6th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Collect (1)

What Does the Prayer Really Say? Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2001

In the older, traditional, calendar of the Roman Church this Sunday is called Septuagesima, that is, the "Seventieth" day before Easter. Lent’s official name is Quadragesima, "Fortieth". Septuagesima is/was one of the pre-Lenten Sundays, a time of preparing for the abstinence of Lent, which once was far more strict. With Septuagesima we would take up more serious attitude: the Alleluia was sung for the last time at First Vespers and excluded until Holy Saturday. Purple is worn rather than green. The station Mass for is at St. Lawrence in Rome. More about stations when we get to Lent.

The prayers and readings for the Masses of these pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great who was Pope in a time of great turmoil and suffering. Pre-Lent was/is particularly a time for preaching about missions and missionary work, the evangelization of peoples. In those places where the Mass is celebrated with the so-called Novus Ordo of Paul VI, we now remain in green. There is no more pre-Lent. In a sense, however, the collect from the Novus Ordo Sixth Sunday might echo of the Church’s tradition in regard in regard to the comportment required from one who desires to win more disciples and workers for the Lord.  

LATIN (1970 Missale Romanum):
Deus, qui te in rectis et sinceris manere pectoribus asseris, 
da nobis tua gratia tales exsistere, 
in quibus habitare digneris.  

Note that the =eris endings look similar but are really quite different. Digneris is from a deponent verb and is a present indicative, passive in form but active in meaning. Asseris is more complicated. There are two verbs that can give us this form: as-sero, sêvi, situm, 3, "to sow, plant, or set near something" or else as-sero, serui, sertum, 3, "to join some person or thing to one’s self"; hence, "to declare one (a slave) to be free by laying hands upon him, to set free, to liberate" or even "to free from, to protect, defend, defend against" and also "to appropriate something to one’s self, to claim, declare it one’s own possession" and moreover "to maintain, affirm, assert, declare." As-sero is also written ad-sero. Asseris could possibly be the second person singular of the passive present indicative, or of the future, or of the perfect subjunctive, or of the future perfect. It is also possibly a syncopated (shortened) form of the perfect indicative form of as-sero, sêvi, situm: asseveris or from as-sero, serui, sertum: asserueris. All this is, I am sure, riveting. But sometimes it is important to know precisely what verb you are dealing with.

For example, during Lent the Church sings at Vespers the great hymn Audi, benigne Cónditor. Since the reform of Vatican II some hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours have been tinkered with in respect to both words and melody. In the case of this hymn, the melody was adjusted in such a way that the second syllable of Cónditor receives an emphasis that it did not have before Vatican II. So what? The way you pronounce that word, where you place the syllabic emphasis changes the meaning. There are two completely different verbs in Latin that can give us the word spelled Conditor: cóndo, cóndere ("to fashion, produce, establish") results in cónditor while condio, condire ("to pickle, preserve, to spice") produces Condítor. The way incautious people sing the Vespers hymn now lifts our hearts and minds to the merciful Pickler, rather than the merciful Creator. The same goes for the Advent Vespers hymn. Since the reform, instead of singing Creator alme siderum (Loving Creator of the stars) we sing Conditor Alme siderum and again the melody was changed. This means pretty much the same thing but the inattentive singer gives us an image of some cosmic cook sealing the stars into Ball jars or sprinkling fresh herbs through the heavens. The absent-minded will also translate the prayer incorrectly, won’t they?  

O God, who declared that you remain in upright and pure hearts, 
grant us to manifest ourselves to be, by your grace, the sort of people 
in whom you have deigned to abide.  

Rectus, from rego, means "straight, upright" which also applies in the moral sense of "morally right, correct, lawful, just, virtuous, noble, good." Sincerus means "clean, pure, sound, not spoiled, uninjured, whole, entire, real, natural, genuine, sincere." It also has a moral connotation. Pectus signifies a range of things from "the breast bone, chest" "stomach" and therefore by extension concepts like "courage" and other "feelings, dispositions". It also refers to the "spirit, soul, mind, understanding." In the ancient world, the heart was thought in some ways to be the seat also of the mind and understanding and not just of feelings and emotions. So, it is reasonable to translate this as "upright and pure hearts". Exsisto according to the mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary is "to step out, emerge" and also "spring forth, proceed, arise, become." It also means "to be visible or manifest in any manner, to exist, to be."

In this prayer the distinction between be and show forth is tissue thin. We have from this word the sense of being on the outside what we are inside, or rather in the case of the outwardly pious and practicing Christian, being sincerely and truly on the inside what we are showing on the outside. His grace is the key.   At our baptism the Holy Spirit enters our lives in the manner of one coming to dwell in a temple. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes "habitual" or sanctifying grace and all His gifts and fruits, by which we live both inwardly and outwardly in conformity with His presence. We manifest His presence outwardly when He is present within. There is nothing we do to merit this gift of His presence and yet, mysteriously, we still have a role to play in His deigning to dwell in our souls. We can make choices about our lives. We can make use of the gifts and graces God gives, allow Him to make our hands strong enough to hold on to all He deigns to bequeath, and then cooperate in His bringing all good things to completion.

In John 15 Jesus speaks of the hostile world and its reaction to His disciples. How must we act towards those who belong still to that hostile world rather than to Christ? In vv. 26-27 we hear the Lord say, "But when the Counselor comes, I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me." And in John 14:23, Jesus says, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Vatican II’s document concerning missions and missionary work, rightly stated that each of us is called to be a witness to Christ for the sake of others (cf. Ad gentes, 5). We must win by our actions and attitudes disciples for Christ out of a hostile world.   We desire the indwelling of the One in Three Person God, without whom we are lost.

That phrase in today’s prayer, "the sort of people in whom you have deigned to abide" will force us to reflect on our treatment of and conduct towards our neighbor, whom Christ commands us to love in accord with our love of God and self. Paul writes in 2 Cor 13:11-13: "Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Since the Vatican II reforms, the last part of that has been included in the Mass as an optional salutation.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on Corinthians observes that this dense greeting of Paul refers to all the necessary supernatural graces: "The grace of Christ, by which we are justified and saved; the love of God the Father, by which we are united to Him; and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who distributes the divine gifts to us."   This period of Ordinary Time is among other things a long reflection given to us by Holy Mother Church on the day to day details of Christian life. We have in this prayer a truly helpful petition.  

God our Father, 
you have promised to remain for ever 
with those who do what is just and right. 
Help us to live in your presence.

These ICEL prayers of Ordinary Time seem, by and large, less in harmony with the Latin originals than those of the stronger seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. They seem less "sacral." Notice that there is no reference to "grace" in the ICEL version, while in the Latin it is at the heart of the collect. The absence of "grace" seems to lessen in many ways "do what is just and right." We can do all sorts of wonderful things and not be in the state of grace. But if, as Paul says in 1 Cor 13, we lack charity, the sacrificial love of God that makes our works pleasing to Him, what we do is as nothing. There is no interior reference in the ICEL version. Furthermore, no matter what amazing things a person might do God is not "for ever with" one who interiorly separate from Him, in whom there is no "habitual grace". That kind of grace is more than "help." During the weeks to follow we must watch this trend and see if ICEL remains consistent.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Don Marco says:

    Again, not easily translated. I hesitated between “affirm” and “declare” for ásseris. By all means, “grace” must remain central to the prayer. Trying to translate the text with an ear to its eventual cantillation at Mass gave me:

    O God, who declare that you make your dwelling
    in upright and sincere hearts;
    by your grace, grant us so to live
    as to become worthy of your abiding presence.

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