Today’s Collect – for Mass and the Office on this 8th Sunday after Pentecost – is found in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary and the Gelasian and the so-called Gregorian. It survived the liturgical tailors with their scissors and thread to live on in the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum on Thursday of the 1st week of Lent. However, there is a minor adjustment in the Novus Ordo version.
Let’s drill into what our prayer really says.
Largire nobis, quaesumus, Domine, semper spiritum cogitandi quae recta sunt, propitius et agendi: ut, qui sine te esse non possumus, secundum te vivere valeamus.
In the Novus Ordo version that oddly placed propitius (“propitiously”) is replaced by promptius (“more readily/openly”). In the critical edition of the ancient Veronese Sacramentary, you find promptius. The reformers preferred the version that pre-dated the “Tridentine” editio princeps of 1570. What happened? Probably some ancient copyist made a mistake in reading an old manuscript’s ink squiggles in – mpt – and – pit -. Easy to do. Why the reversion was thought necessary, after having prayed the perfectly good collect for so many centuries, beats me. I’m not sure that, as the Council Fathers commanded, the good of the Church “genuinely and certainly” required it (Sacrosanctum Concilium 23).
One meaning of secundum in the prestigious Lewis & Short Dictionary is “agreeably to, in accordance with, according to”. Remember that largire is an imperative of a deponent verb, not an infinitive. The famous verb cogito is more than simply “to think”. It reflects deeper reflection, true pursuit in the mind: “to consider thoroughly, to ponder, to weigh, reflect upon, think”.
We beg you, O Lord, bestow upon us propitiously the spirit of thinking always things which are correct, and of carrying them out, so that we who are not able to exist without You may be able to live according to Your will.
In my peregrinations though the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) I found a text which harks to at least part of the content of this prayer (In io. eu. tr. 51,3):
“For Christ, who humbled Himself, made obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, is the teacher of humility. When He teaches us humility He doesn’t thus let go of His divinity: for in it (His divinity) He is the equal of the Father, while in this (His humility) He is like unto us; and in that He is the Father’s equal He created us in order that we might exist; and in that He is like to us, He redeemed us so that we would not perish.”
In Acts 17:28, we read about our God, “in whom we live and move and have our being”, a concept perhaps influenced by the legendary Epimenides of Knossos (6th c?). He was a Cretan, of course, and is famous for the paradoxical “All Cretans are liars.” Today, we might update that by having, say, a famous Jesuit say… wellll…. never mind. St. Paul seems to have known the Epimenides Paradox. In Titus, he writes:
For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party; 11 they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth. 15 To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.
Moving on from the Jesuits, and back to our prayer….
We are made to act as God acts: to know, will and love.
When we cleave to God, seeking what is good and true and beautiful through the tangle of our wounded intellect, we are really seeking God.
Once we know what is good, true and beautiful, either because we reasoned to it or perhaps an authority helped us, then we must act in accordance with the good, truth and beauty we found.
Today we pray to God in our Collect to give us the actual graces we need in order to live properly according to His image within us.
We are even more ourselves, even freer when, eschewing our own errant wills, we embrace the One who is Goodness, Truth and Beauty.
Yet there are times when we purposely (and thereafter habitually) choose against what reason and authority point to as the Good, True and Beautiful. We make the choice to stray and sin. In doing so we diminish ourselves. After all, we have our very existence from the One whom we choose to defy. We must return to the correct path, as Dante did in his Divine Comedy. His fictional self strayed into the dark woods after leaving the path of the right reason.
We could so often avoid sin if we would just act readily on those impulses of our minds and consciences toward what is good and true and beautiful. In a way, the phrase of the Nike commercial (níke means “victory” in ancient Greek) sums it up: Just Do It. And we have many helps in discerning the good, especially in the authoritative teachings of the Church. Over time we build up good habits of acting at the right time and measure, so that we have the habits that are virtues.
A problem rises when circumstances and our passions confuse us and we must ponder to discern the correct path. Most of the time we get ourselves into trouble by hesitating about doing what we know is right. We mull, dawdle, pick and get ourselves into a hornet nest of problems.
Strive, in accord with a conscience formed by the Church’s teachings and according to common sense, after the good, true and beautiful, which are ultimately reflects of God.