Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oratio Imperata

Since Lent, Davao churchgoers have been praying, post-Communion, the oratio imperata issued by Archbishop Fernando Capalla. Entitled "Prayer for the Healing of Our Nation," the prayer is to be said on bended knee. This act of supplication and penance will go on until the next Lenten season.

As far as penance goes, the prayer itself serves as mortification enough. At close to 600 words -- longer than this article -- it takes four minutes to recite. It is repetitive, circuitous, evasive, whiny, and cloying.

Compositionally, it is a disaster: barely a noun or a verb escapes without an adjective or adverb, some redundant ("violent killing") and some inappropriate ("lustful greed"). It abounds with cliche ("from womb to tomb", "deaf ears", "bended knees", "hardened hearts", "socio-political system"). One line is particularly painful to the ear: "the crash taking of the law into one's hands."

Biblically, its annotation is dubious: it attributes a line to 1 Peter 2:24 instead of the original Isaiah 53:5.

In form, it sounds less like a prayer than a lurid news report: it mentions "wound" eight times, "crime" five times, "drug" five times, "pusher" and "addict" four times, "eyewitness" three times, and "kill" two times.

For all this, its main fault lies in its inability to pinpoint to the direct cause of the complaint: is the fault that of the drug addicts and the drug pushers? of the killers? of the police? of the witnesses? of the churchgoers themselves? Only the mayor, supposedly at the center of the controversy, escapes mention.

And yet, if the prayer itself sounds confused, it merely reflects our state of mind over these affairs. For instance, calling it "extrajudicial killings" or "vigilantism" merely serves to sanitize the crime of its true content. In the end, it's really murder, bloody murder.

Is murder evil? Of course, it is. But how about the murder of criminals? Is murder in the service of "peace and order" acceptable, desirable even, and worthy of export to other cities breaking down from lawlessness? Because we have to pause to think about the answer, then it's really you and me to whom the prayer is directed.

Once we entertain the thought -- even the glimmer of the thought -- of murder is acceptable, then our moral center teeters on the edge of collapse. Hence comes the need for prayer, to recover that moral center. That is why this prayer is essential at this time.

Now, if only the prayer were better written, or at the very least, shorter and to the point.


  1. "the crash taking of the law into one's hands.""

    is it crash or crass?

  2. true... during our retreat, for two mornings we recited---or read---the oration really takes a lot of time. so i was so glad that the priest who presided the mass ended his homily faster than I could pronounce