In the Sanctus of Holy Mass and, in the great Te Deum, we echo the myriads of angels bowed low in the liturgy of heaven before God’s throne: “Holy, Holy, Holy LORD GOD SABAOTH …. God of “heavenly hosts”.
With small differences our Collect for the upcoming 22nd Ordinary Sunday (Novus Ordo) is based on a prayer in the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary and, subsequently, one in the 1962 Roman Missal for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost.
Deus virtutum, cuius est totum quod est optimum, insere pectoribus nostris tui nominis amorem, et praesta, ut in nobis, religionis augmento, quae sunt bona nutrias, ac, vigilanti studio, quae nutrita custodias.
Insero means “to sow, plant in, engraft, implant.” I like “graft”. Optimum is “best”, but seeing that we are applying “best” to God, we can get away with “perfect”.
Our Collect summons images of, on the one hand, armies and, on the other, an orchard and vine tending. Many of our ancient prayers have vocabulary which invokes military, agricultural, and forensic/juridical images. Today, on the one hand, the God of hosts guards the good things we have. On the other, this same mighty God is grafting love into us and then nourishing it so it can grow.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Almighty God, every good thing comes from you. Fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith, and by your constant care protect the good you have given us.
The norms underlying the current ICEL English translation stated that “deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text” (Liturgiam authenticam 51).
Today the priest invokes God as Deus virtutum, an expression in St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Psalter (Ps 58:6; 79:5 ff; 83:9; 88;9) often translated as “God of hosts.” Don’t confuse “host”, which is “army, multitude”, with the wheat wafer used at Mass. Virtutum is genitive plural of virtus, “manliness, strength, courage, aptness, capacity, power” etc.
St Jerome chose virtutum to render the Hebrew tsaba’, “that which goes forth, an army, war, a host.” Tsaba’ describes variously hosts of soldiers, of celestial bodies, and of angels.
O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect, graft into our hearts the love of Your Name, and grant, that by means of an increase of the virtue of religion, You may nourish in us the things which are good, and, by means of vigilant zeal, guard the things which have been nourished.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
God of might, giver of every good gift, put into our hearts the love of your name, so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, you may nurture in us what is good and, by your watchful care, keep safe what you have nurtured.
Today we pray to God for an increase in “religion.” I’ll take this to be the virtue of religion. Last week I wrote about the difference between “values” and “virtues”. Let’s make more distinctions.
The First Commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of the virtue of religion (cf also CCC 2084, 2135). St. Thomas Aquinas (d 1274) says that religion is the virtue by which men exhibit due worship and reverence to God as the creator and supreme ruler of all things (STh II-II, 81, 1).
We must acknowledge dependence on God by rendering Him a due and fitting worship both interiorly (eg, by acts of devotion, reverence, thanksgiving, etc.) and exteriorly (eg, external reverence, liturgical acts, etc.).
The virtue of religion can be sinned against by idolatry, superstitions, sacrilege, and blasphemy.
We creatures must recognize who God is and act accordingly both inwardly and outwardly. When this at last becomes habitual for us, then we have the virtue of religion. A virtue is a habit. One good act does not make us virtuous. If being prudent or temperate or just, etc., is hard for us, then we don’t yet have the virtues.
Our petition for religion follows immediately from our desire that God “graft” (insere) love of His Holy Name into our hearts. We move from the title of God the angels and saints never tire of repeating in their everlasting liturgy in heaven: HOLY. Then we beg for all good things to be nourished in us by God as He increases in us the virtue of religion. This leads to the proper interior and exterior actions that necessarily flow from recognizing who God truly is and who we are.