Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui mereamur bonis operibus abundare.
This Collect survived the surgeons of Bugnini’s Consilium to live on in the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in the Novus Ordo calendar.
In the Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary we learn that beneplacitum means “good pleasure, gracious purpose”. The preposition in using the ablative case indicates a condition, situation or relation rather than a reference to space where or time when something was occurring. In the Vulgate beneplacitum translates the original Greek eudokia in, e.g., Eph 1:9; 1 Cor 10:5. Other phrases are used for eudokia too (e.g., bona voluntas in Luke 2:14, the famous “peace on earth to men of good will” or “peace on earth good will toward men”). Paul wrote eudokia at the beginning of 2 Thessalonians (1:11-12), rendered as voluntas bonitatis in the Vulgate:
…oramus semper pro vobis ut dignetur vos vocatione sua Deus et impleat omnem voluntatem bonitatis et opus fidei in virtute ut clarificetur nomen Domini nostri Iesu Christi in vobis et vos in illo secundum gratiam Dei nostri et Domini Iesu Christi… we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve (omnem voluntatem bonitatis) and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (RSV).
We can find connections between 2 Thessalonians and our Collect at several points: mereamur in the Collect with dignetur in Paul (both having to do with meriting or being worth of), beneplacitum with voluntas bonitatis, bona opera with opus fidei (good works flowing from lived faith), nomen Filii with nomen Domini Iesu Christi. Taken in the sense of “gracious purpose” we can make a connection to Paul’s vocatio too, our “calling” or the purpose for which God placed us on this earth with a part of His plan to fulfill.
Abundo means, “to overflow with any thing, to have an abundance or superabundance of, to abound in.” If we go back to the idea of the preposition in and the ablative indicating place or location in space, (in beneplacito tuo) we have an image of our good works originating in God and, coming from Him, overflowing out from us.
Some Protestants are under the false impression that Catholics think we can “earn” our way to heaven by our own good works, as if our good works had their own merit apart from God.
Catholics believe, however, that true good works always have their origin in God, but the works are truly our works as well since we cooperate with God in performing them. Therefore, having their origin and purpose in God, they merit the reward of God’s promises. Whenever we find a reference to works in these liturgical prayers, do not forget the Catholic understanding of good works.
Almighty eternal God, direct our actions in your gracious purpose, so that in the name of Thy beloved Son, we may merit to abound with good works.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
All-powerful and ever-living God, direct your love that is within us, that our efforts in the name of your Son may bring mankind to unity and peace.
The lame-duck ICEL version’s “All-powerful and ever-living God” for omnipotens sempiterne Deus is not so bad. Quite bad, on the other hand, is their “direct your love that is within us”.
The Latin clearly connects God’s own purpose for us and the actions that flow from that purpose. In the ICEL version we have a vague term “love”, rather than the indication of God’s eternal plan.
Perhaps this is a bit picky, but when I hear “we may merit to abound with good works”, I think we are abounding because of God’s action within us through the good works He makes meritorious. They overflow from us because of His generosity. In the ICEL version God’s “love” is in us, but this leads to “our efforts”. Yes, this can be reconciled with a Catholic theology of works, but it just doesn’t sound right.
Also, I don’t think that “efforts” to “bring mankind to unity and peace” means the same as us “meriting” by God’s grace to “abound with good works”.
Please understand: I don’t object to praying for unity and peace, but I think we ought to pray the prayer as the Church gave it to us, what the prayer really says.
When we feed the hungry and console those who mourn, visit the shut-in and imprisoned and pray for the dead, sure we are building “unity and peace”, but that phrase is so vague as to mean very little to someone in the pew.
The Latin does not say “conatus nostri genus humanum ad unitatem et pacem inducant”.
Is it possible that the guitar strumming and all those kumbayas of the 1960’s affected the brains of the ICEL translators?
Maybe we should all stand outside the headquarters of the USCCB and sing, “All we are saying, is give Latin a chance!” while swaying back and forth holding our lighters in the air.