For the 11th Sunday of orderly, Ordinary Time, Holy Church presents for our first major oration a highly sculpted prayer found in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary and, subsequently, the 1962 Missale Romanum, rich with technical, philosophical vocabulary:
Deus, in te sperantium fortitudo, invocantibus nostris adesto propitius, et, quia sine te nihil potest mortalis infirmitas, gratiae tuae praesta semper auxilium, ut, in exsequendis mandatis tuis, et voluntate tibi et actione placeamus.
The word pairings – fortitudo and infirmitas, voluntas and actio – hint at a possible source for this Collect in the anti-Pelagian writings of St Augustine of Hippo (d 430). The presence of technical vocabulary in prayers suggests deep sources.
Current ICEL translation (2011):
O God, strength of those who hope in you, graciously hear our pleas, and, since without you mortal frailty can do nothing, grant us always the help of your grace, that in following your commands we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.
In our prayer voluntas (will – “resolve”) is set in juxtaposition with actio (action – “deeds”). We have inclinations to this or that thing. In our actions, inclinations become concrete. Some actions are entirely mental or spiritual, in that they are actions of the mind: we have an initial idea or inclination and then by free will we grasp or refuse that idea. We can bring an inclination to deeper consideration, even contemplation. If there are wholly intellectual acts (for good or ill), there are also physical acts: we get an idea and then we figure out how to do it and choose to act (for good or ill). In the fall of our First Parents, we were wounded in our intellect and will. It is hard for us to reason to what is good and true.
After we work it out by reason, and with the help of authority, our passions and appetites can make it hard for us to will to choose the true and the good. Our intellects and wills must be disciplined through the repetition of choices and actions in the right times, moments, and measures so that we develop good habits, virtues. Because of the weakness in us from Original Sin, in order to will and act properly we must also have the help of grace. God gives us the strength to overcome infirmity and to carry through with all good acts. He crowns His own gifts in us.
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