Friday, July 03, 2020

A Prayer for Our Church and Our Nation

Lost in Translation, #6

For centuries, the fourth of the Great Intercessions on Good Friday was for the Holy Roman Emperor, but in 1955 this prayer for a man who no longer existed was replaced with a prayer “Pro Res Publicas Moderantibus – For Those Governing Commonwealths” -- or if you prefer, “For Those Governing Public Affairs.” In 1960, this prayer (along with a new Secret and Postcommunion) also replaced the prayers for the Emperor in the Orationes Diversae section of the Missal, as commemorations in another Mass. The 1955 prayer is:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, in cujus manu sunt omnium potestates et omnium jura populorum: respice benignus ad eos, qui nos in potestate regunt: ut ubique terrarum, dextera tua protegente, et religionis integritas, et patriae securitas indesinenter consistat. Per Dominum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty everlasting God, in whose hand are the powers of all and the rights of all peoples: look favorably on those who rule over us in power: that with Thy right hand protecting us, integrity of religion and security of country may unceasingly abide throughout the world. Through our Lord.
The prayer has a slightly modern ring to it. The mention of individual rights indicates that it was written in the wake of Hobbes and Locke and after Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, which (not uncontroversially) refers to individual property rights for the first time in Church history as “sacred and inviolable.”
I wonder why the author speaks of “the powers of all and the rights of all peoples”, and not simply of the “powers and rights of all peoples.” Perhaps he is contrasting the powers of all who govern (rulers, government officials, etc.) with the rights of the peoples. Rulers have been given different powers of varying degrees by God, but people qua people have the same equal rights. There may also be here an answer to the modern debate about how essential the consent of the governed is, but rather than reinforce a dichotomy between the Lockian claim that government derives its legitimacy from the people and the Biblical claim that all political power comes from God (Rom. 13:1), the prayer unites the two by locating both in the hand of God. In the words of Pope Benedict XV, “Whatever power, then, is exercised amongst men, whether that of the King or that of an inferior authority [such as democratically elected leaders, we presume], it has its origin from God.” (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 10)
The prayer pivots deftly between the universal and particular, avoiding both a soulless globalism or cosmopolitanism that dangerously deprecates patriotism as well as a weaponized nationalism that dangerously distorts it. On one hand, God is addressed as the one who gives rights to all people. On the other hand, the prayer asks for blessings on those who rule over us, which in most cases, I reckon, means the rulers of the nation we happen to be in. The two come together nicely in the final section of the prayer, which asks that God's blessing of the nation will be good not just for us but for the whole world. 
I also like that the petition that God look favorably on our leaders is immediately followed by a petition that God protect us, perhaps even protect us from our leaders. It reminds me of the rabbi’s prayer in Fiddler on the Roof: “May the Lord keep the far away from us as possible!”
But the final part is the best, where the Church prays for two things: integrity of religion and security for the country--our country, of course, but others as well, since a world of stable and secure nations is not a bad thing. 
Neither is “integrity of religion,” which is a well-established phrase in the traditional Missal. It appears in the Postcommunion Prayer of the feast day of a holy pope, when we pray that the Church, “guided by capable governance, may receive both an increase in freedom and continue steadfast in integrity of religion.” To my mind, “integrity of religion” means one thing: that the one true religion has its act together. “Integrity” denotes soundness and connotes moral probity, intellectual clarity, and spiritual courage, but fundamentally it simply means to be whole--not divided by schism or scandal, not weakened by heretical deceptions or vested interests, and not trying to be something it isn't. Integrity of religion is a great thing to pray for, both for the sake of the Church and for the sake of earthly political life, for a religion with integrity is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
P.S. One suggestion for priests, which is not my own: this July 4, you can celebrate a Votive Mass to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (the patroness of the U.S.A.) and include the prayers Pro Res Publicas Moderantibus.

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