Thursday, February 26, 2004

Oratio imperata

Ora pro nobis. Kyrie eleison. Kaawaan mo kami. Malooy ka sa amon. Kahiraki kami. In times of pestilence and impending calamities, famine and drought, disease and danger, the Catholic Church of yore called on the faithful to collectively go down on their knees to implore God to intervene.

Oratio imperata means obligatory prayer. In those days, this was the church’s weapon and shield against the destructive forces that roamed the land and threatened the security of the people. It still is. This phrase in the extinct language of Latin is coming to life again and is being used to exhort the people to cry out to the heavens.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently called for oratio imperata. In the bishops’ perception, this country is headed for the edge.

Oratio imperata. I like the archaic sound of it. Trumpets wail and pipe organs roar. The ramparts shake and rattle. Imperata sounds very imperative and urgent, something must be in such grave peril that it needs the prayers of the entire nation. Evil is abroad in the land.

It reminds me of the yearly ``Ora et Labora’’ pageant in the German-style Benedictine-run school where I studied. Barbarians overrun parts of Europe during the Dark Ages. Then Benedict of Nursia emerges to throw light and help dispel the darkness. A new day dawns, thanks in part to the wise and wizened monks whose powerhouses of prayer, fields for sustainable agriculture and archives of knowledge help save Europe from spiritual and cultural devastation. Perfect era for oratio imperata.

Now, where was I?

``Oratio imperata for the National Elections 2004’’ is what the CBCP is asking church goers to recite and take to heart beginning yesterday, Ash Wednesday (which marks the beginning of Lent) and until the elections in May. The prayer is to be recited in unison toward the end of the mass on Sundays and every day during the entire week before election day.

There are many ways to pray--from wordless to wordy, silent to loud; by singing or reciting. There are those who prefer to go wordless, thought-less. But oral prayers take on a special meaning when people let out a collective cry for a common cause or of thanksgiving and praise. It is like making an open declaration to the heavens and to one other.

The ``Oratio Imperata for the National Elections’’ was prepared by the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy. It is bland and dry, if you ask me. It pleads that the Filipino electorate be infused with love of country and genuine concern for the future. It asks for capable and upright leaders who will lead the country to moral renewal and lasting stability and peace.

I hope God listens, and the people concerned too.

One need not believe in prayer and praying in order to see that this latest oratio imperata serves a purpose even just as a credo for concerned citizens and voters.

Last year, when SARS threatened Asia, oratio imperata was asked of the people. Looks like this is being done too often, which means that crisis is stalking the land too often.

I read this latest oratio imperata in both English and Filipino, and while it says a lot about what should be wished for this benighted country, and is quite broad and inclusive, it lacks fervor and oomph. It sounds like a legal treatise minus the and/ors and aforementioneds. The Filipino version sounds a lot better. Sorry, but it’s composers should learn from the music in the language of the psalms. Still, this does not mean that it is less of a prayer. Oratio imperata, it is indeed. Excerpts:

``At this difficult crossroads of our national elections, we beg you to be with us with the light of the Holy Spirit, so that the electorate, well informed about the candidates and inspired by the love of country and genuine concern for its future, may cast their votes responsibly according to their consciences. Give us the courage that comes from the power of the Holy Sprit, that against all forms of violence coercion, coup attempts and anarchy, we may uphold the constitutional process and the rule of law.

``Make all the citizens vigilant with the watchfulness of the Holy Spirit, that the campaign period, electoral exercise and counting of ballots may be marked by honesty, order, transparency and true freedom. Lord, protect with the tender yet mighty care of the Holy Spirit all the candidates with their families, political allies and followers, shield from all harm the concerned citizens who are involved in political education, scrutiny of candidates and poll watching…’’ Enough.

In contrast, the language of the bible drips with poetry and is awash in music. Listen to how Jesus cries out in the New Testament: ``Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I wanted to gather you under my wings and you would not let me…’’ (I hope I got that right.) Feel the rhythm and the cadence. Consummatum est. In Hebrew, Latin or English, Christ’s last words tremble with finality. Read Revelations and catch the fire and the brimstone. Dive into the Old Testament and be aroused by the Song of Songs. Quake as you read Jeremiah’s warning about the enemy at the gates. (Great fodder for oratio imperata 2004.)

Jesus must have been a poet, for where would the bumbling apostles-turned-writers have caught that spark that are in their written works?

God could have been waxing about Filipinas, patria adorada, as Hosea wrote ``I will lure her once more into the desert, where I can speak to her tenderly. Then I will give back her vineyards, make the Valley of Achor a gateway of hope. There she will answer me yes as in her youth.’’