Friday, December 18, 2020

The Indulgent Collect of the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Pieter Brueghel, The Preaching of John the Baptist (1885)

Lost in Translation #30

The Fourth Sunday of Advent resumes the pattern of Excita or “Stir Up” Collects begun on the Last Sunday after Pentecost and carried over into Advent before the “interruption” of Gaudete Sunday last week:

Excita, quáesumus, Dómine, potentiam tuam, et veni: et magna nobis virtúte succurre; et per auxilium gratiae tuae, quod nostra peccáta praepediunt, indulgentia tuae propitiatiónis accéleret: Qui vivis.
Which I translate as:
Stir up Thy power and come, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and with great might run to our aid; that by the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may accelerate what our sins are impeding. Who livest.
The Collect contains three imperatives. The first and second, “stir up and come,” are lifted verbatim from the Collect of the First Sunday of Advent (which in turn is inspired by Ps. 79, 2). The third, “run to our aid,” is mildly pleonastic, that is, it can be characterized as using more words than are absolutely necessary. I say “mildly,” however, because power (potentia) and might (virtus) are close in meaning but not synonymous. In Christian Latin, virtus has the more specific meaning of “the supernatural force of God which is productive of wonderful effects.” [1] The repetition also adds urgency, as does the use of succurre, which literally means to run under, and denotes rushing to the aid of another. Further, the repeated request for God’s power echoes the yearning of the generations waiting for Christ. “Just as of old, when the pagan world was sunk in degradation,” writes Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, “the Patriarchs prayed for an all-powerful Savior, so in this Collect the Church calls upon the Omnipotence of God to save her children by the might of His grace.” [2] Finally, the repetition of et before and after magna nobis virtute succurre likewise conveys a certain rushed breathlessness.
All told, it is a unique Collect. As Sr. Haessly observes:
In no other of the Sunday Collects do we find three imperatives. On this last Sunday before the feast of Our Lord’s coming, the Church, fearing lest we should miss the fulness of His grace, multiplies her petitions, uttering her desires in varied expressions. First she repeats the prayer made on the first Sunday: “Rouse Thy might, and come.” As if this were not urgent enough, she adds in more persistent tone: “with great might hasten to our assistance” before it is too late. [3]
The second half of the prayer consists of a purpose clause (even though there is no ut). Emphasis is placed on the help of God’s grace by the prominent position of per auxilium gratiae tuae. Again Sr. Haessly: “It is through grace that the first Advent of the Savior is perpetuated” [4] -- that is, carried through into His second Advent (His visitation to our heart [5]) -- and it is through grace that we are prepared for His third Advent (aka, His Second Coming) at the end of time. In the syntax of the prayer, grace is contrasted with what comes next: that which ours sins impede (quod nostra peccata praepediunt). What our sins impede is left undefined, but we can hazard a guess in light of the current season: it is, among other things, progress in being ready for Christ’s coming. There is also a subtle contrast between God’s running to our aid (succurre) and our sins tripping us up: praepedio, which is from the Latin for “in front of the foot,” means to fetter or shackle. The choice of accelero for hasten or accelerate also adds to the pedal motif of the prayer.
Finally, we come to the phrase indulgentia tuæ propitiatiónis, which occurs two other times in the 1962 Roman Missal. Indulgentia means forgiveness, and in at least one case it refers specifically to the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. [6] Providentially, this Sunday’s Gospel describes St. John the Baptist “preaching the baptism of penance for the remissions of sins.” (Luke 3, 3). John’s baptisms were not efficacious in removing sins, but thanks be to God, our sacraments of baptism and confession are. The faithful can therefore fruitfully use this Collect as a reminder to be shriven before they celebrate the great feast of the Nativity. May the remission of our sins and the accelerant of grace quickly return us to the path that makes straight the path of the Lord.

[1] Sr. Mary Pierre Ellebracht, Remarks on the Vocabulary of the Ancient Orations in the Missale Romanum (Dekker, 1963), 128.
[2] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 29.
[3] Haessly, 29.
[4] Haessly, 30.
[5] See, for instance, the Collect of the Third Sunday of Advent.
[6] Missa ad postulandam continentiam. See Ellebracht, 156.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: