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

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

Protéctor in te sperántium, Deus, sine quo nihil est válidum, nihil sanctum: multíplica super nos misericórdiam tuam; ut, te rectóre, te duce, sic transeámus per bona temporália, ut non amittámus ætérna.

Here is my translation:

O God, the protector of those who hope in Thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing holy: multiply over us Thy mercy; that Thou being our Leader and Prince, we may so pass through temporal goods that we may not let go of those which are eternal.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, protector of all who hope in You, without Whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, increase Your mercy toward us, that, with Your guidance and direction we may so pass through the things of this temporal life as not to lose those of life eternal.

Owing to our parish’s altered Sunday Mass schedule, which has just gone into effect for the rest of the summer, my normal time for writing and posting this “What’s in That Prayer” column is now lost to me. I will have to make an adjustment. This edition is a day late. Keep in mind, though, that during the week, on ferial days, the Church’s liturgy — as on today, the Monday after the third Sunday — will return to the Sunday Propers, so this prayer is still “current.”

A close read of the propers of this Sunday gives us a common thread of trusting in God’s merciful love, from the Introit’s plea (“Look thou upon me, and have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am alone and poor; see my abjection and my labor: and forgive me all my sins, O my God”), to Saint Peter’s admonition ever to be “casting all your care upon him, for he hath care of you,” to the image Jesus paints of Himself in the Gospel of the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find one lost sheep and rejoicing with the angels when he has been found, to the Postcommunion’s prayer for God’s “everlasting mercy [on] those whom Thou has cleansed from sin.”

In the collect, we beg God to multiply His mercy over us. He is our Leader and Prince, and without Him we cannot safely pass through the goods of this life in such a way that we don’t “let slip” (amittámus) those which are eternal. Some translations speak of “temporal things” rather than “temporal goods,” through which we must pass, but the words are “per bona temporália,” — through temporal goods. What God has given us in the order of temporal creation is not a deliberate trap to prevent us from achieving eternal goods. We are not Manicheans; we believe that the good God has given us good things in this world, and, moreover, that we are to use the good things of this life in such a way that they become for us a ladder to eternal life.

This figure (“ladder”) is not mine, but belongs to Dom Prosper Guéranger, who, in his profound meditation for the Tuesday of Quinquagesima week (Mardi Gras) beautifully contrasts two opposing notions of “the world”:

If by the world, we mean these visible things around us which God created in His power and goodness; if we mean this outward world, which He made for His own glory and our benefit; it is worthy of its divine Author, and to us, if we but use it aright, is a ladder whereby our souls may ascend to their God. Let us gratefully use this world; go through it, without making it the object of our hope; not waste upon it that love, which God alone deserves; and ever be mindful, that we are not made for this, but for another and a happier, world.

But the majority of men are not thus prudent in their use of the world. Their hearts are fixed upon it, and not upon heaven. Hence it was, that when the Creator deigned to come in into this world, in order that He might save it, the world knew Him not (John i, 10). Men were called after the object of their love. They shut their eyes to the light; they became darkness; God calls them ‘the world.’

Only if we are among those who rightly use the world can we pass through its good things in such a way as not to let slip those that are eternal. To do that requires God’s grace, and this is precisely why we ask the good God, our Prince and Leader, to multiply His mercy upon us.