Friday, October 09, 2020

The Liberating Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Bernardo Strozzi, Parable of the Wedding Feast (1636)

Lost in Translation #20

The Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost is:

Omnípotens et miséricors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiátus exclúde: ut mente et córpore páriter expedíti, quae tua sunt, líberis méntibus exsequámur. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Almighty and merciful God, kindly keep out everything opposing us; that, being equally unencumbered both in mind and body, we may arrive at those things which are yours with free minds. Through our Lord.
The participle that we have translated as “being unencumbered” is an interesting one. Expeditus, which is from ex and pes/pedis, literally means to free the foot from a snare. But it also has a military connotation: an expeditus was a light-armed Roman infantryman who is unencumbered by a heavy rucksack and able to march quickly. Yet again during this Time after Pentecost, the Church is praying in kinetic terms, using images of running or moving swiftly. And the logic is fairly straightforward. Keep us from the bad so that, freed up, we may attain the good with free minds.
There are three other details in this Collect that I like. First, I appreciate the particular bad/good juxtaposition. The Collect contrasts “all things opposing us” (universa nobis adversantia) with “those things which are yours” (quae tua sunt). Adversantia literally means things that are turned against us, and universa implies all these things taken together as a whole. Its opposite in this Collect is “those things which are God’s.” None of God’s things, in other words, are against us. God is on our side, and so are all His things.
Second, I am intrigued by the relationship between an equally unencumbered mind and body and a free mind. Why do we pray that the mind and body be equally unencumbered, and why do we pray only for a free mind and not a free body as well (i.e., a body free from illness)? To this last question we may answer that it is an unrealistic expectation. Our hope as Christians is not to be free of the burden of our bodily mortality (until the creation of the new Heaven and new earth, that is); rather, it is to be free in spirit as we await the Parousia or bodily death, whichever comes first.
As for the former question, the Church frequently prays for the welfare of both soul and body, but why in this Collect does she pray for an equal (pariter) deliverance from encumbrance for both? And what bodily encumbrances does the Church have in mind? I welcome your own insights in the comments section below.
Third, the Collect jeopardizes rhetorical excellence by its quick repetition of the word “mind” (mens). Would not a synonym such as heart or soul lend greater verbal panache? Indeed, not a single lay Missal I consulted translated mens with the same word twice. They supplied their own variety to spice up the Collect.
They did not err in doing so, for mens in liturgical Latin can indeed refer to the soul or the heart, but perhaps the Epistle provides a clue that we should nonetheless leave well enough alone. Barely have the words liberis mentibus left our ears than we hear the opening words of Ephesians 4, 23-28: “Brethren: Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind (mens).” A renewed mind is a free mind, and a free mind is one that puts “on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” A free mind, because it is free and not cowardly or servile, puts “away lying” and is courageous enough to speak “the truth…with his neighbor.” A free mind is not enslaved to its own lust for honor or respect, and so it is not moved to disordered or sinful anger: when it has anger, it has righteous anger, and thus it sins not. And of course, a free mind does “not give place to the devil.”
Combining the Collect and the Epistle, we may say that protection from the snares of the devil liberates our minds to possess the goods of God, a “possession” which renews us and transforms our behavior. Finally, this possession must above all include the virtue of charity, which is implied in this Sunday’s Gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Feast. For charity is the “wedding garment” that we must “put on” in order to feast at the nuptials of the God who frees our feet from the snares and our minds from its bondage.

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