Our Collect (once called the “Opening Prayer”) for the 2nd Sunday of Advent was not in the pre-Conciliar Missale Romanum but it was in the so-called Rotulus (“scroll”) of Ravenna, dated perhaps as early as the 5th century.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
in tui occursum Filii festinantes
nulla opera terreni actus impediant,
sed sapientiae caelestis eruditio
nos faciat eius esse consortes.
Impedio (built from the word pes, pedis, “foot”), at the core of this prayer, is “to snare or tangle the feet”. A consors is someone with (con-) whom you share your lot (sors). The phrase “faciat eius esse consortes” recalls both the Collect for Christmas Day and the priest’s preparation of the chalice during the offertory. Deus, “God”, is declined irregularly. In solemn discourse the nominative is used as the vocative form (e.g. cf. Livy 1, 24, 7). Sapientia (“wisdom”) and eruditio (“learning”) are packed, technical terms from ancient rhetoric and philosophy.
BRUTAL LITERAL RENDERING:
Almighty and merciful God,
let no works of worldly impulse impede
those hurrying to the meeting of Your Son,
but rather let the learning of heavenly wisdom
make us to be His co-heirs.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
Last week in our Collect we rushed to meet the Coming Lord while striving for our reward through works made meritorious by Him alone. During Advent, as the Baptist warns us, we are to make ready the path for the coming of the Lord.
This week we are still rushing but perhaps we are wiser after the first rush of excitement.
This week we are wary of obstacles which could impede us, snare our feet. These impediments are merely worldly ways and works, not meritorious for salvation since they are not performed in Christ. Worldly ways entangle us. St. Paul contrasts the wisdom of this world with the Wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 3:19; 2 Cor 3:19). In Romans 12:2 Paul admonishes, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This is not just a Pauline concept. Compare today’s Collect with 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge (cognitio: cf. eruditio) of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (efficiamini divinae consortes).”
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) dismantled Donatist arguments that all clerics ordained by a sinful bishop would automatically be stained by the same guilt. He used imagery reminiscent of today’s prayer: “The mire (lutum) their feet are stuck in is so thick and dense that, trying in vain to tear themselves out of it, they get their hands and head stuck in it too, and lingering in that muck they get more tightly enveloped” (c. Don. 25). The Donatist argument was based on worldly, not heavenly, wisdom. Sticky lutum is a metaphor for a worldly, sinful life. Augustine contrasts being lutum with being children of God. “Noli esse lutum …Don’t be muck, but become (efficere) a child of God through His mercy!” (diu. qu. 68.3).
If we neglect God, we weak sinners can eventually convince ourselves of anything: down becomes up, back becomes front, black is white, wrong is right, and muddy is clean. We excuse away our sins. Once self-justification becomes a habit, it is a vice in more than one sense of that word. Our consciences may occasionally struggle against the vice of self-deception, but the proverbial “Struggle” supplies permission: “I really ‘struggled’ with this, … before I did it.”
If we go off the true path into the sticky mire of error, we escape neither the Enemy lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8), nor the glorious Lion of Judah who will open the seals and read the Book of Life (Rev 5:5).
During Advent, let us make straight Christ’s path and watch our step.
Nevertheless, no matter how sticky may be the mess we have gotten ourselves into, Christ’s loving mercy washes its stain away in a good, complete confession before Christmas.