Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent

Mass of St. Gregory by YsenbrandtCOLLECT
Deus, qui et iustis praemia meritorum
et peccatoribus veniam per paenitentiam praebes,
tuis supplicibus miserere,
ut reatus nostri confessio
indulgentiam valeat percipere delictorum.

In the Gelasianum Vetus for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent we had "Omnipotens sempiterne deus, qui et iustis praemia meritorum et peccatoribus per ieiunium erroris sui ueniam praebis, miserire supplicibus, parce peccantibus: ut reatus nostri confessio indulgentiam ualeat percipere dilictorum: per dominum nostrum."   In the Hadrianum of the Gregorian Sacramentary there was: Deus qui et iustis praemia meritorum et peccatoribus per ieiunium veniam praebes miserere supplicibus tuis, ut reatus nostri indulgentiam valeat percipere delictorum. Same day with the indication of the same Roman Station of St. Paul’s outside the walls.  

O God, who does profer to the just the rewards of merits
and through penance forgiveness unto sinners
be merciful to Your humble petitioners,
so the confession of our guilt
may prevail in obtaining remission of our offenses.

We need to be clear about something.  What we do on our own cannot obtain anything from God on its own merits.  To paraphrase St. Augustine when God crowns our merits, He crowns His own merits in us.  

I wrote this next excerpt from a WDTPRS article for Super Oblata of the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time.  I think it applies.  Also, I am really sick right now and just don’t have it in me to do much more, so here goes.  Some of the rest of you can dig into the vocabulary and syntax.


St. Augustine of HippoWe have here a pairing of words which are, so to speak, two sides of the one and same coin: meritum and praemiumMeritum or “merit” is the right to a reward (praemium) due to some work done.  Supernatural merit is the right to a reward for a work God determines is good and which is done for His sake.  This sort of work must be supernatural in its origin, that is, it is done under the influence of grace, and supernatural in its purpose.  God alone is the source of supernatural good and therefore He must designate it as such.  Consider the consecration in Holy Mass which contains the command of Jesus at the Last Supper and His description of what His commands lead to.  Christ tells us that consuming His Body and Blood are for eternal life (cf. John 6).  He commanded His Apostles to do what he was doing.  If we do what He commands for His sake and the reasons He described, then we merit the reward God designates.   The vocabulary (devotio, servitus, meritum, praemium) boldly communicates the truth of our stance before God.

Non-Catholics often think that when Catholics talk about merit, we are saying we can earn salvation by performing good works. The Church doesn’t teach this. The Council of Trent said that “none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace” (13 January 1547 Session VI, Decree on Justification 8, cf. Rom 11:6).   Holy Church teaches that Christ alone merits anything in the strictest sense.  Man by himself does not merit supernatural rewards (cf. CCC 2007).  When moved by grace we do those things God promised to reward (cf. Rom 2:6–11 and Gal 6:6–10). God’s grace and His promises are the source of all our merit (CCC 2008).  We must make a distinction between condign merit, awarded because it is fully deserved and our action was proportioned to the reward, and congruent merit, awarded by God’s generosity for imperfect works. 
The Bishop of Hippo St. Augustine (+430) eloquently teaches (ep. 194, 19 – read this out loud): “What, therefore, before grace is man’s merit, by which merit he receivesexcept by grace and since God crowns nothing other than His own gifts when He crowns our merits?”  The theology of this teaching, even the key phrase of Augustine, is in Preface “de sanctis” – (De gloria Sanctorum): “…et, eorum coronando merita, tua dona coronas….”  Clearly the Church continues faithfully to hold to her traditional theology of merit and grace.

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  1. Henry Edwards says:

    ICEL version:
    you reward virtue and forgive the repentant sinner.
    Grant us your forgiveness
    as we come before you confessing our guilt.

    Look! Sin, guilt, confession, and forgiveness in a single ICEL collect. We should savor the moment, as past experience suggests it may be quite a while before we see such a conjunction again.

  2. Jon says:


    I was at the 6:45 Mass at the local Dominican monastery this morning. We had a substitute priest, as our usual friar is in
    Florida warming the winter from his bones.

