Life & Soul

We all have a God-given task in the vale of tears

November introduces the phase of the liturgical year when we shift to ponder the Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell and the Second Coming of the Lord. This is suggested already in our still hope-bedecked green 31st Ordinary Sunday. Shall we see the Collect?

Omnipotens et misericors Deus, de cuius munere venit, ut tibi a fidelibus tuis digne et laudabiliter serviatur, tribue, quaesumus, nobis, ut ad promissiones tuas sine offensione curramus.  

Our prayer was in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary. It is also now prayed during Mass with the traditional Roman Missal on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost.

Offensio concerns “a striking against, a stumbling”. It is also “an offence” and “that which causes one to offend or sin”, as in a lapis offensionis (a “stumbling-block”, cf 1 Peter 2:8). Curro is “to hasten, run”.

Current ICEL translation (2011): “Almighty and merciful God, by whose gift your faithful offer you right and praiseworthy service, grant, we pray, that we may hasten without stumbling to receive the things you have promised.”

Munus is a supercharged word. It is “gift” and “office, duty”. It is the equivalent of Greek leitourgia (whence “liturgy”), which, in the New Testament simultaneously conveys works for the poor (ie, what man does for man, by the virtue of justice) and sacred worship (ie what man does for God, by the virtue of religion). Christ passed His tria munera, His threefold office, to His Church: to teach, govern and sanctify.

This prayer offers the image of a man scurrying to fulfil a duty given by his master. He rushes, carrying a heavy burden. He struggles along, puffing, trying to avoid stumbling, ruining what his master charged him to carry.

Speaking of heavy, God has given every one of us something to do in this vale of tears. Before the creation of the cosmos, He knew us and what share in His plan He would ask us to bear. Our human nature is wounded and there is an Enemy who hates and tempts us, but when we are faithful, we receive many opportunities to carry crosses with grace upon grace.

Run. Watch for those stumbling blocks but run. Don’t drag along, moping, resentful of your lot. Our reward is not here in this vale of tears. Heaven is our goal. Help your struggling neighbour. Our Lord understands the craggy road we travel. He never abandons us, even when we stumble in sin.