Præcinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis; ut maneat in me virtus continentiæ et castitatis.
Gird me about, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and extinguish in my loins the inclinations of wanton desires, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me.
When I was a chaplain in Lourdes, I remember a gentleman coming into the little sacristy of the chapel of Saint Gabriel (in the crypt of the Immaculate Conception Basilica above the grotto) just before Mass, just when I was wrapping a cincture around my waist, very quietly mumbling this prayer, “Praecinge me, Domine…” He mockingly looked at me and said that we’ve moved beyond all that. We don’t do that kind of thing anymore.” I think he was an ex-priest. I quietly responded that with all the sexual stupidity of some priests, if he didn’t think that such a prayer was appropriate for all priests to say. No response to that, of course. Another chaplain, one who would never have even known such a prayer existed as far as I know, was speechless as such an exchange, not knowing whose side to take.
The syntax of this prayer has it that it is the Lord Himself who places this spiritual cincture of purity about oneself in such manner that any sexual untowardness might be extinguished in such manner that the singular virtue, mind you, of continence and chastity might abide within oneself.
Wow. Lots to comment on there, gentlemen!
I mean, repression of anything sexual is absolute idiocy (the link from the series on priestly celibacy). And no rope tied about the waist, either by oneself or spiritually by the Lord, is going to do anything if it is seen in this fashion by the priest or bishop. Zero. If you think that, you’ll be filled with wanton desires. The same goes for extinguishing anything. If one thinks that one can guide oneself by sheer determination, well… hell!
It’s interesting that this prayer refers to a singular virtue for both continence (the link from the series on priestly celibacy) and chastity (the link from the series on priestly celibacy), with continence referring to being contained in God, and chastity referring to being cut off from the lusty ways of the world. The use the singular virtue for both of these virtues makes for a definition of purity, a cincture of purity, so to speak, so that the extinguishing of any untoward desires is not wrought by way of repression, but by way of positive containment in God (which of itself means that one is cut off from the lusty ways of the world). The strength of being contained in God (which is positive) is what keeps one away from the ways of the world (a result of what is positive). Again, this is not about repression. The Church never pushed repression, ever.
Remember the words of our Lord? –
Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them (Luke 12,35-37 of NAB).
The Master’s wedding was the Last Supper and Calvary. At the Last Supper, the Lord girt himself and washed the cursed dirt, Satan’s home (see Genesis 3,14), from the Apostles feet, for they were unclean inasmuch as Judas, possessed by Satan, was with them. The apostles, at the Last Supper, were bidden to do the same washing as time went on. The apostles, mind you, were not there for the entire wedding, which included Calvary, which all fled, until John alone returned. Nevertheless, we are now to be ready for Him. Vigilant, girt round about by the cincture of purity, ready to recline at table, to be waited on by our Lord. This is exactly what happens at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This prayer is a wonderful preparation for Holy Mass. The prayer refers to this very passage in Scripture. He serves us first of all by providing the virtue of purity, and then, with that agility of spirit, He provides to us Himself in the Most Blessed Sacrament, entering within where He might speak Heart to heart with us in all goodness and kindness.
But there is more to this prayer.
About the Passover, the forerunner of the Last Supper:
This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every first– born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt– I, the LORD! But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution (Exo 12:11-14 NAB).
And remember John? the greatest prophet, whose words we repeat at every Mass with the “Ecce, Agnus Dei! Ecce, qui tollit peccata mundi! –
John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey (Mark 1,6 NAB // Matthew 3,4).
This comes, of course, from Genesis 3,21, where we see that the Lord had the man and his wife be clothed in leather garments. They had tried to cover their own untoward inclinations with a few fig leaves: repression. Not good. Our Lord did cover them, but this time with an indication of the violence of vicarious sacrifice. Of course, this was only pointing to the violence of another vicarious sacrifice in the future, that of our Lord, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which we read about a few verses earlier, in Genesis 3,15. Our Lord takes the initiative to place enmity within us by reaching out His heel to crush the power of Satan while Himself being crushed, He taking on the death we deserve and having the right, therefore, in justice, to have mercy on us.
Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take (Mar 15:24 NAB).
We are clothed in the vicarious death of Christ that we might manifest His resurrection in our lives of continence and chastity, of agility of soul, of holy purity, girded about by the goodness and kindness of our Lord.
By the way, the cincture, or whatever it is called by so many, that is worn with religious habits and with the Roman Cassock, hearkens back to the leather garments of Genesis, of John the Baptist… The Carmelites insist, for example on a belt of leather which is as long as the longest stretch on a bull, signifying the death of the beast…