WDTPRS – 5th Sunday of Easter: The prayer’s very word order reveals God’s love

As we journey from the passion and Easter toward Ascension and Pentecost, the Church in Holy Mass leads us through meditations on the fruits of the Resurrection and our baptism.  Our mysterious procession was made possible by the Cross.  Our Collect today, for the 5th Sunday of Easter in the Ordinary Form calendar, is a delightful little piece of polished oratory.

It also has the Cross at its core.

Deus, per quem nobis et redemptio venit et praestatur adoptio, filios dilectionis tuae benignus intende, ut in Christo credentibus et vera tribuatur libertas, et hereditas aeterna.

This prayer, not in pre-Conciliar editions of the Roman Missal, was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary in a section for evening prayers during Paschaltide. Its vocabulary suggests Patristic sources (e.g., Hilary of Poitiers, de trin 6, 44; Ambrose of Milan, ep 9, 65, 5).

Note the lovely chiasms (from the Greek letter chi, which looks like a “X”): redemptio venit…praestatur adoptio (subject verb – verb subject … and note that the endings of the subjects match) and vera libertas…hereditas aeterna (adjective noun – noun adjective).  These rhetorical flourishes are intended to delight the ear and help us link concepts within the text.  A chiasm is mapped out as

A       B
    X
B        A

The Cross is embedded in the prayer’s very structure.

LITERAL VERSION:

O God, from whom both redemption comes to us and adoption is fulfilled for us, kindly give attention to your beloved children, so that both true freedom and an everlasting inheritance may be bestowed on those believing in Christ.

We pray for the freedom that is true, not the false and deceptive freedom of those enslaved to the world, the flesh and the devil… or false mercy, which fogs over the truth deceiving people smoothly.  We want an inheritance which is lasting, eternal, not passing.

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption, look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters, that those who believe in Christ may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.

Christ is the Father’s Son by His nature (He is consubstantial with the Father). We are sons and daughters by grace (conferred through baptism).

Our adoption through grace is “perfect” (perfecta).  It is complete (perficio, “bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete”).  God the Holy Trinity puts the imperishable mark upon us in baptism and confirmation.  Nevertheless, our redemption and adoption, our freedom and inheritance, will only be completed and ratified as such if we persevere throughout our lives and, having died in a state of grace, having died in the supernatural love which is charity, we see God face to face.

Today’s Collect has its foundation certainly in the New Testament’s imagery of adoption (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5), but I think it also flows out of ancient Roman legal concepts of manumission and adoption, the freeing of slaves and the adoption of heirs.

In ancient Rome even a father’s natural children required his recognition before they were legally legitimate and heirs with any rights.  Adoption could grant those same rights and privileges.  Roman adoptio removed a person from one familia and put him into another, placing him under the authority of the paterfamilias, the head of the family and whole household.

By baptism and the life of grace, we are not only freed from the slavery of sin and death, but we undergo an adoption.

We are not merely former slaves, we are free members of the Church and sons and daughters of God.

No longer subject to Satan and destined for hell, we are now under new mastership and fatherhood of God.

Our prayer today also underscores the concepts of redemption and adoption, together with freedom and inheritance.  This too is reflected within the Collect, in another pattern of words called synchesis (A-B-A-B) useful for showing how one set of concepts reveals the relationship of another set.

The subjects of the Collect are found in this order:

Freedom is the result of redemption, inheritance the result of adoption.

This week we have connections and interconnections of words.  The phrases and patterns they make weave in and out of each other.  It seems to me that this whole collect provides a good reflection on how deeply intertwined are the effects of the resurrection.   And – the Cross – makes this all possible.

redemptio ↔ adoptio (A – A)
                ⤡     ⤢
        ⇵   dilectio   ⇵
                ⤢     ⤡
libertas ↔ hereditas (B – B)

And even as the Cross over-weaves the prayer, in the very heart we find dilectio, “love”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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3 Responses to WDTPRS – 5th Sunday of Easter: The prayer’s very word order reveals God’s love

  1. Gab says:

    Thank you, Father, for that beautifully written explanation.

  2. carndt says:

    Again, thank you for this explanation. It was so moving that my soul leaped for joy.

    How we in the pews sit waiting to hear these words from the priests. Your words are a refreshing oasis in the desert. I will share this with many.

    May God continue to give you strength and protect you.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    That prayer is so beautiful in Latin that it’s a shame it doesn’t get to see more use in that form.