Friday, December 04, 2020

The Heartfelt Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

Flemish school, St. John the Baptist, ca. 1600
Lost in Translation #28

For the third week in a row, the 1962 Roman Missal uses an Excita or “Stir Up” Collect during the Sunday Mass:

Excita, Dómine, corda nostra ad praeparandas Unigéniti tui vias: ut per ejus adventum, purificátis tibi méntibus servíre mereámur. Qui tecum vivit et regnat.
Which I translate as:
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Thine only begotten Son; that through His coming we may deserve to be in Thy service with purified minds. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.
On the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Church prayed to the Father to stir up our wills. On the First Sunday of Advent, she prayed to the Son to stir up His power and come. Now, during the Second Sunday of Advent, she prays to the Father to stir up our hearts in preparation for “the ways of” His Son. The phrasing has a nice seasonal ring to it: preparing the ways of the Only-Begotten is evocative of the Forerunner of Christ, who figures prominently during Advent. Like St. John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the ways of the Lord (Luke 1, 76).
The order of Collects also makes sense. Last week we inaugurated Advent by asking the Son to come; this week we get ready for His arrival. But instead of asking God to stir up our wills as we did two weeks ago (during the Last Sunday after Pentecost), we now ask Him to stir up our hearts. Because the Last Sunday after Pentecost betokens the end of time, it is appropriate that we prayed then for more willpower to help us rise to the challenge of the final struggle. Now, however, we want our hearts to be ready, which I take to include not only our will but our desires.
This Sunday’s Postcommunion Prayer provides an excellent example of a heart that is ready: it is one that has learned to look down on earthly things and love the heavenly (terrena despicere et amare caelestia). The often misunderstood concept of contemptus mundi or disdain for the world simply means a realignment of one’s subjective desires with the objective hierarchy of goods. The heart that has its act together is the heart that loves the higher goods more and the lower goods less. As St. Augustine writes:
Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. (On Christian Doctrine, 1.27.28)
Such a heart, for example, is ready to renounce physical safety at the drop of a hat to profess its faith in Jesus Christ, because it loves Christ far more and is not encumbered by an excessive attachment to other things.
St Augustine, by Giuseppe Antonio Pianca, ca. 1745
Finally, the main petition, which requests that we may deserve to be in the service of God the Father with purified minds, is distinctive in two ways. First, whereas some Roman orations ask for pure minds (mentes purae), others such as this Collect ask for purified minds (mentes purificatae), thereby placing emphasis on the purging process and not simply the end result. During Advent we are in a special kind of training that, we pray, has purgative results. Second, instead of asking to serve God, the Collect asks to merit (mereamur) serving God. Serving God is an honor and a privilege, of which we must ask to be deserving since our own merits fall short. In the succinct wording of this Sunday’s Secret: “no influence from our merits is sufficient (nulla suppetunt suffragia meritorum).”

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