Life & Soul

The Church is both a family and a military unit

A padre blesses soldiers during a D-Day re-enactment in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer (Getty)

In our traditional Roman calendar Sunday is Septuagesima, the beginning of Pre-Lent, unfortunately dropped in the newer post-Conciliar calendar in favour of a continuation of “Ordinary Time”. Let’s examine the Collect for the green 5th Ordinary Sunday:

Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, continua pietate custodi: ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur, tua semper protectione muniatur.

Custodio means “to watch, protect, guard.”  It is common in military language. Innitor is “to lean or rest upon”. It describes soldiers leaning on their spears and shields. Munio, also a military term, concerns “walling up something up, fortifying”.

Current ICEL translation (2011): “Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection.”

There is rich imagery in the Latin original. On the one hand, we see a family. On the other, we discern a group of dutiful soldiers. Both are linked to “the sole hope of heavenly grace”. In fact, we Catholics are both a family, children of a common Father, and a Church Militant, the Body of Christ which is a “corps” marching in this vale of tears towards our heavenly fatherland. Many of us at our confirmation were given a blow on the cheek – perhaps not the last time we suffered at the hands of bishops – as a reminder of what we might have to endure as Christians, soldiers of Christ.

We beg the protection and provisions Christ our King and commander can give us soldiers while on the march. We need a proper attitude of obedience and dutifulness (pietas) toward God, our ultimate superior, our parents, our heavenly home and our earthly country, our heavenly brothers and sisters the saints and our earthly siblings and relatives, our heavenly patrons and worldly benefactors.

We are deeply interconnected, like a family, like a military unit. This imagery is not contradictory. Equal in dignity, we have different roles in a proper hierarchy. In both, we need unit cohesion, mutual dedication.

This prayer resonates for me especially with both physical and spiritual fatherhood.

I imagine a father, like a soldier on the watch, checking his children’s bedrooms in the night, listening for sounds of distress or danger. This should be the attitude of your priests and bishops – who recite this prayer – as they guide you toward heaven. Nothing is going to hurt you. Not on my watch.