I may have quoted Whitman, but, no, I’m not talking about Abraham Lincoln.
Today’s prayer is found in ancient sacramentaries, such as the Veronese and the “Hadrian” version of the Gregorian, and the so-called Gelasian. It is unchanged in the “Tridentine” form of the Missale Romanum as my trusty copy of the 1570MR shows. It survived the Consilium’s hackers and grafters who pieced together the Novus Ordo as the Collect for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
COLLECT: (1962 Missale Romanum):
Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine, ut et mundi cursus pacifico nobis tuo ordine dirigatur: et Ecclesia tua tranquilla devotione laetetur.
Some vocabulary from the mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary. Cursus can mean anything from “course, way, journey” to “course of a ship”, the “flow of conversation” and “postal route”. Dirigo is “to give a particular direction” or “to lay or draw a straight line”. It was used, among other things, to indicate ordering an army to march to a certain point or to direct or steer a ship on its course. Ordo means too many things to get into in depth. Suffice to say that it can refer to the “methodical arrangement, class or condition.” By extension it is applied to everything from the “orders” of the clergy, the way trees are planted, the lines of an army, or the banks of rowers in a ship. Pacificus is a composite of pax and facio meaning “peacemaker” or “peaceable”. The problem with that laetetur is that it could be from the deponent laetor or passive from laeto. Because of those ablatives in that clause, I am opting here for the passive, like dirigatur. Among the things that devotio means are “fealty, allegiance, piety, devotion, zeal.”
Grant us, we beg, O Lord, both that the course of the world be set by Your methodical peace-producing plan for us and that Your Church may be made joyful by means of tranquil devotion.
Despite the wordy literal translation I have given this time, I will later lend to this a rather poetic aspect.
Notice that in our collect’s vocabulary there are traces of military and nautical imagery.
Try reading this prayer with the mental image of a ship.
Its great Captain sets its course upon the sea. So great is the Captain that He can command calm waters and a favorable wind as well. The ship can be seen as the world. In this case I see the ship as the Church in the world, the Church Militant, which is not an unfamiliar image to those familiar with the Barque of Peter. The sea it sails upon is the deep and turbulent world we live in. The Captain is our Lord Jesus Christ, who calmed the stormy waters and commanded Peter to walk to Him upon them. He entrusted His ship to Peter, to steer it in His stead. Once all has been put into proper order, made “ship-shape and Bristol fashion”, our own sense of loyal zeal, our devotion, is the wind that the Captain uses to steer the ship upon the course He sets, carrying us its crew to the port and safe haven.
The word pacificus brought to mind an antiphon of First Vespers of Christmas: “Rex pacificus magnificatus est, cuius vultum desiderat universa terra… The peacemaker King, whose glance the whole world longs for, has been exalted.” Is not the sight of God, “in whose will is our peace”, our true desire? Is that not the port and safe haven we journey towards in the turbulence of this world?
We must look more intently at devotio… devotion.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) writing in his monumental Summa Theologiae, devotio is an “active” virtue. The Angelic Doctor wrote:
“The intrinsic or human cause of devotion is contemplation or meditation. Devotion is an act of the will by which a man promptly gives himself to the service of God. Every act of the will proceeds from some consideration of the intellect, since the object of the will is a known good; or as Augustine says, willing proceeds from understanding. Consequently, meditation is the cause of devotion since through meditation man conceives the idea of giving himself to the service of God” (STh II-II 82, 3).
The Jesuit preacher Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704) translates this into “a devotion to duty”. What we do, including our “devotions”, must help us keep the commandments of God and stick to the duties of one’s state in life before all else. (See? Not everything from Jesuits is to be avoided!)
In other words, there is an interplay between our devotions and our devotion.
Each of us has a state in life, a God-given vocation we are duty bound to follow. We must be devoted to that state in life, and the duties that come with it, as they are in the here and now.
That “here and now”, hic et nunc, is important.
We must not focus on the state we had once upon a time, or wish we had, or should have had, or might have someday: those are unreal and misleading fantasies that distract us from reality and God’s will.
If we are truly devoted and devout (in the sense of the active virtue) to fulfilling the duties of our state as it truly is here and now, then God will give us every actual grace we need to fulfill our vocation. Why can we boldly depend on God to help us? If we are fulfilling the duties of our state of life, then we are also fulfilling our proper roles in His great plan, His design from before the creation of the universe. God is therefore sure to help us. And if we are devoted to our state as it truly is, then God can also guide us to a new vocation when and if that is His will for us.
Faithful in what we must do here and now, we will be open to something God wants us to do later.
This attachment to reality and sense of dutiful obedience through the active virtue devotio is a necessary part of religion in keeping with the biblical principle in 1 John 2:3-5:
And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he bides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.
Before the creation of the universe God knew each one of us and desired us and loved us.
He called us into existence as a precise point in His great plan, His economy of salvation. He gives us a part to play in that plan and gives each of us the tools and talents we need to fulfill it. If we devote ourselves with real devotio to our state-in-life and strive to carry out His will, God will give us every actual grace we need since we are furthering His great plan.
This is why I suggest above that our devotion can be like the wind that the Captain uses to direct our great ship. More than just being the “hands on deck”, we play a vital part in the actual forward motion of the ship. We are not merely being hauled along upon the “alien merits” of Christ, as some Protestants call God’s saving intervention. While we truly depend on Him and Him alone, while we truly do not merit what He provides, mysteriously it is part of His plan. He brings it to pass that His work becomes ours and ours His. He “makes it so”.
A Somewhat Smoother Version:
Grant, we beseech you, O Lord, that the course of the world be steered by your plan for peace and that your Church be filled with joy from tranquil devotion to that plan.
Or a bit more poetic:
O Lord, we beg Thee to grant that the peaceful steerage of the world’s course be set according to Thy plan and that Thy Church be made full with joy from our tranquil devotion.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Lord, guide the course of world events and give your Church the joy and peace of serving you in freedom.
It is hard to strike a balance between the literal, which can be awkward and wordy, and the simple, which can be banal and miss the real impact of the prayer.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Grant us, O Lord, we pray, that the course of our world may be directed by your peaceful rule and that your Church may rejoice, untroubled in her devotion.