WDTPRS: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – When “virtues” are replaced by “values”.

Let’s look at the Collect for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis, ut, inter mundanas varietates, ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.

A master crafted this prayer.  In the 1962 Missale Romanum we use it on the 4th Sunday after Easter. It is also in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary.  Listen to those “eee”s produced by the Latin “i”. Savor those parallels.

Varietas means “difference, diversity, variety.”  It is commonly used to indicate “changeableness, fickleness, inconstancy.”  I like “vicissitude”.  The adjective mundanus is “of or belonging to the world”.


O God, who make the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant unto Your people to love that thing which You command, to desire that which You promise, so that, amidst the vicissitudes of this world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are.


O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.

Let us revisit that id…quod. We can accurately say “love that which you command,” or “love what you command”, but that strikes me as vague.  Can we be more concrete and say “love the thing you command… desire the thing you promise”?

We are called to love and desire God’s will in concrete situations, in the details of life, especially when those details are little to our liking.  We must love God in this beggar, this annoying creep, not in beggars and creeps in general.  We must love Him in this act of fasting, this basket of laundry, this ICEL translation. I said it was a challenge!  We must not reduce God’s will to an abstraction or an ideal. “Thy will (voluntas) be done on earth as it is in heaven”… or so it has been said.

Lest we forget why we needed new translation….


Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise make us one in mind and heart.

Good riddance!  “Values”.  Very slippery.  Typical of the obsolete translation.

To my ear, “values” has a shifting, subjective starting point. In 1995 Gertude Himmelfarb wrote in The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values that “it was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized that virtues ceased to be ‘virtues’ and became ‘values.’”

In this post-Christian, post-modern world, “values” seems to indicate little more than our own self-projection.

John Paul II taught about “values”, but in contradiction to the way “values” are commonly understood today.  For example, we read in Evangelium vitae 71 (emphasis added):

“It is urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority, and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote.”

In his 1985 letter to young people Dilecti amici 4, John Paul II taught:

“Only God is the ultimate basis of all values…. in Him and Him alone all values have their first source and final completion… Without Him – without the reference to God – the whole world of created values remains as it were suspended in an absolute vacuum.”

Benedict XVI taught about the threats we face from the “dictatorship of relativism”, from the reduction of the supernatural to the natural, from caving in to “the world”.

Christ warned His Apostles about “the world”, saying said: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).  He spoke about this world’s “prince” (John 12:31; 14:30 16:11).  St Paul wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

If what “the world” offers gets priority over what God offers the world through His Holy Church, we produce the situation Paul VI described on 29 June 1972, the ninth anniversary of his coronation:

“Through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.”

Our Collect today asks God to grant that His will be the basis of our “values” in concrete terms, not in mere good intentions or this world’s snares.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Not only did the author set up parallel id…id, but also contrasts varietates…fixa and ubi…ibi. Etiam bene locutus est. .
    In Evangelium vitae sec. 71, JP II speaks in Latin “detegantur humana moraliaque bona capitalia et nativa, quae ab ipsa hominum veritate manent, quaeque personae dignitatem exprimant et tueantur: bona…”. Bona, which can be translated to English as “goods, possessions”, rather than mos, moris. Viz. bona nativa,which points out the inborn nature of our dignity.
    Causa studii et sapientiae RP Moderatoris gratias agamus. Salutationes omnibus.

  2. contrarian says:

    Great post.

    “…in this changing world…”

    These folks who did the translating really did think they lived at the Dawn of a New Age, didn’t they?


  3. MKR says:

    Allan Bloom has a nice discussion of the ubiquity of talk of “values” in _The Closing of the American Mind_. The term has an interesting and mostly unflattering history. It seems to have come our way ultimately from the Latin “valere,” which means “to fare well,” but eventually became synonymous in most people’s mouths with “concerns” or “commitments.” “American values” are the projects and ideals Americans commit themselves to, or the things that Americans like, or something mushy like that. Other people have other values. We prefer our values. And that’s that. No-nonsense talk of good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice can have little place in a society steeped in “values” discourse. And we really are steeped in it–I once heard an SSPX seminarian talk that way! “The values of the Conciliar Church are not our values,” and all that.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    You will be glad to know, Father, that when I was helping schools many years ago with virtue related curriculum for grade school level, (I have written an entire curriculum from pre-school to six grade on character building and taught it to teachers for a short while), that the word values was seen, even ten years ago by me, and others, as a sneaky relativistic mind-set of avoiding the teaching of virtues.

