ASK FATHER: Liturgical idiots

From a reader…


 I was hoping to find your observations about the Sunday collect this week. What sense of meaning is one to make of the collect for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time which is given us in the Novus Ordo this week?

I find it very strange from a Catholic perspective.

Welll…. a more Catholic Collect would be hard to find.

With a minor variation this week’s Collect, for the 27th Ordinary Sunday (Novus Ordo), was in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary and in the post-Tridentine editions of the Missale Romanum for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et merita supplicum excedis et vota, effunde super nos misericordiam tuam, ut dimittas quae conscientia metuit, et adicias quod oratio non praesumit.

Supplex, an adjective used also as a substantive, is “humbly begging or entreating; beseeching; supplicant.”  In the ancient world it was not uncommon for the supplicant to wrap his arms around (plecto) the knees of the one from whom he was begging the favor.


Father, your love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires. Forgive our failings, keep us in your peace and lead us in the way of salvation.


Almighty ever-living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.


Almighty and everlasting God, who in the abundance of Your goodness surpass both the merits and the prayerful vows of suppliants, pour forth Your mercy upon us, so that You set aside those things which our conscience fears, and apply what our prayer dares not.


We have a contrasting pair: God must

1) remove from us our sins which merit punishment in justice, and
2) He must add to us His graces which we can never merit.

Our Collect gives us a model for an attitude of prayer: we are unworthy, audacious beggars.

We present ourselves, in the Collect, as one who is supplex, a supplicant frightened by the Judge because of the sins which bother his conscience. This lowly beggar prays and prays, entwining his arms about the knees of his only hope. He petitions the Almighty Father, merciful and good, to calm his fears by removing his damning sins totally and then by supplying him with whatever he dares not ask or does not even know that he ought to beg for (non praesumit).

He simultaneously has the humility of the kneeling suppliant and the boldness of sonship.  He dares that which is far beyond his own capacity because God the Father made him His son through a mysterious adoption.  He is emboldened to ask many things of the Father with faith and confidence (cf Mark 11:24 and 9:23).  Luke recounts in chapters 11 and 18 Christ’s parables about the persistent, even audacious, prayer of petition.

In many places, celebrations of Holy Mass have been stripped of both these dimensions.  There is no sense of sin, there is no sense of awe or humility. 

Idiotic liberals will now respond,

“But Father! But Father! People like YOU –  HATE Vatican II – want ARROGANT Masses loaded down with gold and lace and music the common little people can’t understand.  We need humble Masses, with guitars and clay cups and burlap vestments – if any vestment at all.   Liturgy should have hugs and … and children holding hands around the altar, and songs by Whitney Houston and women distrib…. “

What I mean by liturgy stripped of humility means that, in many places, instead of abasing ourselves humbly before our awesome and mysterious God during the renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, we celebrate ourselves while somewhat remembering our non-judgmental buddy Jesus.

Jesus isn’t our pal.  He is not the Nice Shepherd.  He is the King of Fearful Majesty.

One of the most Catholic of prayers, nearly eliminated after Vatican II, underscores an important dimension of healthy spirituality.  In the Dies Irae, the haunting sequence of the Requiem Mass, we contemplate our inevitable judgment by the Rex tremendae maiestatis… the King of fearful majesty, the iustus Iudex… our just Judge:

“Once the accursed have been confounded / delivered up to the stinging flames, / call me with the blessed. / Suppliant and bowing down (supplex et acclinis), / my heart ground down like ash, I pray: / Have a care for my end.”

The use of supplex in our prayers prompts an attitude of contrition for our sins which in turn gives greater joy to our more confident petitions.

A lowly attitude keeps in focus the reality of our sins, God’s promises of forgiveness, the ordinary means of their cleansing, and thus the greater joy we have in forgiveness and the hope of heaven.

We need these contrasts in our prayers.

God takes our sins away, but only when we beg Him to.  We remember them, but they no longer stain us.  When we recall that we are ashes and we confess our sins to the priest, those sins are washed clean away.

These are GREAT sisters!  

Soap, by the way, was once made in part from ashes.

In ancient times, no doubt our distant ancestors noted that in the places where they often cooked meat over fires, the stones would be clean where the fat and ashes ran. Thus, they learned to make soap from the ashes and lye and fats of their sacrifices.

Living can be messy. Ministry can be dirty. In one of his finest sermons, St. Augustine explained Christ’s washing of the feet of the Apostles using the moment in the Song of Songs when the lover calls to his beloved to rise and come to him. She demures at first saying that she had already washed her feet and didn’t want to dirty them. The world, the flesh and the Devil get to us. We besmirch ourselves. Christ wanted the Apostles to get up and get their feet dirty in His service and that He would wash them as they needed.

The grit of the world and the grease of the flesh and the grime of the Enemy must be constantly cleansed.

For Christ’s Blood to wash us clean of sin we need a heart as contrite as ashes.

To begin the cleansing, we must know what must be cleansed and then seek out the divine cleanser.

I’ll now get up on my soap box pulpit and urge you to examine your consciences and…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sword40 says:

    Actually, Fr. Z, we celebrated the External Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. The collect is beautiful . It’s been so long since I have even assisted at a Novus Ordo Mass that I can’t even relate to it’s calendar anymore. After the Sung High Mass we processed around the church reciting the Rosary to join with the millions of others across the country.

  2. Father:

    Thank you for this enjoyable explanation of this collect.

    I find myself wondering just what your correspondent found so troubling or odd about this collect; I resist the temptation to guess. For my part, I very much like this collect, and enjoy the language, specifically, “pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.” Lovely! So hopeful!

    Also, this calls to mind the complaint made so often, when this current translation was put into effect: namely, that the new translations of the prayers were so “unwieldy” and “impossible to proclaim.” I have not found it so at all; however, unless I am under the weather, I always chant the collects on Sundays, and I find that when I chant them in the solemn tone, the collects nearly always sort themselves out. Only a few miscues, on my part, in placing the emphasis at the right points. Very honestly, I think many of those clerics complaining about these “unwieldy” prayers might do better to chant them; and if I may also say so, I think they may have a rather shallow experience of English composition. In short, they need to read actual English literature more, where they will find fairly complicated sentences that work well. They just take a bit more effort than, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

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