The Collect for the 31st Ordinary Sunday, which was in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary, is also found in the Extraordinary Form on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus, de cuius munere venit, ut tibi a fidelibus tuis digne et laudabiliter serviatur, tribue, quaesumus, nobis, ut ad promissiones tuas sine offensione curramus.
Munus means, first, “a service, office, post”. Synonyms are officium and ministerium. A Greek equivalent is leitourgia, a needed civic work or service one performs because he ought to for the sake of society; whence our word “liturgy”. In the New Testament munus/leitourgia points to concepts such as taking up collections for the poor (i.e., what man does for man) and religious services (what man does for God). Munus also means “a present, gift”. Munus is a theologically loaded word, indicating among other things the three offices (tria munera) which Christ passed to His Church, the Apostles and their successors: to teach, to govern, to sanctify.
When the Lord gives us commands (and He does, e.g., love one another as I have loved you; pick up your Cross and follow me; be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; do this in memory of me, etc.), we can sum them up in the two-fold commandment of love of God and of neighbor.
All followers of Jesus have been given a two-fold munus to fulfill which reflects the three munera Christ gave to the Church’s ordained priesthood.
I invite you to try an experiment. See what happens to your perception of the Collect if you make munus mean “office” rather than “gift.” While reading it, hearing it, can you keep both concepts simultaneously in mind?
Offensio (related to offendo) concerns “a striking against, a stumbling”. It is also “an offense” and “that which causes one to offend or sin” as in a lapis offensionis (a “stumbling-block” cf 1 Pet. 2:8). Offendo, by the way, can also mean “to meet by chance”.
Servio, “to serve”, is very rarely found in the passive. We must break “that it be served in reference to You” down into “that You be served”.
Almighty and merciful God, from whose gift it comes that You be served by the faithful worthily and laudably, grant us, we beseech You, that we may run toward Your promises without stumbling.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God of power and mercy, only with your help can we offer you fitting service and praise. May we live the faith we profess and trust your promise of eternal life.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Almighty and merciful God, by whose gift your faithful offer you right and praiseworthy service, grant, we pray, that we may hasten without stumbling to receive the things you have promised.
This Collect gives me the image of a person hurrying to fulfill a duty or command given by his master or superior. He is rushing, running. He might even be carrying a heavy burden. While dashing forward, he strives to be careful under his burden lest he stumble, fall, lose or ruin what he carries.
Isn’t this how we live our Christian vocations?
God has given us something to do while in this vale of tears.
When we discern God’s will and do our best to live well according to our state in life, we will experience heavy burdens. Our human nature is wounded and there is an Enemy who hates and tempts us. When we are faithful to our vocations, we receive many opportunities to participate in carrying the Cross of Jesus.
The Lord Himself told us, through the Gospels, that if we want to be with Him, we must participate in His Cross, even daily (Luke 9:23). During His Passion, our Lord literally carried His (and our) Cross. As He was driven by the soldiers over the uneven road, as careful as He must have been, He stumbled and fell.
We stumble and fall, though not like our sinless Lord. We stumble mostly by choice.
In this Collect do we hear an echo of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer? “Lead us not into temptation.”
There is a tempter out there who desires us to fall and give offense to the Lord. The Enemy places obstacles before our feet. That one – the Enemy – we do not want to meet with, even by chance. Be sure to make good use of sacramentals and go to confession regularly. Along with those, make good holy Communions and the Devil will have little to say to you.
As we draw closer to the end of this liturgical year, Father prays that we run, rather than drag along, toward the reward of heaven. We beg God that we do so without mishap. We beg not to give offense by what we do. We ask that the road be made free of stumbling blocks for our running feet.
Our Lord understands the tough road we travel. He does not abandon us when we stumble in sin.