Friday, November 20, 2020

The Stirring Collect for the Last Sunday after Pentecost

Franceso Hayez, Distruzione del Tempio di Gerusalemme (1867)
Lost in Translation #26 

As can be seen from the Gospel for this Mass, the Last Sunday after Pentecost corresponds to the Last Days of history. According to the Church Fathers, Matthew 24, 15-25, combines a prophecy of the destruction of the Holy Temple (which would take place in A.D. 70) with a prophecy of Doomsday, when the world will be dissolved in a globe of fire and replaced with a new Heaven and a new earth. The Last Sunday after Pentecost anticipates the Second Coming of Our Lord.

But so in a way does Advent (the season immediately following this apocalyptic crescendo of the liturgical year), for Adventus or “coming” 1) remembers the first coming of Our Lord to Bethlehem, 2) implores His coming into our hearts now, and 3) prepares for His coming in glory at the end of time. The last and first parts of the 1962 Church calendar thus overlap, functioning as two interlocking clasps that connect the dazzling necklace of the year’s feasts and seasons.
One of the more interesting components of this clasp are the Collects. During Advent, the Church betrays impatience in her opening prayers: three out of four of the Sunday Collects of this season beg the Lord to rouse Himself up (excitare) and come. But that impatience is so impatient that it cannot even wait for the season of Advent: the Last Sunday after Pentecost has an excita Collect as well:
Excita, quáesumus, Dómine, tuórum fidelium voluntátes: ut divíni óperis fructum propensius exsequentes; pietátis tuae remedia majóra percipiant. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:

Stir up the wills of Thy faithful people, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that as they more eagerly strive after the fruit of divine work, they may receive greater remedies of Thy loving kindness. Through.
We will examine the use of excita more closely in the coming weeks. For now, it is sufficient to note the word order. By placing this imperative at the head of the statement, without fanfare or introduction, the Church emphasizes her impatience. O Lord, make haste to help us--now!
The Collect introduces us to a theme found in the Epistle, namely, “being fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1, 10). Here, however, the Church speaks of the fruit of a divine work, perhaps to emphasize the agency of God in making our works righteous and fruitful, for it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3, 7). Reinforcing the fruit imagery is propensius (“more eagerly”), which is derived from the verb propendeo, to hang down. Although the adverb is applied to the faithful and not to the fruit of divine work, the mind is nonetheless inclined to think of low-hanging fruit, ready for the taking. It is almost the Garden of Eden in reverse: with a will properly roused and weighted towards the Good, we will be eager for the right fruit, and from it we will receive diving healing rather than punishment.
But in order to receive “greater remedies,” do we need to obtain the fruit or merely seek after it? Last week we saw how exsequi is a robust verb by virtue of the perfective force of ex. Usually in the Roman orations, as was the case with last week’s Collect, it implies an action that has been completed. But exsequi can also mean to seek after, and I agree with Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht that that is its meaning here. [1]
Either way, whether we are taking fruit or about to take it, we are engaged in an activity of harvesting. As St. Mary Gonzaga Haessly notes, 
On this last Sunday of the Ecclesiastical year, the Church prays God to rouse the wills of the faithful, in order that they may reap the harvest, as it were, of all the good things that He has worked in them during the year. [2]
And, we may add, it is a good idea to petition for a roused-up will near the end of a harvest or a long journey, when our spirits are prone to flag or grow weary. Although such a reaction is understandable, it must (at least in the spiritual life) be resisted. Whether it is the end of the world or the end of one’s life, the devil will make a last-ditch effort to entrap souls and drag them to Hell. With the finish line in sight and the Enemy on our tail, now is the time not to relax the reins but apply the spurs. For only he that shall persevere to the end shall be saved.

[1] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker, 1963), 101. The English edition of the new Missal likewise interprets exsequentes in this prayer as “striving.” Unlike my interpretation, however, it then goes on to translate divíni óperis fructum in terms of human agency: “that striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion.” (See the Collect for the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time). 
[2] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 170.

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