Friday, July 23, 2010

About Sunday's Collect

If you're preaching come Sunday, you might consider the collect, in its various forms.

The lessons from Genesis (praying for Sodom) and Luke ("teach us to pray) suggest a sermon dealing with prayer, and the collect of the day makes some useful suggestions.

Here is the original, from the Leonine and Gelasian sacramentaries*:

Pateant aures misericordiae tuae, Domine, precibus supplicantium: et ut petentibus desiderata concedes, fac eos quae tibi placita sunt postulare. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum.

Here is the 1549 Book of Common Prayer rendering, adopted by the Lutheran Common Service in various books:
LET thy merciful eares, O Lord, be open to the praiers of thy humble servauntes; and that they may obteine their peticions, make them to aske suche thinges as shal please thee; Through Jesus Christe our Lorde
Here is the LBW:

O God, your ears are open always to the prayers of your servants. Open our hearts and minds to you, that we may live in harmony with your will and receive the gifts of your Spirit; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The salutation, as rendered in the BCP, varies slightly from the customary collect form, by making a request rather than naming an attribute of God. The LBW amends this. Whether rightly or wrongly is a matter of judgment.

Pateant (from pateo, to stand or lie ope, to be accessible) is third person plural -- that is, it agrees with the plural aures, or ears. It is also subjunctive. Subjunctive verbs describe an unreal condition, meaning a thing that may not be or is not yet true. Hence they are often translated as imperatives -- "Let there be light," or, here, "Let them be opened."

We are more interested in the implication of precibus supplicatio. The BCP renders it as "the prayers of thy humble servants," the LBW as "your servants." But its true meaning is not about service at all. Precibus is a dative. Supplicantium is, we believe, a participle, from supplico, "to bend," whence "to beseech, beg, etc." The phrase doesn't make good English, but it means literally something like "Open the ears of your mercy to the beseeching prayer".

The most important element, for us, is the liberty taken by LBW in the next clause. The original is about opening God's ears; here it is turned into something about opening our own hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit is introduced, quite possibly because the Spirit's gifts are assumed to be immaterial, and therefore difficult to identify. (At least compared to crass things so many people actually ask for, like a Mustang convertible or world peace.) In other words, this translation chickens out.

While it is indeed desirable that we should live (and pray) in harmony with God's will, and receive the gifts of the Spirit, we at the Egg prefer the simpler original idea: so that we can get what we ask for, make us ask for what we should get. For example, in the language of Sunday's Gospel, keep us from asking for scorpions, when what we need are eggs.

It sounds to us as though the translator got nervous about the whole idea of petitioning God, and about the possibility that those petitions might be answered. People who feel that way probably shouldn't be asked to re-write classic prayers.

For those who use ELW, a different collect is prescribed, which we give here in its BCP and ELW forms:

ALMIGHTIE and everlastyng God, which art alwayes more ready to heare then we to praye, and art wont to geve more than eyther we desyre or deserve; Powre downe upon us the aboundance of thy mercy; forgeving us those thynges wherof our conscience is afrayde, and gevyng unto us that that our prayer dare not presume to aske, through Jesus Christe our Lorde.

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour upon us your abundant mercy. Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience, and give us those good things that come only through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Since we won't be praying this one ourselves on Sunday, we have less to say about it. It's a fine old prayer (Gregorian sacramentary, customarily used a couple of weeks after our first example), but we don't think it works quite as well with the lessons. Abraham and the disciples are all quite ready to pray. They may need help, or even some reality therapy regarding the inhabitants of Sodom, but they are standing by and ready. Still, it does describe the guy who translated the LBW prayer above, doesn't it? And many of the rest of us, from time to time -- your humble blogger included.

This is where supplicantium precibus comes in, we suppose. Sometimes, we undertake our prayers in a routine fashion, almost as practice, the way an athlete wakes up every morning to run a few miles. And like an early-morning runner, we aren't always eager to do it, even though we probably need to. But sometimes, our prayers are urgent, like those of a man running from a bear. Both kinds of running are important -- the trained athlete is a lot more likely to escape the bear. But one kind comes naturally, and the other does not.
*There is a small variation between the two sacramentaries. Do you really care?

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