Stirring Up the Power of God

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Friday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 29: 17-24
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
Matthew 9:27-31

Stir Up

Today’s Collect, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, is one of a whole series of advent prayers that begin with the word, Excita — which means “Stir up.” There is an English folk tradition that associates preparing the Christmas pudding with these prayers because the pudding has to be stirred up. But the Collect is not about stirring up pudding; it is about asking God to stir up his strength. Today’s Collect is used in the classic Roman Rite on the First Sunday of Advent. In the Missal of 1970 it is found on the First Friday of Advent.

John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, translates today’s Collect this way:

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Stir up, O Lord, we pray Thee, Thy strength,
and come among us,
that whereas through our sins and wickedness
we do justly apprehend Thy wrathful judgments hanging over us,
Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us.

Say It Again

In the classical Roman Rite this same Collect is repeated every day of the First Week of Advent, not once a day, but eight times a day, that is to say, at the Canonical Hours and at Holy Mass. According to my calculations, that means 38 times. What does this tell us about the liturgical pedagogy of the Church? The Church, a wise mother and accomplished teacher, understands the value of rhythm and repetition.

Sin

For the third time this week the Collect speaks of sin. On Tuesday we prayed to be “untainted by the contagion of our old ways.” Yesterday we prayed that God’s bountiful grace and mercy would hasten “that which our sins impede.” Today we describe ourselves as “ever-threatened by the peril of our sins.”

The liturgy is clear-sighted and realistic. The prayer of the Church does not sidestep the evil of sin; it exposes it, names it, and brings it to God. “Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee,” says the psalmist, “and our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8). In a culture that looks at many sins softly, that teaches us to make excuses for our sins and to explain them away, the directness of today’s Collect delivers a salutary shock.

Stir Up Thy Strength

The inspiration for the “Stir up” prayers of Advent is in Psalm 79: “Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses, stir up Thy strength, and come, and help us” (Ps 79:3). It is unusual for a Collect to begin abruptly with a verb in the imperative, and today’s Collect contains not one but two such verbs: “Stir up your power . . . and come!” Excita . . . et veni!

The Urgency of Prayer

There is an urgency to our prayer today; it is a cry out of the depths, an alarm sounded in the ears of God. It resembles the cry of the two blind men of the Gospel; they followed Jesus, crying out and saying: “Have mercy on us, O Son of David” (Mt 9:27). True prayer is always urgent. It requires few words. Stir up your power and Come!

The Sins That Threaten Us

The Collect says that we “ever-threatened by the peril of our sins.” Again, the realism of the liturgy. “Ever-threatened” means that at every moment we are in danger of falling into sin. “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 P 5:8). It also means that each of us lives with an accumulation of sin that threatens to close over our heads, isolating us from one another and, ultimately, from God. Our only recourse is ceaseless prayer. Stir up your power and Come!

Prayer and Hope

Prayer is the assurance of hope. To persevere in prayer is to persevere in hope. The soul who stops praying, stops hoping; the soul who stops hoping, stops praying. The absence of a ceaseless prayer signifies an underlying spiritual crisis: the absence of a ceaseless hope. If you would hope always, then pray always. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the connection between prayer and hope in Spe Salvi:

A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone.

The Good Things of the Lord

God gives us a reason to pray, a reason to hope. Speaking to us today through the mouth of his prophet says, “Those that erred in spirit shall know understanding, and they that murmured shall learn the law” (Is 29:24). The Responsorial Psalm too ends on a note of hope: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 26:13).

Ecce Dominus Noster

The Alleluia Verse given in the Lectionary announces not only the word of the Gospel; it announces as well the Eucharist that fulfills it for us: “Behold, our Lord shall come with power; he will enlighten the eyes of his servants.” The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, at one and the same time, our urgent cry to God — Stir up your power and Come! — and God’s response. Behold, he comes.

2 Comments

Father Mark! Have you forgotten St Ambrose?

(Of course, I wish at on days like this we could use both collects - that of the season and that of the saint.)

Ah, but one can! One at the place of the Collect, and one to conclude the General Intercessions!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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