    In fact, character building in children demands that parents and teachers know and understand that virtues are gifts from God which need to be encouraged through certain means, and that values, are merely personal judgements not connected to the spiritual life at all.

    A value is merely what is important to a person, not even a group, while a virtue is, as Aquinas notes,”an operative habit which is essentially good”. Virtues are intellectual, moral and theological, as most Catholics know, while values are extrinsic to a person, not intrinsic.

    If people want more on virtues, they can use the tag on my blog for many discussions on this topic, based on Aquinas and other Doctors of the Church, as well as the CCC.

    The curriculum I wrote was for teachers to implement virtue formation in the classroom on a daily basis, in conjunction with working with parents on formation of character in their children.

    Sadly, most schools do not do this, and most parents as well as teachers, do not realize it is their vocation to help the child form the person he or she is to be in life. The entire job of childhood is to become the adult one is to become.

    Sadly, all my work on this is in boxes in storage in Illinois, but I gave many notes to a school and to home schooling parents. There are specific things an adult can do to encourage virtue in a child. We all must enter into the life of virtue as part of our interior spiritual growth, and in fact, this is impossible without much purification of the senses and the spirit.

    All the virtues both perfect us and lead us to union with God. Reason and free will underline the growth of virtues. Too many people think of talents or gifts, which are useless without virtue. The virtues lead us to God, to heaven and without the awareness of these, one cannot grow spiritually.

    In fact, at my age, I am just beginning to understand and appropriate the real meanings of faith, hope and love, the theological virtues.

  5. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Thank you for this, Fr Z: your commentary is a prayer in itself and a fruitful text for a ‘lectio divina’ meditation.
    I love the brevity and urgent rhythm of this Collect, the pithy three beat phrases (‘id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis’) with the ‘ut’ pointing at the ‘fixa corda’ like an arrow speeding to the centre of of a target board. As if to say: Don’t be distracted, concentrate, concentrate: just this, this, nothing else is important.

  6. Tom in NY says:

    addendum parvum:
    German translation for “bona” appears to be “Werte”
    French translation for “bona” appears to be “valeurs”
    Italian appears to be “valori”
    Spanish appears to be “valores”
    Nor is there a mention of “democratia” in the Latin – just “popularis regiminis”, perhaps “peoples’ government.”
    Who says translations don’t matter. Greetings to all.

  7. As an example of what has happened to the word “values,” I recently noticed one of those annoying billboards from values.com. It was promoting “fitness” as a “value.” Now, perhaps fitness is a good thing, but I would be reluctant to lump it in with, say, the cardinal virtues. If I were translating prayers today, I would definitely exclude that word from liturgical use. That is a good example of why Latin needs to remain the gold standard, even if we do make “a wider use of the vernacular.”

  8. Tom in NY says:

    In “Dilecti amici”4, JP II again spoke “bona” in the Latin, and used “bona” differently than “valeo:”
    “… responsio Christi idem valet ac: Deus unus est ultimum fundamentum omnium bonorum; ipse solus sensum certum ac definitum tribuit vitae nostrae humanae.”
    For your consideration.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I recall in the 1980s being ‘nervous’ about possible dangers in the use of ‘values’ not only by Pope John Paul II (in English translation) but by C.S. Lewis as well. I have since read that, philosophically, ‘values-language’ is Stoic in origin, but given a new emphasis and currency by Kant, to be effectively ‘highjacked’ by Nietzsche therefter, leading to the too-familiar senses MKR and Supertradmum discuss.

    To use ‘values’ (as) well (as possible) in these circumstances, I take it that one would always have to be very, explicitly clear about what one does not mean by it.

  10. Gail F says:

    Wow! The old ICEL was awful. I forgot how awful it was. Mass was not inspiring today but the Collect really struck me, especially “grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise.” That’s a lot in a few words, I could think about that all day.

  11. Emilio III says:

    This is the version from The Anglican Breviary:

    O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men : grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise ; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found. Through…

  12. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Does the version Emilio III quotes reflect any specific Latin Sarum Use variants?

    (And can anyone recommend handy online Sarum editions?)

    GailF accents nicely the goodness of the liturgy (in the original, and well translated or glosssed) ‘itself speaking’, whatever the circumstances.

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