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Today’s “Prayer over the people”, at the end of Mass in the Ordinary Form, was originally in a truncated form in various manuscripts of the Gelasian Sacramentary. However, I eventually found it also in a longer form in the Veronese in this form for the month of July:
ORATIO SUPER POPULUM:
Esto, quaesumus, Domine,
propitius plebi tuae,
ut, de die in diem, quae tibi non
tuorum potius repleatur
O Lord, we beseech You, be
propitious toward Your people,
that, from day to day, spewing out
what is not pleasing to You,
it (the people) may rather
be filled with the delights of your mandates.
The Veronese Sacramentary has it this way:
Esto, quaesumus, domine, propitius plebi tuae, ut, de die in diem, quae tibi non placent, respuentes, tuorum potius repleantur dilectionibus mandatorum et, mortalis vitae consolationibus gubernati, proficiant ad immortalitatis effectum.
Nice. You will also note that a version of this is the Collect in the Extraordinary Form today.
The imagery here, from Revelation 3:16, implies that God’s people, in imitation of our Judge, will also spew out what is not pleasing. But remember that God our Judge will spew what is tepid, uncommitted.
God is not pleased by tepidity, which a form of cowardice.
Sometimes we can get out back up about having to obey mandates that are imposed on us. We have free will. Some things are written into our beings because we are God’s images. Some things are given by divine positive law. Some other things are given Holy Church’s positive law. All of these mandates are for our good, not to oppress us. They are given so that we do not hurt ourselves, and so that we can get to heaven.
Obedience to laws establishes a springboard by which we can rise higher. We lose nothing of who we are by obeying God’s laws. When we submit our will to God, we begin to take delight in what we know is His will for us. As Picarda says in Dante’s Paradiso, “In his will is our peace”.
We must not be afraid to give ourselves wholly over to God’s will. Pope Benedict spoke of this at the end of his first great sermon as Vicar of Christ, at his inaugural Mass:
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”
Sticking with Dante for a moment more, in the Inferno, when Dante moves through the gate that says “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”, passing into the “fore-Hell”, he sees a great, bare plain upon which a vast multitude of souls run in a circle chasing a meaningless whirling banner. A great moaning wail rises up. As Dante gazes at them, he says, “I had not thought death had unmade so many.” As they run, wasps and flies sting them. These are the souls who were tepid, whom God spewed out. They are “hateful to God and His enemies”. As commentator Anthony Esolen describes them in his good translation, they are the “unnamed spirits whose cowardice relegates them to the vestibule”.
Dante is not trying, in the Divine Comedy, to describe actual Hell. His works is an exercise in poetic theory and political philosophy. But if it is mainly those, that doesn’t mean that we cannot use it for our spiritual reflection on the Four Last Things. This episode in the fore-Hell, with the tepid, gives urgency and force to the verb in todays Oratio super populum: respuo, “to spew out” what is displeasing to God.
Finally, the form of respuo here is an active participle in the singular, because is modifies plebs, God’s “people”. We are all in this together.
Remember: we are looking at the “Prayer over the people”.
As a whole people, a whole Church, we must reject what is displeasing to God and seek to do His will as espressed in natural law, divine positive law and in the laws of Holy Church. For this we need a strong sense of who we are as a Church, who we are as Catholics. And no revitalization of our Catholic identity will happen without a revitalization of our worship of God, that thing we raise to Him which, when authentic, is most pleasing because it is His due by the virtue of religion.
With a strong identity and fervent hearts we will be moved in action to influence those spheres which in our state in life are entrusted to us.