Tuesday of the 1st Week of Lent

A page of the St. Gall MS of the Gregorian SacramentaryCOLLECT
Respice, Domine, familiam tuam, et praesta,
ut apud te mens nostra tuo desiderio fulgeat,
quae se corporalium moderatione castigat.

Today’s prayer was in the 1962 Missale Romanum and, long before that, in the so-called ancient "Gregorian Sacramentary".  This has been adapted for the Novus Ordo, however.  More about that later.

Again mens, right?  By now, if you have been following these daily briefings on what the lenten Collects really say, you will know that mens means a range of things, including mind, intellect, heart, etc.  The really interesting word today is moderatio.

Moderatio basically means "a moderating, moderation in any thing; moderateness, temperateness of the weather" and then extends to "guidance, government."   A moderator is a "governor" as in the governor of a state.  The verb form, modero (and deponent moderor) is "to regulate a thing", in the sense of keeping it within bounds.  You can see conceptually how moderatio would be considered by the ancients to be one of the political virtues.  It refers to self-governance in the personal sense, and broader governance in the social sense.  Moderatio had a particularly strong meaning for Romans who, in a stoic sense, were to remain cool and controlled.  The opposite of moderatio would be expressed by words like saevitia, savageness.

I said that this prayer was changed from its earlier form.  The earlier form says: "…quae se carnis maceratione castigat…. which checks itself by a softening up of the flesh."   A couple things are evident.  First, mens and caro are more sharply in contrast to each other than mens and corporaliaCaro is more immediately pertainent to us, our own person while corporalia might be fleshly things in general.  Second, maceratio, a "softening up".  Sounds strange, right?  You would think we want to toughen, not soften.  Think of the cooking term maceration.  We macerate things by immersing them in some substance in order to break them down.  This is done with meat, for example to tenderize it, to break down the fibers of muscle so that they will not contract under heat and make the meat tough.  We do the same thing by pounding flesh with a spikey hammer.  Maceratio means tenderize.  Think of softening up an entrenched position of the enemy by hammering it with artillery.  That is what maceratio means.  The best way to translate carnis maceratio is "mortification of the flesh".  The newer version speaks of "self-governance of bodily things."  These two versions create very different effects in my ear.  

Look up Your family, O Lord, and grant,
that our soul, which is checking itself by means of moderation of corporal things
may shine in Your sight with Your longing

Bl. Pope John XXIIIThe phrase tuo desiderio is very elegant.  It can be looked at as being either "subjective" or "objective".  If we say "your desire", we leave open the possibility that we are speaking of "our desire for you" or "your desire for us".  We can’t tell which it is.  So, in the English version I will leave the phrase just as ambiguous as the Latin so that you can decide for yourselves which direction to take it.    Which way do I go?  I like the idea of God’s love and desire for us being such that its reaches out to us, into our very souls, and makes our souls shine with something of the same glory that our Lord revealed on Mt. Tabor in His transfiguration.  At the same time, as God’s images we are made to act as God acts, to know, to will, to love.  So, as we come to know ourselves and Him better, will in a more discplined matter and love the things proper to our state in life, we show forth even in a dazzling way God’s image in us.  

Bl. Pope John XXIII cited this prayer in his 1962 letter Paenitentiam agere by which asked people to do penance on the eve of the Second Vatican Council.  The English version of that letter found on the Vatican website translates one phrase as "Make our souls to glow in Thy sight with desire of Thee."Take your pick.

One rad-trad site renders the Collect in this way:

Let us pray. Look down upon Thy household, O Lord,
and grant that our minds may be made glow [sic] by the desire of Thee,
which have been chastened by the tormenting of their bodies

The DisciplineOkay.  I have nothing against slavishly literal translations in order to get to the foundation of the prayer’s content.  But this version can be of little use to us other than as a starting point for a deeper examination.  This is just wrong in several ways.  Castigo is not "torment" as much as it is "to set right by word or deed, to correct, chastise, punish; to blame, reprove, chide, censure, find fault with".  In its roots it means to "correct, set right, mend", not "torment".  We looked at the meaning of maceratio and I don’t think in this context it can be construed as "torment".  "Mortify" yes, "torment" no.  The rad trad version, the source of which I am not quite sure, seems imbued with a weird Janenistic tinge.  Familia as "household" is a pretty idea, because of the roots of the word in ancient Oscan fama

The Doctor of GraceMore about moderatio.  In a very interesting letter to a woman named Ecdicia St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) talks about moderatio.  Ecdicia and her husband, mostly be her instigation, chose to live in a continent relationship.  She pretty much imposed this on her husband, but he went along.  Then she started to dress like a widow.  Then she alienated some of their property by giving it o itinerant monks.  Then she started to disinherit their son by given money to the Church.  Her husband, frustrated beyond endurance, eventually started taking up with other women, etc.  Ecdicia wrote to Augustine to get him to intervene with her husband, assuming that he would be on her side.  Augustine takes her apart, effectively, saying that she had violated the virtue of moderatio.  The referred not just to the excesses she got into but the fact that she violated the order of things and did not exercise proper governance within her sphere.  Of course in those days, the clear hierarchy was that women were immediately subservient to men in marriage.  However, Augustine says that she needed to exercise "goveranance", moderatio.   A very good image was offered to me about this seeming contrast by someone here in Rome.  If you saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding you will remember the scene when the daughter wants to go to school.  The father is against it and mother will intervene saying that even though he might be the "head" of the family, she is the "neck".  The neck makes the head point in this direction or that.  This is effectively what Augustine tells Ecdicia in his letter.  He tells her to start behaving like a real wife and knock off all the widow-like business and stop cutting her husband off, etc.  

