WDTPRS – 4th Sunday after Epiphany: YOU, weary foot soldier of the Church Militant

This Collect sometimes winds up at the end of the liturgical year, depending on when Easter, and therefore Pentecost, falls.  This year, because Easter is a little later, we have it before Septuagesima.

COLLECT (1962MR):

Deus, qui nos in tantis periculis constitutos pro humana scis fragilitate non posse subsistere: da nobis salutem mentis et corporis; ut ea, quae pro peccatis nostris patimur, te adiuvante vincamus.

I found this prayer in the Hadrianum, Augustodunensis, and the Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae ordine excarpsus.

Many prayers in the 1962 Missale Romanum survived the snipping and pasting experts brought in by the Consilium under Cardinal Lercaro and Father Bugnini.  Sometimes you can hunt them up pretty easily.  Often prayers conspicuous and repeated on certain Sundays for centuries survived but in an altered form or removed to a remote corner, almost never to be seen again unless you are writing columns on what the prayers really say.

Our L&S shows that constituo is quite complex.  What interests us is its meaning of “to cause to stand, put or lay down, to set, put, place, fix, station, deposit a person or thing somewhere (esp. firmly or immovably), etc. (the act. corresponding to consistere”).  It is thus also a military term, “to station or post troops somewhere, to draw up, set in order”.  When the past participle is used as an adjective, it is “constituted, arranged, disposed; fixed, established”.

On the other hand, in Classical usage subsisto means “to take a stand or position, to stand still, remain standing; to stop, halt”.  It comes to mean especially in military contexts, “to stand firm, hold out; to withstand, oppose, resist”.  In later Latin such as in the Vulgate in the Book of Job it is, “to remain alive”.  Also in late Latin, it is “to stand or hold good, to subsist”.

LITERAL VERSION

O God, You who know that we, set in such great dangers, are not able to hold out because of human fragility: grant us health of mind and body; so that, You helping us, we may vanquish those things which we suffer on account of our sins

The juxtaposition of “such great dangers” and nos constituti, with the final word vincamus, suggests immediately the military image of us as being “drawn up in ranks”.  We are, after all, members of the Church Militant.

I once visited the American Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg.  In the museum among the displays designed in the modern style so that people, especially children, can have also a “hands on” experience, there was set up a regular Union soldier’s backpack with musket.  Anyone could try to lift it, to get a sense of the burden, over 60 pounds, the soldier carried at all times.  It was interesting to watch the children, who couldn’t budge it, and the faces of their fathers, trying to conceal effort in front of their children.

The backpack of the ancient Roman legionary, the sárcina, with the usual 17 days of rations, weighed between 95-100 pounds.  St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) often referred to the burden of his duties as bishop as his sarcina.

Our Collect gives us the image of the Christian as soldier, weary in mind and body, in danger both from the elements and the enemy.  We are drawn up in ranks (constituti) at the moment the prayer is uttered by the priest, standing in the front of the ranks like an officer.

We are drawn up facing our great Captain, our King.  Christ the Lord is coming from the liturgical East.  His banner is the Cross.

Because of the Fall of the entire human race, which consisted of our First Parents, we all suffer the wounds of Original Sin.  We have a weaken mind, our intellect and will being clouded and unsure.  Our bodies are subject to disease, age and other difficulties.  The world’s environment itself is out of harmony as a result of the fall.  It is our lot to toil, not just work, by the sweat of our brow.  We are in a world dominated by the Enemy, this world’s “prince” set against us and against the King.  The Enemy will attack us relentlessly, both in covert operations through our memories, thoughts and appetites, through other material means, and through more dramatic assaults.

Without God’s help, we would be lost.

We have our Church and the help of grace.

Christ promised He would be with us to the end of the world and that the Church, to whom He gave His own authority to teach, govern and sanctify us, would in the end vanquish the enemy, who will not prevail.

The Introit invokes the image of captivity (Jeremiah 29, Ps 84). In the Epistle for this Mass, Paul, writing to the Romans (13:8-10) speaks of our weaknesses through which the Enemy attacks us from within and the remedy of true charity, love of self and neighbor.  In the Gospel (Matthew 8), in the little boat with the terrified apostles Christ calms the storm and waters.  The Gradual has us pray about God freeing us from those who hate and afflict us (Ps 43). The Alleluia and Offertory echo our lot: “From the depths I cry to you, O Lord” (Ps 129 – De profundis).  The Secret again speaks of “fragilitas nostra” and asks God for protection from evil.  The Postcommunio makes reference to the allurements of this world as opposed to heavenly things which are true nourishment.

The texts of the whole Mass present a serious, even stark, image of our situation in this vale of tears.

The Mass goer who is attentive to the texts will more than likely engage in a good examination of conscience, provoked by the texts themselves.

At the same time, the texts tell us that though our lot is a hard one, and we are staring out into it from the soldiers and battle lines arrayed for conflict, at the end we, not the Enemy, will be victorious.

With God, we will vanquish (vincamus) whatever afflicts us.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to WDTPRS – 4th Sunday after Epiphany: YOU, weary foot soldier of the Church Militant

  1. Uxixu says:

    All my recent concerns melted away with this Gospel being referenced at Matins and I prayed again for the conversion of the Holy Father. The Master appears to be asleep and the faithful are afraid as the Barque tosses in the storm… “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?”

  2. Papabile says:

    I found the discussion of the sárcina interesting.

    FWIW, doctrinally, the approach load of the US infantryman is tied to body weight. 85% constitutes the load.

  3. Traductora says:

    Very interesting post. I think we often forget our close connection with the Roman world (NOT “Rome” in the modern sense!). Many of the earliest Christians were Roman soldiers.. In Spain, which was Rome’s most important colony for many years and the seat of various Roman legions, many of the earliest martyrs were Roman soldiers.

  4. jaykay says:

    That collect is beautiful, with its powerful images of the Father’s watchful care for us so that with His help we can struggle through with the burden of our sins to ultimate victory: “te adiuvante vincamus”.

    When you wrote of the exhibit of the Union soldier’s backpack, with musket, as compared to the legionary’s load, I was minded of a similar exhibit in the Museum of Catalan Civilisation in Barcelona. It was of a shirt of chain-mail armour, and one could try to lift it. Ok, I could, but it wasn’t “easy”, it must have been around 30-40 lbs. So I thought: as well as his 95-100 lbs. of pack, the legionary was also wearing this weight AND carrying his large wooden shield (recreated examples of which I’ve seen are not light). And was expected to march up to 25 miles p.d. Wow.