The Collect for the 18th Ordinary Sunday was not in any previous edition of the Missale Romanum. The ancient Veronese Sacramentary has a close cousin used by our ancestors. Our modern version simplified the grammar. I found similar vocabulary in the works of Cicero (d BC 43 – Ep. ad fam. 2.6.4), in the writings of St Ambrose of Milan (d 397 – Hexameron, Day 1.2.7), and in the sermons of St Augustine (d 430 – s. 293d, 5). The Church and culture have been deeply interwoven through the centuries.
Adesto, Domine, famulis tuis, et perpetuam benignitatem largire poscentibus, ut his, qui te auctorem et gubernatorem gloriantur habere, et grata restaures, et restaurata conserves.
Adesto is the “future” imperative of the verb adsum, “to be present”, in both the physical and the moral sense. By logical extension, adsum means, “to be present with one’s aid.” It can also mean, “to be present in mind, with attention” and “to be fearless.” “Adsum!” is the famous word in the rite of ordination to Holy Orders. Men are officially “called” by name to Holy Orders (vocatio). One by one they respond, “Adsum! … I am present!” Men might have inklings or personal convictions that they are called by God to the priesthood, but this “calling” during ordination is the Church’s affirmation of the vocation.
At this time of year some of our Collects use similar vocabulary, including slightly unusual words which spark our attention. Last week we saw dux (“leader, guide, commander”) and rector (“ruler, leader, governor; helmsman”). This week we have the similar term gubernator, “a steersman, pilot” or “a ruler, governor”. During Ordinary Time there are groupings of Collects linked by vocabulary, theme, or images, (e.g., military, agricultural, judicial). The Collects in the Novus Ordo are usually either derived from prayers in ancient sacramentaries or directly from orations in previous editions of the Missale Romanum. Though they were taken from different times of the year in those sources, they are now grouped together. This must have been a conscious choice.
Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and grant Your unending kindness to those seeking it, so that You may restore favours to those who glory in having You as author and guide, and You may preserve them once restored.
What would you hear if you got into your time machine to go to Mass, rather than your car? Going back to the version before 2011, when the new translation was released…
Obsolete ICEL (1973):
Father of everlasting goodness, our origin and guide, be close to us and hear the prayers of all who praise you. Forgive our sins and restore us to life. Keep us safe in your love.
Here we have some nice thoughts, pretty must detached from what the prayer really says. But wait! What is this I see? Uncharacteristically, the old ICEL allowed the word “sins” into their version! The old incarnation of ICEL consistently expunged references to sin, guilt, our humility, the possibility of hell for the unrepentant, propitiation, etc. So, this is a surprise. This is all the more surprising since the Latin original doesn’t mention “sins”.
Current ICEL (2011):
Draw near to your servants, O Lord, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness, that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide, you may restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored.
Take note of the unequal statuses of those to whom the Latin prayer refers.
On the one hand, God is our creator. He directs our paths. He is eternal and kind. He gives gifts. He can be present to us. On the other hand, we are servants and needy seekers. We need God’s favours. We must be grateful, for they are unattainable apart from His kindness. We do not deserve anything apart from Him. Some of us, moreover, have lost God’s favours. We are incomplete until He restores them to us. He will not restore them unless we beg Him in His kindness to do so. Because we are weak, God must preserve His gifts in us once He has given them back.
Our status as lowly servants is the key to everything we receive or regain.
The clear, cold reality of our neediness is today masterfully juxtaposed with the warming, reassuring confidence we find in God’s presence.
The pattern implied in the prayer is clear. God gives gifts and we receive. We apply ourselves to them and with them. Then we offer all we have and do back to God, their origin, to give Him glory and thanksgiving. God receives them and once again affirms them as ours. We continue our work in our vocations, shaped by what He gives us, and then offer it all back to him. Giving. Reception. Offering. Receiving. Returning. On and on and on.
This pattern is operative in our liturgical worship as well. All our liturgical worship takes place in a concrete context, in some cultural and era. It is inevitable that as we are shaped by our worship, because “we are our rites,” it is also inevitable that we, who are shaped also by the world around us, will make choices about how we worship, especially about how we express ourselves in music, art, architecture, etc. Our pattern of receiving and giving and re-offering in a constant, simultaneous exchange goes on in the details of worship. This process is called “inculturation”.
When inculturation is authentic and healthy, it is generally slow and patient. Abrupt changes should be instant red flags for all Catholics. Liturgical changes should grow slowly and organically from existing forms and with great patience and small steps. Wholesale renovation creates an artificial break which harms our identity.
That said, inculturation is both inexorable and, properly grasped, desirable. When the priest, alter Christus, says our prayers during Holy Mass, Christ, Head of the Body, speaks. His words have power to form us. Formed according to the mind of the Church, we – as Catholics – then go out from Mass to shape our world around us. It is the work of Christ’s Body to bring the content of these prayers (Christ Himself!) to every corner and nook we influence. Holy Church shapes us and we shape the world around us. We then bring gifts from the world – the very best we can conceive and produce – back to Holy Church who makes them her own while lifting them up to God. It is obvious that getting this process right is extremely important for our Catholic lives, and also society around us. We have so much to give to the world. When we get it wrong on our end, we can’t have the right effect on the world around us.
Here is the key to authenticity in inculturation. In this simultaneous, dynamic, two-way exchange, what God offers to the world through Holy Church must always have logicalpriority over what the world offers back. This is authentic inculturation!
When you see the worldly creeping too invasively or suddenly into our sacred liturgical worship, you are not seeing authentic inculturation. The properly formed mind and heart will resonate with the genuine and reject the counterfeit.