Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Venerable Bede on the Mystery of Christmas - From the Monastic Breviary

Matins for the fifth day in the Octave of Christmas in the Monastic Breviary has the following lesson, from Saint Bede the Venerable. It is a commentary on the Gospel reading for Christmas itself, which is repeated today. St. Bede reflects on the response of the shepherds to the exhortation of the angel to seek out the newborn Infant Christ. The liturgy for today here reminds us that, by it, we participate in the sacred mystery of Christmas by going, like the shepherds, to seek Christ Himself, to strain for the vision of what we have believed through hearing. The liturgy is a contemplative endeavor; it approaches beatitude itself, through the medium of the mysteries of Christ's humanity. 
With happy joy, indeed, did these shepherds hasten to see that which they had heard, and because they instantly sought the Savior with an ardent and faithful love, they merited to find Him whom they sought. But they also have shown by their words as well as by their deeds with what effort of mind the shepherds of intelligent flocks, yea, all the faithful must seek Christ. "Let us go over to Bethlehem," they say, "and let us see the word that is come to pass." Therefore, dearest brethren, let us also go over in thought to Bethlehem, the city of David, and in love recall to our minds that there the Word was made flesh, and let us celebrate His Incarnation with honors worthy of Him. Having thrown off carnal desires, let us with all the desire of our mind go over to the heavenly Bethlehem, that is, the house of living bread, not made by hands, but eternal in heaven, and in love let us recall that the Word was made flesh. Thither He has ascended in the flesh; there He sits on the right hand of God the Father. Let us follow Him with the whole force of our strength and by careful mortification of heart and body let us merit to see Him reigning on the throne of His Father, Him whom they saw crying in the manger. 
"And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger." The shepherds came in haste and found God born as man, together with the ministers of His nativity. Let us hasten too, my brethren, not with footsteps, but by the advances of good words, to see the same glorified humanity together with the same ministers remunerated with a reward worthy of their services; let us hasten to see Him refulgent with the divine Majesty of His Father and of Himself. Let us hasten, I say, for such happiness is not to be sought with sloth and torpor, but the footsteps of Christ must be eagerly followed. For, offering His hand, He desires to help our course and delights to hear from us: "Draw us, we will run after thee in the odor of thy ointments." Therefore, let us follow swiftly with strides of virtue that we may merit to possess. Let no one be tardy in converting to the Lord; let no one put it off from day to day; let us beseech Him through all things and before all things that He direct our steps according to His word and let not injustice dominate over us.  
"And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this Child." Let us also, most dearly beloved brethren, hasten in the meantime to perceive by a loving faith and to embrace with complete love those things that are said to us concerning our Savior, true God and Man, so that by this we may be able to comprehend Him perfectly in the future vision of knowledge. For this is the only and the true life of the blessed, not only of men, but even of the angels, to look continually upon the face of their Creator, which was so ardently desired by the Psalmist who said: "My soul hath thirsted after the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?" The Psalmist has shown that the vision of Him alone, and no abundance of the things of earth, could satisfy his desire when he said: "I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear." But since neither the idle nor the slothful, but those who perspire in works of virtue, are worthy of divine contemplation, he carefully premised these words: "But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice."

Friday, 25 December 2015

Dom Gueranger on Christmas Day

The following is taken from The Liturgical Year. Observe the lively faith which once animated the Christian world, centered around the celebration of the sacred mysteries in the liturgy of the Church.


We will begin by telling them that in the early ages of the Church every great Feast was prepared for by long Vigils; during which the people deprived themselves of their usual rest, and spent the hours in the Church, fervently joining in the Psalms and Lessons which made up the Office which we now call Matins. The Night was divided into three parts called Nocturns.At dawn of day they resumed their chants in an Office which was even more solemn than Matins: it was one of praise, and from this its characteristic, was called by the name of Lauds.This Service, which occupied a very considerable portion of the night, is still kept up, though at a time less trying to nature; Matins and Lauds are publicly recited every day in Cathedral and Monastic Churches, and privately by everyone in Holy Orders. They are by far the longest portion of the Divine Office. The want of the old spirit of devoted appreciation of the Liturgy has made the Laity indifferent to being present at the celebration of Matins, and this even in countries where Protestantism has not rendered their presence almost an impossibility. Thus, there are very few places where the people assist at Matins, excepting four times in the year; namely, on the three last days of Holy Week, and on Christmas Night. It is only on the last named that the Office is said at the same hour as anciently; for with regard to Tenebrae, they are recited on the afternoons respectively preceding each of the three days.

