WDTPRS Friday 5th Week of Lent: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”

Absolve, quaesumus,
Domine, tuorum delicta populorum,
ut a peccatorum nexibus,
quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus,
tua benignitate liberemur.

In the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum this prayer was the Collect of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. In the ancient Veronese Sacramentary it was found in the month of September, a fast time, but it was a bit different: Absolue, domine, quaesumus, tuorum delicta populorum, et quod mortalitatis contrahit fragilitate purifica; ut cuncta pericula mentis et corporis te propellente declinans, tua consolatione subsistat, tua graita promissae redemptionis perficiatur hereditas.

A nexus, from necto (“to bind, tie, fasten; to join, bind, or fasten together, connect”), is “a tying or binding together, a fastening, joining, an interlacing, entwining, clasping” and thence, “a personal obligation, an addiction or voluntary assignment of the person for debt, slavery for debt”. Nexus is used to indicate also “a legal obligation of any kind”. It is not uncommon to find somewhere near nexus the word absolvo, which is “to loosen from, to make loose, set free, detach, untie”. In juridical language it means “to absolve from a charge, to acquit, declare innocent”. Here is a truly fascinating piece from the mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary: “to bring a work to a close, to complete, finish (without denoting intrinsic excellence, like perficere; the fig. is prob. derived from detaching a finished web from the loom”

Contraho in this context is “to bring about, carry into effect, accomplish, execute, get, contract, occasion, cause, produce, make”. Blaise/Dumas indicates that contraho means “to commit sin”.

Unloose, O Lord, we implore,
the transgressions of Your peoples,
so that in Your kindness we may be freed
from the bonds of the sins
which we committed on account of our weakness.

Think of sin as a web which we both weave and then get caught it. As Hamlet says the engineer is “hoist with his own petard”. When our First Parents committed the Original Sin, they contracted (contraho) the guilt and effects for the whole human race. At that point our race was bound by justice. To be “justified” again, and to be unbound from our guilt and set to right with God, reparation had to be made. Thus, the New Adam allowed Himself to be bound by His tormentors, and be bound to the Cross, and then unbind His soul from His Body and die.

The Sacrifice of the Lord was aimed not just at a few chosen or privileged people. It was for all peoples. The Sacrifice was “for all”, though “all” will not accept its effects. Some will refuse what Christ did to free us from our sins and the punishments of eternal hell they deserve. “Many” will be saved as a result of Christ’s Passion and Death. Which side of the reckoning will you be on.

Returning to the image of the loom, which is woven into today’s vocabulary, I have in mind the incredible phrase from the Book of Job: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.”

Our days are indeed like a shuttle. Some years ago I met a women who woven cloth with a large loom. She showed me how it worked. In her practiced hands, the shuttle lashed swiftly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, while the loom packed the threads together. The cloth “grew” as it was woven, slowly, but surely. But the shuttle snapped back and forth with increasing speed as she found her rhythm and settled into it.

grant us your forgiveness
and set us free from our enslavement to sin

You decide.

Pardon the offenses of your peoples, we pray, O Lord,
and in your goodness set us free
from the bonds of the sins
we have committed in our weakness

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. That top photo just screams out “1970s McCall’s” [Well! There’s some helpful insight! o{];¬) ]

  2. Hieronymus says:

    Every time I think I have lost my ability to be surprised at anything born out of the liturgical revolution, I read a post like this one about the N.O. translation and immediately think, “this can’t be serious!” And then I hear the voices of all those poor souls who have told me over the years that they like the wreckovated liturgy because they are able to understand what is being said.

    Again I will point out, these same people pulled off the entire revolution. The translations, music, the architecture, the missal itself…everything. If the problem is simply one of implementation, I ask which of the Council fathers refused to go along? Which of them even complained of the horrid translations? Why has this gone unchecked for 40 years?

