Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies


For this week's meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider the Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent in the MR’70. Below is the official ICEL translation of this prayer in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal (2010):

“O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by Your mercy. Through our Lord, etc. Amen.”

The Church has given us this Lenten season to practice fasting, prayer and almsgiving as “a remedy for sin.” By holding all three in balance, the prayer does fitting homage to the timeless teaching of Scripture, the Fathers, and the Magisterium on the interconnectedness of these three things. Jesus Himself both teaches us and shows us by example that Lenten discipline is salutary for us. Thus, the Collect reminds us of the importance of staying the course with our Lenten discipline.  

Our penitential observances are one element of the Church’s Six Precepts, basic standards of praxis which the Church obliges her children to keep. We should try, however, to pray, abstain/fast, and give alms in a way that builds further upon these basic obligations. This was the message in our Epistle for Septuagesima from 1 Corinthians 9-10. In this passage, St. Paul primes us for the Lenten season by using the analogy of athletes who must push themselves to acquire skill and to win. St. Paul’s argument is this: if athletes are serious about selfdiscipline in their respective sports in order to win, how much more ought we to be disciplined in our life of faith, given that heaven is the goal?  (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27). 

All this having been said, today’s Collect also recognizes the frailty of human nature. The prayer admits to being a “confession of our lowliness,” and that we feel “bowed down by our conscience” at this point in the Lenten season. In using this kind of language, the Collect acknowledges that Lenten discipline is primarily a concrete expression of interior contrition for sin. It likewise admits that our efforts in penance reveal the weakness of our will. In other words, if our will rebels when we abstain from lawful pleasures, how strong are we when faced with real temptation? Thus, if we are “doing Lent” correctly, we should feel “bowed down by our conscience” to a certain extent.

Fortunately, the Collect does not stop here, because the training of our will, as important as this is, is not the primary purpose of Lent, nor is penance for its own sake. God’s mercy for sinners is clearly the Collect’s controlling idea. At the prayer’s beginning, we acclaim God as the “Author of every mercy and of all goodness,” and we conclude it by asking that we “may always be lifted up by [His] mercy.” This Collect, then, rightly directs our attention to the purpose of Lent, namely, to prepare to celebrate God’s mercy worthily at Easter.

Lenten discipline, therefore, is a means to an end: sincere repentance enables us to receive and to experience God’s mercy more and more fully in this life. St. John expresses it this way: “every one who thus hopes in Him [i.e., God] purifies himself as He [God] is pure” (cf. 1 Jn. 3:3). Lent helps us to purify ourselves of sin for the sake of greater union with Christ. We should not remain bowed down in conscience. We should hasten to God’s mercy. As the Parable of the Prodigal Son shows us, God delights in lifting us up in mercy (cf. Luke 15:11-32)

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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"If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
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