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

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

Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, qui, abundántia pietátis tuæ, et mérita súpplicum excédis et vota: effúnde super nos misericórdiam tuam; ut dimíttas quæ consciéntia métuit, et adícias quod orátio non præsúmit.

Here is my translation:

Almighty and eternal God, who, in the abundance of Thy loving-kindness exceed both the merits and the desires of Thy suppliants, pour forth upon us Thy mercy; that Thou mayst pardon those things which our conscience feareth, and add over and above what our prayer does not presume to ask.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

Almighty, eternal God, You Who in the abundance of Your love always grant more than Your humble petitioners deserve, and even more than they desire, pour forth Your mercy upon us that You may forgive whatever our conscience dreads, and give in addition what our prayer does not venture to ask.

Today’s Epistle (1 Cor. 15:1-10) is Saint Paul’s insistent profession of the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, without which the our faith is vain, and the truth of which was testified by many witnesses, whom the Apostle names. The Gospel (Mark 7:31-37) tells the story of the deaf-mute brought to Jesus whom Our Lord heals with His fingers and His spittle. Touching the man’s ears, Jesus says, “Ephpheta,” an Aramaic word which Saint Mark immediately translates for his Gentile audience: “which is, Be thou opened.”

In her Rites of Baptism, the Church uses this Aramaic word when the priest touches the ear of the baptizandus. The symbolism is that the person being baptized is now having his ears open to hear the truth of the faith. Hearing it leads to professing it, therefore our tongues are also loosed. “For, with the heart, we believe unto justice; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).

If we stand fast in the Gospel we will be saved, says the Apostle. This standing fast includes the life of the theological and moral virtues as well as the fruitful reception of the sacraments, typified by the “materiality” of Jesus’ spittle and fingers, both of which are instruments of healing. All of these elements of the supernatural life are of a piece; we cannot tear asunder what God has joined together.

The Church, in today’s collect, wishes to increase our confidence in approaching God’s unmatched generosity for the forgiveness of our sins and for the manifold graces we need to stand fast in the faith. We are encouraged to acknowledge that God wishes to grant us such things that we dare not presume to ask, which, ironically, we actually ask for in this prayer, even if only implicitly.

Today’s deaf mute in Saint Mark’s Gospel was brought to Jesus by others to be healed. It was their petition that was answered. According to Cornelius a Lapide, each corporeal healing that Jesus performed was accompanied by the interior healing of the forgiveness of sins. That man, then, who lacked the ability to speak, stands as a type of the children of the Church referred to in today’s oration, those to whom God will “add over and above what our prayer does not presume to ask.”

It is opportune to recall two closely related utterances of Our Lord as we ask God to forgive our sins and pour forth His mercy upon us: first, that we are enjoined by Jesus in His addendum to the Our Father to forgive those who sin against us if we would be forgiven our own sins; second, that the fifth Beatitude promises mercy to those who are themselves merciful.

God’s loving-kindness and generosity make demands of us.