This week’s Collect is an ancient prayer, found in the 9th century Liber sacramentorum Augustodunensis (Augustodunum is the ancient Roman name for Autun, France) on the 25th Sunday after the Octave of Pentecost. It was also in what is coming to be an old friend, the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, just a slight variation in how they tracked liturgical time.
Deus refugium nostrum et virtus: adesso piis Ecclesiae tuae precibus, auctor ipse pietatis, et priest: ut, quod fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur.
There is a marvelous clausula at the end, a standard rhythmic ending much favored in classical oratory to delight the ear of listeners and add power to periodic sentences: efficáciter cónsequámúr. Say it aloud, with attention to force and length of the syllables. I also like the nice synchesis (ABAB) structure, fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur (adverb verb adverb verb). There is a good example of hyperbaton, the separation of linked elements, in piis Ecclesiae tuae precibus, where piis and precibus, datives, go together. Also interesting is how two imperatives bracket the central section: adesto … praesta.
All these little elements show how finely sculpted this prayer is, how different it is from the way people would have spoken in every day discourse in the streets and homes of ancient Rome and elsewhere. There may have been a shift in the ancient Roman Church from Greek to Latin for liturgical prayer, but that Latin was not the vernacular, the commonly spoken language of the day. It was highly stylized and many of the words were actually images from Scripture or terms from Stoic and Neoplatonic philosophy.
As we have explained many times, pietas, when applied to man, is “dutifulness” and when used of God is “mercy” though retaining overtones of His fidelity to His own promises. The crammed Lewis & Short Dictionary has a lengthy entry for auctor, to be brief let’s call it “creator” or “cause” or “author”. Auctor appears fairly often in our Roman prayers, paired up with terms such as saeculi as in “creator of the cosmos”, and omnium (“of all things”), lucis (“of light”), pacis (“of peace”), salutis (“of salvation”), vitae (“of life”). Today it is with pietatis.
We find auctor in a template for the beginning of prayers, a commonplace in the Roman style of praying. For example, there is the opening line Deus auctor pacis et amator… “God, author of peace and (its) lover…”. This similar structure to the opening of today’s Collect suggests that it was in use long before the 8th century Gellone Sacramentary. Can we find it earlier?
We find it first of all in the Vulgate of Psalm 45: “Our God is our refuge and strength: (Deus noster refugium et virtus) a helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly.” This type of invocation of God is common in the Psalms, and therefore our earliest prayers for Mass. Very ancient Roman Collects often follow the Hebrew manner of first invoking God by some characteristic and then petitioning Him in light of that title.
Moving forward St. Pope Leo I, “the Great” (+461) used the term auctor pietatis in a sermon (s. 88,4 – preached during the fast before Pentecost), as we find via a translation prepared in the late 19th century in an Anglican context:
“It is a great and very precious thing, beloved, in the Lord’s sight, when Christ’s whole people engage together in the same duties, and all ranks and degrees of either sex co-operate with the same intent: when one purpose animates all alike of declining from evil and doing good; when God is glorified in the works of His slaves, and the Author of all godliness (totius pietatis auctori) is blessed in unstinted giving of thanks.”
I like the use of “godliness” for pietas here.
Together with the finely crafted, elegant phrasing of this Collect, I’m sure our Collect dates close to St. Leo’s time, whence come many of our most precious Roman Catholic prayers.
O God, our refuge and strength: be present to the devout prayers of Your Church, O author of godliness, and grant: that, we may efficaciously attain what we faithfully seek.
That opening phrase perhaps sounds more familiar to you now. For decades after each “Low” Mass the priest was to kneel before the altar and recite for and with the people the “Leonine” Prayers, so-called because Pope Leo XIII prescribed them. This series of prayers including the following Collect:
“O God our refuge and our strength, (Deus refugium nostrum et virtus) graciously receive the people calling to you; and through the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, with her spouse blessed Joseph, and your blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, mercifully and generously hear the prayers we pour forth for the conversion of sinners, for the freedom and exaltation of Holy Mother Church.”
In 1859 Bl. Pius IX ordered that special prayers be said after Mass because of growing rebellion against the Church’s secular authority. On 6 January 1884 Leo XIII prescribed that the prayers be recited worldwide. The Collect I gave above, now so familiar to those who frequent the TLM, was adjusted in 1886 to make it a prayer for “the conversion of sinners and the freedom and exaltation of Holy Mother Church” and the prayer to St. Michael was added. In 1904 St. Pope Pius X granted permission to add at the conclusion of the Leonine Prayers a threefold invocation:
“Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us”. In 1930 Pope Pius XI commanded that these prayers be recited “to permit tranquility and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia”.
These Leonine Prayers were officially suppressed with Inter Oecumenici the pivotal 1964 Instruction on implementing Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy. This was the all-important Instruction was crafted by the infamous Consilium headed up by Cardinal Lercaro and then Father Annibale Bugnini. Inter Oecumenici represented the first major shift in liturgical direction since the 16th century Council of Trent.
The 2007 book A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal, which came out under the name of Archbishop Piero Marini, former papal Master of Ceremonies and close disciple of and once secretary to Fr. Bugnini, describes as “a decisive turning point” the curial cage match between the Consilium and the Sacred Congregation for Rites over the approval of Inter Oecumenici.
According to the writer the defeat of the SCR by the Consilium “marked the end of the Tridentine mentality”. Jamming Inter Oecumenici through to approval on Paul VI’s desk confirmed the Consilium as the dominant office for all things liturgical, relegating the SCR to the role of rubber-stamp, and that merely for the sake of the appearance of consensus.
What was at stake? The power of the Consilium to have its way.
Victory in the matter of the Instruction was significant because the aim of the Consilium went far beyond mere liturgical reform. As the author writes: “Unlike the reform after Trent, it was all the greater because it also dealt with doctrine” (p. 46).
Given the clear foundation of a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” which lay at the roots of the Consilium’s work, the provisions of Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum are all the more important to the future of our worship.
The widening use of the older rite will exert a necessary corrective on celebrations of the post-Conciliar rite.
Changes will not result over night, but they are sure to come – to the benefit of everyone.