The elegant Collect for the 28th Ordinary Sunday has been used for centuries on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, according to the traditional Roman calendar. This is a lovely prayer to sing.
Tua nos, quaesumus, Domine, gratia semper et praeveniat et sequatur, ac bonis operibus iugiter praestet esse intentos.
Note the classic “et … et”, “both … and” construction. The pair of verbs praeveniat … sequatur to my ear hearken to a lovely prayer in the traditional Rituale Romanum under blessings of people who are sick: “May the Lord Jesus Christ be with you that He may defend you, within you that He may sustain you, before you that He may lead you, behind you that He may protect you, above you that He may bless you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Speaking of that classic et … et, here we see et … et … ac … While ac (short for atque) provides variety, it sometimes suggests that what follows is of greater importance than what precedes it. If so, then our Collect presents a logical climax of ideas. Tua gratia, “your grace”, is the subject of all our verbs, praeveniat, sequatur and, finally, praestet.
Current ICEL translation: “May your grace, O Lord, we pray, at all times go before us and follow after and make us always determined to carry out good works.”
We want God, by means of the grace we do not merit, always to be both before and behind us. We want His help so that we, fallen and weak, may be always attentive to the good works which, informed by faith and God’s grace, will both help us to heaven and benefit our neighbour. All our good initiatives come from God. If we choose to cooperate with Him and embrace them, He guides them to completion. Grace goes before. Grace follows after.
Our good works have merit for heaven because God inspires them, informs them, and completes them through us, who are His knowing, willing and loving servants. The deeds and their merits are ultimately God’s but, because we cooperate and because He loves us, they are also truly ours. As St Augustine of Hippo (d 430) wrote, God crowns His own merits in us (ep 194.19 to Sixtus, later Pope Sixtus III).
Just as we hope God will lavish His graces on us, so too we should be generous with our good works for others.
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