What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for the First Sunday of Quadragesima (Lent)

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the First Sunday of Quadragesima (Lent):

Deus, qui Ecclésiam tuam ánnua quadragesimáli observatióne puríficas: præsta famíliæ tuæ; ut, quod a te obtinére abstinéndo nítitur, hoc bonis opéribus exsequátur.

Here is my translation:

O God who dost purify Thy Church with the annual forty-day observance: grant to Thy family that what she strives to obtain from Thee by abstaining, this she may carry out by good works.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, You Who purify Your Church by the yearly Lenten observance, grant to Your household that what they strive to obtain from You by abstinence, they may achieve by good works.

Two translation notes ought to be mentioned. First I chose to translate famíliæ tuæ as “Thy family” rather than “Thy household” (which is also correct). Further, I chose to make the subsequent pronouns feminine (the Latin text neither has nor needs pronouns), and the verbs in the singular (which is accurate to the Latin). As is quite clear from the context of this oration, the “family” of God is the Church, which is — as I explained here — a feminine reality.

Next, Quadragesimal is an English word that I could have used in place of the more easily comprehended “forty-day” option I chose for the adjective quadragesimáli. It would have come off as pompous and clumsy, so I chose not to use this very rare word; but, as a point of Catholic erudition, we should all know that this is a real word and that it has a few different, but related meanings (including an historical meaning as a noun).

The exercises we undertake in Lent are prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. The oration is itself a prayer; therefore, as an official prayer of our Mother the Church, it shows us how to pray in our “mother tongue” so to speak. “Abstinence” — both from our normal quantity of food by fasting and from certain specific foods (meat) — references the second of our Lenten observances. Lastly, alms-giving, which is not reduced to donating money, but includes all fourteen corporal and spiritual works of mercy, is the last. These are referenced in today’s oration as “good works.”

Note that it is God Himself who purifies the Church annually by the quadragesimal observance (now that we all know it, I can use that word!). We are not Pelagians who think that our works can save us, and since the purifying and sanctifying exercises of Lent are part of our working out our salvation, then they must first be the work of God and not of ourselves. We pray that God will work in us and that we might cooperate with Him in accomplishing these things that are so salubrious to our souls. We therefore acknowledge in this prayer, however indirectly, the necessity of divine grace for us to accomplish any good in the spiritual life. It is this grace which today’s Epistle enjoins us not to receive in vain.

In former times, today was the first day of Lent, as the Secret prayer suggests. We are told in the Epistle (2 Cor. 6:1-10) that now is the “acceptable time,” and the “day of salvation.” (See the third paragraph of this for a commentary on what “acceptable time” means.) Lent is underway! We pray, fast, and give alms with the Church and when She says to do so. In so doing, we are obedient to the call of our Mother and are not simply trying to be holy all by ourselves, which is folly.

The Gospel (Matt 4:1-11) presents to us Our Lord Jesus Christ, our great trailblazer in fasting and combating diabolical temptation. He fought and conquered the devil and the triple concupiscence that Satan attempted to use against Him: the concupiscence of the flesh (“command that these stones be made bread”), the concupiscence of the eyes (“All these will I give thee”), and the pride of life (“cast thyself down” into the court of the priests and let the angels bear thee up, so your glory will be manifest).

Jesus has already accomplished our Lent! Let us, His mystical members, take refuge in Him and lean on His grace so that we may undertake our Lenten austerities with great trust and confidence, such as that which is elicited by today’s lengthy liturgical tract, comprising most of Psalm 90 — which the Devil himself had the temerity to use in his temptations of Our Lord! The Church continues to present this Psalm to her children year after year, stirring them up to confidence and trust in God’s grace, so that our Adversary’s defeat may be continued in us, the members of Jesus Christ.

Have a good Lent!