What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Famíliam tuam, quǽsumus, Dómine, contínua pietáte custódi: ut, quæ in sola spe grátiæ cœléstis innítitur, tua semper protectióne muniátur.

Here is my translation:

Safeguard, O Lord, Thy household in uninterrupted piety: that, as she leans only upon the hope of heavenly grace, she may always be defended by Thy protection.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O Lord, we beseech You to keep Your household continually under Your mercy: that as it leans only upon the hope of Your heavenly grace, so it may always be protected by Your mighty power.

The Church is the “household” of the Lord. The Latin word familia, whence comes our English family, originally meant all those living in a house, not only husbands, wives, and children, but also servants, slaves, etc. I followed the same convention as the Divinum Officium people in thus translating it. The word is in the feminine, as is the relative pronoun quæ which I translated as “she” rather than “it.” The household of God is the Church, which is — as I explained here — a feminine reality.

I translated the word pietáte with the English cognate “piety,” but the word has a wide array of meanings, including devoted love, goodness, kindness, godliness, mercy, sense of duty, loyalty, and religiosity. Pietas was a very important Roman concept that the Church could and did easily baptize. We can, in this prayer, consider the word to mean any and all of the above definitions. Perhaps an acceptable Christinization of the Roman concept would be a “sense of lovingly and loyally discharged duty to God,” which is cumbersome and unartful, but makes the point.

Note that, according to this prayer, the Church leans only (sola) upon the hope of heavenly grace. Would that certain members of our sacred hierarchy may come to realize that and stop governing her as if she were an NGO, a secular multinational corporation, or an international philanthropic foundation. The business of the Church is not business (unlike America!), but the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Divine grace is the currency in which such salvific business is transacted. (This logic does not rule out the corporeal works of mercy nor the Church’s traditional social teaching, both of which pertain to the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and are therefore of the order of divine grace.)

Relying on God’s grace is very important for all of us corporately, but also for each of us individually in God’s household on earth (the Church Militant); for, among other reasons, that household has both wheat and cockle in it, as today’s Gospel (Matt. 13:24-30) assures us. Both will be brought to the harvest, some to be stored in God’s celestial barns, the others to be cast into the unquenchable fire of hell.

But Jesus Christ is the just judge and the Father has given all judgment to Him (John 5:22), so we should leave it to Him. (Of course, we need to make certain provisional judgments at times, e.g., to judge that someone is a “sinner” so that we might mercifully “admonish” him. But we never make the ultimate judgment.) Meantime, let us follow the supernal injunctions of the Apostle in today’s sublime Epistle pericope from Collosians (Col. 3:12-17), which admonishes us to the practice of both virtue and liturgical prayer.