This Sunday’s Collect is in the pre-Conciliar Missal for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. Our prayer presents imagery of a family and, on the other hand, a group of dutiful soldiers.
Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine,
continua pietate custodi,
ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur,
tua semper protectione muniatur.
Custodio, common in military contexts, means “to watch, protect, defend.” Innitor, also with military overtones, means “to lean or rest upon, to support one’s self by any thing.” Caesar and Livy describe soldiers leaning on their spears and shields (e.g., “scutis innixi … leaning upon their shields” Caesar, De bello Gallico 2.27). Munio, is a military term – sensing a theme? – for walling up something up, putting it in a state of defense.
When applied to us humans, pietas, which gives us “piety”, is “dutiful conduct toward the gods, one’s parents, relatives, benefactors, country, etc., sense of duty.” Pietas is also one of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf CCC 733-36; Isaiah 11:2), by which we are duly affectionate and grateful toward our parents, relatives and country, as well as to all men living insofar as they belong to God or are godly, and especially to the saints. In common parlance, “piety” indicates fulfilling the duties of religion. However, applied to God, pietas usually indicates His mercy towards us.
SUPER LITERAL RENDERING:
Guard Your family, we beseech You, O Lord,
with continual mercy,
so that that (family) which is propping itself up upon the sole hope of heavenly grace
may always be defended by Your protection.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
watch over your family
and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.
NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):
Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection.
“Watch over your family, …with continual mercy/religious dutifulness,…” invokes the images soldiers as well as that of a father checking into the bedrooms of his children as they sleep. He listens through the night for sounds of distress or need.
The Church is not afraid to combine images of family and soldiering, the symbiotic exchange of duty, obedience and protection. Putting the military imagery in relief helps us to hold both sets of images in mind as we hear Father lift our Collect heavenward during Holy Mass.
We Catholics are both a family, children of a common Father, and a Church Militant, a corps (from Latin corpus, “body”). Many of us when we were confirmed by bishops as “soldiers of Christ” were given a blow on the cheek as a reminder of what suffering we might face as Christians.
We ought rather die like soldiers than sin in the manner of those who have no gratitude toward God or sense of duty. We ought to desire to suffer if necessary for the sake of those in our charge.
Today we beg the protection and provisions Christ our King can give us soldiers while on the march. We need a proper attitude of obedience toward God, our ultimate superior, and dutifulness toward our shepherds in the Church, our earthly parents, our earthly country, etc.
Our prayer reminds us that we belong to communities in which we have unequal roles.
There is a profound interconnection between the members of a family, but also inequality.
Children are no less members of the family than their parents, but they are not their parents’ equals. Even the young Jesus– the God man – was subject to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). As Glorious Risen King and Judge, Christ will subject all things to the Father (1 Cor 15:27-28). We are all members of the Church, but with unequal roles.
As St. Augustine said, “I am a bishop for you, I am a Christian with you” (s. 340, 1).”
Our times are dominated ever more by relativism and the obtuse madness of secular humanism. Both the military and the family and Holy Church (the human dimension, of course) are being eroded, systematically broken down. Individual soldiers might be praised but the military is looked at by the intelligentsia with suspicion. Rights of individuals – even of children against their parents – are validated, while the family as a unit is under severe attack.
Hierarchy and discipline provide the protection needed by marching troops and growing children. We members of the Militant Church, disciples of Christ, need discipline from our officers/shepherds so we can attain our goal. We need nourishment and discipline in the sense of instruction (Latin disciplina) and sacraments.
Parents and shepherds must fulfill their own roles toward us with pietas, religious and sacred duty! Their pietas requires sacrifice, being the first to step out in our defense, forming good plans, sounding a clear and certain trumpet to lead us.