What Does the Prayer Really Say? Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer
Last week’s prayer for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time was found also in the 1962 Missale Romanum and its antecedents (the so-called “Tridentine” Missal) for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. Sometimes the collects of the Novus Ordo have their origin in the previous Missal or even ancient sacramentaries. When I make the connection, I will usually mention the coincidence. This week’s seems to have been composed for the 1970 book.
LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum)
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus,
dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo,
ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui
mereamur bonis operibus abundare.
Almighty eternal God,
direct our actions in your gracious purpose,
so that in the name of Thy beloved Son,
we may merit to abound with good works.
Beneplacitum in the useful Lewis & Short Dictionary means “good pleasure, gracious purpose”. I choose “gracious purpose” here, since it is by God’s good purpose or pleasure and according to His plan that we can do anything that is good or worthy. This Latin word beneplacitum translates the original Greek word eudokia. Beneplacitum appears in the Jerome’s Latin translation of the New Testament called the Vulgate (e.g., Eph 1:9; 1 Cor 10:5). Jerome uses other phrases for the Greek eudokia, such as bona voluntas in Luke 2:14, the famous “peace on earth to men of good will” or “peace on earth good will toward men.” Another passage in which the Greek eudokia is found is the prayer of Paul at the beginning of the second letter to the Thessalonians (1:11-12) where he renders it into Latin voluntas bonitatis:
…oramus semper pro vobis ut dignetur vos vocatione sua Deus et impleat omnem voluntatem bonitatis et opus fidei in virtute ut clarificetur nomen Domini nostri Iesu Christi in vobis et vos in illo secundum gratiam Dei nostri et Domini Iesu Christi… we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (RSV).
I can’t help but link Paul’s prayer and our Collect today. We can find connections at several points: mereamur and dignetur (both having to do with meriting or being worth of), beneplacitum and voluntas bonitatis (Gr. eudokia – good will or pleasure), opus fidei and bona opera (good works flowing from lived faith), nomen Filii and nomen Domini (in Jesus’ name). Taken in the sense of “gracious purpose” we can make a connection to Paul’s vocatio too: “calling.” This New Testament prayer has also the feel of one of our Collects, with the invocation resolving in the name of the Lord. Notice that in the passage above the phrase is voluntas bonitatis for “good pleasure.” Back to beneplacitum for a moment. With that preposition in and the ablative case, we would usually expect reference to space where or time when something was occurring. In and the ablative also indicates a condition, situation or relation.
Let’s consider now abundo, meaning “to overflow with any thing, to have an abundance or superabundance of, to abound in.” If we go back to the idea of the preposition in and the ablative indicating place or location in space, (in beneplacito tuo) we have an image of our good works originating in God and, coming from Him, overflowing out from us. Some Protestants are under the false impression that Catholics think we can earn our way to heaven by our own good works. We believe, that our good works always have their origin in God. But we believe that they are truly our works as well, and that they merit the reward of God’s promises. Whenever we find a reference to works in these prayers, we should keep in mind always the Catholic understanding of good works.
All-powerful and ever-living God,
direct your love that is within us,
that our efforts in the name of your Son
may bring mankind to unity and peace.
I don’t have any problem with “All-powerful and ever-living God” for Omnipotens sempiterne Deus. When we get to “direct your love that is within us” I am left a bit puzzled. Can the Latin prayer mean that? I think the Latin prayer focuses on God as the one with the gracious good will and purpose which flows from Him to us so that we can merit to perform works worthy of being called “good” in this life that are at the same time opening for us the way to heaven. While the Latin directs us firmly to God, the ICEL seems to focus on us. The Latin prayer simply says “abound/overflow with good works” and ICEL specifies “unity and peace” to be brought about by “our efforts.” I don’t object to praying for unity and peace, and I agree that our efforts are need to bring them about. I think, however, it would have been better to translate the prayer accurately.