Love’s Labors Lost: The Collect for Thursday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter

This short contribution to Pray Tell was prompted by my recent presiding and preaching.  While I have accepted under obedience the present English translation of the Missale Romanum at use in the United States, I am still on occasion gobsmacked (a word I learned from Irish friends and that I have gratefully made part of my vocabulary) by what we are expected to pray aloud, presumably so that the assembly members may understand and affirm their assent to the prayer by their “Amen.”

Here is the presently approved translation of the collect I prayed for Thursday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

2011 RM: O God, by whose grace, / though sinners, we are made just / and, though pitiable, made blessed, / stand, we pray, by your works, / stand by your gifts, / that those justified by faith / may not lack the courage of perseverance. / Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, / who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / one God, for ever and ever.

While it is possible to tease out the meaning of this text through its meandering syntax, I honestly believe that those simply hearing it, even as I tried to proclaim it slowly, with attention and varying vocal pitches, did not have a clue about what the prayer was expressing.  (Please re-read this last sentence for my attempt to mimic the style of the prayer, a style that would delight Henry James and Ford Madox Ford.)

So as I was trained to do, I searched out the underlying Latin that has been the same in the various post-Vatican II versions of the Missale Romanum:

MR 1970 / 1975 / 2002[8]: Deus, cuius gratia iusti ex impiis / et beati efficimur ex miseris, / adesto operibus tuis, adesto muneribus, / ut quibus inest fidei justificatio / non desit perseverantiae fortitudo.  Per Dominum….

Here is my “slavishly literal” translation of the Latin text:

God, by whose grace we [human beings] are made just from being [human beings] without reverence for God and made blessed [human beings] from being wretched [human beings], stand by your works, stand by your gifts, so that to those in whom the justification of faith exists, the courage of perseverance may not be lacking.  Through [our] Lord…

Knowing that a high value for the present translation was concern that every nuance of the Latin original be reproduced as far as possible in English, I was impressed by the care with which the collect had been translated (although I cannot find any justification for inserting “we pray” into the English translation unless the attempt was to soften the force of the imperatives).  It is certainly a more careful translation of the Latin original than the rather free paraphrase found in the Sacramentary 1974:

Father, in your love you have brought us / from evil to good and from misery to happiness. / Through your blessings / give the courage of perseverance / to those you have called and justified by faith.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son….

However the present translation still strikes me as very difficult to understand when only proclaimed vocally and not visually read during the proclamation of the text.  Then I searched out the proposed 1998 ICEL translation that never saw the light of day, even though it had been approved by a variety of bishops’ conferences:

ICEL 1998: Most holy God, / your grace has brought us from sin to righteousness / and turned our wretchedness to joy. / Stay with us, Lord, / and do not forget the gifts you have bestowed, / that we who are justified by faith / may have the courage to persevere to the end. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, / God for ever and ever.

If the Sacramentary 1974 translation judged “too much a paraphrase” and the present translation judged “too literal a translation,” the 1998 version seems to me “just right.”

While I realize that there is little enthusiasm among many of our bishops, priests and faithful to take up the question of yet another translation of our Mass texts, I would again propose that there should be (at the USCCB’s Office of Divine Worship? At university liturgy programs? At ICEL’s offices?) a repository of reports from those of us who employ these texts in our pastoral work pointing out strengths and weaknesses in the present translation.  Perhaps then we will not look upon the 1998 ICEL translation as “love’s labors lost.”

Featured Image: The priest holds the missal, Catholic church in Chunakhali, West Bengal, India — Stock Image via Deposit Photos

15 comments

  1. Over the years, I have borrowed prayers from 1998 for other uses: the Lenten prayers for form II or III reconciliation, the Liturgy of the Hours, or other non-Eucharistic celebrations. Sadly, the English translation of MR3 will never be associated with honorificabilitudinitatibus

  2. Well said! As for the intrusive “we pray,” I think that a quaesumus must have fallen out from the Latin a long time ago. That has now been remedied. Just because we are obviously praying, we must not assume that God realizes that, unless we say so explicitly.

  3. I think that 1998 is okay but I would prefer something between 1998 and 2011. How about this?

    O God, by whose grace,
    the sinful are made just,
    and the pitiable are made blissful,
    stand, we pray, by your salvific works,
    stand, we pray, by your saving gifts,
    so that those you have justified by faith
    may (perceive your enduring help and) have the courage to persevere to the end.

    1. Thanks for this, Devin. I don’t think we’ll ever go back and retrieve 1998 – for a variety of reasons political and substantive. The path forward is to recognize the problems with what we have, as well as the gains made, and come up with something better. So I welcome suggestions such as yours.

      One of the weakest parts in your proposal, imho, is the clumsy “we pray” in the middle of those lines. I’m delighted to see that it’s not found in the Latin. Get rid of it, I’d say.

      Pax,
      awr

      1. 1998 would provide a more than adequate starting point. Your “political and substantive” [???] notwithstanding.

    2. “salvific works” ? Watch the eyes glaze over…… And the word “salvific” isn’t even present in the Latin.

