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

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

Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, infirmitatem nostram propítius réspice: atque, ad protegéndum nos, déxteram tuæ maiestátis exténde.

Here is my translation:

All powerful and sempiternal God, look kindly upon our infirmity: and extend the right-hand of Thy majesty to protect us.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

Almighty and everlasting God, look with favor upon our weakness, and stretch forth the right hand of Your majesty to help and defend us.

Today’s brief acknowledgement of our weakness and appeal for divine protection ought to be read in conjunction the Sunday Gospel (Matt 8:1-13), which relates two miracles of healing that followed just after Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. The first involves a leprous man who adores Jesus and then states, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” To this, Jesus responds, “I will, be thou made clean.” The Master did this after first stretching forth His hand (extendens Jesus manum) and touching the man. He did, then, exactly what we beg the Heavenly Father in this prayer: He extended the right hand of His majesty to heal the man’s infirmity. Applied to the Eternal Father, who did not become man, the Biblical utterances that speak of God’s “hand,” “arm,” “face,” etc. (anthropomorphisms), are to be understood as analogous language. Indeed, without an adequate appreciation of that crucial concept, revealed Religion dissolves into nonsense of one sort or another. Part of the sheer beauty of the Incarnation is that so many of these analogous attributions of human qualities to God become univocal in the Man Jesus. He can now, in the same sense as any man, “stretch forth his right hand.” During Advent, in one of the O Antiphons, we besought Our Lord to stretch forth his right hand to save us. This was Old Testament language and, from that source, it must be understood as analogous. Yet, in the Incarnation, Jesus actually stretched forth His right hand (and His left) on the Cross to save us.

The second miracle of today’s Gospel is the cure of the Centurion’s servant. The Church formally imposes this man’s wholesome dispositions upon Her children by having his words, in a slightly altered form, repeated three times before we receive Holy Communion (“Domine, non sum dignus…”). This man’s dispositions are so admirable that Jesus Himself praises them and favorably compares the gentile Centurion’s faith to that of Israel. Be it noted, too, that, whereas the leper besought his own cure, the Centurion seeks (and obtains) the cure of another. This is intercessory prayer.

These two recipients of Christ’s healing power provide us with material for fruitful meditation. They show us how to pray well, and give us important predispositions necessary for a favorable hearing — as does Saint Paul in today’s Epistle (Rom 12:16-21). May we utter today’s oration with their faith, confidence, trust, and humility.