In the traditional Roman calendar this Sunday is called Sexagesima, 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 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.
This prayer was in the 8th c. Liber sacramentorum Engolismensis.
Deus, qui conspicis, quia ex nulla nostra actione confidimus:
concede propitius; ut, contra adversa omnia,
Doctoris gentium protectione muniamur.
I don’t think this prayer in any form survived to live in the Novus Ordo. 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 asterisk indicates a theoretical form 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, secure, put in a state of defence; to guard, secure, strengthen, support”.
O God, You who perceive that we trust 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.
This is a very interesting and ancient prayer, in that it makes explicit reference to St. Paul, the Doctor of the Gentiles.
Remember that the Roman Station today is the Major Basilica of St. Paul “outside the walls”. Very few prayers of the Roman Missal display such an intimate connection with the place the Mass was celebrated in Rome and the readings.
In the Epistle from 2 Cor 11 and 12 St. Paul gives us a portrait of how we must live, the battle we face as Christians, the suffering we may be called to endure. It is an apt reading before Lent, to inspire us to consider the discipline of our Christian life. The Gospel is the Lord’s parable about the sower of seeds. Some seeds make it but many do not. Some people hear the Word of God, but many hear it and fail. 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 Eucharist, the Host we dare to receive, 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 in control of our disposition to receive what God offers. 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.
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.
May the sacrifice which is offered up to You, O Lord,
quicken us always and secure us.
This prayer, concise as it is, has layers of meaning. First, we have the concept of “vivify… give life” which is also “restore”. This is coupled with “defend… strengthen… protect”. There is the positive, but also the dire. If 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”. So, 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.
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 of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time. It is also, if I am not mistaken, used for the 2nd Sunday of Lent in the older Missal. This would be a good question for you Latin students. Quaeritur – There 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.
Here we are picking 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.
This time of pre-Lent reminds us that our season of penance is coming.