Da, quaesumus, Dómine, pópulo tuo diabólica vitáre contágia: et te solum Deum pura mente sectári.
Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy people may avoid all contact with the devil: and with pure mind follow Thee, the only God.
A Twofold Petition
Today’s Collect is concise and incisive. It begins straightway, not with the usual form of address but, rather, with a bold petition that forms the whole of the prayer. The petition is twofold: first, that the people belonging to God — that is, the faithful — may avoid all contact with the devil; and second, that they may follow the only God with pure minds.
The Church would not have us pray to avoid all contact with the devil unless such contact were (1) possible, and (2) posed a real threat to souls. The Church always treats of devilry and all such related matters soberly and discreetly. One of the best theological treatments of the whole question is found in Chapter 13 of Dom Cipriano Vagaggini’s classic Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, “The Two Cities: The Liturgy and the Struggle Against Satan” (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1976).
Contact with Below
If the Church makes us pray to avoid contact with the devil, it is because such contact is possible. The very mention of contact with the devil conjures up images of Pan Twardowski and of Faust, of Madame Blavatsky and of Huysman’s Là–bas. Sadly, contact with the devil is not limited to the infernal dalliances of philosophers, artists, theosophists, and decadent aesthetes. If there is a weak point in any man’s life — and there always is — the devil will find it and use it, be that man lettered or unlettered, rich or poor, young or old, believer or unbeliever, impious or devout, clerical or lay.
One can come into contact with the devil either by deliberately seeking it, or inadvertently by taking foolish risks or by placing oneself recklessly in harm’s way. I shall not address the first possibility; it lies, to my mind, among those things that Saint Paul says, “should not so much as be named among you” (Ephesians 5:3). The question of foolish risks, however, must be named; such risks include everything related to the occult, including Tarot cards, fortune–telling, the ouija board, spiritualistic practices, and superstitions. (See my post on Blessed Bartolo Longo here.) This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. One engaged in the illicit pursuit of possessions, pleasure, or power can be certain that the Evil One is lying in wait for him along the way. The devil is always ready to ambush the unsuspecting adventurer. He bides his time. He “goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), but he also slithers along silently like a deadly viper quick to strike.
Contact with God
The second part of the petition is that we, with a pure mind, may follow the only God. There is, in this phrase, an echo of the First Commandment: “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me”. There is also, I think, an echo of Our Lord’s Priestly Prayer: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). To follow God is to walk in His ways; it is to obey His commandments, and to seek His Face. The man who prays is following God. One follows God in proportion to one’s perseverance in prayer, and prayer itself is God’s free gift to those who would follow Him.
Choose Life Then
One might summarize the content of today’s Collect as a prayer asking that we may avoid contact with the devil and seek contact with God. Contact with God is not something difficult. In some way, the Collect we are praying today is the lectio of Deuteronomy 30:11–20, turned to meditatio in the light of Christ, and become oratio.
This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee: Nor is it in heaven, that thou shouldst say: Which of us can go up to heaven to bring it unto us, and we may hear and fulfill it in work? Nor is it beyond the sea: that thou mayst excuse thyself, and say: Which of us can cross the sea, and bring it unto us: that we may hear, and do that which is commanded? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it. Consider that I have set before thee this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil:
That thou mayst love the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways, and keep his commandments and ceremonies and judgments, and thou mayst live, and he may multiply thee, and bless thee in the land, which thou shalt go in to possess. But if thy heart be turned away, so that thou wilt not hear, and being deceived with error thou adore strange gods, and serve them: I foretell thee this day that thou shalt perish, and shalt remain but a short time in the land, to which thou shalt pass over the Jordan, and shalt go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live: And that thou mayst love the Lord thy God, and obey his voice, and adhere to him (for he is thy life, and the length of thy days,) that thou mayst dwell in the land, for which the Lord swore to thy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would give it them. (Deuteronomy 30:11–20)