5th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Collect (2)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  5th Sunday of Lent – Station: St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2005

Some of your feedback.  About the article on Latin studies now online on the website of The Wanderer, Fr. SB writes: “I recently read your article about learning Latin.  A couple of years ago I began teaching my youngest son (I am a priest of the Orthodox Church) Latin and after two years of study he loves it and is progressing well.  We are already looking ahead to his university studies and the likelihood of continuing with Latin and Ancient Greek, perhaps in a program of Patristic Studies.  We both would like to spend time in Rome in a program in which Latin is also spoken.”  Thanks, Fr. SB.  I wish that priests of the Latin Church had your zeal!  I bet you don’t have to cope with “for many” in the translations of the consecration form for the Precious Blood during your Divine Liturgy!  From Canada JB writes (slightly edited): “I want to thank you so much for the time you take to do the ‘What Does The Prayer Really Say’ section; it is an inspiration for me to continue to study Latin during my seminary formation. I was wondering in addition to the Sundays of Lent if you could also do Ash Wednesday.”  Sure, JB!  Just write to the editor of The Wanderer and ask them to give me a whole page and I will be able to get everything in.  Seriously, there just isn’t room for everything I would like to do or everything I could write on just one Sunday prayer at a time.  This speaks to the richness of the prayers, the deficiency of the present translations, and the importance of fidelity to the Latin.  Great Scott!  Sometimes I could fill a whole column with feedback I get in a week’s time!  However, Ash Wednesday is a good suggestion: send me your version and let’s see what happens. 

Traditionally this Sunday is called First Passion Sunday.  With the Novus Ordo we call Palm Sunday also Passion Sunday.  Today was the beginning of “Passiontide”.  It was also known as Iudica Sunday, from the first word of the Introit of Mass (from Ps 42/41) and sometimes Repus (from repositus analogous to absconditus or “hidden”) because this is the day when Crosses and other images in churches were veiled.  In the Church’s more traditional liturgy as of today the “Iudica” psalm was no longer said in the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri at the end of certain prayers was no longer said.   This pruning of the liturgy during Lent symbolizes how the Church experiences liturgical death before the feast of the Resurrection.   Regarding covering statues, here are the rules as least for the dioceses in the USA:  Crosses in church may (not must!) be covered from the end of Mass for Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. Images (including statues) in church may be covered from the end of the Mass for Saturday of the 4th Week of Lent until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.

This is a wonderful custom and very meaningful.  We lose things during Lent.  Music and flowers, the word Alleluia, the statues and images are draped in purple.  After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed to another place the altar is stripped, bells are no longer rung and are replaced with wooden noise makers.  On Good Friday there isn’t even a Mass and at the beginning of the Vigil we are deprived of light itself!  The Church gloriously springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter, in the dark of night when a single flame spreads to the hands of whole congregation.  This liturgical death of the Church reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory in order to save us from our sins and to teach us who we are.  If we can connect ourselves in heart and mind with the Church’s liturgy in which these sacred mysteries are re-presented, then by our active receptivity we become participants in the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  To begin this active receptivity we must be baptized members of the Church and be in the state of grace.

Today’s Collect was not in previous editions of the Roman Missal.  It comes from the Liber Mozarabicus Sacramentorum.  The Mozarabic Rite, going back as far as the 6th c. is the second best attested Latin Catholic rite in terms of surviving documents.  The Mozarabic Rite was suppressed in 1085 except for in six parishes of Spain.  In 1500 a Mozarabic Missal with some elements integrated from the Roman Rite was published and then approved by Pope Julius II (+1513).  Francisco Card. Ximénez de Cisneros (+1517) erected a chapel in Toledo and a college of thirteen priests whose task it would be to use the Mozarabic Rite even after the reforms of the Council of Trent and the imposition of the Roman Rite. A new edition of the Missale Hispano-Mozarabicum was published in 1991 and Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass with the Mozarabic Missal in 1992 and 2000.  I was there in 1992 and it was an great experience.

