WDTPRS – Sunday in the Octave of Christmas (1962MR)

The_Annunciation_to_the_Shepherds_1663_Abraham_HondiusWhat is going on in today’s ….


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.


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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Sadly, on this side of the pond “merit” always carries for me associations of school prizes and merit marks..and hints at Pelagianism. (And in the new translation the prayers have an awful lot of us meriting things!)

    I wonder whether “to be found worthy of” might be a reasonable translation of mereor??

  2. Jacob says:

    On a side note, maybe you can answer my question, Father:

    I had a job awhile ago with plenty of free time, so one day I worked out a chart showing the different days Christmas could fall on and then the possible Sundays that could fall between Christmas and Epiphany. My finding confirmed what I had thought: due to the transfer of Epiphany to Sundays in the US, I have never been to a Second Sunday of Christmas Mass.

    When did the US bishops decide on the current arrangement for Epiphany? Has that been in place since the beginning of the reformed calendar or was the Second Sunday celebrated once upon a time?

  3. Landless Laborer says:

    I’d like to see the minutes of those ICEL meetings. The translators knew English and Latin exceedingly well, or they never would have landed such a plum job. Somebody overruled the consensus. But why am I grousing? This is what the CDF was supposed to be investigating (not child porn and confessional confidentiality), along with everything else it was supposed to be investigating and didn’t.

  4. mhazell says:

    Landless Laborer: in that case, you may be interested in the ICEL Progress Reports leading up to the rejected 1998 translation. They can be found by clicking here. They’re not the minutes of the meetings you (and I!) would be more interested in, but those reports are illuminative, to say the least!

  5. coeyannie says:

    We started out this morning with a high Mass and a fire in the sacristy ensued and it quickly became a low Mass. No sermon. Joy to the World was the recessional. We fulfilled our Sunday obligation and escaped with only minor smoke inhalation. It looked humerous when smoke was pouring out of the sacristy and the priest was incensing the Gospel.

  6. Matt Robare says:

    Father, it wasn’t just the ICEL of 1973 where the translators were smoking something.

    I picked up a St. Joseph Daily Missal at a used bookstore recently, copyright 1957. It was edited by Rev. Hugo H. Hoever, SO Cist and the Biblical references are to the translations produced by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and it has Cardinal Spellman’s imprimatur.

    One would think, as I did, that it was from before all this silliness, yet on the very first page of the Ordinary of the Mass, “Introibo ad altare Dei/ Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam”, which any Latinist in the street would sensibly translate as “I will go to the altar of God/ To God who gives joy to my youth” is translated as “I will go in to the altar of God/ The God of my gladness and joy.” Immediately afterwards “Judica me, Deus” is translated as “Do me justice, O God.” Why choose the most passive and ambiguous, since receiving justice and being judged can be different?

  7. Mike says:

    Father, it wasn’t just the ICEL of 1973 where the translators were smoking something. . . .

    It didn’t start as late as 1957, either. Translator’s license has been with us since the dawn of translation.

    Appreciation of the timeless truths expressed in our Church’s liturgical tradition cannot but diminish as we distance ourselves from the language, Latin, in which She expresses them. Thankfully, I am learning that the converse is also true.

  8. Landless Laborer says:

    mhazell: The comments are shocking really. They admit to a lot of “subordination of ideas”. They mention maintaining the integrity of ICEL inclusive policy, great. There was one comment, and I wish I could quote it, but I lost it among 39 pages, that said along the lines of: we were criticized for not translating directly, but being didactic. Wow! That’s the problem with paying too much money for translators. You don’t just get translators, you get multilingual licensed theologians.

  9. Landless Laborer says:

    mhazell: If you are paying the big money, why would would you want a simple translation that any two-bit translator could accomplish? Those exalted highly paid scholars gave what they were paid for. They gave us extra.

  10. GypsyMom says:

    We, both Catholics and Protestants, may have a different idea today of the definition of “good works” than what was meant by Martin Luther and other early Protestant revolutionaries. We tend to think the Protestant “theology” about good works means working at a soup kitchen or giving money to the missions, etc… If we use that current definition of good works, there would be some truth in the statement that those actions would not buy our way into Heaven if we otherwise live a faithless and sinful life with no intention of repenting. But that may not mean at all what Luther intended.
    When our kids read the biography of Benjamin Franklin in our co-op, we saw much discussion equating good works with the practice of virtue. Franklin lived over two and a half centuries closer to the time of Martin Luther than we do, so it would make sense that he and the ministers of his day would have a better idea of what Luther really meant than we do. Franklin was very interested in the necessity of living a virtuous life, and he locked horns repeatedly with many ministers over this issue. It was a large part of the reason he walked away from organized religion. The ministers argued that good works (virtue) were not necessary for salvation, which sounds much more like what we know of Luther’s thinking about sin, that it really doesn’t matter in relation to salvation. The conversations my husband and I have had with Protestants in which they state that Jesus doesn’t care about sin are too numerous to be counted. As a Catholic, it boggles the mind to think they believe they can sin with abandon, and all will be well because they “believe” in Jesus, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They are correct that we can’t buy our way into Heaven by giving away enough mittens and hats at Christmas time, but, sorry, we must live virtuous lives (or at least repent at the end) if we are to hope for salvation.

  11. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    I almost dread the years when Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday, because, in the Ordinary Form, very special Feasts are rushed and tossed together. Call me a fuddy duddy if you like, but the Epiphany is 6 January, and not the most convenient day for folks to attend Mass.

  12. rinkevichjm says:

    Fr Z:
    mereamur is PPS-1P (present passive subjunctive – first person plural) so it should be and the ablative expression bonis operibus abundare – from [out of] good works abounding – in Lithuanian is nuo ger? darb? pertekusi? which Google translator insists is better as “from the abundance of good works”, so better is:
    Almighty eternal God, direct our actions to your pleasure, in the name of your dear Son, in order that we may be merited from the abundance of good works
    This makes the prayer asking God to direct our acts so that they produce lots of good works.

    [Not quite. Mereor is deponent and abundo is constructed with ablative.]

  13. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for the illumination of the Collect in relation to 2 Thessalonians (1:11-12)!

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    And thank you for the ‘choreae’ of angels from Hondius! (He gives me more the sense of intelligence at work in the tradition of ‘cupido’-seeming angels than is often the case… They also seem to foreshadow the Holy Innocents – especially with the shepherd ‘little ones’ at the lower right – is there iconographic tradition, or innovation, here?)

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