Friday, December 11, 2020

The Accommodating Collect of the Third Sunday of Advent

We pray for an audience with a King, and a visit.
Lost in Translation #29

A simple but beautiful Collect gathers our prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent:

Aurem tuam, quáesumus, Dómine, précibus nostris accómmoda: et mentis nostrae ténebras gratia tuae visitatiónis illustra: Qui vivis. 
Which I translate as:
Accommodate Thine ear to our prayers, we beseech Thee, O Lord; and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation: Who livest.
The Collect joins those of the First and Fourth Sundays of Advent in addressing God the Son; common during Advent, this address is rare during other seasons. [1] In another way, the Collect breaks rank. For three Sundays in a row, the Collect has begun with Excita or “Stir up,” but that streak ends here. The desire for the Messiah to rouse up and come, however, is transferred rather than suppressed. “Stir up, O Lord, Thy might and come to save us” (Psalm 79, 2-3), the inspiration behind the Collects of the First and Fourth Sundays of Advent, appears in this Sunday’s Gradual and Alleluia. Rather than the imagery of rousing, the prayer employs the language of accommodation and illumination. While our hearts are stirred up by Gaudete Sunday’s theme of rejoicing, the Collect strikes a more irenic note.
The Collect may not incorporate Psalm 79, 2, but it does draw from another Biblical convention. “Inclining one’s ear,” which is no doubt the inspiration behind the English expression “to bend an ear,” is used several times in the Old Testament, including invocations to God. [2] In the Vulgate translation, the idiom is translated with inclino as the verb. In this Sunday’s Collect, the Church uses the less common accommodo, which literally means “to fit or adapt one thing to another.” Hence the prayer asks God not simply to bend an ear to our prayers, but to reshape His ear in such a way that it conforms to our prayers.
Another biblical influence is evident in the choice of visitatio. Saint Peter writes of the “day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2, 12) and the “ time of visitation” (ibid. 5, 6), presumably with respect to the glorious return of the Son of Man. Here the Church speaks of the illuminating grace of visitation enlightening our darkened minds. As we have mentioned before, the Advent and Christmas seasons celebrate three comings: the coming of Our Lord to Bethlehem, His coming into our hearts, and His coming at the end of time. This Sunday’s Collect indirectly references the middle coming and indirectly alludes to the third.
Some Collects, such as this one, contain two separate petitions, one in the protasis and one in the apodosis (the first and second parts). The petition of the protasis is for accommodation; the petition of the apodosis is for illumination. Note that the author has put both of these imperatives (accommoda and illustra) at the end of each part. This figure of speech is called a homoioteleuton: in pairing the two words, it more forcefully brings them to the reader’s or listener’s attention. How can we possibly translate this emphasis into English?
The Collect begs for an audience with God so that He may accommodate our prayers. Prayer is an important theme of this Sunday: both the Introit and the Epistle implore us to make our petitions known to God. The Collect uses the word preces (plural) to denote prayer. Prex is different from other Latin words for prayer such as oratio, votum, and supplicatio insofar as it does not have a public meaning (the other words were originally tied to formal events or ceremonies). [3] And the author may have simply acted out of customary usage when he put the word in the plural, but even if he did, both the plural voice and the choice of the “private” prex remind us of the mystagogical function of the Collect in the Mass, which is “to collect” the myriad private prayers of the individuals who have assembled for the sacrifice and to unite them into a single coordinated public petition. Whatever our hopes, fears, and wishes we bring with us to this Sunday, they will be made better by the gentle and illuminating grace of Christ when He visits our hearts.

[1] For more on the Christocentric prayers of Advent, see Peter Kwasniewski’s 2016 article on the subject.
[2] See Ps. 16, 6; 70, 2; 85, 1; 87, 3; 101, 3.
[3] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 125.

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