  3. jaykay says:

    But at least, Hieronymus, the old ICEL version mentions the “s” word and even *gasp” the possibility of being enslaved to it. Think of all the furrowed brows that must have occasioned at the time, bringing in such “old church” terminology, despite the many dynamically equivalent possibilities out there, leaping about in their 16″ bell bottoms and Birkenstocks, just waiting to sing a new church into being (after they’d finished teaching the world to sing… and drunk all that Coke). And the Latin uses “Domine” so that the ubiquitous old-ICEL “Lord” is actually correct, for once.

    As for being enslaved to “sin” – I’m sure they felt it was nothing a little trot around the labyrinth couldn’t cure.

  4. benedetta says:

    Although the young woman’s dress dates the photo to the 70s I do wonder about that loom — it looks very old, doesn’t it? But even in the 70s it was still permissible for young women to dress decently. So much for the canard that all the good stuff from the 60s and 70s demands that young women of today should always reveal as much as possible.

    I had never considered that quotation from Job before. I am reading an interesting young adult book aloud in my house right now, which won an award for young adult literature. It is the story of a young man caught up in the notion of political and military overthrow of the Romans who joins a band of Zealots. He encounters Jesus and is intrigued and attracted to him but is continually disappointed in what Jesus says and does since he is seeking a political and entirely materialist savior. He observes Jesus healing others but can’t reconcile it in his mind. It’s a process of a young man’s maturation and depicts a sometimes discouraging struggle to grow according to the way God calls, not necessarily according to his own particular designs and expectations as a young man who is passionate and hungers for justice but then not rejecting all that is good in his desires either. Anyway his sister in the book is housebound and mute and the villagers condemn and dismiss her as crazy or possessed. In the beginning of the book her brother regards her as an embarrassment to him, and a yoke and responsibility. He wishes he did not exist.

    She sits and works at a loom and tends a garden during her infirmity.

  5. Brooklyn says:

    I fear that far too often we think that heaven is our default reward in life, and I’ve heard priests and deacons and others say it is almost impossible to commit mortal sin and go to hell. Yet, the truth is we are all born with guilt and, except for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, destined for hell:

    When our First Parents committed the Original Sin, they contracted (contraho) the guilt and effects for the whole human race. At that point our race was bound by justice. To be “justified” again, and to be unbound from our guilt and set to right with God, reparation had to be made.

    When Adam and Eve rejected God, they made us all children of the devil. We were slaves to sin and the evil one, and death was our reward. Christ’s sacrifice set us free. Christ gave us life, we who deserve only death. The former translations just don’t get that message across, and I feel that is the reason that the faith of so many is so weak. If people could even begin to understand what happened on the Cross, the churches would be packed.

  6. jaykay says:

    Benedetta: “even in the 70s it was still permissible for young women to dress decently”.

    Certainly was, in fact it was mandatory in Catholic girls’ schools, as in the convent my sister attended where nuns still made up a high proportion of the teaching staff and lay teachers (women) wore academic gowns. Their uniforms were based on modified 1930s models such as my mother had worn when she was there. One of the nuns solemnly told the girls at morning assembly that mini-skirts (which must have been on the way out then as it was 1970 but maybe she was thinking of hot pants?) were “innovations of the devil and occasions of sin”. Not that they could wear them to school, of course, but the unspoken subtext was that any girl seen outside school wearing such…

    Returning to the collect [THANK YOU!]
    (and I do like the new ICEL version) and the notion of the bondage of sin, I have seen in commentaries on confession that one of the reasons we often find ourselves almost phyiscally repulsed from even the thought of confession is that we have allowed ourselves to be so enmeshed within and confined by its tentacles that these are pulling us backwards away from our innate desire to be reconciled. The end result is that we are torn within ourselves and confused, and this produces the sense of unworthiness that keeps us away, which of course is all that Satan wants. It’s also a symptom of pride or false humility, considering ourselves so unworthy of unfathomable Divine Mercy that we can’t avail of it.

