Life & Soul Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum 

he resurrected Christ appears before terrified soldiers (Wellcome Library, London)

In the traditional Roman Rite’s Extraordinary Form, depending on when Easter falls, the collect for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany is sometimes postponed to the liturgical year’s conclusion, filling in for Mass formulae lacking in the season after Pentecost. This year, because Easter is rather late, we enjoy it now.

Deus, qui nos in tantis periculis constitutos pro humana scis fragilitate non posse subsistere: da nobis salutem mentis et corporis; ut ea, quae pro peccatis nostris patimur, te adiuvante vincamus.

I found this prayer in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. Those “standing” words grab my attention. Constituo is “to cause to stand, place, establish, arrange, station”. It is a military term: “to station or order troops”. In classical usage, subsisto means “to take a stand or position, to stop”. It too is a military term: “to stand firm, withstand, resist”. In the Latin Vulgate’s Book of Job it means, “to remain alive”.

Literal version: “O God, who know that we, set amidst such great dangers, are not able to hold out because of human fragility, grant us health of mind and body so that, You helping us, we may vanquish those things which we suffer on account of our sins.” Speaking of military terms, we are, after all, members of the Church Militant.

This collect gives us the image of the Christian as a soldier, weary in mind and body, in danger both from the elements and the enemy (periculis). When the priest sings this prayer, we are drawn up as if for parade, the march, or battle (constitutos). Father stands before the ranks like an officer. We await our great Captain, our King. Christ the Lord is coming from the liturgical East. His banner is the Cross. With Him in command, we will prevail (vincamus).

Because of the Fall we persevere in a world dominated by the Enemy. The world, the flesh and this world’s “prince” war upon us and against the King. These perennial foes attack us relentlessly, in covert operations through our memories, thoughts and appetites, through sundry material means, and through occasional dramatic assaults.

Christ promised that He would be with us to the end of the world and that the Church, to whom He gave His own authority to teach, govern and sanctify us, would prevail in the end. Without God’s help, we would be lost. We have Holy Church and the help of grace.