WDTPRS – Collect 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Novus Ordo): “the bowels of compassion”

Many of you could care less about the Novus Ordo prayers. But remember, when the English translation of the Novus Ordo improved, it was like the old adage that a rising tide raises all boats. All boats. Many of our brothers and sisters do not have easy access to the Traditional Latin Mass or they haven’t yet experienced. They ought to and, with cordial and patient invitations from people like you they may yet. Meanwhile, the Novus Ordo is here, if not to stay, then… to hang out for a while longer.

With that in mind, and keeping in mind that, even if you are pretty much TLM exclusive, you can still gain a lot by drilling into these orations.

COLLECT – (2002MR):
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam
parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas,
gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde,
ut, ad tua promissa currentes,
caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.

This was, in a slightly different form, in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. In the 1962 Missale Romanum this Collect was prayed for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost.

Let’s now look at some vocabulary, the nuts and bolts of the prayer.  Parco means, “to spare, have mercy, forbear to injure” and by extension, “forgive.”   This verb is used quite frequently in liturgical prayer as, for example, in the responses during the beautiful litanies we sing as Catholics, especially in time of need: “Parce nobis, Domine… Spare us, O Lord!”  During Lent the hauntingly poignant Latin chant informs our penitential spirit: “Parce, Domine… O Lord, spare your people: do not be wrathful with us forever.” The noun consors comes from the fusion of the preposition cum (“with”) and sors (“lot”, in the sense of a chance or ticket when “casting lots”, destiny, fate).   A consors is someone with whom you share a common destiny. The densely arranged Lewis & Short Dictionary reveals that consors is “sharing property with one (as brother, sister, relative), living in community of goods, partaking of in common.”  The English word “lot” can be both “fate” and a “parcel of land.”

Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are to act as God acts: to know, will and love.  Since God spares us and is merciful, then we must be similarly merciful and sparing if we want to be sharers and coheirs in the lot He has prepared for us.

Shall we get the obsolete ICEL version out of the way and then get on to what the prayer really says?

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
Father, you show your almighty power,
in your mercy and forgiveness.
Continue to fill us with your gifts of love.
Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise
and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.

O God, who manifest Your omnipotence
especially by sparing and being merciful,
pour Your grace upon us unceasingly,
so that You may make us,
rushing to the things You have promised,
to be partakers of heavenly benefits.

One of the ways God manifests His almighty nature is by being forgiving and sparing.

God is the creator and ruler, guide and governor of all that is seen and unseen, who keeps everything in existence by an act of His will, and reveals His omnipotence especially (maxime in our Collect) by means of mercy.  By violating God’s will our first parents, i.e. the entire human race, opened up an infinite gulf between us and God.  Since the gulf was immeasurable, only an omnipotent God could bridge that gap and repair it.  God did not repair the breach because of justice. Rather, because in His goodness He is also merciful.

People often slip into the trap of associating manifestations of power with acts of justice.   In this Collect, however, we affirm the other side of power’s coin.

The miracles worked by Jesus in the Gospels, loving gestures to suffering individuals, were acts of mercy often connected to forgiveness of sins.  The affirmation of divine mercy, however, does not diminish God’s justice.

Mercy does not mean turning a blind eye to justice, for that would be tantamount to betraying truth and charity.  Nevertheless, if justice must be upheld because God is Truth, so too must mercy be exercised because God is Love.

For God, balancing justice and mercy is simplicity itself, since He is perfectly simple.  Knowing all things which ever were, are or will be as well as the complexities of each act’s impact and every other throughout history God has no conflicts in the application of merciful justice or just mercy.

For man, especially in times of trial, the simultaneous exercise of mercy and justice is very difficult indeed.  Because of the wounds to our will and intellect, our struggle with passions, it is hard for us at times to see what is good and right and true or rein in our emotions even when we do discern things properly.  We often oscillate between being first just and then merciful. Bringing the two streams of mercy and justice together is a tremendous challenge.

When we encounter a person whom we find able to balance justice and mercy together, we are deeply impressed by him and hold him up as an example of wisdom because he is acting more perfectly as an image of God than many others.  We are moved by his example because deep inside we know how we ought to be conforming to God’s image in us.

One way in which we act the most according to God’s image in us, behaving as the “coheirs” Christ made us to be, authentic Christian consortes, is precisely when we act with compassion.

Is compassion the key to balancing mercy and justice?  In biblical language, such as the Hebrew racham, compassion is often interchangeable with mercy.  The Latin word compassio comes from Latin cum-patior, “to suffer/endure with” someone.  Our whole being is moved and stirred when we witness compassion and suffering because they reveal in a mysterious way who we are as human beings and how we ought to act.

In a now famous passage from the Council’s Gaudium et spes, we are taught that Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself (GS 22).  Christ did this in His every word and deed during His earthly life, but His supreme moment of revelation to us about who we are was His Passion and death on the Cross and subsequent rising from the tomb.  When we imitate His Passion, in sacrificial love and in the genuine “with suffering” which is compassion, we act as we were made by God to act.   In sincere and concrete acts of compassion we, in our own turn, reveal man more fully to himself!  We in our own way show God’s image to our neighbor and our neighbor is moved.  We cannot not be moved unless we are already stony and cold and dead.  Pope John Paul II wrote, “man cannot live without love”, both the love he gives and the love he receives.

When disasters strike communities, when disasters strike families and individuals, we witness acts of genuine compassion from many people in the aftermath.  Something in them has been moved to action.  Each gesture of compassion on the part of rescue workers, medical personnel, members of the military, law enforcement, first responders, relief agency representatives, people near or distant move the heart because in their actions we see that image after which every man, woman and child must resonate and long.

Unmerited acts of charity, mercy, justice, and compassion all make visible to our neighbor the God after whose likeness we ourselves are fashioned. We are moved by these acts because we are seeing in other people something really real. We are also moved by the suffering of others because suffering is a foundational element of human nature now transformed and given meaning by Christ’s Passion.

In sincere and concrete acts of compassion, in our biblical “bowels of mercy”, we in our turn reveal man more fully to himself.  Individuals can by their example effect great changes in a society.  If one person can do much, how much more could be done by armies of men and women thirsting for holiness and righteousness (i.e., a Church), striving to act in compassion, justice and mercy?

By His justice, God will give us what we deserve.

By His mercy, He will not give us certain elements of what we deserve.

By His pouring forth graces upon us, God gives us what we do not deserve.

His justice must be received with joyful trepidation, whether we want it or not.

His mercy we must beg with humble confidence.

His grace, unmerited by us, we embrace with exultant gratitude.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you very much fr.

  2. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. Amina says:

    I love the canticle of Zacariah speaking of “the bowels “

    The good reading of the canticle is in my blue office book- “ people sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death”; “ the orient from on high”

    Who can improve on such perfection?!

    Other readings of the canticle found elsewhere water down the words to the point of meaningless, not good!

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