This Sunday we have what often winds up as a “left over”, or a “remaining” or even a “Where the heck is this Sunday in my Missal?!?” Sunday. Because the vagueries of your planets Moon, this year we get quite a few Sundays after Epiphany. It isn’t always so.
This Sunday’s Collect, for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany in the 1962MR (aka “Missal of John XXIII” aka “Missal of the Vatican Council”), happens to have survived for the 5th Ordinary Sunday in the post-Conciliar Novus Ordo. This year it happens that the 5th Ordinary Sunday and 5th after Epiphany coincide. Hence, we have a rare day when we all have the same Collect! It’s something of a liturgical unicorn.
Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, continua pietate custodi: ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur, tua semper protectione muniatur.
Custodio means “to watch, protect, keep, defend, guard.” It is common in military language. Innitor, a deponent verb, means “to lean or rest upon, to support one’s self by any thing.” Innitor also has military overtones. The thorough and replete Lewis & Short Dictionary provides examples from Caesar and Livy describing soldiers leaning on their spears and shields (e.g., scutis innixi … “leaning upon their shields” cf. Caesar, De bello Gallico 2.27). Munio is a similarly military term for walling up something up, putting in a state of defense, fortifying so as to guard. Are you sensing a theme? We need a closer look.
We must make a distinction about pietas when applied to us and when applied to God. When pietas is attributed to God, it means “mercy”.
But let’s drill at pietas a little more.
Pietas gives us the English word “piety”, but it means more than that. L&S says pietas is “dutiful conduct toward the gods, one’s parents, relatives, benefactors, country, etc., sense of duty.” It furthermore describes pietas in Jerome’s Vulgate in both Old and New Testament as “conscientiousness, scrupulousness regarding love and duty toward God.” The heart of pietas is “duty.” Pietas is also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. CCC 733-36; Isaiah 11:2), by which we are duly affectionate and grateful toward our parents, relatives and country, as well as to all men living insofar as they belong to God or are godly, and especially to the saints. In loose or common parlance, “piety” indicates fulfilling the duties of religion. Sometimes “pious” is used in a negative way, as when people take aim at external displays of religious dutifulness as opposed to what they is “genuine” practice (cf. Luke 18:9-14).
Guard your family, we beseech you, O Lord, with continual mercy, so that that (family) which is propping itself up upon the sole hope of heavenly grace may always be defended by your protection.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
watch over your family
and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.
They went to the zoo in the second part of this Collect, didn’t they?
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection.
There is rich imagery of contrasting images in the Latin original.
On the one hand we see a family.
On the other we discern a group of dutiful soldiers leaning on their shields or spears. These are linked to “the sole hope of heavenly grace”!
In fact, we Catholics are both a family, children of a common Father, and a Church Militant, the Body of Christ which is a corps (French for “body” from Latin corpus) marching in this vale of tears towards our heavenly fatherland.
Many of us were confirmed by bishops as “soldiers of Christ” and given a blow on the cheek as a reminder of what suffering we might face as Christians… not … ehem… the first time we have suffered at the hands of bishops, perhaps, and maybe not the last.
By our baptism we are integrated in Christ’s Mystical Body, indeed His Person, the Church. We are given the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Through the sacramental graces that flow from baptism and confirmation, nourished by the Eucharist and healed and strengthened with the other sacraments, we are capable of facing the challenges of daily life and face down the attacks of hell. We ought rather desire to die like soldiers rather than sin in the manner of those who have no gratitude toward God or sense of duty toward Him.
In today’s prayer we beg the protection and provisions Christ our King and commander can give us soldiers while on the march.
We need a proper attitude of obedience toward God, our ultimate superior, dutifulness our earthly parents, our heavenly home and our earthly country, our heavenly brothers and sisters the saints and our earthly siblings and relatives, our heavenly patrons and worldly benefactors, and so forth.
This is also what it means to belong to a family: there is both a profound interconnection between the members but also an inequality – children are no less members of the family than parents, but they are dependent they are not the equals of their parents.
As an aside,some time ago I ran across in passage in a book in the “prep/apocalypse” genre. A marine who has taken a orphaned teen under his wing says:
“Listen, little dude, family is a versatile word. You don’t have to be blood with someone to love them as much as someone who has your blood running through them. I love the guys in my unit and they love me. We’re cut from the same cloth; I know how they think and they know how I think. The bond I have with them is stronger than what I had with my own flesh and blood at home. If I left to go home, I’d be leaving the only real family I’ve ever had to go back to a house and to people who don’t truly know who I am. So I ask you to open your eyes and understand that family is a bigger word than, say, your biological parents or siblings. It’s those people who will do anything for you, who are there for you and you for them. They are the ones who choose to be in your life and aren’t obligated by blood.”
Can you imagine what sort of Church we would have were all her members to have this spirit of the Marines? Who would be willing to bleed for brothers and give them the shirt from their backs and all their time when needed? Imagine that unit cohesion. What could we not do together?
We the baptized belong to each other. Our bonds are in a sense stronger than blood and common experience, though that is hard for us to sense in the here and now, especially in the Church today when even our highest officers seems willing to lay down arms in the face of the enemy.
Moving on, our Latin prayers, at least in the Traditional Roman Rite, often reflect the Church’s profound awareness of our lack of equality with God. I don’t alway find that in the redacted prayers in the Novus Ordo, even in the Latin originals. They seem to reflect instead the overly-optimistic anthropocentrism heaving about at the time of the massive liturgical changes.
Our traditional prayers are radically hierarchical, just as God’s design reveals hierarchy and order.
Compare that to prevailing societal norms.
Nowadays individual soldiers might be praised but the military is still being looked at by the intelligentsia with suspicion. Also, while the rights of individual people are validated, the family as a unit is under severe attack. The recent explosive debates about third-trimester abortion show how hard the Enemy works to undermine the order of creation, especially in the foundational societal building block, the family.
In both the military and in a family (and the Church) there must be order. Yet, children today can take their parents to court for disciplining them. In some places parents are forbidden their rights to protect children who can obtain contraception or even abortions through schools without parental notification. I heard about a recent court case where some idiot attempted to sue his parents for conceiving him without his consent. Laughable, yes, but also diabolically emblematic.
Is there a parallel to be found in this with dissident priests and Holy Church?
Discipline is dissolving. And yet that very discipline is precisely the protection needed by troops on the march, children in growing up, the flocks of the Church from their pastors, from their commanders so they can attain their goal.
Parents, officers and shepherds must fulfill their own roles with pietas also, religious and sacred duty.
Holy Mother Church has maintained this Collect for centuries now in this exact period of the year (5th Sunday after Pentecost and 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time). She holds these petitions up to God because the concern constituent elements of who we are.
Please keep something in mind: the prayer suggests to me a meaning founded on the possible military nuances of the vocabulary.
It is also possible to emphasize the familial dimension and say, “Watch over your family, …with continual mercy/religious dutifulness…”, invoking more the image of a father checking into the bedrooms of their children while they sleep. Like a soldier posted on watch, he listens in the night for sounds of distress or need.
“Tonight, nothing is going to hurt you.”
The military element in relief helps us to claim both sets of images simultaneously.
The Church is – at least once was – not afraid to combine images of family and soldiering, the symbiotic exchange of duty, obedience and protection.
Today… I wonder if most of our pastors still have that kind of courage.