What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost:

Largíre nobis, quǽsumus, Dómine, semper spíritum cogitándi quæ recta sunt, propítius et agéndi: ut, qui sine te esse non póssumus, secúndum te vívere valeámus.

Here is my translation:

Ever generously grant to us, we ask, O Lord, the spirit of thinking those things which are right, and doing those which are favorable: that, we who without Thee cannot exist, may have the strength to live according to Thy will.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

Ever graciously bestow upon us, we beseech You, O Lord, the spirit of thinking and doing what is right, so that we, who cannot exist without You, may have the strength to live in accordance with Your law.

To think what is right and to do what is favorable so that we might live according to God’s will — or “according to Thee,” to be quite literal about it — are no small things. All good begins in the mind. We must first know the truth before we can do the good. That is the order. We are asking in this prayer for what the theologians call God’s “enlightening grace of the intellect” and His “strengthening grace of the will.”

Moreover, we are asking for “the spirit” to think and do these things. This is that “spirit of adoption of sons” Saint Paul describes in today’s Epistle (Rom. 8:12-17), “whereby we cry: Abba (Father).” It is that spirit according to which we must live, as opposed to living according to the flesh — for to do the latter is to die.

The Gospel (Luke 16:1-9) is the Parable of the Unjust Steward, whereby we are admonished not to imitate the steward’s cunning dishonesty, but his shrewdness. The lesson is that we ought prudently to use the resources available to us in doing good just as he used his office in doing evil. This particular parable would suffice as a commentary on the “doing” part of our oration: doing those things which are favorable.

We cannot even exist without God, the First Cause. A fortiori, we cannot think or do what is good without his gracious assistance. While I feel like a broken record in making this anti-Pelagian point, it is still good to bring it out explicitly: Because we need grace, and cannot be saved without it, we must pray for it. The Church not only shows us how to pray for it, but she does so for us — or, better, leads us in so doing — in her sublime liturgical prayers.