WDTPRS: Sexagesima

Excerpted from columns for The Wanderer.  The whole column can be found in that publication.

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  Sexagesima Sunday (1962 Missale Romanum – Roman Station: St. Paul’s outside-the-walls)

According to the traditional Roman calendar, this is the second of the Sundays in “pre-Lent”, called Sexagesima, as in the Latin for the “Sixtieth” day before Easter.  This number is more symbolic than arithmetical.  Last week was the first of these pre-Lenten Sundays, Septuagesima or “Seventieth.  The Latin term for the whole of Lent Quadragesima is “Fortieth”.  The pre-Lenten Sundays prepare us for the discipline of Lent, which once was far stricter. Purple is worn rather than the green of the season after Epiphany and there is a Tract instead of an Alleluia.  The prayers and readings for the pre-Lenten Sundays were compiled by St. Gregory the Great (+604). In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent, which was a real loss. 

Since this is a special year dedicated in honor of St. Paul, and the Station for today is St. Paul’s Basilica “outside the walls”, and since the prayers are relatively short today, we can take a look at all three orations.

The Collect or “Opening Prayer” as it is sometimes called in the post-Conciliar way of thinking, is found in ancient manuscripts of the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary, namely the 9th century Liber Sacramentorum Augustodunensis and also the L.S. Engolmensis.   This is a very interesting and ancient prayer, in that it makes explicit reference to St. Paul, the Doctor of the Gentiles.

Deus, qui conspicis, quia ex nulla nostra actione confidimus:
concede propitius; ut, contra adversa omnia,
Doctoris gentium protectione muniamur.

This prayer didn’t survive in any form to live in the Novus Ordo.  Sometimes the snipping gluing experts of the Consilium would deign to allow ancient prayers to be prayed as the third option for some never-used votive Mass.  Not this time.   It can’t even be found as an alternate for any feast or Mass of St. Paul, whom the prayer explicitly names.

The jam-packed Lewis & Short Dictionary informs us that conspicio means “to look at attentively”.  In the passive, it is “to attract attention, to be conspicuous”.  Conspicio is a compound of “cvm…with” and *specio (the * indicates a theoretical form of a verb, of which we have no examples in ancient literature) which has to do with perception. The useful French dictionary of liturgical Latin we call Blaise/Dumas says that conspicio refers to God’s “regard”, presumably because God “sees” all things “together”. 

The last word here is from munio, which is “to build a wall around, to fortify, …protect; strengthen, support”.

O God, You who perceive that we confide in no action of our own:
propitiously grant; that we may be fortified against every adverse thing
by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles.

The Roman Station today is the Major Basilica of St. Paul “outside the walls”.  Few prayers of the Roman Missal display such an obvious connection with the place the Mass was celebrated in Rome and the readings, though in the Station Masses it is not rare to have oblique connections through some allusion in texts. 

Our Lenten discipline, which these pre-Lenten Sundays remind us of ahead of time, helps us with God’s grace take better control of that over which we can exercise control.  So it is that we may pray with earnest that God set His defenses around us, who must strive in the here and now according to grace and elbow grease.  So many adversities beset us daily, as the Apostle of the Gentiles knew well in his own life.  He experienced the thorn in the flesh, the troubles from within even has he endured hardship from without.  In this Pauline Year, this Pauline Lent, we do well to call upon the Apostle to help us plan for the forty-day discipline.

In today’s Epistle from 2 Cor 11 and 12 describes St. Paul gives us a portrait of how we must live. Christians face a battle.  We may be called to endure suffering.  It is an apt reading before Lent.  We should take it to heart and let it inspire us to consider the discipline we will undertake in Lent.  The Gospel is the Lord’s parable about the sower of seeds (cf. Luke 8).  Some seeds make it. Many do not.  Some people hear the Word of God. Many hear it and fail. The seed is received in the words of Holy Writ, in the teachings of the Church, in our sacraments.  The seed is always effective.

It is our own disposition that makes the difference, not the seed that the Sower sows in us. 
We might consider that in the context of Holy Mass.  The Host we dare to receive, made from the flour of seeds of wheat, is the seed Christ the High Priest sows in us.  St. Paul teaches us a stern lesson the reception of the Eucharist by the worthy and the unworthy.  We are not in control of our salvation, but we cooperate.  Certainly by no action of our own are we saved.  Still, we have a role.  We are in control of our disposition to receive what God offers, no one else!  God will help us with grace to overcome our reticence to confess our sins and seek forgiveness.  But we must get ourselves to confession.  We must examine our consciences and live according to our vocations.  We must fast before Communion and choose to unite ourselves to the sacred action.  We must do so with discipline, to form good habits.

