In ancient Rome on this 3rd Sunday, catechumens who desired to enter Holy Church and be baptized at Easter would be lead in a great procession to the Basilica of St. Lawrence “outside-the-walls” where they had been on Septuagesima Sunday. They would be “scrutinized”, tested.
They were tested during Lent about their faith seven times, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the climax of which came during the fourth week.
This Sunday the catechumens were exorcised of the evil enemy of the soul. Today’s Gospel, in fact, presents the story of Jesus expelling a demon from a man who could not speak.
COLLECT (1962 Missale Romanum):
Quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, vota humilium respice: atque ad defensionem nostram, dexteram tuae maiestatis extende.
A prayer very similar to this is used in the Novus Ordo on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. It is ancient, from the Veronese and Gelasian Sacramentaries, and so it represents the best of the liturgical tradition of the early Church in Rome, formed out of the cultural, intellectual, spiritual milieu of the era.
The dictionary we call Blaise/Dumas reveals that a votum can be a “prayer” but it signals also “praise”, something due. The mighty Lewis & Short Dictionary will show you that respicio is Respicio here means “to look at with solicitude, i. e. to have a care for, regard, be mindful of, consider, respect”. Keep in mind that maiestas can be used like a title, as in “Your Majesty”, but it is also a divine characteristic, much like gloria, in the presence of which we will be transformed for all eternity.
We beseech You, God Almighty, regard with solicitude the prayers of the humble: and extend the right hand of Your majesty unto our defense.
As I hear of the mighty “right hand of God’s majesty”, I remember that soon, during Good Friday, both Christ’s hands will be pierced with nails for my sins. He who is God became humbler than the humble creatures He fashioned in His likeness and, leaving Himself no defense, gave us His eternal freedom from the Enemy.
This majestic right hand is a way of talking about God’s power and authority. In ancient times for example, a solider might commit an error or a crime for which he could be put to death by being flogged with the horrible scourge. The imperator, the commander in chief, could remit the punishment of the legionary by extending his right hand over him in a sign of forgiveness. Extending a hand over a slave was also the sign of manumission, a formal symbol of setting a slave free: extending the right hand had juridical effect.
Christ gave His own right hand of power and authority to the Catholic Church He founded and entrusted to Peter and the Apostles in union with him. Until the end of time the Catholic Church will wield Christ’s own authority to teach, govern and sanctify. We who are weak and humble benefit from this sheltering, liberating attribute of the Church.
In this prayer, I therefore reflect on how I, as a priest, extend my right hand of power and authority, Christ’s own right hand, over a penitent in the confessional.
When the hand of the priest is extended over you, you are sheltered from the attacks of hell. You are freed from the unending flame that would consume you, liberated from the eternal bondage to the enemy which would for ever separate your from God’s sight.
Take that thought and now read through the other two major orations of Sunday’s ancient Mass. The formulary is one of the most ancient we have.
Haec hostia, Domine, quaesumus, emundet nostra delicta: et ad sacrificum celebrandum, subditorum tibi corpora, mentesque sanctificet.
Daily Liturgical Missal (Baronius Press):
May this Victim, O Lord, we beseech Thee, cleanse away our sins: and by sanctifying Thy servant in body and mind, make them fit to celebrate this Sacrifice.
A cunctis nos, quaesumus, Domine, reatibus et periculis propitius absolve: quos tanti mysterii tribus esse participes.
Daily Liturgical Missal (Baronius Press):
In Thy mercy, we beseech Thee, O Lord, do Thou from all guilt and peril absolve us, whom Thou grantest to be sharers in so great a Mystery.
QUAERITUR: When was the last time you sought out “the right hand of God” in the confessional?
How long has it been since, after confession all your mortal sins in both number and kind, you have heard the words of absolution?
“Deus Pater misericordiarum… God the Father of mercies…” or in the older form:
Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (of suspension) and interdict, so far as I am able and you require. Thereupon, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How long has it been?
GO TO CONFESSION!