Our Lady at the Red Ark of York, pray for us
The theory has been attractively argued that the collect for the Third Sunday After Easter in the Old Calendar (as that Calendar was before, according to Fr Louis Bouyer, it was wrecked by "three maniacs") was originally composed, perhaps by Pope Damasus, during a Papal campaign to get the Lupercalia celebrations in Rome banned. An aristocratic Collegium called the Fratres Luperci, naked but for a thong, ran through the streets of the City slashing with leather whips the outstretched hands of the citizenesses - who hoped thereby to secure fertility. This collect, in such a context, would be expressing the hope that the Roman aristocracy (who had conservative tendencies) will relinquish such pagan residues as incompatible with their Christian Faith.
Even if, however, that rather jolly theory were not true in its details, it does remain very clear, from the early Roman Sacramentaries, that this Collect comes from a Mass-set deeply concerned with the duty of Christians to abstain from going to the Sacrificial Banquets which followed and were an integral part of the worship of pagan deities. Here is another prayer from the same set: "... Deus qui tuae mensae participes a diabolico iubes abstinere convivio, da quaesumus plebi tuae ut gustu mortiferae profanitatis abiecto puris mentibus ad epulas aeternae salutis accedant" [God who dost command the participants at thy table to abstain from the banquet of the Devil, grant we beseech thee to thy people that, rejecting the taste of death-dealing profanity, they may approach with pure minds the banquets of eternal salvation]. The Preface of this Mass-set vividly describes a situation in which true and false Christians are all mixed up in the Church, so that there is risk that the True might weakly slip away, while we must hope that the False and weak will be converted and get their senses back (resipiscientiam).
This, of course, is the point S Paul is already making in I Corinthians 10. We all need to be reminded, in our respective cultures, of the risks of conforming to this world, to the Devil, rather than to the very different Way of our Merciful Saviour. The temptation for Greeks and Romans was the stronger because those distinctly tempting Sacrificial Banquets were both religious and social occasions combined.
Our rather good Anglican Patrimonial translation of this collect:
Almighty God, who shewest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant unto them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion; that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same.
In the Latin, the word Cranmer rendered as eschew, respuere, really means spit back out.
Spitting ... Yes! The Pontiff who composed this collect is vividly suggesting that the rather decent food provided in Pagan Sacrificial Banquets deserves really to be just spat back out! It is Diabolical! Spitting back out is a Christian duty!
Spitting ... Memories crowd in of all those old notices whereby English town councils tried to preserve genteel ladies from the offensive spitting of the lower orders (somebody ought to start a museum for surviving examples; and for other old favourites like Commit No Nuisance, and Kindly Adjust Your Clothing Before Leaving The Convenience).
But we know from first millennium documentation that part of the papal entourage, as the Pope (on horseback!) made his solemn way through the streets of Rome, was a subdeacon carrying a bowl for the Sovereign Pontiff to expectorate into. What a shame we no longer have Subdeacons (the abolition of which was a 'reform' which Dom Bernard Botte, the main post-conciliar reviser of the Pontifical, regarded as a most unfortunate breach of an ancient tradition which the West shared with the East). One imagines seminary professors needing to instruct ordinands for the Subdiaconate on the best techniques for avoiding inaccurately projected Pontifical Spittle. Dear me, how I do ramble. You really should stop me.
I have never quite been able, when saying this lovely old collect, to get out of my mind an image of Marcus Antonius, who was a lupercus, capering through the streets of Rome generously bestowing welted hands and fertility upon the philoprogenitive womenfolk. Just imagine the look of sniffy disapproval on the face of Octavian. What a shame he won the Battle of Actium. I have never liked the cut of his ... rambling again ...
Here is a limerick offered by that mighty Pontiff, the late Edwin Barnes, First Bishop of Richborough:
There was a young man of Darjeeling
Who got on a 'bus bound for Ealing;
When he saw near the door
"Do not spit on the floor"
He climbed up and he spat on the ceiling.