Symbols of Mercy and Justice on the emblem of the Spanish Inquisition
The Collect for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost in the Extraordinary Form survived, sort of survived, to live in the post-Conciliar, reformed Missale Romanum! You can find it, somewhat wounded, for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the Ordinary Form Missale Romanum. I’ll show you the variation, below. But, for now, let’s see the Collect as it appears in the 1962 edition.
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas: multiplica super nos misericordiam tuam; ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
In the Novus Ordo version the line “…multiplica super nos misericordiam tuam…” was replaced with “…gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde”. We will return to see what impact that has on the prayer.
I also looked this prayer up in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary and found that the version is as it appears in the 1962MR, in not the Novus Ordo. Sometimes the cutter-snippers of the Consilium restored older readings of ancient prayers that had survived with some changes in the pre-Conciliar Missal. Not this time.
Let’s now look at some nuts and bolts: vocabulary.
Parco means, “to spare, have mercy, forbear to injure” and by extension, “forgive.” This verb is used quite frequently in liturgical prayer as, for example, in the responses during the beautiful litanies we sing as Catholics, especially in time of need: “Parce nobis, Domine… Spare us, O Lord!” During Lent the hauntingly poignant Latin chant informs our penitential spirit: “Parce, Domine… O Lord, spare your people: do not be wrathful with us forever.”
The noun consors comes from the fusion of the preposition for “with” and sors (“lot”), in the sense of a chance or ticket when “casting lots”, destiny, fate). A consors is someone with whom you share a common destiny. The densely arranged Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that consors is “sharing property with one (as brother, sister, relative), living in community of goods, partaking of in common.” The English word “lot” can be both “fate” and a “parcel of land.” Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are to act as God acts: to know, will and love. Since God spares us and is merciful, then we must be similarly merciful and sparing if we want to be sharers and coheirs in the lot He has prepared for us.
Multiplico, as you might readily guess, means “to multiply, increase, augment”.
Just for kicks, let’s see the obsolete ICEL version we were forced to use for so many dry and uninspiring years. Remember that a line was changed in the Latin of the Novus Ordo version, as I explained above.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Father, you show your almighty power, in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
LITERAL TRANSLATION (1962MR)
O God, who manifest Your omnipotence especially by sparing and being merciful, increase Your mercy upon us, [pour Your grace upon us unceasingly, – 2002MR] so that You may make those who are rushing to the things You have promised, to be partakers of heavenly benefits.
That “ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes” means “so that You may make us, rushing to the things You have promised, to be partakers of heavenly benefits.” There is a nos in the first part, if not the second.
One of the ways God manifests His almighty nature is by being forgiving and sparing.
God is the creator and ruler, guide and governor of all that is seen and unseen, who keeps everything in existence by an act of His will, and reveals His omnipotence especially (maxime in our Collect) by means of mercy.
By violating God’s will our first parents (the entire human race – which consisted of only two people at the time) opened up an infinite gulf between us and God. Since the gulf was immeasurable, only an omnipotent God could bridge that gap and repair it. God did not repair the breach because of justice. He did so because He loves us and is merciful.
People often slip into the trap of associating justice with manifestations of power. In this Collect, however, we affirm the other side of power’s coin. The miracles worked by Jesus in the Gospels, loving gestures to suffering individuals, were acts of mercy often connected to forgiveness of sins.
The affirmation of divine mercy, however, does not diminish God’s justice. Mercy does not mean turning a blind eye to justice, for that would be tantamount to betraying truth and charity. Nevertheless, if justice must be upheld because God is Truth, so too must mercy be exercised because God is Love.
For God, balancing justice and mercy is simplicity itself, since He is perfectly simple. Knowing all things which ever were, are or will be as well as the complexities of each act’s impact and every other throughout history God has no conflicts in the application of merciful justice or just mercy. He knows who we are, what we need and deserve far better than we do. Furthermore, in our regard, God acts with perfect love.
For man, especially in times of trial, the simultaneous exercise of mercy and justice is very difficult indeed. Because of the wounds to our will and intellect, our struggle with passions, it is hard for us at times to see what is good and right and true or rein in our emotions even when we do discern things properly. We often oscillate between being first just and then merciful. Bringing the two streams of mercy and justice together is a tremendous challenge. We tend to favor our self-interest, and often balk at what is truly the good for others.
When we encounter a person who can balance justice and mercy together, we are usually impressed by him. We hold him up as an example of wisdom because he acts more perfectly, more habitually, according to God’s image and likeness. We are moved by his example because deep inside we know how we ought to be conforming to God’s image in us. Their example teaches us that it is possible to live according to God’s plan. The lives of the saints are examples of this.
One way in which we act in harmony with God’s image in us, behaving as the “coheirs” Christ made us to be, authentic Christian consortes, is when we act with compassion.
In biblical terms compassion (Hebrew racham) is often interchangeable with mercy. The Latin word compassio (from cum,“with” + patior, “to suffer/endure”) means to “suffer with” someone. Our souls are stirred when we witness suffering and then compassion. They reveal in a mysterious way who we are as human beings and how we ought to act. In a now famous passage from the Council’s Gaudium et spes, we are taught that Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself (GS 22). Christ did this in His every word and deed during His earthly life. His supreme moment of revelation about who we are was His Passion and death on the Cross. When we imitate His Passion, in sacrificial love, in genuine “with suffering”, we act as we were made by God to act. In concrete acts of compassion we, in our own turn, also reveal man more fully to himself! In our own way we show God’s image to our neighbor and he is moved. We cannot not be moved unless we are stony and cold and dead.
Pope John Paul II wrote that
“Man cannot live without love […] his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own.” (Redemptor hominis 10).
We must experience love, both in giving and receiving.
When the Enemy planted in the minds of Adam and Eve the doubt that God really loved them, when the certitude of love given and received died, we all died.
The Second Adam offers to bring us back into the certitude of God’s love, through mercy and suffering not only with us, but for us.
Love, given and received, brings us back to life.