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

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

Quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus, vota humílium réspice: atque, ad defensiónem nostram, déxteram tuæ maiestátis exténde.

Here is my translation:

We ask Thee, Almighty God: have regard to the vows of Thy humble ones, and extend the right hand of Thy majesty toward our defense.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

We beeseech thee, almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty to be our defense against all our enemies.

The word vota, which is translated “hearty desires” at the Divinum Officium site can mean promise, dedication, vow, determination, will, desire, or prayer. It clearly conveys a resolute intent on the part of the individual who makes it. I used the word vow, which here need not be understood in its strict canonical sense. It could easily include our Lenten resolutions.

Today’s oration very easily lends itself to being read in light of the Epistle and Gospel which follow it in the holy Mass. In the Gospel (Luke 11:14-28), we see Jesus cast out a dumb demon (that is, one who kept the possessed man from speaking). This is followed by some in the crowd accusing Our Lord of casting out devils by the Prince of Devils himself, Beelzebub. Jesus responds that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, implying very clearly that His kingdom is opposed to that of Beelzebub. This is followed by His statement about “a strong man armed” and a “stronger than he” (on which more in a moment), then Jesus’ striking warning about a demon who has been cast out and, after wondering around arid places, eventually comes back to the poor soul out of which he was cast, bringing with him seven devils worse than himself.

Jesus is telling us here about the enmity that exists between the Satan and Himself:

When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him; he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.

With all of his formidable powers as a fallen angel, Satan is the “strong man,” but the Incarnate Logos, being God, is the “stronger than he.” Satan seems to possess his usurped “things” — that is, men — securely and “in peace.” But then comes the stronger than he, who extends the right hand of His majesty, to borrow from today’s collect. That Mighty One comes upon His adversary, overcomes him, takes away his armor, and distributes his spoils. It is a violent image of two princes at war, the one roundly defeating and despoiling the other. (These are the “The Two Kingdoms That Don’t Love Each Other.”) How powerfully this brief parable must have impressed itself on its auditors only moments after they have seen the Master cast out a devil! There is no room for spiritual pacifism in the true religion!

The warning that follows is something we should take to heart particularly in Lent. If it be that we are valiantly struggling against our disordered passions, curbing our appetites, and rooting out our vices, let us not become complacent after our Lenten observances are over. Our literal or figurative demons having been cast out, we should not be like the dog returned to his vomit after the glorious Pasch. Imagine Christians celebrating Easter with sin! The fast will be over, but the virtues we acquire in Lent, the curbed passions, the uprooted vices, the good habits acquired: these should abide — lest the last state of that man become worse than the first.

Concerning this, the Epistle (Eph. 5:1-9) speaks to us, who by our Baptism are just as really and truly converts from sin and the way of the world as were the Ephesians to whom these words were first written: “For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.”

In order to be those children of the light who remain under the protection of the right hand of God’s majesty, we ought to become and remain what we presume to call ourselves in this oration: His “humble ones.”

Keep having a good Lent!