Quaesumus, Domine Deus noster,
ut in illa caritate, qua Filius tuus
diligens mundum morti se tradidit,
inveniamur ipsi, te opitulante, alacriter ambulantes.

The only word in the Collect which might catch your eye as being a little odd is opitulante in that ablative absolute construction.  Opitulor is a deponent verb meaning, “to bring aid; to help, aid, assist, succor.”   Alacriter is an adverb from alacer, and means “briskly, eagerly”.  Coming from alacer it has an element of cheerfulness to it.    Trado signifies “to give up, hand over, deliver, transmit, surrender, consign.

O Lord our God, we beg that,
You assisting us, we ourselves may be found walking swiftly
in that selfsame sacrificial love by which Your Son,
loving the world, handed Himself over to death.

In some respects our Lenten Collects are similar to those of Advent.  There are images of motion, of pilgrimage.  We are moving toward a great feast of the Church but we are more importantly moving definitely toward the mysteries they make present to us. 

Taking a page from St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), we the baptized who are the Body of the Mystical Person of Christ, the Church, are on a journey with the Lord, the Head of the Church, toward Jerusalem: the Jerusalem of our own passion and the new Jerusalem of our Resurrection.  Christ made this journey so that we could make it and be saved in it.  In our liturgy the one, whole Mystical Christ is on a Lenten journey.  Each year in Lent Christ, in us, travels that road of the Passion, and we, in Him, travel the road marked out by Holy Mother Church and her duly ordained shepherds.  We must unite ourselves in heart, mind and will with the mysteries expressed in the liturgy.  Our passion, our road to Jerusalem, is in our examination of conscience and good confessions, our self-denial and works of mercy.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, help us to be like Christ your Son,
who loved the world and died for our salvation.
Inspire us by his example, who lives and reigns….

Commerical:  The relative value of some ICEL translations… $0.02.  A year’s gift subscription to The Wanderer… $50.  Helping a friend understand what the prayer really says… priceless.   

It irritates me that phrases like Domine Deus noster are reduced in the lame-duck ICEL version to “Father” (NB: none of those three Latin words means “Father”, but you probably knew that…).  Of course we are not so dense that we can’t figure out that this Collect is addressed to the First Person of the Trinity, i.e., “the Father”.  How stupid do they think we are?   

In the past I have taken the ICEL versions to task for the constant reliance on the word “help”, as in the quintessential parody of an ICEL prayer: “O God, you are so big.  Help us to be big like you.”  However, I used the word “assisting” in our WDTPRS version (cf. above – opitulor).  I could just as easily have use “helping”, as I did four years ago when we did this same prayer.  Therefore, we must make distinctions about the way WDTPRS uses “help” and the way ICEL usually uses it in their versions.   Please understand: I have no problem at all with the idea that God “helps” us.  What I want to avoid, and I am not convinced that the lame-duck ICEL prayers do, is suggest that we can really do what we are praying about on our own but it would be great if God would give us a hand now and then.  This is tantamount to the ancient heresy of Pelagianism.  I think sometimes the ICEL prayers are virtually Pelagian, or at least susceptible to a Pelagian interpretation.

Brief scholion: What is Pelagianism?  Pelagianism, bitterly fought off by, among others, St. Augustine of Hippo in the 4th and 5th centuries, was a heretical belief that Original Sin did not wound human nature and that our will is capable of choosing good or evil with no help from God’s grace. This would mean that the sin of our first parents to “set a bad example” for humanity to follow, but Adam’s sin did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin (wounding of the intellect and will, etc.). For Pelagians, Jesus sets a good example which counteracts Adam’s bad example. We can choose to follow it and choose, on our own, with the help of Jesus’ perfect example.  Therefore, according to Pelagians, we humans retain full control and full responsibility for our own salvation.  Now read the ICEL version again.