The Office of Christmas Night has always been said or sung with extraordinary solemnity. Firstly, it was so just, that the moments immediately preceding the Hour when the Holy Mother gave birth to her Jesus, should be spent in the most fervent prayers and watchings! But, secondly, the Church is not satisfied to-night with saying her Matins - she does so every night, and the faithful may come and assist at them as often as they wish:- she follows them by the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that so she may the better solemnize the Divine Birth; and she begins her Mass at Midnight, for it was at that silent hour that the Virgin-Mother gave us the Blessed Fruit of her Womb. We cannot be surprised that the faithful, in many parts of Christendom, used to spend the whole Night in the Church.

In Rome, for many centuries - at least from the seventh to the eleventh - two Matins were sung, the first in the Basilica of St Mary Major. They commenced immediately after sunset. There was no Invitatory. As soon as they were ended, the Pope celebrated the first or midnight Mass. No sooner was it finished, than the people accompanied him to the Church of St Anastasia, and there he sang the second Mass, or, as it was called, of the Aurora. Again the Pontiff and people formed a procession - this time it was to St Peter’s - and having entered the Basilica, the second Matins were begun. They had an Invitatory, and were followed by Lauds. The other Hours having been sung, the Pope said the third and last Mass, at the hour of Terce, which is our 9 o’clock. We are indebted for these details to Amalarius, and to the ancient Liturgist of the thirteenth century published under the name of Alcuin. We also find them clearly indicated by the text of the old Antiphonaries of the Roman Church, which were published by the Blessed Joseph Maria Tommasi, and by Gallicioli.

How lively was the faith of those olden times! To people who lived unceasingly amidst the Mysteries of Religion, Prayer was a tie which knit them closely together, and made them pass hours in the Church without weariness. They understood the value of the Prayers of the Church; and the Ceremonies of the Liturgy, which complete the tribute of man’s inward worship of his Creator, were not looked upon as, unfortunately, they now so often are, as a dumb show, or at best an unmeaning poetry introduced for effect. What, in our days, are found only in individuals, were then in the mass of the people - faith, and a keen sense of the supernatural.

Thanks be to God! this strong practical faith is not dead among us, and is each year spreading in the land. How often have not we ourselves been charmed at seeing the traditions of the old Catholic customs still kept up in some families, especially in those favoured parts of the country where heresy has not been able to corrupt the simplicity of the people. We have seen, and it is one of the most pleasing recollections of our childhood, one of these families seated together, after the frugal evening collation, round a blazing fireside, waiting for the hour to come when the whole house was to go to the midnight Mass. A plain but savoury supper, which was to be eaten on their return home, and so add to the joy of holy Christmas Night, was prepared beforehand. A huge piece of wood, called the Yule-Log, was burning cheerfully on the hearth; it would last till the Mass was over, and warm the old men and the little children, as they came in chilled by the sharp frost.

Meanwhile, till it was time for Mass, their conversation was upon the Mystery of this much-loved Night. They compassionated the Blessed Mother and the sweet Babe, exposed to the inclemency of wintry weather, and with no other shelter than that of a wretched stable. Then, too, there were the Christmas Carols, in the practise of which they had spent many a pleasant evening of Advent. The whole soul was evidently in these dear old melodies, and many a tear would fall as the song went on to tell how the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and declared to her that she was to be Mother of the Most High God; how Mary and Joseph were worn with fatigue, going from street to street in Bethlehem, trying to find a lodging, and no one would take them in; how they were obliged to shelter in a stable, and how the Divine Child was born in it; how the loveliness of the Babe in his little crib was above all the beauty of the Angels; how the Shepherds went to see him, and took their humble gifts, and played their rude music, and adored him in the faith of their simple hearts. And thus they spent the happy Eve, passing from conversation to song, and from one song to another, and all was on Mary or Jesus, Joseph or Bethlehem. Cares of life were forgotten, troubles were gone, melancholy was a sin; but it was time to leave; the village clock had just gone eleven; and of the happy group, there was a little one who had been too young the other years, and this was his first Midnight Mass. There was no brighter face in the procession than his. Would he ever forget that beautiful Night!

In many of our readers, these reminiscences will excite a feeling of regret that the miseries of the world around us make such Catholic customs as these unrealities: at all events, they will show how the holiest feelings of religion may blend with the best joys of family and home. The lesson is worth learning, though the examples that teach it are too Catholic for these rough times. Let us, therefore, leave them and turn again to objects, which are realities, made holy by to-night’s Mystery, they will assist us to enter still further into the spirit of the Church.