The Secret was also prayed for centuries by the ancient Church, as it occurs in the same collections as the Collect.  It is terse.

The priest has all things in readiness before him.  The Host rests on the corporal.  The wine with a few mingled drops of water, Christ’s divinity ready to transform our humanity, is still in the chalice.  Incense makes the shafts of light apparent to the eye, just as the words of our prayers make deeper realities available to our ears… except this one.  The priest whispers the…

Oblatum tibi, Domine,
sacrificium vivificet nos semper et muniat.

An oblatum is a thing that is “offered”.  This is from offero, “to bring before; to present, offer” and in Church Latin, “to offer to God, to consecrate, dedicate; sacrifice”.  An “oblation” is something sacrificed to the divinity.  An “oblate” is someone consecrated to God.  The sacrificium oblatum here is what has been placed on the altar for the Sacrifice: bread and wine.

The oblatum sacrificium on the altar must not only be the bread and wine, but also our own aspirations and weaknesses.  Think of the preparation of the chalice moments before.  A tiny amount of water, symbolizing our humanity is joined to the wine, representing Christ’s divinity.  The water is taken in and transformed in to what the wine is. 

May the sacrifice which is offered up to You, O Lord,
quicken us always and secure us.

Concise, but layered.  First, we have the concept of vivifico, “vivify… give life” which is also “restore”.  I love the old word “quicken”, … not to be mistaken for tax preparation software.  Think of the English phrase “the quick and the dead”.  “Quick” is also the edge or border of hedges or grass. It is also the place where the fingernail connects to the flesh.  If you are “cut to the quick”, you have been pushed to the edge, something vital in you has been hurt.

This quickening concept is coupled with “defend… strengthen… protect”.  We see here munio once again.  So, there is the positive, but also the dire.  We need protection.  That means there is something out there which is dangerous.  There is something in us that is dangerous as well, and this needs to be “restored… brought to life”.  When it is brought to life, it must be defended.

You were dead in your sins.  You were brought to life.  You need the defenses the Lord has thrown around you in Holy Church.

Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus,
ut, quos tuis reficis sacramentis,
tibi etiam placitis moribus
dignanter deservire concedas.

This prayer survived into the Novus Ordo as the Post communionem during the 1st Week (not Sunday!) in Ordinary Time.  It is also used for the 2nd Sunday of Lent in the older Missal.  This would be a good question for your Latin students. Quaeritur: here are four instances of the ending –is … how are they different/similar?


Humbly we beseech You, Almighty God,
that You may grant that those whom You refresh with Your sacramental mysteries,
may also serve You worthily
in pleasing moral conduct of life.

We pick up on what is implied in the invocation of St. Paul at the beginning of Mass. There is no proper disposition for reception of the Blessed Sacrament, or admission to the Beatific Vision, without a proper Christian conduct of life.  Good works, which are good through the merits of Christ, and the graces we are given in the sacraments, make us worthy of eternal life. 

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

Pre-Lent reminds us that our season of penance is coming.  St. Paul! Intercede for us as we consider our Lenten discipline.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    The elimination of pre-lent is a direct disregard to VII which ordered that in the reform of the calendar the particular character of the lirutgical seasons were “to be maintained”.I guess there is another meaning to “maintain” which is “eliminate”. Of course they also dieregarded “particular law remainining in force ‘latin is to be preserved in the latin rites’.

  2. Brian Day says:

    In the Novus Ordo of Paul VI there is no more pre-Lent, which was a real loss.

    A reform of the calendar (syncing the EF and OF calendars) has been discussed before. What are the practical problems of doing so? Obviously for the OF, “new” texts would need to be approved, and of course, the inevitable translation issues with the ICEL. Are there others problems to overcome?

  3. Dr. Eric says:

    I also deplore the loss of Pre-Lent. The Eastern Catholics (especially the Byzantines) have a period of weeks before Lent where they gradually strip away various food products until they are fully Vegan during Lent.

  4. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    Not only the Eastern rites but also the Orthodox churches have pre-lent.Even the Anglican/episcopalian ecclesial comminity does.

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