Monday in the 2nd Week of Lent

Today’s prayer, quite ancient and designated the Gelasian Sacramentary for the early Roman Church’s use on Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent, was once arranged a bit different, but it was the same prayer.  It was not in the pre-Conciliar Roman Missal.  We have a new theme this week, I think.  Let’s see what the prayer really says so that you can compare it to what you heard in church if you participate at Mass today.

Deus, qui ob animarum medelam
castigare corpora praecepisti,
concede, ut ab omnibus possimus abstinere peccatis,
et corda nostra
pietatis tuae valeant exercere mandata.

A medela is "a healing, cure, a remedy", medically speaking, but also in the sense of "means of redress".  

Last week we saw how castigo has the strong overtone of "correct".  

O God, who commanded the stern correction of our bodies
on account of the healing of our souls,
grant, that we may be able to abstain from all sins
and that our hearts may have the strength to
carrying our the commands of Your piety.

Note once again we have conceptual pairing of mind and body.  In this prayer we have the structure of bodies sins hearts.  It is as if when we give ourselves to our appetites, the sins we objectively commit corrupt hearts as well.  In another way, sins pray apart, divide us in two, diminish us.  They caused the separation of body and soul which is the death in the enslavement of sin.  Our first parents caused that sort of death.  They were free not to die, but by their sin they lost that gift.  We are no longer free from the death of the body.  Thanks to Christ we are free from eternal death of the soul.  

Today’s prayer introduces the concept of healing in medela.  Also we have command vocabulary in praecepisti and mandata.  The mandata refer more than likely to the two-fold command of love of God and neighbor, which must lead us to forgiveness of our neighbor when we are wronged and also spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Remember that a meaning of pietas is "dutifulness".  This ties together with the command vocabulary.  At the same time we gain from pietas God’s manifold mercies, which is is faithful in giving when we ask for them.  In an Augustinian sense, we could render pietas as "knowledge and love of the true God".

God wants us to be in harmony with Him and with ourselve.  He does not desire war between us and Him, us and our neighbor or us and our bodies.  Sometimes conflicts must take place, and it takes some conflict or violence to correct the situation and impose order again.  We must have order before we can have peace.  God corrects or castigates us for His good reasons.  We correct and are corrected by each other with fraternal charity.  We correct our appetites by imposing mortifications.  The first step to all forms of correction and the imposition of order is abstinence from sin.  Few people, in fact no one, can simply choose to be perfect on his own merits and strength.  Our human nature is wounded.  External commands and graces from God are necessary helps.  His laws are great gifts, whether they are in the form of the Ten Commadments or the precepts of the Church and her canon law.  They are remedies for us.  We are ailing in too many ways, too weak, to be able to go forward without God’s help.

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  1. martin says:

    under the limitations of my resources, i cant see that “exercere mandata” means “obey/implement/carry out/adhere to/observe etc. instructions/commands” although it cant really mean anything else in the context. as for “pietatis tuae mandata” im waiting to see what don marco can make of it. does “pietas” function metonymically as a title of honour? viz. Your Piety (not “your piety”), like Your Majesty? the formal address of the Almighty is actually very restrained in all these prayers with a simple “Domine” or “Deus” being the
    standard vocative which reinforces the idea of God’s closeness to us – His availability (contrast the proliferation of imperial and noble honorifics in late antiquity where protocol and etiquette required members of the imperial court to be addressed indirectly: it was never “you” or “your”, but “Your Serenity” and “Your Excellency”, “Your Grace” etc. the style of the collects is all the other way).

    “pietas”, in classical latin, denotes a constitutive feature of certain relationships – of children to parents, and of parents to
    children; of citizens to the government and of the government to citizens; and of humans to the gods, and of gods to humans: it is a reciprocal attitude of respect encapsulating the claims each has on the other. God’s “piety”
    towards us is not a concept we encounter very often in english prayer and we are further disoriented by its semantic debasement (a “pious hope” for example, is more characterised by its forlorn extravagance than by any realistic prospect of its attainment).

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    God our Father,
    teach us to find new life through penance,
    Keep us from sin,
    and help us to live by your commandment of love.

    The explicit appearance of the words “penance” and “sin” qualifies this as an unusually austere opening prayer for ICEL. It also is noteworthy for the addition of the word pietas to the lengthy list of Latin words with different meanings that all are translated by ICEL as the single English word “love”. (I somehow doubt they meant it precisely in the Augustinian sense of “knowledge and love of the true God”. Think “luv”.)

