Liturgical Texts: October 2008 Archives

The Knotty Entanglements of Sin

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The two Collects given us by the liturgy this week -- the first in the Extraordinary Form, and the second in the Ordinary Form -- merit close attention.

On the Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost and the ferial days following it, we pray:

Absolve, quaesumus Domine, tuorum delicta populorum: ut a peccatorum nexibus, quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus, tua benignitate liberemur.

Absolve, thy people from their transgressions,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
so that through Thy goodness,
we may be set free from the entanglements of those sins
which in our weakness we have committed.

The verb, absolvo, can mean to loosen. The verb, contraho, can mean, among other things, to draw together tightly. Understood in this way, the Collect presents an astute psychology of sin. Sin is a knotty business, leading to hopelessly complex entanglements. One better understands the old German devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Looser of Knots (Maria Knotenlöserin) in the light of the Church's prayer. There are, I think, in every life, sinful entanglements that only the patient and gentle hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary can loosen.

Loosen, thy people from their transgressions, we beseech Thee O Lord, so that through Thy goodness working through the hands of the Virgin Mary, we may be set free from the knotty entanglements of those sins which in our weakness we have pulled together.

On the Twenty-Ninth Sunday Per Annum and the ferial days following it, we pray:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, fac nos tibi semper et devotam gerere voluntatem, et maiestati tui sincero corde servire.

Concise and elegant. The twofold petition follows immediately upon the address with no intermediate clause. I translated it, rather freely, this way:

Almighty and ever-living God, make us ever bring Thee the devotion of our wills, and wait upon Thy majesty with singleness of heart.

The sense of the prayer is, it seems to me, that "adoration in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) requires the homage of the will ready to do God's bidding. True devotion lies in obedience to the will of the Father. "Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 7:21).

I was almost tempted to render the last line of the prayer, "and wait upon Thy majesty with guileless hearts," for that, I would argue, is the meaning of sincero corde. Worship is most pleasing to God when we offer it on His terms, not on our own; when we go to it with no mental reservations and with childlike candour. "Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God" (Heb 10:7).


One of the things I most love about the prayers of the Roman Rite is their compassionate realism. Today's succinct Collect (in the traditional liturgical books) illustrates this perfectly. There is no masking of human weakness, no pretense of virtue, and no want of confidence in Divine Mercy.

Deus, qui nos conspicis ex nostra infirmitate deficere:
ad amorem tuum nos misericorditer per Sanctorum tuorum exempla restaura.

Monsignor Knox translates it thus:

O God, who seest how we fail by reason of our weakness,
have mercy, and through the examples of thy saints,
renew our love of thee.

The Marquess of Bute gives this translation:

O God, Who seest that in our own weakness we do continually fall,
make, in Thy mercy, the ensamples of Thy holy children
a mean whereby to renew in us the love of Thyself.

Finally, the Anglican Monastic Diurnal has:

O God, who seest that we fall by reason of our infirmity:
mercifully restore us to thy love by the example of thy Saints.

Dealing with Sinners

There were some contemporaries of Pope Callistus I who found him lax and overly generous in dealing with public sinners, notably with clergy who had fallen into sin. Hippolytus, for example, groused that Callistus was unwilling to depose a bishop who had sinned grievously and then done penance for his sin.

Copious Redemption

Callistus, however, was personally acquainted with penitence of heart, and had suffered much at the hands of rigorists. If Mother Church has made the compassion of Christ the Good Shepherd the measure of her own pastoral practise in dealing with sinners, it is perhaps due, in some way, to the merciful magnanimity of Pope Saint Callistus I.

The Mercy That Restores to Love

From this one sees that today's Collect is perfectly adapted to the feast. The Church cannot but imitate the mercy of God, Who, while He sees us fail in our infirmities and fall in our weakness, sets before us the example of those forgiven sinners who are the saints, and desires only to restore us to His love.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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