20 November 2016

STIR UP SOME EXCITING COLLECTS

The collects we use at the beginning of Mass, and in the Divine Office, quite often have the pattern 'O God, who ...., mercifully grant that...' Thus, in the rather legalistic manner which is characteristic of the ancient Roman rite and of pre-Christian Greek and Latin poetry, some characteristic or deed of the Deity is cited as an appropriate precedent for the grace which is now sought of him. Many of Cranmer's collects in the Prayer Book reproduce this style, either because they are translations from collects in the old Roman Sacramentaries (most of his Sunday collects are) or because he was so used to the pattern that he automatically reproduced it in his own compositions.

But the ancient liturgical books of the Roman Church often abandon this style during Advent. They replace the sonorous descriptive relative clause ('who......') with an almost breathless opening imperative, demanding of God immediate and decisive action. Many of them take off from a phrase in Psalm 80 (Vulgate 79) ‘Stir up [Excita in Latin] thy power, and come and help us'. (This suits Advent: that psalm calls in the name of oppressed Israel upon her Covenant with God for help against her enemies: why not read it as an Advent devotion!)

In the pre-Reformation service books, Cranmer found four of these Excita collects appointed for Sundays and some more on the weekdays of the Ember Week. He kept two of them; and so does the Ordinariate Missal (which also admirably provides the old Collects for Advent II and the Ember Friday). Those two are:

(1) The collect for the last Sunday (and its week) before Advent - that is, today. Sadly, this collect is rarely heard nowadays on Sundays because it is displaced by the proper collect for Christ the King. It used popularly to be associated by English tradition with the start of work upon the Christmass pudding. The references to stirring and fruit helped here!
(2) Advent 4. Unfortunately (there is evidence that when he did this work in 1548-9 he was working fast and not going back over his drafts with a revising hand) Cranmer obscured in translation the Biblical origin of the original by writing 'O Lord, raise up...' instead of retaining - as he did for Trinity 25 - the vivid 'Stir up...'. And the end misses a point in the Latin, which could literally if nastily be translated ‘..that what our sins get in the way of, the forgiveness of thy mercy may accelerate.’ I suspect that this may go back to an early Christian and Pauline notion that whether the parousia comes later or earlier may to a degree depend upon the actions of Christians.

This collect survived into the English Anglican Common Worship for use on Advent 2. In the revised post-Vatican II Roman rite it is relegated to the relative obscurity of a weekday. Indeed, modern Roman liturgical tinkerers seem even more hostile than do Anglican ones to these superb and virile old collects. They replace them with other collects which may be taken from old Roman sacramentaries, but which are more pedestrian in their syntax and shy away from mention of Sin. The pre-Vatican II liturgy had a fair bit to say about human sinfulness and its disastrous consequences. Post-Vatican II, the ethos seems too often to be 'God, because of your grace, we are not really too bad; a bit more of your grace will make us even better’. What the Holy Father would rightly condemn as Pelagian.

For Advent I, Cranmer composed a stately expression of the Advent themes - indeed, some of its phrases are reminiscent of parts of the post-Conciliar Roman Advent prefaces. It is preserved in the Ordinariate Missal. When it used to be said at least twice daily all through Advent, it must have provided a superb catechesis of the meaning of the season. Nowadays it usually only gets a showing on the Sunday, and I rather wonder whether it says too much for one collect used once (of course, we could use it throughout Advent to conclude the Intercession). The old Roman Sacramentaries, in my view, were right to be terse and thematically tight. Renaissance writers such as Cranmer tended to a greater verbosity, and later practitioners were worse: see, for example the collect for Epiphany 6, where the writer (Cosin?) seems actually to forget, by the time he gets to the end of the collect, that he started off by addressing the Father.

My views will be clear: few people have written better collects than popes Leo, Damasus, Gelasius or Gregory; and if Cranmer has provided an English Version, why look a gift-horse in the mouth? Christian people whose Latin is rusty, whether or not they originate in the Anglican Patrimony, can do worse than to have a look at the Ordinariate Missal.

1 comment:

John said...

"Christian people whose Latin is rusty, whether or not they originate in the Anglican Patrimony, can do worse than to have a look at the Ordinariate Missal."

So . . . do you happen to know if anyone -- CTS, Baronius, Midwest Theological Forum, anyone -- is in the process of making it possible for the ordinary fellow in the pew to have a look at the Ordinariate Missal? I suppose I could buy the altar missal. It would be a bit unwieldy to take to Mass. (Although, Montague Summers apparently used to bring an altar missal to the Dominican church [in Oxford?] until they made him stop.)

Still, something sort of 4" x 6.5" -ish would be very useful.