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

In the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum this prayer was the Collect of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

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

In the ancient Veronese Sacramentary our prayer was found in the month of September, also a fasting 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”.

This is so cool… here is a truly fascinating bit about nexus 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.

Sin is a web which we both weave and then get caught in.  You know the old saying from Sir Walter Scott: “O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  All sins are deceptions and the Enemy is the father of lies.

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, tangled up by justice. To be “justified” again, and to be unbound from our guilt and set to right with God, reparation had to be made. Therefore, the New Adam was bound by His tormentors, and bound to the Cross. His soul was unbound from His Body and died, and in the binding and unbinding, we were unbound from our sins.

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

The new, corrected translation isn’t perfect, but it sure is better.

I hear, woven into the vocabulary, the image of a loom.

I have in mind the passage 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.  But in Christ we are never without hope.  Christ is our hope.

Some years ago in Italy I met a women who wove cloth with a large loom. 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. The shuttle snapped back and forth with increasing speed as she found her rhythm and settled into it.

Take a look at this short video of a loom in action.  The clack you hear is the shuttle flying back and forth between the interlocking webs.  You can just see the shuttle if you watch.


So too are the days and the years of our lives.  And as we get “better” at living with age, that shuttle goes faster and faster.

Clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack… clack…

– snip.

My Jesus, mercy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you, Father, for explaining the great etymology behind the Latin!

  2. Mariana says:

    and for the homily!

  3. Nicole says:

    I wish I could hear something like this from the pulpit… :)

  4. tealady24 says:

    Very nice analogy. The same can be said for knitting. It amazes me that I begin with one lone loop on the needle, and when finished I am looking at a glorious piece! Very much like our lives, I hope.

  5. The 1962 missal has the Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM on Friday in Passion Week. Though this commemoration is no longer in the newer missal, interestingly the following alternative Collect is provided for this Friday in the fifth week of Lent:

    Deus, qui Ecclesia tua in hoc tempore tribuis benigne,
    beatam Mariam in passione Christi contemplanda
    devote imitari,
    da nobis, quaesumus, eiusdem Virginis intercessione,
    Unigenito Filio tuo firmius in dies adharere
    et ad plenitudinem gratia eius demum pervenire.

    O God, who in this season
    give your Church the grace
    to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
    in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
    grant, we pray, through her intercession,
    that we may cling more firmly each day
    to your Only Begotten Son
    and come at last to the fullness of his grace.

    Whereas in the older missal we find (Angelus Press translation)

    O God, in Whose Passion,
    according to the prophecy of Simeon,
    the sword of sorrow did pierce the most sweet soul
    of the glorious Mary, Virgin and Mother;
    mercifully grant that we who call to mind
    with veneration her anguish and suffering,
    may obtain the blessed fruit of Thy Passion
    through the glorious merits and prayers
    of all the Saints who have faithfully
    stood by the cross interceding for us.

    Fr. Z Gold Star Award

  6. acardnal says:

    I find it interesting that these wonderful essays of Fr. Z’s on the liturgy, particularly the Collects, get very few comments in response, but the political posts or SSPX vs _____ posts get tons! These posts by Fr. Z deserve your greater attention folks!

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    Brilliant exposition, Fr. Z. I have sent our Parochial Vicar a link to your Friday collect analyses and podcasts.

    On another topic, as a handloom weaver in a very small way, I just wanted to point out that your video is of a floor loom with a “pick” or flying shuttle, an 18th century innovation that led eventually to the fully mechanized loom. You can see the vertical pivot bars at each end of the shed flinging the shuttle back and forth as the weaver pulls the cord in his right hand.

    The shuttle that Job was thinking about (and that was used by my Highland ancestors before they were put out of business by the Industrial Revolution) was tossed from hand to hand and looked more like this:

    Handweaving: throwing the shuttle

    If you watch you’ll see that she picks up speed until she’s moving almost as fast as the “flying shuttle”. The real improvement that the latter gives you is not speed (you’re always limited by the speed of the batten, which the weaver in your video is operating with his left hand), but the ability to weave a broader web than a weaver’s two arms can span, the practical limit of a hand shuttle.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    . . . and I meant to add, it just points out that modernization has “sped up” our lives in all sorts of ways that we don’t fully realize, and it’s been going on for centuries!

  9. inara says:

    My great grandma Johnson had a big floor loom in her farmhouse up in Ashland, I always wished I could have seen her use it, but she was too old to climb the stairs by then. I hope it went to a good home after she passed on. We did get to watch her pop ticks on the cast iron stove, though!

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    That’s pretty cool. Hand weaving survived in the South for a long, long time, especially in the Upper South. Many of those folks (like my ancestors) came from Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England where handweaving was a cottage mainstay, and they just kept on doing what they had always done.
    Was it a tick-frying on a hot stove, or just squishing them against a hard surface? (I say kill ticks any way you can, though methods that involve burning, explosions or dismemberment are to be preferred. ;-D )

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