One prayer, but it says so much

  • December 13, 2011

I am eagerly looking forward to Dec. 18, the fourth Sunday of Advent this year. Since I have been ordained a priest, I have offered the following Opening Prayer:

Fill our hearts with your love,
and as you revealed to us by an angel
the coming of your Son as man,
so lead us through His suffering and death
to the glory of His resurrection,
for He lives and reigns…

This year, with the introduction of the translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, the Collect (as the Opening Prayer is now called) will be prayed as follows:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by His Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns…

It’s a beautiful prayer. It’s one that we know by heart from the Angelus. And we are getting it back like a family heirloom, lost for a time in the attic, or a magnificent old painting, newly restored to its original condition.

May I suggest that the new translation and the Collect for this fourth Sunday of Advent gives us a model of the Church’s task in the new evangelization?

First, the new translation has forced us to go back to basics, and nothing is more basic and fundamental than the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith. The new translation has meant that the entire Church in Canada has engaged in a sustained catechesis on the Mass. It’s been like a great parish mission across the English-speaking world on the heart of our faith. It’s been done with enthusiasm, professionalism and genuine creativity — not as a bureaucratic initiative of the Roman Curia or the bishops’ conference, but as a genuine movement of the entire People of God. Some of the best materials for the new translation have come from the many new lay institutes and associations that have sprung up in just the last decade or two.

Second, the new translation gives us back the richness of our Catholic vocabulary. In a culture increasingly tending toward religious indifferentism, our evangelical task is to present the faith clearly, simply and distinctly. Our distinctive Catholic vocabulary is critical for that task. This Sunday’s Collect gives us words like “beseech,” “grace,” “Incarnation,” “Passion” — these are Catholic words, our words. Words are at the heart of culture, and our distinctive Catholic vocabulary will aid us in rebuilding something of our Catholic culture.

Third, the Collect, used daily in the Angelus, reminds us of the importance of devotional life. Catholic devotional life is a necessary component of Catholic identity. The tradition of the daily Angelus is one of the most powerful devotions in terms of sanctifying the day — bringing our faith out of the sanctuary and into our daily lives. Wherever we may be at noon, the Angelus directs our hearts heavenward in the middle of the day. Devotional life — the Rosary, eucharistic adoration, morning offerings, nighttime prayers to our guardian angel, Friday abstinence, processions, holy cards — all these things help keep us Catholic in between Sundays. A Catholic culture is all the more needed in the face of a secular culture frequently growing more hostile.

Fourth, the new Collect reminds us of the indispensable role of our Blessed Mother. The Angelus is a Marian prayer and a hymn of praise to the Incarnation. It begins with Mary and leads us to Jesus. We are necessarily occupied in the Church with many things that need be done. But the primary thing is what Mary does, which is to receive Jesus and bring Him to others. She is the great figure of the Church, whose mission is to carry Jesus throughout history to all the nations of the world.

Fifth, the Collect also mentions the angel, reminding us the Church includes not only the living on Earth, but the saints in heaven as well as the angels. Evangelization is not only a task of teaching others about Jesus, but of incorporating them into the body that is the Church. One cannot be a Christian on one’s own.

Rather a lot to read into one prayer? Perhaps, but as the Church engages in an extended examination of our new translation, it is worth pausing here, for this Sunday’s Collect is one of the true highlights of the entire project.

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