meet Your Christ, now coming,
united at His right hand may merit to possess the heavenly kingdom.

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):

All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom
.

It can be hard to get certain constructions from Latin into English. The “Christo tuo venienti” with its present active participle is one of them. The present or, better here, contemporary participle has the time of the verb of the main clause. It describes “Your Christ” in the very act of “coming”. We can do that as “Your Christ who is coming” rather than “Your Christ-right-now-in-the-process-of-coming” or the awkward “Your coming Christ”. We are rushing forward (occurrentes) and smoothing the path for the feet of our King. This requires work, just works, just by their origin, Christ Himself. When even in this life we are united to the right hand of Christ (dextrae sociati) our works are truly ours but also truly His and we merit heaven. The image of the “right hand”, the Biblical place of honor, points to the eternal glory of God and the inauguration of the Messianic kingdom… regnum…celeste to which we look forward even as we look back to His First Coming (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 663-4).

A Protestant or fundamentalist Christian would not say this prayer with its “just works”, its “meriting”, its “disposition”. What does “disposition of will” (voluntas) mean for us fallen humans? Protestants think our nature is wholly corrupt and so our disposition must be entirely evil. But we know man is wounded by the Fall, not wholly corrupted. Protestants believe anything good in us must be imposed from outside through the “alien merits” of Christ. Is the voluntas we are begging in the prayer going to be our will or someone else’s will covering us over? The prayer doesn’t say if the voluntas is God’s or ours.

Once we are baptized and live in the state of grace, we are New Creations and God the Holy Trinity is at work in us. Our cooperation with God’s gift of faith through good works saves us, not “faith alone” or a mere “covering over”. A proper interior “disposition of will” is made possible and given by God but after that it is really ours. Our works do not by themselves merit anything, but once we are transformed and renewed by sanctifying grace, “united at His right hand” already in this life, our work on earth merits the increase of grace and the reward of heaven because they are His while they are ours.

Thomas de Vio Card. Caietanus (Cajetan +1534) explained to Martin Luther (+1546) that, when we say that we “merit”, we are saying that Christ merits in us (cf. De fide et operibus, 12).

St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) preached that, “When God crowns our merits (merita), He crowns nothing other than His own gifts (munera)” (ep. 194, 5, 19). We merit salvation on the foundation of habitual, sanctifying grace, through the virtuous works which we perform. His will becomes our sole desire.

 

Some sharing options...

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to WDTPRS: 1st Sunday of Advent (Novus Ordo) – “they are His while they are ours”

  1. BenFischer says:

    The obsolete ICEL has been out of circulation for several years now. Why should I care about it’s deficiencies today?

  2. jameeka says:

    Explaining the difference between Protestant and Catholic belief is really helpful, Fr Z, at least to me.

  3. Fr. Reader says:

    I am not an English speaker and I don’t live in an English speaking country. But occasionally I had to celebrate (few years ago just participate) Mass in English. It was a real frustration to listen to, to read, or to preach using the “obsolete ICEL”, especially when comparing with other languages and with Latin. I developed a certain “aversion” to liturgy in English. Even for my foreign ears it sounded cheap, commercial. Disney songs (even bad Disney songs) are richer than that. I was afraid that in the middle of the Mass I had to say “give me five!”.

    Recently I read a review of Pixar’s “Inside Out”. Among other things, the author wrote that the movie can be a good candidate for the Best Film Oscar because it had what is needed for that award: gravitas. I think liturgy should have a bit of that gravitas.

    So, Mr BenFischer, it is a good reminder to read again that translation, it is a reminder that we need to be careful, that these things matter. And also that it is not a good idea to lose Latin, that works as the cement that keeps us united with the bricks with which the history of the Church (our Latin Church) has been built. (I am not saying that you have the opposite opinion, just trying to explain why we should care about its deficiencies.)

    Have a great weekend.

  4. Scott W. says:

    The obsolete ICEL has been out of circulation for several years now. Why should I care about it’s deficiencies today?

    Because if we fail to recall our mistakes we are likely to repeat them.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Dear BenFisher and Scott W.,

    that is the noble reason. A second, not so noble perhaps, but nonetheless legitimate reason is that now we aren’t burdened by it any-more, we can take the liberty to laugh at them, think “how in all the world did they come to such a translation”, and be grateful that we’re over it.

  6. BenFischer says:

    I’m not in favor of the old translation, and I’m not opposed to the new translation. I just don’t see why “we” (conservative Catholics) need to be running victory laps around it after 4 years. Isn’t there anything else to worry about? I have a parish priest who makes up his own words. The obsolete ICEL translation would be an improvement over what comes out of his mouth sometimes. So for me it’s doubly irrelevant.

    It’s our gracious hosts’ blog, and he’s free to do what he wants with it. So I’ll pipe down now.

  7. Gerard Plourde says:

    It’s particularly with regard to this question that the Epistle of James (which Luther despised, calling it “an epistle of straw” and going so far as to question is canonicity) is key. It teaches that our faith is made manifest by our works in doing God’s will. “So of faith itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2: 17) In this it echoes the admonishment of Our Lord – “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21).