What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for Quinquagesima Sunday

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for Quinquagesima Sunday:

Preces nostras, quǽsumus, Dómine, cleménter exáudi: atque, a peccatórum vínculis absolútos, ab omni nos adversitáte custódi.

Here is my translation:

Mercifully hear our prayers, we ask, O Lord: and, having loosened us from the fetters of our sins, do Thou safeguard us from all adversity.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O Lord, we beseech You, mercifully hear our prayers; loose us from the chains of our sins and keep us from all adversity.

Today’s prayer seems somewhat “generic” or “plain Jane.” We are asking for our prayers to be heard, to be forgiven our sins, and to be safeguarded from all adversity. In order to focus on these intentions with greater specificity, it may be profitable for us to set this oration against the backdrop of today’s Epistle and Gospel.

The Epistle is that magnificent Apostolic encomium to the theological virtue of charity found in 1 Corinthians (13:1-13), which includes these words: “If I … have not charity, I am nothing.” Applying this to today’s oration, we make this observation: If the “fetters of our sins” that we ask to be absolved of are indeed grave or mortal, then we “have not charity”; we are nothing in the spiritual life: we are, in fact, dead. All mortal sin destroys charity and therefore sanctifying grace in the soul because each one is a turning of our backs entirely from God.

When we ask to be safeguarded from all adversity, we are not seriously requesting an easy life without difficulty. If that’s what this prayer meant, the entire Gospel would condemn it, e.g., “In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); and the eighth Beatitude: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). No, we are asking as Christians to be safeguarded from true adversity, which is separation from God by sin. Even should we die as martyrs it would be a gain, would it not? Whereas to live “adversity-free” lives in the sense of comfort and prosperity and to die in sin would be the worst calamity to befall us. This would sever us permanently from the love of God by our own perverse will. With the eyes of faith, we see such a loss to be the ultimate tragedy.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 18:31-43), we read of the miracle of Jesus healing the blind man at Jericho. This is after He has first clearly prophesied his deliverance to the heathen, his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Saint Luke tells us in a threefold manner that the Apostles did not understand what was said. Then the blind man shouts, eliciting first the efforts of some of Jesus’ followers to silence him, which only made him shout the louder, so that Jesus asks the blind man what he would have Him do. At the request, “Lord, that I may see,” Jesus restores the man’s sight, at which all glorify and praise God.

The Apostles were, of course, “blind” to what Jesus had said about His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Saint Luke makes this clear with his peculiar triple affirmation: “And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.” While they remained in obscurity as to what the Master had just said, they could at least see affirmed the divine power of the Man whose utterances they could not yet “see.”

When, in today’s prayer, we ask to be safeguarded from all adversity and delivered from our sins, we are also asking for spiritual sight — the ability to see divine truth amid the lies and half-truths of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here I note what Saint Thomas Aquinas says about the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God.” The Angelic Doctor says that this Beatitude pertains to the Holy Ghost’s gift of understanding, which perfects faith. We can “see God” inchoately in this life by a perfected faith. This vision will be fulfilled only in Heaven.