Tuesday in the 2nd Week of Lent

Custodi, Domine, quaesumus,
Ecclesiam tuam propitiatione perpetua,
et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas,
tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxis,
et ad salutaria dirigatur.

Propitiatio in its fundamental meaning meanings and "an appeasing, atonement,  propitiation".  The dictionary of liturgical Latin Blaise also gives us a view of the word as "favor".  This makes sense.  God has been appeased and rendered favorable again towards us sinners by the propitiatory actions Christ fulfilled on the Cross.  We have faithfully (?) renewed these through the centuries in Holy Mass.  Mortalitas refers, as you might guess, to the fact that we die, our mortality.  Inherent in the word is the concept that we die in our flesh.  So, you ought also to hear "flesh" when you hear mortalitas.

Labitur is from labor.  This is not the substantive labor but the verb, labor, lapsus.  It means, "to glide, fall], to move gently along a smooth surface, to fall, slide; to slide, slip, or glide down, to fall down, to sink as the beginning of a fall".

Auxilium, in the plural, has a military overtone.  There is also a medical undertone too, "an antidote, remedy, in the most extended sense of the word".  Pair this up with noxius, a, um, which points at things which are injurious or harmful.  There is a moral element as well or "a fault, offence, trespass".

PenanceSalutare, is (n) is "salvation, deliverance, health" in later Latin and the Vulgate.  This is a very interesting word, which I wrote about at length in one of my weekly columns.  You remember.  That was the time I put the English version into Shakespearean iambic pentameter.  Suffice to say, a "health" is like a "toast".

Guard your Church, O Lord, we beseech You,
with perpetual favor,
and since without You our mortal flesh slides toward ruin
by means of your helping remedies let it be pulled back from injuries
and be guided unto saving healths.

There are different ways to do this, but I wanted to place in evidence the image of health and the flesh and medicine.  

One of the most important Patristic Christological images in the ancient Church is Christus Medicus, the "Physician".  He is the doctor of the ailing soul.  St. Augustine does amazing things with this image.  

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. martin says:

    typo . . quai for quia

  2. martin says:

    and omission from the literal translation of “sine te labitur” as well as typo of “be” for “by”. im thinking todays post was done in a rush!

  3. You sure do like to pick!


  4. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    Lord, watch over your Church,
    and guide it with your unfailing love.
    Protect us from what could harm us
    and lead us to what will save us.
    Help us always, for without you we are bound to fail.

    In Father Z’s translation it’s about the Church, pulled back from injury and guided to health. But in ICEL’s it’s instead all about … us … us … us … us … we.

  5. martin says:

    i thought every author likes to have an editor (or two) out there to pick up the loose ends . . i promise to confine my pickings to the texts of the prayer :)

    we are still encouraged to think of the Church(which used to be Holy Mother Church) as our mother, and in order to foster this idea to apply the feminine pronoun in discoursing of her. today, the feminine pronoun also helps to identify (in the english translation) the subject of the verbs “abstrahatur” and “dirigatur”, for the proximate nominative is “mortalitas” (also feminine, but never personified).

    im noticing today the interweaving of military and medical
    metaphors: “auxilium” has a subsidiary meaning of “antidote” or “remedy” (“relief” successfully straddles the two fields). there is an on-going interplay between these two metaphors through the lenten collects so far

  6. CaesarMagnus says:

    In translating I usually refer to the Church as she/her as well, as our mother
    and as the spouse of Christ.
    Still, I can let that slide given that Fr. Z’s translation is so much more
    accurate than the ICEL translation (I know that is a huge understatement, LOL).

  7. Karen Russell says:

    Um, I hesitate to bring this up, but didn’t “quaesumus” also get omitted from the literal translation?

    In any case, that is one word which, even in the short time I’ve been following these translations, I have learned to recognize and translate automatically.

    It’s slow, but it’s progress!

  8. martin says:

    i have been looking for fr. z’s notes on “quaesumus” and other impetratory words but without success. “quaesumus Domine” has appeared in 5 of the 14 lenten collects so far and is really a parenthetical “please, Lord” with the effect of indicating both respectful reverence and urgency. when there is a more ample mode of address to the Deity (“omnipotens sempiterne Deus”, “omnipotens Deus”, “Pater aeterne” or “Deus qui . . . “) there is no call for the deferential “quaesumus”, and when Deus alone is employed as the vocative, euphony prohibits it. on two occasions (ash wednesday and tuesday of the 1st week) the vocative “Domine” is used without the addition of “quaesumus”, and since we are so used to it, the omission pulls us up short. today the order is reversed – presumably for the same reason. within the very restricted compass of these prayers there is, then, an admirable variety. even within the context of petitions rogatory, latin rings the changes on “concede” (3) with “tribue” (1) and “largire” (1), and “concede” itself is used in 2 different constructions (once with the infinitive, and twice using “ut” + the subjunctive). there is such an abundance of synonyms in english, and such freedom in word order, that the translator has no excuse for the monotonous repetition of “grant, Lord, we pray”.

