The elegant Collect for the 28th Ordinary Sunday has been used for centuries on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost according to the traditional Roman calendar. This is a lovely prayer to sing.
Tua nos, quaesumus, Domine, gratia semper et praeveniat et sequatur, ac bonis operibus iugiter praestet esse intentos.
The separation of tua and gratia in the first line is an example of the figure of speech called hyperbaton: unusual word order to produce a dramatic effect. That et… et construction is snappy.
The pair of verbs praeveniat…sequatur reminds me of a prayer I heard at my home parish every Tuesday night after the communal recitation of the Novena of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by St. Alphonsus Liguori (+1787). And as I just reaffirmed during a hospital visit the other day, it is in the Rituale Romanum for blessings of people who are sick:
“May the Lord Jesus Christ be with you that He may defend you, within you that He may sustain you, before you that He may lead you, behind you that He may protect you, above you that He may bless you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Intentus, -a, -um is from intendo, “to stretch out, extend” as well as “to turn one’s attention to, exert one’s self for”. Our Collect has both semper (“always”) and iugiter (the adverbial form of iugis) meaning “always” in the sense of “continuously.” A iugum is a “yoke”, like that which yokes animals together. Iugum, or in English “juger”, was a Roman measure of land, probably because it was plowed by yoked oxen, and it is also the name of the constellation Libra, Latin for a “scale, balance”, which has a beam, a kind of yoke. The Roman measure of weight called the “pound” still today has abbreviation “lbs”. The iugum was an infamous ancient symbol of defeat. The Romans would force the vanquished to pass under a yoke to symbolize that they had been sub-jug-ated. Our adverb iugiter means “always” in a continuous sense probably because of the concept of yoking things together, bridging them, one after another in an unending chain. We hear this iugiter also in the famous prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) which is the Collect for Corpus Christi and is also used at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: “O God, who bequeathed to us a memorial of Thy Passion under a wondrous sacrament, grant, we implore, that we may venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, in such a way as to sense within us constantly (iugiter) the fruit of Thy redemption.”
We beg, O Lord, that Your grace may always both go before and follow after us, and hence continuously keep us intent upon good works.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Lord, our help and guide, make your love the foundation of our lives. May our love for you express itself in our eagerness to do good for others.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.
Let’s be super picky for a moment about the conjunctions.
That et…et is a classic “both…and” construction, joining praeveniat and sequatur. Here we see et…et…ac… That ac sometimes informs us that what follows is of greater importance than what precedes it. If that is the case here, then our Collect presents a logical climax of ideas. This is why I added a “hence” to my literal version.
Tua gratia, “your grace”, is the subject of all these verbs. We want God, by means of grace we do not merit, always to be both before and behind us. We want His help so that we, fallen and weak, may be always attentive to the good works which, informed by faith and God’s grace, will help us to heaven and benefit our neighbor.
All our good initiatives come from God. If we choose to embrace them and cooperate with Him, He guides them to completion. Grace goes before. Grace follows after. Our good works have merit for heaven because God inspires them, informs them, and completes them through us, His knowing, willing, and loving servants. The deeds and their merits are ultimately God’s but, because we cooperate and because He loves us, they are also truly ours. As St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) wrote, God crowns His own merits in us (ep. 194.19 to Sixtus, later Pope Sixtus III).
Sunday’s Collect reminds us how important our good works are for our salvation. They are all manifestations of God’s grace.
Just as we hope God will lavish His graces on us, so too we should be generous with our good works for others.