In the midst of chaos, we need to bring our minds to work at hand, our work of sacred liturgy, the renewal of which is our only hope for true revitalization of the Church.
This Sunday’s Collect survived the knives of the liturgical experts and was inserted into the 1970 Missale Romanum on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The redactors who glued the Novus Ordo together, however, removed the word iustitiae, thus returning it to the form it had in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. Other ancient sacramentaries, such as the Liber sacramentorum Gellonensis as well as the Augustodunensis had the iustitiae. In any event, by the time St. Pius V issued the the Missale Romanum of 1570, which I am sure you have on hand, someone had seen fit to make it read, “in viam possint redire iustitiae”, which endured until the 1970MR and subsequent editions.
Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire iustitiae, veritatis tuae lumen ostendis, da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari.
Stylistically snappy! It has nice alliteration and a powerful rhythm in the last line.
I think there is a trace here of John 14, which I will show you below. Can we also find a connection between this Collect in a phrase from the Roman statesman Cassiodorus (+c. 585 – consul in 514 and then Boethius’ successor as magister officiorum under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric)? Cassiodorus wrote, “Sed potest aliquis et in via peccatorum esse et ad viam iterum redire iustitiae? … But can someone be both in the way of sins and also return again to the way of justice?” (cf. Exp. Ps. 13).
Is this prayer old enough to have been known by Milan’s mighty Bishop St. Ambrose (+397) or even St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), who use similar patterns of words?
Your thorough Lewis & Short Dictionary says censeo has a special construction: censeo, censeri aliqua re, meaning “to be appreciated, distinguished, celebrated for some quality”, “to be known by something.” This explains the passive form in our Collect with the ablative christiana professione. Getting christiana professio into English requires some fancy footwork. We could say “Christian profession”, but this adjectival construction really means “profession of Christ.” This same thing happens in phrases such as oratio dominica, “the Lordly Prayer”, or more smoothly “the Lord’s Prayer”.
Via means, “a way, method, mode, manner, fashion, etc., of doing any thing, course”. There is a moral content to via as well, “the right way, the true method, mode, or manner”.
Let’s see what people used to hear in church on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the…
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God our Father,
your light of truth
guides us to the way of Christ.
May all who follow him
reject what is contrary to the gospel.
And now, ….
O God, who do show the light of Your truth to the erring so that they might be able to return unto the way of justice, grant to all who are distinguished by their profession of Christ that they may both strongly reject those things which are inimical to this name of Christian and follow eagerly the things which are suited to it.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor.
Ancient philosophers (the word comes from Greek for “lover of wisdom”) would walk about in public in their sandals and draped toga-like robes. Thinkers such as Aristotle were called “Peripatetics” from their practice of walking about (Greek peripatein) under covered walkways of the Lyceum in Athens (Greek peripatos) while teaching. Their disciples would swarm around them, hanging on their words, debating with them, learning how to think and reason. They would discuss the deeper questions the human mind and heart inevitably faces. They were effectively theologians. We must be careful not to impose the modern divorce of philosophy from theology on the ancients. In ancient Christian mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted wearing a philosopher’s robes. But He doesn’t merely love Wisdom, He is Wisdom incarnate, the perfect Teacher!
He is the one from whom we learn about God and about ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22 – which the young Pope John Paul II helped to write during the Council).
The Collect also reminds me of the very first lines of the Divine Comedy by the exiled Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (+1321) who was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s Ethics and the Christianized Platonic philosophy mediated through Boethius (+525) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). The Inferno begins:
Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh –
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
Dante, the protagonist of his own poem, is describing his fictional self. In his poetic persona, Dante is in the middle of his life (35 years old – half of 70, the number of years mentioned as man’s span in Ps. 90:10). He is mired in sin and irrational behavior, having strayed from the straight path of the life of reason: he is in the “dark wood”.
The life of persistent sin is a life without true reason. Human reason, when left to itself without the light of grace, is crippled.
Dante likens his confused state to death. He must journey through hell and the purification of purgatory in order to come back to the life of virtue and reason. In the course of the three-part Comedy the Poet finds the proper road back to light, Truth and reason through the intercession of Christ-like figures, such as Beatrice, and then through Christ Himself. In the Comedy, Dante recovers the use of reason. His whole person is reintegrated through the light of Truth.
Don’t we often describe people who are ignorant, confused or obtuse as “wandering around in the dark”?
This applies also to persistent sinners. By their choices and resistance to God’s grace they have lost the light of Truth. God’s grace makes it possible for us to find our way back into the right path, no matter how far from it we have strayed in the past. When we sin, we break our relationship with Christ. If in laziness we should refuse to know Him better (every day), we lose sight of ourselves and our neighbor.
Christ, the incarnate Word, gives us consolation:
“‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way (via) where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (via)?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way (via), and the truth (veritas), and the life (vita); no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him…. He who has seen me has seen the Father’” (cf. John 14:1-6 RSV).
We Catholics, who dare – DARE – publicly to take Christ’s name to ourselves, need to stand up and be counted (censentur)!
In what we say and do other people ought to be able to see Christ’s light reflected and focused in the details of our individual vocations. To be good lenses and reflectors of Christ’s light, we must be clean. When we know ourselves not to be so, we are obliged as soon as possible to seek cleansing so that we can be saved and be of benefit for the salvation of others. We must also practice spiritual works of mercy, bringing the light of truth to the ignorant or those who persist in darkness either through their own fault or no fault of their own.
Every Catholic is called to evangelize, if not in an “official” capacity in the Church’s name, at least through the obligation we have as members of Christ’s Body the Church.
Evangelization and the efforts of ecumenism are an obligation for every Catholic. There are still people living in darkness. We must “preach” always and, as the phrase often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, sometimes use words.
When people look at us and listen to us, do they see a light-extinguishing black hole where a beautiful image of God should be?