  9. Don Marco says:

    I preached on this Collect today. See my translation of it below.

    Sighs Too Deep for Words

    Today’s Collect articulates for us those “sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26) by which the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with the Father from the heart of the Church. What do we pray today?

    Keep your Church, we beseech you, O Lord,
    in your unfailing grace;
    and since without you mortal flesh cannot but fall,
    help us ever to withdraw from hurtful things
    and guide us towards those which are wholesome.

    Keep your Church

    The Latin text begins with the word, “Custodi.” It means to watch over, to keep in sight, to safeguard, to hold close. The versicle at Compline uses the same verb: Custodi nos, Domine, ut pupillam oculi, “Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye” (Ps 16:8). We ask God to hold us close, to keep us safe in a grace that never fails, a grace for every weakness, every sin, every circumstance, every moment in life.


    We beg God to keep his Church in his unfailing grace. The Latin word here is not gratia but propitiatio. Propitiation means favour, or even atonement. We speak of being in someone’s “good graces.” Grace is the favour of God, the assurance of his mercy and atonement. Christ is our atoning Victim, the priest of the sacrifice of propitiation. Christ, our “high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26) is the propitiation of God. “Therefore we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19). “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
    Saint Paul calls Christ the “propitiation” set forth by God (cf. Rm 3:25). Christ is “a merciful and faithful high priest before God, that he might be a propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17). The deeper meaning of today’s Collect is revealed in the mystery of the perpetual propitiation renewed in every Mass: the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Priest and Victim.

    Lapses and Relapses

    The Collect goes on to say something about us: “since without you mortal flesh cannot but fall. . . .” The Latin word labitur translated as fall means to lapse or to relapse. It means to go wrong, to slip down or slide back. Is that being unduly pessimistic? It seems to me, in the light of my own experience of human frailty, of mortalitas, to be perfectly realistic. The spiritual journey is marked by lapses and relapses, and sometimes by re-relapses.

    The Toxic and the Noxious

    Then the Collect makes a second double petition: “help us ever to withdraw from hurtful things and guide us toward those which are wholesome.” Hurtful things: the Latin text calls them something closer to toxic, or noxious, meaning poisonous! It is hard sometimes for us to pull away from the very things that threaten to poison us.
    There is an inscription on the medal of Saint Benedict that signifies, “Begone Satan! Suggest not to me vain things. The cup you offer me is evil; drink the poison yourself!” (Vade retro, Satana: numquam suade mihi vaba. Sunt mala quae libas; ipse venenum bibas.) The text on the Saint Benedict medal reflects his own struggle against temptation and his energetic refusal of things toxic to the soul. It is an exclamation of faith against the vain and hurtful things that present themselves to all of us at different times. This may account for the astonishing popularity of the Saint Benedict medal: it addresses the real life situations of people struggling to pull away from various forms of spiritual toxicity. The tricky part is that the very things that are hurtful to us often have an attractive, fascinating side to them. Poison can come served to us in a golden goblet.

    The Healing and the Wholesome

    The second part of the petition is: “guide us towards those things which are wholesome.” It is not enough to withdraw from hurtful, poisonous things; we have to move towards things which are good for us. The Latin calls them salutaria. The word has a rich meaning: wholesome things, health-giving things, things that heal, save, and restore. We ask God to guide us toward those things.
    The salutaria in our life are manifold. They are the persons, relationships, places, books, music, art, and other things that contribute to making us whole persons, that foster our health of mind, soul, and body. We ask God to guide us towards such people, to direct us into such relationships, to show us where such things can be found. He does so by the inward workings of the Holy Spirit. “Those who live by the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit . . . to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rm 8:5-6).
    We can discern our attractions by observing what they produce in us. If a particular attraction leaves me feeling sad, unsettled, and troubled, it does not come from the Holy Spirit. If, on the other hand, it leaves me with a feeling of hope, of peace, of joy, it is salutary, it is wholesome and health-giving. The salutaria of God restore and refresh the sin sick soul.

    Christ, the Salutaris Hostia

    Our response has to be one of humble trust in the Giver of all good things. “You ever create all these good things, O Lord, you make them holy and fill them with life, you bless them and give them to us” (Roman Canon). We go to the altar today full of thanksgiving for the salutaria sent to us by God. We go to the altar to offer and to receive the Salutaris Hostia, the Health-Giving Victim, Christ our God, the Priest and Physician of our souls and bodies.

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