Deus, qui Filii tui humilitate iacentem mundum erexisti: fidelibus tuis sanctam concede laetitiam; ut, quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias perfrui sempiternis.
With a slight variation this prayer was in the Gelasian Sacramentary on the Sunday after the Octave of Easter, which is today’s Sunday: Deus, qui in filii tui humilitatem iacentem mundum erexisti, laetitiam concede <fidelibus tuis>, ut quos perpetuae <mortis> eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias sempiternis perfruere. So, not many changes. (The words in < > were illegible or missing in the manuscripts, and were supplied by Leo Cunibert Mohlberg, editor of the critical edition of the Gelasian.) The infinitive of perfruor, deponent, is really perfrui. However perfruere, here, is also an infinitive: once in a while, like today, active forms crept into use for deponents.
In the meantime, think laterally: isn’t the last phrase of the Collect similar to the end of the prayer recited after the Salve Regina? “Grant us your servants, we pray you O Lord God, to enjoy perpetual health of mind and body, and, by the glorious intercession of blessed Mary ever-Virgin, may we be delivered from present sorrow and enjoy everlasting happiness (aeterna perfrui laetitia).”
The themes here are similar to today’s Collect in that there is a shift from sorrow to joy through God’s providential gift. Moreover, when the priest vests for Holy Mass, traditionally he says special prayers while putting on each vestment. For the alb, the symbol of our baptism, he prays:
“Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, so that having been made white in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy everlasting joys (gaudiis perfruar sempiternis).”
There is similar vocabulary in the other vesting prayers, which could once be found posted in every sacristy in the world. I use them daily and exhort other priests to do so as well.
My hook for these last comments was the verb perfruor, one of a few famous deponent verbs used normally and classically with the ablative case: utor, abutor, fruor, fungor, potior and vescor. In different periods of Latin these verbs could have active forms, as we saw above, and could also take objects in the accusative or even genitive. In modern liturgical usage they are deponents and always get ablative “objects”. Actually, these aren’t really objects, but rather a kind of instrument: e.g., vescor, “I feed myself from…”; fruor, “I get fruit/benefit from…”; etc. A good grammar explains how these verbs work. Latin Students: If you want a really good Latin grammar get the superb Gildersleeve & Lodge, or fully, Gildersleeve’s Latin Grammar (enlarged with the additional help of Gonzalez Lodge).
Basil L. Gildersleeve said, and this is true in the world of WDTPRS,
“No study of literature can yield its highest result without the close study of language, and consequently the close study of grammar.”
Two words in the prayer, gaudium and laetitia, can be rendered into English with the same word “joy” and variations. We don’t want to give undue emphasis to the different sorts of “joy” possible with different words. However, our chockful L&S states that gaudium suggest a joy which is interior whereas laetitia suggests a unrestrained joy having outward expression, even though L&S also says gaudium in the plural (as it is in our prayer) can also be “the outward expressions of joy”. In a supplement to the L&S, A. Souter’s Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D., we discover that gaudium is “everlasting blessedness” while laetitia is simply “prosperity”. So, in Souter we still uncover something of the spiritual versus material distinction. Blaise/Dumas, or Le Vocabulaire Latin des principaux thèmes liturgiques, implies that laetitia and gaudium are pretty much the same thing.
Are these distinctions really important?
The dictates of ancient rhetoric (and this prayer is ancient) required copia verborum, a richness of vocabulary to avoid boring repetition. Nevertheless, each word gives us “joy”, but with shades of meaning. Perhaps a solution is found in L&S’s explanation that gaudium is “like our ‘joy’, for an object which produces joy, a cause or occasion of joy”. You might think in terms of someone saying, “You are a real joy to me!” For us who, raised up from our sins, die in God’s friendship, the object which will produce joy is, in this world the state of grace and a clean conscience and, in the next life, the Beatific Vision and Communion of Saints.
L&S indicates that erigo, giving us erexisti, means “to raise up, set up, erect” and, analogously, “to arouse, excite” and “cheer up, encourage.” The verb iaceo (in the L&S find this under jaceo) has many meanings, such as “to lie” as in “lie sick or dead, fallen” and also “to be cast down, fixed on the ground” and “to be overcome, despised, idle, neglected, unemployed.” Humilitas is “lowness”. In Blaise/Dumas, humilitas has a more theological meaning in the “abasement” of the God Incarnate who took the form of a “slave” (cf. Philippians 2:7). Blaise/Dumas cites this Collect in the entry for humilitas.
O God, who raised up a fallen world by the abasement of Your Son, grant holy joy to Your faithful; so that You may cause those whom You snatched from the misfortunes of perpetual death, to enjoy delights unending.
Our Collect views material creation as an enervated body, wounded, weakened by sin, lying near death in the dust whence it came. In the sin of our First Parents all creation was wounded. The harmony there ought to have been between the rest of material creation and man, its steward, has been damaged.
Because of the Fall, the whole cosmos was put under the bondage of the Enemy, the “prince of this world” (cf. John 10:31 and 14:30). This is why when we bless certain things, and baptize people, there was an exorcism first, to rip the object or person from the grip of the world’s “prince” and give it to the King. God is liberator. He rouses us up from being prone upon the ground. He grasps us, pulling us upward out of sin and death. He directs us again toward the joys possible in this world, first, and then definitively in the next.
But we must get back to our feet: rise again.
Our Savior rose for this reason.
We see in many of our ancient Roman prayers a pattern of descent and ascent, of exit and return. Before the Resurrection there is the Passion. Before exaltation there is humiliation. The descent, exit, Passion and humiliation bring an even more exalted joy which will embrace the entirety of man in both soul and body, the interior and the outward human person. Ultimately, it will embrace the entire cosmos.