Moderatio is a virtue that all of us must cultivate in our lives, not just in the sense of avoiding excess, but in the sense of active self-governance in respect to our spheres of living.

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  1. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    Father, look on us, your children.
    Through the discipline of Lent
    help us to grow in our desire for you.

    One wonders whether any of ICEL’s bodies have been chastened by mortification or even moderation. They certainly should be, if they couldn’t even distinguish between the words “grow” and “glow” (fulgeat).

  2. Don Marco says:

    My contribution today:


    Look down, O Lord, upon your family,
    and grant that our mind,
    being chastened by moderation in bodily things,
    may glow in your sight with desire for you.


    Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.

    May your faithful, O God, be made strong by your blessing;
    in grief be their solace,
    in tribulation their patience,
    and in danger their refuge.
    Through Christ our Lord.

  3. Don Marco says:

    And a reflection on today’s COLLECT:

    The Collect makes us ask that our mind, being chastened by moderation in bodily things, may glow with desire in the sight of God. Note the use of the singular “mind,” not the plural “minds.” That is significant. “Have this mind among yourselves, says Saint Paul, which was in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2:5). Lent is not a private undertaking, Lent is corporate. This is why Saint Benedict reorders the horarium during Lent: the hours of the meals are changed. Saint Benedict is practical, concrete. He wants the whole community to feel Lent – in their bellies and in the disruption of their daily routines. Lent is something we do together, being of one mind, and something we need one another in order to do.
    We ask God that this one mind of ours – the expression of our unity in the Holy Spirit – may glow with desire. That, to me, is a fascinating image: a mind glowing with desire, pulsating with light. When we hear the term “mind” in liturgical prayers, it most often translates the Latin “mens” which means not just understanding, reason, intellect, and judgment, but also soul and spirit. It refers to all our spiritual faculties. It also refers to a shared preference, to a common focus. Try to visualize the picture today’s collect gives us: a Church, a monastery, a community, having one single mind, and that one mind is glowing with desire for God. That is the most fundamental apostolate, the essential witness. Everything else we do is secondary.
    What do we mean when we refer to the chastening of our mind by moderation in bodily things? To chasten can mean to punish, to castigate. It also means to make chaste, that is, to refine, simplify, purify, and direct toward one thing alone, and that, I think, is the sense of the word in today’s collect. Moderation in bodily things – food, drink, sleep, talk, and entertainment – helps our minds, our spiritual faculties, to focus on the essential, on what Jesus, addressing Martha in the house of Bethany, called “the one thing necessary” (Lk 10:42). The chastened mind, “seeking first the kingdom” (Mt 6:33), “seeking the face of the Lord” (Ps 26:8-9), begins to glow with desire in the sight of God. “Let your light shine before others,” says Jesus (Mt 5:16).
    The glow of holy desire requires a steady commitment to lectio and oratio. Lectio is the hearing of the Word; oratio is the Word turned into prayer. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk 24:32). Lectio is completed by meditatio: the Word heard becomes the Word repeated and held in the mind until it begins to glow. Oratio is completed by contemplatio: the Word prayed opens the heart to a mysterious burning, to a fiery presence. Glow, then, with desire for God; burn with the fire of his presence, that the Lord may say of us what he said of John the Baptist: “He was a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5:35).

  4. martin says:

    i didnt mean to announce myself as a nit-picker who will be hauling you up on
    every typo . . its only if i see something you have overlooked in the prayer
    itself . . im astonished you have time even to open up the blog every day
    let alone attend to comments. my sincere thanks for your response to mine.

    next, i apologise for not telling you where i got the link . . its something
    close to the heart of every webmaster, im sure. the answer is i cant remember
    but i was surfing on 1st sunday of lent trying to find a news release of the vox clara
    meeting of november 2005, and in the course of it i must have stumbled, very happily,
    on your website

    thirdly: respice. im sure you have somewhere covered the semantic field of all the
    precatory and introductory words and dont make any special point of them day by day
    today, however, the careful reader will see your lit trans of “look up”, the ICEL trans
    “look on”, and the rad trad trans of “look down” (which also appears in don marco’s
    translation above). its a big word: in its transitive use the leading sense (as given by the oxford latin dictionary) is “turn ones gaze upon, look round at, notice behind one”
    then it can mean “look round for (someone or something one needs)” or “take a look at in order to examine” which is getting warmer. next we have the figurative idea of looking back (as in reviewing the past) or looking forward (taking up a new topic).

    the nub of it, for liturgical purposes, tho, is meaning 8 in the OLD:
    “to have regard for (a person, his welfare etc), show concern for,
    be solicitous for”. viewed from this angle, looking (whether down, up, or
    on) fails fully to plumb the depths of what “respice” intends.
    this deeper sense of respice is, then, cognate with the prayer of blessing
    in num.6:26 “convertat Dominus vultum suum ad te . . ”

    one of the main reproaches against the ICEL trans was its obliteration of
    the nuances of latin precatory and impetratory language. thus “grant, we beg/beseech/implore” were all dumped in favour (usually) of an importunate “give”.

    the use of “familia” reinforces the idea of community which don marco draws
    attention to. it is precisely because God has the care of all, including those who are not in his “familia”, that we dare to call His attention (back) to us and ask Him to “keep us in mind” (which is what “respice” really means here). we see the same word in the prayer before the pax: “ne respicias peccata mea, sed fidem ecclesiae tuae” where the priest is imploring God to “change focus”.

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