  3. UK & Ireland Breviary Translation:

    You teach us, Lord,
    to discipline the body for the good of the soul:
    give us grace to refrain from all sin,
    and to set our hearts on fulfilling your precepts.

  4. Don Marco says:

    Given the richness of “pietas” — in this case I chose to render it as “lovingkindness.”


    O God,
    who, for the healing of our souls,
    have taught us to chasten our bodies,
    grant that we may abstain from all sin
    and set our hearts on keeping
    the commandments given by your lovingkindness.


    graciously hear our prayers,
    and free from earthly entanglements
    those who, by your gift,
    celebrate these heavenly mysteries.


    May this communion, O Lord,
    burn away our sins,
    and make us partakers of the joy of heaven.


    Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.

    Confirm, we beseech you, O Lord,
    the hearts of your faithful,
    and strengthen them by the grace of your might,
    that they may be both devout in praying to you
    and sincere in mutual love.

  5. martin says:

    don marco’s translations are always fluent and usually very to the point, but “set our hearts on” (adopting the phrase in the UK & ireland breviary) fails to give a proper account of “corda nostra . . valeant”.

    the theme of strength and weakness is drawn through several of the lenten collects so far: friday post cineres (“ut observantiam . . mentibus . . valeamus implere”); saturday post cineres (“infirmitatem nostram . . respice”); thursday in the 1st week (“ut . . secundum te vivere valeamus”)and monday in the 2nd week prolongs it. this strength comes only as a gift from God – the heart of the prayer.

    in one sense, “set our hearts on” does resonate with “valeo” if we take it as “make fixed/set solid”, “set on a course of action”. but there are three objections to this usage. in the first place, phrases like “ive set my heart on it” are colloquial and veer towards a kind of mulishness; but it must also be said that it is a mis-translation of “valeo” anyway. much more significant, though, is the desirability of sustaining continuity with previous collects in order the better to impress the theme on us. a proper carrying over of the sense is, nevertheless, superior to mere verbal repetition for its own sake..

    one of the meanings of “valeo” is “to have predominance in military or political power or resorces”. one has to be careful not to press a theme too far, but lent opens with a forceful set of explicit military metaphors and when military terms recur in later collects we do well to remain alive to them. the other words in todays phrase – “valeant exercere mandata” – confirm that the
    military meaning remains valid. rather than “set our hearts on”, then, i would suggest “be resolute [in carrying out commands]” which provides the continuity of thought here (“commands” rather than “commandments” if we are going to stay wthin the metaphor)and ties in with the parallel theme of seeing something through to the end – as to which see thurs. and fri. post cineres.

    todays collect also speaks of the “medela animarum” (the german
    “kur” is much neater than “course of treatment”), so there is a play on words here, for “valeo” also means to be in good health (the root meaning is physical power or strength) and the classic lenten antithesis is the gradual weakening of our bodies and the gradual strengthening of our wills. the course of treatment constituted by our lenten observances weakens the body and
    opens a way for the will to be strengthened so as to make us effective soldiers of Christ.

    the UK & ireland breviary makes a powerful start in bringing out this antithesis as simply as possible. it also defers to the english horror of starting a prayer with a bald address to the Deity and following it up with a long relative clause: english just cant take “O God, Who . . .”. the second half,
    however, falls off (1) by giving the generic “sin” for the concrete “omnibus peccatis”, (2) in its translation of “set our hearts on”, (3) in ducking the problem posed by “pietatis tuae” (unless “give us grace” can be taken as absorbing it), and (4) in losing all connection with the military/medicinal metaphors in the latin.

    finally, im wondering why “praecepisti” has been translated
    here as “teach/taught” and “commanded”. Our Lord nowhere commanded acts of corporal chastisement, and His example of the 40 day fast in the desert was certainly not even a counsel of perfection – nor is mt.10:38 in point. He recommended fasting as a spiritual exercise and gave advice and admonition on how it was to be pursued (mt.6:16f;17:21) and His disciples certainly observed what was an entrenched jewish custom themselves (ac.14:23, etc. so, He taught us how to fast, and we can say He recommended and (stronger) advised it(a valid translation of “praecipio”). furthermore, the link between fasting and abstinence during lent and our spiritual growth is not a direct cause and effect, but more a kind of parallelism – as ash wednesdays collect reminds us, it is auxilliary in its effect, and is neither a virtue in itself, nor guaranteed of achieving the desired outcome. prayers, especially when concise, must guard against sending the wrong message through excessive compression. the ICEL version comes closest to offending in this regard – making it seems that “new life” will result from “penance”. theologically, “ob” is not the least significant word in todays collect.

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