Friday, June 10, 2022

The Rare Collect of the First Sunday after Pentecost

Domenico Fetti, The Parable of the Mote and the Beam, c. 1619
Lost in Translation #73

Unless you have access to a traditional Latin Mass on weekdays or are about 700 years old, you have never assisted at a Mass where all the propers of the First Sunday after Pentecost were used. The Mass was replaced by the Feast of the Holy Trinity in 1334, although it continues to be celebrated on the ferial days between Trinity Sunday and the Second Sunday after Pentecost. For centuries its orations were commemorated on Trinity Sunday, but this practice was explicitly abolished in the 1962 Missal.

’Tis a shame, for the Collect in particular is striking:
Deus, in te sperantium fortitúdo, adesto propitius invocatiónibus nostris: et, quia sine te nihil potest mortális infírmitas, praesta auxilium gratiae tuae; ut, in exsequendis mandátis tuis, et voluntáte tibi et actióne placeámus. Per Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
O God, the strength of all who hope in Thee, kindly be present to our invocations; and because our mortal weakness can do nothing without Thee, bestow the help of Thy grace: that in carrying out Thy commandments, we may be pleasing to Thee in will and action. Through our Lord.
The phrase in te sperantium fortitudo is found in only one other place in the Missal, the Collect for the feast of Pope St Gregory VII on May 25, but in te sperantium is used again in the Collect for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, this time paired with protector. God is strength itself, but only for those who hope in Him; He is not the strength, for example, of those who despise Him or are fleeing Him. And even though the prayer is addressed to the Father, the use of fortitudo so soon after Pentecost also calls to mind fortitude as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps God the Father is the strength for those who hope in Him by His sending the Holy Spirit to us with His seven gifts.
The Collect makes two petitions. 
First, it asks God to be present to our invocations. One can translate invocationes as “prayers,” but I chose “invocations” because the word is rather rare in the liturgy. (Other terms for prayer, such as deprecatio, oratio, and preces are more common.) Even rarer, indeed unique, is the use of invocatio in the plural. The other two times that invocatio appears in the Roman orations, it is in the singular and is used in a more conventional way, namely, to call upon the name of the Lord. This is a rare Collect with rare diction.
Second, the prayer asks for the help of God’s grace and explains why: “because our mortal weakness can do nothing without Thee.” That only sounds like an exaggeration. I defer to the moral theologians, but it seems to me that by virtue of free will a person can do a simple good act without the benefit of sanctifying grace: an unrepentant murderer, for example, can leave a generous tip at a restaurant. But in a more profound sense, our free will and everything else comes from God, and therefore we are utterly dependent on Him for our being and our ability to do good. Even the generous murderer can only do the good deeds that he does because of the gifts God has given him. 
Moreover--and I believe this to be the petition’s main concern--we certainly cannot habitually do the good and love the good without sanctifying grace. The Collect refers to these two habits as fulfilling the Lord’s commandments in both will and deed, and it is this fulfilment that constitutes the prayer’s ultimate goal. If, as St. Paul writes, love is the fulfilment of the law (Rom 13, 10), then we must truly love God and our neighbor and not just be do-gooders.
Providentially, the love of God and neighbor is the theme of the biblical readings of this Sunday. In the Epistle (1 John 4, 8-21), St. John teaches that God is love (caritas) and that we must love both Him and our neighbor. The Gospel (Luke 6, 36-42) develops this teaching with the famous passage “Judge not, lest ye be judged” and the Parable of the Mote and the Beam. Love of one’s neighbor entails, among other things, being far more critical of oneself than of him.

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