WDTPRS – 27th Ordinary Sunday: Of ashes, beggars and you

When we pray with the right attitude, particularly when kneeling before the altar of Sacrifice, joined in heart and mind with our mediator, the priest, Christ Himself makes up for what we are incapable of accomplishing on our own.

St. Augustine (+430) says that Jesus

“prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God.  Therefore, let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us” (en Ps 85, 1).

What a magnificent starting point for you to use as a reflection on your own participation at Holy Mass!

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.


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.


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.

What a joke.  Compare and contrast!  We endured this for decades.  No wonder the faith is so enervated.


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.

We have a contrasting pair: God must remove from us our sins which merit punishment in justice, and He must add to us His graces which we can never merit.

We are unworthy, incredibly audacious beggars.

Our Collect gives us a model for an attitude of prayer.

We present ourselves, in the priest’s prayer, as one who is supplex, a suppliant 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 not of pride but of 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.  We luuuuuv Amoris and you racist homophobic xenophobes just lord it over El Pueblo with your high falutin’ languages, and rigid cassocks and hats and stuff.  Liturgy should have hugs and … and children holding hands around the altar, and women distrib…. no, I mean non-gender specified…”

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.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the Nice Shepherd.

Good shepherds say, “No!” and sometimes beat the flock to keep them from doing harm to themselves.

Vesting Holy Mass in the very best that human arts can attain is a response to the need to recognize who we are before God’s transcendent majesty, His just mercy.

It is no wonder that many liberals have screwy ideas about how to express humility in liturgical worship.

The concept of humility inherent in supplex was systematically expunged from the now–obsolete translations of prayers, contemporary music in parishes, and (in churches now lacking kneelers) architecture.  Change how we pray, and you change what we believe, our very identity.

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 great 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 doesn’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. michele421 says:

    You are correct that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the “Nice” Shepherd. Love itself isn’t “nice”. It’s frequently wounded and bloody, just like the embodiment of Love himself. Having said that, I must humbly take issue with your statement that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, “beats” his sheep, even for their own good. To beat someone is to repeatedly hit them with force and violence, often while in a fir of rage. While a good parent may spank their children, no good parent beats them. Still less would the Good Shepherd do so to his sheep. Psalm 23 in no way suggests this behavior as being appropriate for a good human shepherd, much less the Best, Most Perfect Shepherd of All.

  2. TonyO says:

    To beat someone is to repeatedly hit them with force and violence, often while in a fir of rage. While a good parent may spank their children, no good parent beats them.

    To the contrary, we have Proverbs 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child; [For] if thou beat him with the rod, he will not die.

    There can be no doubt that the Bible upholds corporal punishment as not only acceptable, but a norm for training children when needed. The question then is “how far”, as in, how far will a good parent take corporal punishment? Well, the proverb may seem to indicate one (rather extreme) limit: don’t beat him so as to bring him to the brink of death. But in reality, the “death” in that passage is not physical death, but spiritual death: discipline your child so that he will not be subject to spiritual death, and eternal punishment.

    often while in a fit of rage.

    It may be noted that MOST parents punish in times of anger, because they punish when the child does something wrong, and the child doing something wrong will often (appropriately) cause anger – that’s part of what anger exists for! The point is, however, that we are supposed to punish rationally, intelligently, and with love: these do not preclude punishing when you are angry, if you are angry with due reason and do not let the anger push you to punish unreasonably.

    You might also say that many times it is in a “fit” of rage. But the fact that punishment is OFTEN done badly is not a reason to not punish well, it is a reason to be careful in punishing. The real question then is what is the proper goal and what are the proper limits to using pain as a form of punishment and discipline. The overarching and ultimate goal is (always) charity, but intermediate goods and principles tell us that extreme pain is more a detriment than a good learning tool. Also, lashing out with a beating in a manifestly irrational way, e.g. as a form of personal revenge, is clearly not the kind of punishment that will bring contrition and teach better; punishment that is manifestly orderly, proportionate, controlled, and directed toward the good does not have the same bad effects. This, then, lays some of the groundwork for identifying the limits of good punishment.

  3. michele421 says:

    That rendering of Proverbs 23:13 sounds like the King James Version. That translation is not known for its textual accuracy and is not authorized for use in the Mass. More authoritative versions use the word “correct” or something similar. Even the Douay-Rheims Version, a rather antique, though still “Catholic” Bible, uses the word “strike”, which has quite a different connotation than “to beat”. While most parents do strike their children in anger (I’ve done it myself) it’s not always the wisest course as one must be very, very careful not to let one’s anger take over, as anger itself is often not rational. So a good parent will try to limit the number of times they punish in anger. To say that God beats his children is still an unfortunate expression of God’s actions.

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    “St. Augustine (+430) says that: Jesus prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore, let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us” (en Ps 85, 1).”

    Good point by St. Augustine, particularly “let us acknowledge.”

    “Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the Nice Shepherd.”


  5. Simon_GNR says:

    “Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not the Nice Shepherd.
    Good shepherds say, “No!” and sometimes beat the flock to keep them from doing harm to themselves.”

    A recent parish priest at our local Church used to tell a story of something shepherds in New Testament sometimes did. I don’t know if it is true, but the story certainly makes a point that chimes in with what Fr Z wrote above.

    If a lamb or young sheep kept wandering off on its own from the flock, the shepherd would break its front legs and look after it carefully while the breaks mended. The lamb couldn’t stray away from the flock and during the time of healing it would get so used to always being with the flock and close to the shepherd that by the time its legs had healed fully healed it would have no further desire or inclination to err or stray. The Good Shepherd not the Nice Shepherd indeed.

  6. Semper Gumby says:

    Here’s a quote from Michael D. O’Brien, from a Q&A session after a talk on Apocalyptic Times at St. Patrick’s Basilica, Ottawa, Canada, in 2005.

    “The Church in this land has been endlessly dialoguing with the revolution…We have been speaking so nicely to our opponents for so long that it seems we no longer know how to exercise conviction and clarity…niceness was mistaken for genuine Christian clarity.”

    O’Brien is not saying abandon tact and civility. The problem is that the “cult of Niceness” (I would add Ambiguity, Chaos, Hagan Lio, etc.) detests the clarity that fortifies the Faithful and nurtures the next generation.

    His website has many helpful essays and articles on the family, totalitarianism, art, and children’s books. For whatever reason, it has been suspended.


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