A couple of weeks ago, we met a “liturgical unicorn”. Unicorns do pop up once in a while. He’s back this Sunday too: the same collect in both forms of the Roman Rite, for the Fifth Ordinary Sunday and the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.
Our prayer today presents imagery of a family and, on the other hand, of soldiers:
Familiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, continua pietate custodi, ut, quae in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur, tua semper protectione muniatur.
Custodio, common in military contexts, means “to watch, protect, defend”. Innitor also has military overtones: “to lean or rest upon, to support one’s self by any thing”. Caesar and Livy use this to describe soldiers leaning on their spears and shields. Munio is “to wall up something, put in a state of defence”. Applied to humans, pietas is “dutiful conduct towards the gods, parents, country, etc; sense of duty”. Applied to God, pietas also indicates His mercy.
Current ICEL translation: “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.”
I perceive an image of soldiers, watching. I see fathers checking the bedrooms of their children as they sleep. They both listen through the night for sounds of danger or need.
Speaking of pietas, Holy Church is not afraid to combine images of family and soldiering, vocations of duty, obedience and protection. Hold both images in mind when you hear Father raise this prayer heavenward during Holy Mass.
We Catholics are both a family, children of a common Father, and a Church Militant. At Confirmation many of us were given a blow on the cheek as a reminder of what we face as soldiers of Christ. We ought to desire to suffer when necessary for the sake of those in our charge, and even to die like soldiers rather than sin.
There is a profound interconnection between the members of a family and of a military unit, but also inequality. Children are not lesser members of the family than their parents, but nor are they their parents’ equals. In the Church we also have unequal roles. As St Augustine said, “I am a bishop for you, I am a Christian with you” (s 340, 1).
Parents and pastors are attacked today if they fulfil their roles with pietas. Encourage parents to stand firm. Encourage your priests and bishops!