Collect of the Week - 29
Collect for Advent 4:
Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni, et magna nobis virtute
succurre, ut auxilium gratiae tuae, quod nostra peccata praepediunt,
indulgentia tuae propitiationis acceleret. Qui vivis . . .
A very rough translation of my own, which we shall improve upon in the
Stir up, we beseech thee, Lord, thy power, and come, and succour us by thy
great power, that the indulgence of thy propitiation may speed the help of
thy grace, which our sins impede. Who livest . . .
Another 'stir up' Sunday, and again addressed to the second person of the
Trinity rather than to the first. Two words have been translated by the
English word 'power', i.e. 'potentia' and 'virtus'. One may be splitting
hairs in attempting to distinguish between them; but what is a scholastic
doctor for if not splitting hairs? So, let me suggest, that 'potentia',
deriving from 'possum', to be able, speaks of what God can do, if he chooses
- his 'potential', that infinite reserve of power that can do all things -
rather than what in fact he does. This 'potentia' is latent, rather than
actual; it needs to be stirred up, and then it results in 'virtus', that
force which bursts into our lives to heal and save. When the woman with the
issue of blood touches the hem of Jesus' garment, it is 'virtus' rather than
'potentia' which flows out of him.
'Excita' has been used for several weeks to begin our collects, and it is
intended to strike a note of 'excitement' as we approach the day of Christ's
coming. So look at the urgency of this collect, the number of words
suggesting haste: excita (arouse, awaken, excite) . . . succure (run to the
aid of) . . . acceleret (let it hasten).
Praepedio is 'to hinder, impede, shackle' - something one would do to a
prisoner or slave, to stop him running away; and such is the effect of our
sins. 'Indulgentia' is 'tenderness, mildness'. 'Indulgeo' is 'to be
courteous, mild'. Its etymology is apparently dubious, but may be related
to 'dulcis', 'sweet'. 'Propitiatio', 'atonement, appeasement, propitiation'
is a post-classical word; it is most commonly used in Christian literature.
It refers very clearly to the atonement wrought by Christ. Cf. John 2:2,
'ipse est propitiatio pro peccatis nostris' - 'He is the Propitiation for
our sins.' One might almost see it here as a title, comparable with 'Your
Majesty' - 'May the tenderness of Your Propitiation speed the help of your
grace . . .'
This collect was translated by the reformers and their translation serves as
an interesting transition between their policy in the collects for the first
three weeks of Advent of writing an entirely new one, longer and based more
obviously and explicitly on scripture, and their later policy - perhaps
dictated by the approach of the deadline - of doing a (more or less)
straightforward translation. This one, as we shall see, is more of an
explanatory paraphrase than a translation, teasing out some of the points
which I myself have made, and inserting a substantial passage of scripture:
O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great
might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are
sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy
bountiful grace and mercy may speedily deliver us; through the satisfaction
of thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy ghost be honour and
glory, world without end. Amen.
A contender for the Nobel Prize for Repetition: 'sins and wickedness', 'let
and hindered', 'grace and mercy'. The implications of 'praepediunt' are
spelled out in 'we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set
before us' - one word in the Latin, fifteen in the English, demonstrating
very clearly the different approaches of the Latin Collector and the English
reformers. The phrase is taken from Hebrews 12:1, " . . . let us lay aside
every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with
patience the race that is set before us." 'Propitiatio' is moved to the end
and rendered, fairly enough, as 'satisfaction'. We have already noted how
chary the reformers were of referring to the atonement in the body of the
collect, lest it be thought they were ascribing some atoning power to the
Mass itself. Here there is no doubt that the satisfaction is wrought by
Christ himself, independent of the Mass.
The modern Missal, God bless it, does not use this collect but employs (or
rather, mutilates) an old friend from another context:
Lord, 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 with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
This is a sort of attempt to translate the post-communion collect for the
Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde: ut qui angelo
nuntiante Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem ejus et
crucem ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eundem.
The reformers made this the collect for the day, objecting to the existing
one as it invoked the intercession of Mary. Their translation however is a
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have
known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so
by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his
resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Unlike ICEL, the reformers were content to render 'gratiam' by 'grace',
'incarnationem' as 'incarnation', and 'crucem' by 'cross'.
Oriens, sive Magister Collectarum.