What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost:

Famíliam tuam, quǽsumus, Dómine, contínua pietáte custódi: ut a cunctis adversitátibus te protegénte, sit líbera; et in bonis áctibus tuo nómini sit devóta.

Here is my translation:

Keep Thy family in continual loving-kindness, O God: that, with Thy protection, she may be freed from all adversities, and may be devoted to Thy Name in good works.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thine household in continual godliness, that, through thy protection, it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name.

I wrote “she maybe freed” rather than “it may be freed” in reference to God’s “family” because (a) I had a choice, there being no actual pronouns in the Latin, (b) the noun to which the subsequent verbs refer (familia) is in the feminine, and also, more theologically, because (c) the “family” of God is the Church, which is — as I explained here — a feminine reality.

Notice that we are asking the Father to maintain the Church in continual piety (or loving-kindness, godliness, or loyalty), in order to avoid one thing and to do another: (1) that by God’s protection we may be free from all adversity and, (2) may be devoted to God’s Holy Name in good works (áctibus: acts). We often ask for God’s protection, but simply to be “safe” (as in: “stay safe” — argh!) is not an end in itself. It is a condition we need so that we might do good. We should have a positive program of doing good and not merely a negative program of avoiding evil. This fits in with the orthodox notion of the virtues and vices: We must not simply shun vice; we must replace vicious behavior with virtuous behavior. Both nature and grace abhor a vacuum.

Note also that godliness and piety are things that we must aspire to — not merely as “the Church” or “the family of God” in general, but as individuals. Christ gave himself up for “the Church” to sanctify her (Eph. 5:25; cf. also, Titus 2:14), but he also gave himself up “for me” (Gal. 2:20; cf. also Gal. 1:4, Rom. 5:9, 1 Thess. 5:10) that I might be holy.