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

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

Deus, qui cónspicis omni nos virtúte destítui: intérius exteriúsque custódi; ut ab ómnibus adversitátibus muniámur in córpore, et a pravis cogitatiónibus mundémur in mente.

Here is my translation:

O God who seest that we are destitute of every virtue: keep us both within and without, that in the body we may be fortified against every adversity, and in mind cleansed from depraved thoughts.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, You Who see how we are deprived of all strength, guard us inwardly and outwardly, that in body we may be protected against all misfortunes, and in mind cleansed of evil thoughts.

There are two pieces on this site that pertain to today’s Mass propers:

As noted in both, today’s Gospel — a liturgical vestige of yesterday’s Spring Ember-Day ordinations — is Saint Matthew’s narration of the mystery of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matt. 17:1-9). Let us keep that in mind as we look at this prayer. I will return to it further down.

Throughout Lent, we are constantly “reminding” God that we are powerless without his help. In today’s oration, we claim to be “destitute of every virtue” (or “deprived of all strength”). Virtirtus, coming from vir (man), means strength, power, manliness, and virtue. The real reminder, obviously, is directed at ourselves, while an appeal is made to God’s mercy based upon our self-acknowledged need. (This is why pride is so toxic to the spiritual life, for “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” [James 4:6].)

Why would we ask to be defended “without” and “in the body”? We know what we will suffer in this life. We also know that we will die. All the saints suffered and died. Yet, there are many prayers in which the Church beseeches God for bodily protection. If we are to interpret these prayers with the analogy of faith (whereby all truths of the faith are consistent with each other), then we may conclude that these prayers are petitions to be delivered from (a) such bodily suffering that will lead us to sin, and (b) an unprepared death; as well, we ask to be given God’s grace to help us (c) withstand suffering, and (d) die a holy death. The petition might also be interpreted (e) as a prayer that we will not sin with our bodies by means of such particularly carnal sins of gluttony and lust. This would be consistent with Saint Paul’s admonition in today’s Epistle (1 Thess. 4:1-7): “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour: Not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God.”

Regarding what we ask for in this prayer “within,” it is to be cleansed of depraved or perverse thoughts in our minds. These are thoughts that can in themselves be sinful if consented to, or can at least lead us to sin. Outward adversities are less problematic than inward ones, but even these inward ones can be occasions of merit if we pray for deliverance and steel our minds, with God’s help, so as not to consent to them. All of us are assailed by wicked thoughts of many kinds. Ejaculatory prayers such as “O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me” are good to beseech God’s aid and to help us divert our minds from the evil thought, whatever commandment of God that thought tempts us to violate.

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, what was “without” resembled, if but faintly, what was “within.” When we encounter the Transfiguration in today’s Mass, it is moments after Saint Paul has just insisted in his Epistle that “This is the will of God, your sanctification. … God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification (1 Thess. 3,7). In the Transfiguration, we see what that sanctification “looks like.” The visible “glory” that Saint John witnessed later testified to (John 1:14) was an indication of the sublime holiness of the Man-God. Christ was and is perfectly holy within and without, in body and in mind. This prayer can, therefore, be seen as a petition for us to be “transfigured” — or transformed — by divine grace so that our sanctification may be accomplished.

Jesus is the pattern or exemplar for us all. We want to be by grace what He is by nature. Achieving that, so that we resurrect with Him at Easter and ascend with Him at the end of our earthly exile, is the very point of our Lenten exercises.

Keep having a good Lent!