Universitas, Number 10, November 2001
Almighty and eternal God... Omnipotent God... God of power and might...
These terms of address belonging to the ordinary language at the beginning of prayers are now to be used in new translations of the Lectionary. Such terms are an attempt to recognise the infinite greatness of God and to pay due tribute to our Creator.
Words used to address God are the human way of expressing what cannot be expressed, the ineffable. Our knowledge of God is limited to our human understanding, elevated and deepened by sanctifying grace, raised to the level of union or mystical marriage in those saints who reach the highest form of contemplation. Just as human knowledge is limited, so human language can never adequately represent our understanding of God, of the divine essence, of the divine attributes. So we use words which are negative ... "uncreated", "infinite" ... we say that God is eternal, that is, without beginning and without end; we use similes with "like" or "as", metaphors such as "Sun of Justice", "Fountain of Mercy", words which are relative "more good than...greater than..."
Words are important because they are used to represent concepts. When words fall into disuse, the concepts they represent may come to be forgotten. When such words are part of our everyday vocabulary, we may be more readily moved to ponder on their meaning.
In addressing God as omnipotent , we recognise his role as Creator and our place as creatures. Because he is the Creator, honour and reverence are due to God. Adoration and praise, the first act of religion, are essential obligations on human beings. Throughout the ages, all peoples no matter how dimly, have recognised this obligation and paid tribute to the one God or, mistakenly, to the many gods they believed had power to intervene in their lives. The only one who refuses to pay this tribute is the fool who in his heart says there is no God.
"To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name."1 Mary, our model, teaches us to make the act of adoration our top priority in the very first words of the Magnificat: "My soul glorifies the Lord...""
"To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the "nothingness of the creature" who would not exist without God."2 Humility is the recognition of our total dependence on God. Meditating on the omnipotence of God should lead to true humility. When Mary says that all generations will call her blessed, she recognises that this grace is due to God alone: "He who is mighty has done great things unto me..."
God manifests his omnipotence not only through his creative power but also through his conservative power. As we say "Almighty God", we pay tribute to the love which he pours on us unceasingly, sustaining us by his Providence, enabling us to function, allowing us to freely exercise our will.
"Almighty and everliving God" - the words elevate our minds to consider God's love in sustaining us through every moment of our life. As St.Paul told the Athenians " He is not far from every one of us. For in him we live and move and are'.3 In him alone are essence and existence identified. He alone IS his own existence. "I am who am" God said to Moses. We who are contingent beings, who can be and be not, need to be aware of the constant presence of God in our lives and pay tribute to his creative love, to his enduring love, to his Providence.
"What shall I render the Lord for what he has given to me? I will take up the chalice of the Lord and call on the name of the Lord." Adoration and praise are offered most perfectly through sacrifice. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most excellent way in which we can pay homage to God by offering the most perfect of victims, his only Son, our Saviour and, together with him, by offering ourselves, our lives as a living sacrifice.
Through revelation God has told us of his infinite love for us, and he has commanded us to love him. In obeying this command we merit our salvation and fulfil the purpose of our creation, "to know, love and serve God and merit eternal life." St.Augustine, reflecting on the goodness of God who desires our love, exclaims: "What is man that you would be loved by him? And if he loves you not, you threaten him with heavy punishment - Is it not punishment enough that I love you not?" 4
God's goodness is evident in this that he has identified his own glory with our eternal happiness. In the prayer of adoration the focus is on the prime concern, the glory of God. Christ, the perfect adorer, in teaching the Our Father, teaches us to put the glory of God first and foremost. The first petition, "hallowed be Thy name" is "a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as Father. We pray that his honour and glory be constantly in our minds, in our hearts, on our lips, that we may glorify him internally and externally, that we may celebrate his praises. We give him thanks for having revealed his name to us, for the gift of believing in it, and for the indwelling of his Presence in us."5
When we pray to Our Father in heaven, our hearts and souls are elevated to contemplate the power and majesty of the Divinity whose dwelling place is in heaven, which we see as transcending the visible world, excelling in beauty, splendour, majesty.
At the end of every prayer, the doxology "Glory be to the Father...."expresses the desire to praise God "through the essential and eternal glory which is in himself". We ask that "God should be forever glorified with the glory that he had before all creatures in his infinite eternity and eternal infinity."6
Wonder and awe at the infinite distance between creator and creature should not, however, make us fearful of approaching God. The love and protecting care he manifests through his Providence, the mercy he offers are the attributes of the most perfect of fathers. When Jesus teaches us to pray, he begins with "Our Father", a name indicative of tender love, a name which inspires us with love and confidence. Christ has revealed to us the overwhelming love of God who gifts us with his intimate presence through the divine indwelling. A soul with sanctifying grace is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can adore the living God and contact him in silent prayer at any time, in the inmost depth of our being.
St.Thomas shows us how to praise God with a heart full of love when he contemplates the Blessed Eucharist. In the opening words of the Adoro Te devote, the word "devoutly" expresses the depth and intensity of the act of adoration together with the intimate love and passionate fervour of the loving soul.
The prayer of adoration moves us to grow in faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues whose object is God. Reflecting on the infinite power of God increases our faith, for God is Truth, the infallible truth who can neither be deceived nor deceive us. We must necessarily believe what he says and fully acknowledge his authority. This belief should increase our hope for he has promised us his grace in this life and eternal happiness in the next and he is almighty, merciful, loving. It should increase our charity, how can we fail to respond in love to the infinite love of our Creator, of our Saviour, of our Sanctifier?
Speaking the language of adoration, meditating on the infinite greatness and power of our Creator and our Father, will elevate our mind and move our will to glorify the God who is most holy and in doing so, we merit our salvation.
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2097
3 Acts, 17
4 Confessions, c.5
5 CCC, 2781
6 St.Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12
Centre for Thomistic Studies, Sydney, Australia.
This article posted November 2001. It was published in
Universitas, No. 10 (2001).
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