As if on cue, for this 15th Sunday after Pentecost, in our traditional Roman calendar, Holy Church presents us with an oration of consolingly plaintive depth. This Collect might be jotted on a scrap of paper and carried about, and prayed, for the foreseeable future: “Ecclesiam tuam, Domine, miseratio continuata mundet et muniat: et quia sine te non potest salva consistere; tuo semper munere gubernetur.

Speaking of plaintive, take note of those humming m’s. With its glittering facets of phonemes, the sound of the prayer read or, better, sung is superb. It communicates the profound artistry of our ancient faith-filled forebears.

The vocabulary is rich but space constrains. Quickly, guberno is “to steer, pilot a ship”. The super-charged munus conveys a range of ideas from “gift” to “office, service, duty”. Mundo is “cleanse”.

Literal version: “Let Your continuous compassion cleanse and defend Your Church, O Lord, and because without You she cannot stand to, safe, may she forever by Your favour be steered.”

In nautical parlance, to “stand to” means to “stay on a certain course”. This is how I try to unpack the meaning of consisto, which aims at “consistency, standing firm”. Because in this world the Church is on a journey, as a pilgrim, I didn’t want simply to say “stand firm”. But gubernator, as the master of the ship’s course, who “governs” where the ship goes, helped me think of “stand to”.

Holy Church is often portrayed as a ship, Peter’s Barque or a sailing ship in the vision of St John Bosco. The heaving winds and waters of the world, with their distractions sensual and diabolical, threaten to force us off course. We are in dangerous waters.

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