The Collect for the 23rd Ordinary Sunday – this Sunday – was not in any pre-Conciliar edition of the Roman Missal, but it was in the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary in a section for evening prayers during Paschaltide. You have to wonder how they – the cutting and pasting experts – made these decisions. Right?
Deus, per quem nobis et redemptio venit et praestatur adoptio, filios dilectionis tuae benignus intende, ut in Christo credentibus et vera tribuatur libertas, et hereditas aeterna.
Take note of the lovely chiasms (so-called because, stylistically, they form a X or Greek chi): redemptio venit…praestatur adoptio (subject verb… verb subject) and also vera libertas…hereditas aeterna (adjective noun…noun adjective). And the two passives make a nice bridge. It is brilliantly crafted and typically terse, according to the Roman genius.
Vocabulary connections suggest to me Patristic sources for this prayer (e.g., in St Hilary of Poitiers (+ c. 368) de trin 6, 44; St Ambrose of Milan (+ 397) ep 9, 65, 5).
Praesto, -iti, -atum means effectively “to stand before or in front”. It has a wide range of meanings, however, including “to fulfill, discharge, maintain, perform, execute” and concepts surrounding the same, making praesto a little confusing. The lexicographer Souter says that in about the 2nd century praesto meant, “lend” (like French “prêter”) and from the 4th century onward “offer”. Cassiodorus (+ c. 583) and other authors use praesto for “help, aid, give”. A. Blaise suggests the French “accorder” when praesto concerns God. Some weeks ago, (19th Sunday) we saw adoptio. Hereditas can be, “heirship” or the inheritance, the patrimony, itself.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God our Father, you redeem us, and make us your children in Christ. Look upon us, give us true freedom and bring us to the inheritance you promised.
BTW.. in all the years that I wrote these columns, I constantly reminded people that the slavishly literal versions I provided week in and week out were intended to help you see how the Latin works, to get the bones of the prayers, for the sake of comparing and contrasting more easily the official translations.. They were never intended to be liturgically ready versions… even though they were often better than what we got! So, keep that in mind. They are workhorses, merely.
SUPER LITERAL RENDERING:
O God, through whom to us come both redemption and adoption is guaranteed, kindly give attention to your beloved children, so that both true freedom and the inheritance everlasting may be bestowed on those believing in Christ.
See what I did in there?
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption, look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters, that those who believe in Christ may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.
What do you think?
By the fact of our unity with Christ in His and our common human nature, the way to divine sonship was opened up to us by the Father in Christ.
Christ is the Father’s Son by nature, we are sons and daughters by grace.
Our adoption through grace is “perfect” (adoptio perfecta) because it complete. Perfecta is from perficio, “bring to an end or conclusion, finish, complete”.
From God’s point of view our adoption is perfect because He puts His mark upon us, especially in baptism and confirmation. Since God is not limited by time and for Him there are no past or future distinct from the present, He sees in perfection the results of every gift of adoption.
From our point of view adoption will only be completed when we see Him face to face. Because of baptism the Father’s mark is sealed into us forever. In this marvelous adoption the Holy Spirit brings the Father and Son to us when He takes up His rightful place in our souls, thus creating the perfect communion, even family, within our souls.
Today’s Collect has its foundation certainly in the New Testament imagery of adoption, but I think it also flows out of ancient Roman legal concepts of manumission and adoption, freeing of slaves and adoption of heirs.
Ancient prayers rang differently in the ancient ears than they do in ours. Trying to get the content that rang then to ring also today is tricky. Sometimes it can’t be done, and still retain the prayer’s concision, a characteristic of the Roman style.
Let’s bang our hammer on the bell that is “adoption” for a while and see what rings out.
Our adoption by God takes us out of slavery and gives us a new status as free members of the Church and as sons and daughters. Baptism confers this freedom, membership, and adoption.
Even natural children of a father in ancient Rome required the father’s recognition (Latin recognitio) before they were legally considered to be his legitimate children and heirs with any rights. Adoption could grant those same rights and privileges. Roman adoptio removed a person from one familia and put him in another, while adrogatio legally placed people not under the power of a parent into a familia, thus placing them under the authority of the paterfamilias. In Latin, a familia is a house and all belonging to it, a family estate, family property, fortune. A familia had a head, the paterfamilias (or –familiae, the –as being a Greek genitive), the master of the house.
The baptized are no longer subject to Satan and destined for hell, but are now under new mastership of God.
In Rome there was also an “adoption”, being named an heir with the right of taking the name of the one bequeathing the patrimony. However, this was not an adoption in the fullest sense: you became heir of the father’s name and property without the other powers of a paterfamilias until they were confirmed by magistrates, etc.
Even after baptism our state can be deepened through confirmation.
Ancient slaves could be freed, but that did not make them Roman citizens with the greater rights. By baptism, we become citizens of heaven, members of the family of the Church. Not only are we free, but we gain even the chance of eternal salvation.
In ancient Rome a slave could become a citizen through certain types of manumission, by adoption, through military service, or a special grant to a community or territory. In a way, we have undergone all of these: by laying His hand on us (manus “hand” and mittere), we have been freed. We have been made sons and daughters of a heavenly Father.
We are now soldiers in the Church militant.
By membership of the society of the Church, a holy and priestly People, we gain privileges and obligations. God has recognized us as His own children with a perfect adoption. This is true freedom and true heirship, excluding nothing and, in some sense, lavishing on us even more than we might have had before we fell under the Devil’s dominion through sin.
This is a difficult mystery to grasp: we are already sons and daughters in a perfect sonship by adoption, but that sonship is not yet complete: we lack the final essential component, that is, perseverance in faith and obedience for the whole course of our lives and their ratification in death and our particular judgment.
It is through many trials that we come to the perfection of adoption which we now share in an imperfectly perfect way.
These collects during the summer, during Ordinary time, contain reminders of who we are and, therefore, what we are to do.
Christ reveals both.