      One of the problems with this collect as proclaimed is the rather startling imperative to God to “stand by your works”, etc. Is this really the way most people address the deity? I imagine that this issue was what prompted the total omission of this section in the 1973 Missal and the rather preferable paraphrase “Stay with” and “do not forget” of the 1998 version.

      1. Hi Paul,

        I very much agree about “salvific works.”

        But as to your rhetorical question: “Is this really the way most people address the deity?” Sure they do. The psalms are full of such imperatives, addressed to God. Maybe we don’t pray them as often as we should, but we do find words like these when we pray with the psalms. Here are just a few, pulled at random:

        Psalm 3:8 “Arise, LORD! Save me, my God!”
        Psalm 5:2-3 “Hear my words, O LORD… Hear my cry for help.”
        Psalm 56:8b “Cast the nations down in your anger.”
        Psalm 74:20a “Look to your covenant, for the land is filled with gloom…”
        Psalm 94:2 “Rise up, judge of the earth; give the proud what they deserve.”

        It’s all over the place. Anyone who prays the psalms employs these imperatives in speaking to God at one time or another. It’s not like it’s the only modality or style of address, but it’s certainly common.

        Your argument may be that people don’t pray this way nowadays in their hearts, and that may be so (though how would we know), but that begs the question: Are the psalms no longer relevant? It might be more healthy if modern people did address God with this level of boldness that we find in the psalms.

      2. I was hesitating a bit on that too, but I still think it works. I was looking to follow the thread of meaning through the entire collect. God standing by his works is suppose encourage his faithful people. So these are saving works. I was also trying to keep the parallelism from the Latin. I think most people can intuit what “salvific” means. Most people can sense the similarities with terms like salvation, saving and even “salve”.

        The only think I would change is to make it “saving works” first followed up by “salvific gifts” so the context would make it even clearer.

        As for “stand by your works”, it is pretty understandable. Most people know that what it means to stand by something. It is an expression used in pop music. Clarity wise it works. As for it being how people usually speak, that is not much of a concern for me. It is also the similar to the language of the psalms.

        Though I think the instinct is to soften the imperative a bit, by adding in the “we pray”, which is debatable, though it sounds pleasant to my ears.

  4. Would it be easier to update the translation as needed if the Sacramentary was split up into several volumes, e.g., one for each season and/or lectionary cycle?
    Volume 1 for Advent, and so on or a volume for the Sunday readings and another one for the weekday readings and another one for solemnities and feasts. As long as we insist on using books let’s leave big unwieldy missals and sacramentaries behind.

  5. The revised Italian Missal is now in use. The revision process went on for close to two decades. The collects were extensively revised. “Quaesumus” is not translated. (Surely “let us pray,” preghiamo” does not need to be repeated ten seconds later).

    Of interest, the Italian Missal retains, in revised form, the Scripture-related opening prayers for Sundays and solemnities.

    And, in the words of institution over the cup, the Messale continues to have “versato per voi e per tutti.” Yes, “shed for you and for all.”

  6. To my surprise, I have to disagree with the initial assessment of this prayer’s intelligibility! I found it theologically lapidary. It’s the essence of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

    “Sinners – just” / “pitiable – blessed” was one of the few turns of phrase in the Missal that I actually found memorable because it is aural. We are usually floating in a dense fog of abstractions, but this was different.

    Second point: We don’t need “we pray,” I agree, but “Stand by your works / Stand by your gifts” is strong in English. It’s clear and emphatic. I noticed that Michael’s revision kept it, but too many other attempts at translation don’t.

    I not only “had a clue” what this prayer was expressing, I was stunned that I recognized exactly what it was saying about the classic theological tropes of grace, justification, and perseverance. I was stunned, because I usually find the prayers of 2011 to be a word salad, and incomprehensible. This one wasn’t so bad.

  7. After the draft 1998 sacramentary started circulating around in the late 90s, my pastor at the time was so impressed that, according to my mother (the pastoral associate/assistant to the pastor), he stood at a photocopier during a conference, reproducing page after page for parish use. He started using the collects and eucharistic prayers, and even moved the Kiss of Peace to where I still think it should occur–right before the Offertory.

    I’ve long felt called to the priesthood in an Old Catholic jurisdiction, and if God keeps leading me in that direction, I’ll use the 1998 sacramentary as the base for prayer at my masses unless the Roman translation has been updated by that time. However, I do feel that 1998 is a bit too far in the past to simply be “dusted off” and used as is. We’re going to need to start fresh again with new insights guiding us.

    About 5 years ago, a friend brought me Communion while I was hospitalized, at my request. Chiefly due to disapproval of the current missal translation and the ecclesiastical processes which mandated and produced it, I hadn’t been to mass since 2011.

    When it came time for me to say the “Domine, non sum dignus,” I made a simple change:

    “Lord, I am not worthy to let you under my roof…”

    “That you should enter” may be literal, but it sounds stuffy, overly complicated. If the Roman Centurion had spoken modern, if slightly formal, English, I bet you he would have used a construction like the “to let” one I did. That’s what we need, a translation that is accurate, but respects the ability of the English language to get the same point across using its own idiom, grammar, etc. without being tied to or constrained by the Latin.

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