There are three places on this earth of ours which we should visit to-night. For two of them, it can only be in spirit. The first is Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Nativity, which is Bethlehem’s glory. Let us approach it with respectful awe, and contemplate the humble dwelling which the Son of the Eternal God chose for his first home. It is a Stable in the hollow of a rock, just outside the city walls. It is about forty feet long by twelve in width. The ox and the ass, as spoken by the Prophet, are there, standing near the Manger, mute witnesses of the Divine Mystery to which man refused to lend his own dwelling.

Joseph and Mary enter into the Stable-Cave. It is night, and all nature is buried in silence; but these two Hearts are sending up their praise and adoration to God, who thus deigns to atone for man’s pride. The Virgin-Mother prepares the Clothes which are to swathe the limbs of the Divine Infant, and longs, though with a most tranquil patience, for the blissful moment when she shall have the first sight of the Blessed Fruit of her womb, kiss him, caress him and feed him - the Eternal God - at her Breast.

Our Jesus, on his part, now that he is about to leave the sanctuary of his Mother’s womb, and make his visible entrance into this world of sin, adores his Heavenly Father, and, according to the revelation of the Psalmist, which is commented by St Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, thus speaks: Sacrifice and oblation thou willedst not; but a Body thou hast fitted unto me. Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I, behold I come. In the head of the Book it is written of me that I should do thy will, O God! [Heb. x 5, 6, 7].

All this was happening in the Stable at Bethlehem, about this very hour of the Night. The Angels of God were singing their anthems of praise to this his incomprehensible mercy towards his rebel creatures. They looked down with admiration upon the Mother of their God, the Mystical Rose, whose hidden beauty was soon to bloom and fill the world with its fragrance.

O happy cave of Bethlehem! scene of these stupendous Mysteries! who is there that can forget it to-night? Who is there that does not love it above the richest palaces of Kings? From the very commencement of Christianity it was the object of men’s deepest veneration. When, later on, God sent the great St Helen to resuscitate in his Church the knowledge and love of the Holy Places of Palestine, one of the works of the holy Empress was to build a magnificent Basilica over the spot, where stands this trophy of God’s love for his creatures.

Let us go in spirit to this venerable Basilica; we shall find there groups of infidels and schismatics, but we shall also find the Religious who have the care of it, preparing to sing the same Matins, and in the same Latin tongue, which we are to have. These Religious are the Children of St Francis, heroic followers of the poverty of their Divine Master, the Infant of Bethlehem. Because they are poor and humble therefore they have had, for upwards of four hundred years, the honour of being the sole guardians of these Holy Places, which the Crusaders grew tired of defending. Let us pray in Union with them to-night; and go with them, and kiss that sacred spot of the Cave, where is written in letters of gold: HERE WAS JESUS CHRIST BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY. (HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST.)

In vain, however, should we seek at Bethlehem for the holy Crib in which the Infant Jesus lay. The curse of God has struck that unhappy country, and deprived it of this precious relic, which now, for upwards of twelve hundred years, has been venerated in the centre of Catholicity, Rome, the favoured Spouse of Christ.

Rome, then, is the second place we must visit on this blessed Night. And in the Holy City itself there is one special Sanctuary which claims all our veneration and love. It is the Basilicaof the Crib, the splendid Church of Saint Mary Major. Of all the Churches which the people of Rome have erected in honour of the Mother of God, this is the grandest. It stands on the Esquiline, rich in its marble and gold, but richer still in its possessing, together with the Portrait of our Lady painted by St Luke, the humble yet glorious Crib of Jesus, of which the inscrutable designs of God have deprived Bethlehem. An immense concourse of people is to-night assembled in the Basilica, awaiting the happy moment when this monument of the love and the humiliation of a God will be brought in, carried on the shoulders of the Priests, as an Ark of the New Covenant, whose welcome sight gives the sinner confidence, and makes the just man thrill with joy. Thus has God willed that Rome, which was to be the new Jerusalem, should be also the new Bethlehem; and that the children of the Church should find, in this the unchangeable centre of their Faith, the varied and exhaustless nourishment of their Love.