The Latin Collects avoid even the slightest tint of Pelagianism when talking about God’s “help.”  In today’s Latin Collect we read (in a starker version), “in that love by which your Son, loving the world, gave himself over to death.”  In the Latin we pray about caritas, charity, sacrificial love, which is in by us God’s free gift of grace.  Caritas is the theological virtue enabling us to love God for Himself and our neighbors as ourselves.  In the present ICEL version we want to be “inspired by his example.”  It seems to me that the ICEL prayer stops there and doesn’t take the next necessarily Catholic step.  Sure, Christ and His love is our perfect “example.”  But the Latin Collect connect us far more intimately with that love, to the extent that God’s “help” is actually God providing that we do all we do in a deep unity with Christ’s own love.  We are so much in unity with Him that we become Christ-like in our love.  His love lives and works in and through us.  It is ours and we are Its. That is more than an example for imitation. 

Our Lenten discipline continues.  Persevere in prayer, fasting and almsgiving and, especially, in your full, active and conscious participation in the sacred mysteries of Holy Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Certainly the limp iteration of “help” in week (1) set up a resistance to further employment of the word (its use on Friday of week 1 is the low point); but its use since then has tailed off: once in each of weeks (2), (3) and (4). And again today.

    As Fr. Z. says, “Help” is not the problem: see the various instances of “adiutorium nostrum” in the Psalms including the well-known versicle “adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini” (Ps. 123.8 in the Vulgate; Ps.124.8 in most modern translations) formerly among the prayers at the foot of the altar. We dont find “adiutorium” in the Latin collects, but there are several references to “auxilium” (from “augeo” meaning “to increase”). The theological Scylla and Charybdis are (a) any implication that we can cope on our own, and (b) any suggestion that it is pointless for us to make any effort.

    In the ICEL translations there are 6 references to human weakness: Thursday (1), Tuesday (2), Sunday, Monday, and Friday (3), Friday (4).

    Two are generalised references to weakness: Sunday (3); Friday (4).
    Three are explicit statements that without God’s aid we are bound to fail: Thursday (1); Tuesday (2); Monday (3) (cf. Saturday (4), where the same thought recurs without express mention of our weakness).
    One is an appeal to God for the grace to rise above our weakness: Friday (3).

    In the ICEL Lent collects read as a whole, then, there is a proper insistence on the truth that we are destitute without God’s grace.

  2. martin says:


    On a re-scrutiny I find that I under-counted the use of “help” in week (2) where there are two instances, not one as I previously reported. The conclusions I arrived at, as posted above, are not affected.

    The distribution of the word down to the end of week 4 is as follows: twice post cineres, and in the succeeding 4 weeks, 9 instances, including 5 in week (1). In addition, there is one reference to “support” and 4 to “protect” (I have conjectured its use on Saturday post cineres, where I do not have the ICEL text). The word “defend” does not occur. There are, then, 16 instances all told in this semantic field, of which only 3 occur after the middle of week 2. Sunday week 5 makes 17 instances.

    I discuss here the use of “help/ defend/ protect/ support” in the Latin collects which is represented by the following words or phrases:

    auxilia (3), subsidia (1), praesidia (2), prosequere (1), adiuvando prosequere (1), protegendo (1), opem (1)

    Furthermore, the use in the Latin of strings such as “da/ concede . . ut valeamus” constitutes a request for help. I identify 5 such instances (a sixth use of the string is not in point). This total of 15 instances of expressions denoting or implying a request for “help” occurs in 11 collects. Add in the use of “te opitulante” on Sunday 5 and we have 16 instances in 12 collects. The distribution (excluding Sunday 5) is as follows:

    Ash Wednesday and post cineres (4); week 1 (1); week 2 (3); week 3 (2); week 4 (1)

    The bulk of the ICEL instances are located in prayers down to the middle of week 2, and the same pattern is evident in the Latin collects.

    Whatever the objection to “help” in the ICEL prayers, it is properly neither theological (see my previous post above) nor conceptual, nor can it be based on a failure to reflect the incidence or distribution of equivalent terms in the Latin.

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