    On the other hand, if we can manage to avail of grace and drag ourselves to confession the feeling of relief that the bonds are utterly loosened is so overwhelming, and we can now see what we should be, that the thought of ever having been repulsed from confession in the first place seems absurd.

    Which reminds me – tomorrow’s Saturday.

  7. JKnott says:

    Very nice reflection Father.
    It calls to mind an incident in my life when the good nuns gave me the task of washing several amices for the priest (I think that is what the ones with the strings are called?). The instruction was to soak and wash by hand. Enter…. my own bad idea, whicb was to put them in the washing machine to speed up the process, only to find all of the strings tangled beyond description.
    It offered a lengthly opportunity, while standing for a long time; a very long time; trying to undo all the knots, to reflect on what my prideful independence and disobedience caused and how tedious it was to get the amices back in proper order again.

  8. jaykay says:

    Beautiful parallel, JKnott!

    Speaking of amices, only last night I was watching the film “Katyn” on DVD at home (well worth seeing, btw). One of the scenes shows a priest unvesting, with the assistance of the altar server. As he removes the alb the amice is seen in all its glory. Whoever played the priest must have practiced, because he had it off in a flash.

  9. Dr. Eric says:

    I like the slavishly accurate version. The other translations do not convey the true power of “Absolve” which is the first word in the prayer. I recognized it immediately and gasped at the boldness of the prayer to ask God to absolve us from our sins. Absolve, like when we are finishing up our confessions. Absolve, like the prayer right after the Confiteor. We are asking God to absolve us from our sins. Think about it.

  10. benedetta says:

    jaykay and Dr. Eric I think that is on target. The assumptions today are that not only are we all ok (you’re ok, I’m ok…) but that we are all already perfect and we will proceed to heaven, as is, perfect. The idea that God loves us is heard as “we don’t sin” and have no need of confession (unless you’re a murderer in which case confession won’t even help you but we’re nice people and not like that) as a matter of course and as a matter of course God loves us just as we are, just as we are, we will be going to heaven. I think that whatever the translation, the part about sin and us is merely tuned right out. Communal penance, because it’s Lent and as we will be hearing the Passion soon which involves pain, death, accusatory Pharisees and sadness, we need an evening to come out and all be sad together and it won’t interfere with continuing to have a good time.

  11. jaykay says:

    I apologise, Father Z. Too much off-topic.

    My impression is that the old ICEL version is all too much of its type and, despite the uncharectristic reference to sin, too swiftly switches into rapid-fire “office memo to God” style and reverts to typical imperative mode, ignoring the beautiful import of “tua benignitate” and, of course, “quaesumus”.

  12. ejcmartin says:

    After Mass this evening we had a Lenten presentation. Towards the end of the meeting discussion turned to the new translation. I was able to pull up WDTPRS on my iPad and read the “lame-duck” and then the new translation to the people present. Similar to the response the priest had the other day some people laughed at how lame the present prayer really is.
    BTW My Grandmother was a small women but man could she work the loom. It is an impressive site to see.

  13. Philangelus says:

    What I’ve been noticing about the lame-duck ICEL collects is that they’re invariably much shorter than the pieces they’re supposedly translations of. (This one is five lines in Latin and three lines in English; that’s 40%, just gone.) Given the way many of them fail to resemble their originals in so many ways, I’m wondering if the whole process of translation wasn’t just too daunting to the team and they tried to whip through them as quickly as possible.

    I have no idea how long you take to do each one, Father Z, but I would guess you put at least two to three hours into each slavishly literal translation, and maybe even more. If the translation team was denied a sufficiency of time to actually get each collect translated (and of course, all the other prayers that would need to be translated) then you might end up with a lot of slap-dash translation from people who thought, “Well, if there’s time left over at the end, I’ll come back to this, but for now it’s just important to get them a Mass in English at all.”

    Have you ever covered on this blog the process by which the lame-duck ICEL translation was created? (I’ve only been hanging out here for about eight months.) :-)

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