“O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.” (Collect prayer of Mass for the Second Sunday of Lent)
Eight parenthetical phrases in one sentence make this prayer a hard read indeed. It would be enough to make your high school English teacher run wailing into the night, if you wrote it.
But you will hear this prayer proclaimed by a priest for your congregation during Mass this weekend. A careful reading of this English translation of the Latin beforehand reveals that it’s all about hearing and sight, in the spiritual sense.
The prayer precedes the proclamation of the readings for Mass including the Gospel, which tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. In it, the apostles begin speaking when they probably should have stayed quiet.
Like a parent God tells them, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” They get the message and even though Jesus tells them not to talk about the vision to anyone else, they still discuss it among themselves.
For us the Collect prayer begins by reinforcing the idea of listening. In a sense we are consuming the nourishment of words that God is feeding us in the Scriptures, which we are about to hear in the liturgy.
The prayer then shifts from listening to seeing. It acknowledges that we all have “spiritual sight” or an inner vision. Perhaps the hardest thing to see is your true self — an unflinching, honest appraisal of what we find in the deepest part of ourselves.
Sometimes what we find there isn’t pretty but it is essential to our human growth and our standing before God to look inward with courage. We pray that God purify or enlighten this inner vision so we may see clearly into our hearts.
Our spiritual vision guides our actions and relations with our brothers and sisters along every step we take through creation.
That is a good way to make our way through this world but the prayer doesn’t stop there. We also pray our inner vision helps us to see — “behold” — God’s glory in full someday in heaven.
This understanding of the Collect prayer can help us better grasp all those phrases and pauses for commas before its ending flourish:
“Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
It doesn’t ask anything more of God. It just states that we offer these words to the holy Trinity who, fortunately, doesn’t trip over our tricky language.