In honor of the Apostle to the Gentiles let us make a rapid comparison of the Collects for today’s feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
We’ll look first at the 1962 Missale Romanum and then the 2002 edition.
The Collect is nearly the same in both.
Deus, qui universum mundum beati Pauli Apostoli praedicatione docuisti: da nobis, quaesumus; ut, qui eius hodie Conversionem colimus, per eius exempla gradiamur.
This prayer is ancient. It is found already in the 8th century Liber sacramentorum Engolismensis (Angoulême) and the 9th century Augustodunensis (Autun) as well as the Liber sacramentorum Romanae ecclesiae ordine excarpsus, but with the variation in the Engolismensis “multitidinem gentium” in place of “universum mundum”.
Our precious Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary (UK HERE) informs us that the deponent verb gradior is “to take steps, to step, walk, go;” and in ecclesiastical Latin “of the conduct of life, to walk, live, conduct one’s self”. The French source for liturgical Latin I call Blaise/Dumas (UK HERE) indicates that gradior is “to behave oneself”.
An exemplum is, “a sample for imitation, instruction, proof, a pattern, model, original, example….”
For the Fathers, so steeped in Greek and Roman rhetoric and philosophy, exemplum could mean many things.
First, an exemplum brings auctoritas to your argument, “authority”, inter alia the moral, persuasive force of an argument. When we hear this prayer with ancient, Patristic ears, exemplum is not merely an “example” to imitate. It brings deeper moral force. Let’s spin that out.
The historic event of Paul’s conversion is a reason for hope. It is an incitement to lead the kind of life which will lead ultimately to being raised up after the Risen Christ, the perfect exemplum. The core of this exemplum is St. Paul’s response to the call of the Lord to turn his life around, his conversio or in Greek metánoia.
I especially like the word gradior in this prayer. It invokes the image of St. Paul trudging the byways (without a horse off of which to fall). And remember the subtle meaning of gradior includes behavior.
O God, who instructed the whole world by the preaching of the Blessed Apostle Paul: grant us, we beseech You, that, we who are today honoring his Conversion, may walk according to his examples.
Many (many many) of the prayers of the pre-Conciliar form of the Missale Romanum, were cut up and changed for the Novus Ordo, if they made the cut at all. Today’s prayer is a case in point.
Deus, qui universum mundum
beati Pauli Apostoli praedicatione docuisti,
da nobis, quaesumus,
ut, cuius conversionem hodie celebramus,
per eius ad te exempla gradientes,
tuae simus mundo testes veritatis.
O God, who instructed the whole world
by the preaching of the Blessed Apostle Paul:
grant us, we beseech You,
that we, walking in life toward You according to the examples of him
whose conversion we are celebrating today,
may be witnesses of Your truth in the world.
Some may argue that the newer Latin version makes the point of “witness” more clearly.
I am not convinced the ancient prayer needed these “improvements”. Are you? Were these improvements? Did the prayer really changing? Did the good the Catholic faithful really call for that?
Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 gives a sound principle for liturgical changes which was nearly completely ignored.
23. That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.