    I’m certain this wasn’t the collect he used (I’d remember it). It’s odd. Anyway I don’t recall the words exactly, but he was reading it from the Missal, and its cadence was definitely ICELese. The gospel was that of the day, from John 5. Perhaps he merely read from the wrong page.

    I guess this means no guilt for me today!

  3. CaesarMagnus says:

    I have another question: In my following of WDTPRS, I have noticed that many
    of the prayers in the Novus Ordo come from the Gelasian Sacramentary.
    I don’t know anything about the history of Missals, but why does this one seem
    to be used so much?
    From a Latin standpoint, it does seem to have simpler structure, as I seem to
    have an easier time translating the “newer” prayers than the ones which came
    from the Tridentine Roman Missal.

  4. About the complexity, I believe what you are seeing is similar to what happened in Gregorian chant. The later the chant, the more likely it is to be complex, with more melismas, etc. In both the prayer and the chant this might be the result of the authors having more to say about the content.


  5. Henry Edwards says:


    Haven’t you ever seen this before? A prayer hits to close to home — sin, guilt, confession, etc. — so the priest turns to another page and reads a more congenial collect instead. It happens.

  6. martin says:

    I am not a defender of the ICEL translations, but their defects (which are serious) do not include the one aired here today.

    It may surprise us to look back over the Lenten collects so far and find so little reference to “sin”. Without “sin”, issues of “guilt” and “forgiveness” do not arise.

    Numbers in brackets refer to the weeks of Lent.

    The Latin texts mention “peccata” only on Monday (2) and Sunday (3). Wednesday (4) introduces “peccatores”. Three references so far. ICEL translated all of them literally, and in addition, for Monday (3) they glossed as “sin” a reference in the Latin to purification (“mundo”). On the other hand they ignored a reference to purification on Sunday (2) (“spiritali purificato intuitu”), so honours are about even on “sin”. Penance is mentioned in the Latin texts 3 times: Friday post cineres, Friday (2), and Wednesday (4). All are correctly translated by the ICEL. Indeed, the “discipline of Lent”, “penance” and “Lenten observance” are quite frequently mentioned in the ICEL texts.

    Evil is alluded to only twice in the Latin texts (Ash Wednesday: “spiritales nequitias” translated by ICEL simply as “evil”; and “noxis” on Tuesday (2) where ICEL has “harm”), but it appears in the ICEL text also on Monday (3) where the Latin plea that God’s mercy “ecclesiam tuam . . . mundet et muniat” is translated “free Your Church from sin and protect it from evil”.

    Sin and evil are, therefore, minor themes in the Lenten collects so far, and there is no justification for condemning the ICEL translations in the way they have reflected the Latin originals in this respect.

    The main issues are our resolve, perseverance and determination with regard to maintaining the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and works of charity; these being our necessary preparation for the great feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Christ’s suffering and atonement for our sins, although by no means hidden (Sunday (1) and (4), where the ICEL is more explicit than the Latin) is not a major theme here.

    The great theological theme is our utter dependence on God.

  7. Henry Edwards says:

    Martin: Your references indicate that you have been at this for about 3 weeks. I have been at it (following Father Z) for about 6 years. That is the experience I alluded to when I said “as past experience suggests it may be quite a while before we see such a conjunction again.” Stick with us for “quite a while” and I’m confident you’ll see what I mean.

  8. martin says:

    Henry, I confine myself to observations about the Lenten collects; but I am always ready to be proved wrong by the collects of the remaining 10 days of Lent

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    Well, 10 days is but a blink … . Perhaps when you’ve examined the collects and also the super oblata and postcommunions for the whole Church year, then what I’ve said will be a bit clearer to you. My comments are not based merely on a few days or weeks in Lent.

  10. martin says:

    My point about “sin” in the Lenten collects remains. The collects set up the theme of the Mass for each day. The 40 days of Lent are a significant body of prayer during the major penitential season in the Church’s year and I, for one, am glad to note that the ICEL translations neither ignore nor or obscure but faithfully match the theme of sin in the Latin collects here.

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