Friday, February 12, 2021

The Shrovish Collect of Quinquagesima Sunday

Palma il Giovane, Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda, 1592
Lost in Translation #38

The final Sunday of the season of pre-Lent or Septuagesimatide is Quinquagesima, so-called because it occurs approximately fifty days before Easter. In former ages, Christians would gradually begin abstaining from meat and dairy products on a voluntary basis in preparation for the mandatory fast of Lent. During the previous two weeks, the faithful in the Latin West would have begun abstaining from cheese and other dairy products; around this time they would now begin abstaining from flesh meat. Hence this Sunday is also known in Italian as “Dominica di Carnevale”, “carnevale” coming from the Latin for “removal of meat,” the origin of our word “carnival.”

The propers for Quinquagesima Sunday offer excellent instruction on how to approach the imminent season of Lent. The Gospel (Luke 18, 31-43) proclaims the approach of Christ’s Passion and the importance of faith as the key to being “made whole” by our Lord’s suffering and death. The verse of the Introit proclaims confidence in God and declares, “In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped.” (Ps. 30, 2)

The Epistle (1 Cor. 13, 1-13) forcibly reminds us that all of our asceticism, like the kind we will soon be practicing for forty days, is worthless if it is not infused by the signature Christian virtue of charity. Ultimately, the purpose of our Lenten mortification is an increase of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
But bringing in more good also requires driving out more bad; hence the Sunday Collect:
Preces nostras, quáesumus, Dómine, clementer exaudi: atque a peccatórum vínculis absolútos, ab omni nos adversitáte custódi. Per Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
We beseech Thee, O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers: and having loosed us from the bonds of [our] sins, keep us from all adversity. Through our Lord.

The Collect bears a resemblance to the other two Collects of Pre-Lent. The protasis (first half) is almost identical to that of Septuagesima Sunday, and the apodosis (second half) likewise mentions deliverance from our sins. The plea for protection from adversity (adversitas) echoes the plea from the Sexagesima Sunday Collect for protection from all adverse things (adversa omnia).

The Collect, however, does not explicitly pray for deliverance from our sins but from the “bonds of sins.” No doubt the “our” is implied by the use of “us” in the prayer, but as Sr. Mary Gonzaga notes, the author may have wanted “sins” to be taken in a wider sense as everything contaminated by original sin.[1] Even the Blessed Virgin Mary could pray for deliverance from sins, insofar as She would want to be free of the entangling effects of sin all around her and to be kept free from all sin.

The apodosis has a particular order in mind: God absolves us of sin, then He keeps us from all adversity (or, to be kept from every other kind of adversity besides sin, since the Latin omnis can mean "the rest" as well as "all"). In Mark 2:5, Our Lord freed the paralytic from sin before He freed him from paralysis. Our worst adversary is sin.

Finally, intentionally or not, the Collect's petition for absolution ties in nicely with the origins of “Shrovetide,” the three-day period of Quinquagesima Sunday, Shrove Monday, and Shrove Tuesday. Although popularly seen as a last-chance shot at merriment and mayhem before Ash Wednesday, Shrovetide’s name betrays its purpose: “to shrive” is to administer or receive the sacrament of confession. [2] Apparently our forebears thought it a good idea to be loosed from the bonds of their sins before entering into the arena of the desert fast where, like Christ, they might meet the devil in combat. Better to have less for him to grab onto.


[1] Sr. Mary Gonzaga Haessly, Rhetoric in the Sunday Collects of the Roman Missal (Ursuline College for Women, 1938), 45-46.

[2] See “Shrive, v.,” Oxford English Dictionary, 1a and 3a.

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