But the Basilica of the Crib is not the only sanctuary in Rome which has an attraction for us to-night. An imposing ceremony, which embodies a profound mystery, is taking place, at this very hour, in the palace of the Vatican, near the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

The Divine Infant, who is to be born amongst us, is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, whose government is upon his shoulders [Isa. ix 6], as we shall sing to-morrow, with the Church. We have already seen how the God of Hosts has honoured this power of Emmanuel, by leading powerful Nations to acknowledge him who lay in the Crib of Bethlehem as the Lord to whom they owed their adoring fealty. The same recognition of that Babe as the Mighty God is made by the ceremony to which we allude. The Sovereign Pontiff, the Vicar of our Emmanuel, blesses, in his name, a Sword and Helmet, which are to be sent to some Catholic warrior who has deserved well of the Christian world. In a letter addressed to Queen Mary of England and to Philip, her husband, Cardinal Pole gives an explanation of this solemn rite. The sword is sent to some Prince, whom the Vicar of Christ wishes to honour in the name of Jesus, who is King: for the Angel said to Mary: The Lord will give unto him the Throne of David his father [St Luke i 32]. It is from him alone that the power of the sword comes [Rom. xiii 3, 4]; for God said to Cyrus: I have girded thee (with the sword) [Isa. xlv 1,5]; and the Psalmist thus speaks to the Christ of God: Gird thy Sword upon thy thigh, O thou most Mighty! [Ps. xliv 4]. And because the Sword should not be drawn save in the cause of justice, it is for that reason that a Sword is blessed on this Night, in the midst of which rises, born unto us, the divine Sun of Justice. On the Helmet, which is both the ornament and protection of the head, there is worked, in pearls, the Dove, which is the emblem of the Holy Ghost; and this to teach him who wears it that it is not from passion or ambition that he must use his sword, but solely under the guidance of the divine Spirit, and from a motive of spreading the Kingdom of Christ.

How beautiful is this union of energy and meekness under the one symbol and ceremony! This power of blending and harmonizing the varied beauty of distinct classes of truth is not to be found save in that Christian Rome, which is our Mother and where God has established the centre of Light and Love. The ceremony we have been describing is still observed. What a grand list it would be, had we the names of all those glorious Christian Warriors, who were thus created Knights of the Church, at this solemn hour, when we celebrate the Birth of him who came to vanquish our enemy! We are going to adore this Babe in his Crib; let us think of our Mother’s teaching, and pay homage to him as our Prince and King, and beseech him to humble the enemies of his Church, and vanquish those who are leagued against both our perfection and our salvation.

And now to the third of the sanctuaries, wherein is to be effected, this Night, the mystery of the Birth of Jesus. This third Sanctuary is near us; it is in us; it is our own heart. Our heart is the Bethlehem that Jesus desires to visit, and in which he would be born, there to live and grow unto a perfect man, as St Paul expresses it [Eph. iv 53]. Why, after all, was he born in the stable of the city of David, but that he might make sure of our heart, which he loved with an everlasting love, and so ardently that he came down from heaven to dwell in it? Mary’s virginal womb held him but for nine months; he wishes us to keep him for ever in our dwelling!

O heart of man, thou living Bethlehem, hold thyself in readiness, and keep a glad feast! Already, thou hast prepared thyself for this union with thy Jesus by the confession of thy misdeeds, by the contrition of thy sins, and by the satisfaction thou hast made for them. Now, therefore, be all attention: he is coming in the Midnight. Let him find everything ready, ready as were the Stable, the Crib and the Swaddling-clothes. True, thou hast nothing to offer him like what Mary and Joseph had - she, a Mother’s caresses; and he, the most solicitous and tender care; but thou hast an adoration and a love like those of the poor Shepherds, and these thou must offer. Like the Bethlehem yonder in the far east, thou art living in the midst of heresy, of infidelity, and of men who ignore the divine mystery of divine love: secret then, but hearty, must be thy prayers, like those which are ascending this night to heaven from the few faithful ones who are assembled in the Holy Cave with the Sons of St Francis; for in that unfortunate Palestine, which has been a slave to the most degrading errors for this last thousand years, there are still a few who know and love God. On this glad Midnight, let thy soul become like that splendid Basilica of Rome, which possesses the two treasures, the Holy Crib and the venerable Portrait of the Virgin Mother. Let thy affections and thoughts be pure as the white marble of its pillars; thy charity bright as the gold which glitters on its ceiling; thy deeds shining as the countless tapers which light up its beauty, and turn this night into the glare of a summer noon. Thou must learn, too, O soldier of Christ! to use a Christian’s weapons; thou must fight thy way to the Crib of thy Jesus; thou must fight for thy position there, and maintain it by the unbroken loyalty of thy love; thou must fight for the happy consummation of thy victory: union eternal with him. Treasure up these holy sentiments, and let them console and sanctify thee during these moments which precede the coming of Emmanuel into thee. O living Bethlehem! there is a word which heaven gave thee for these moments; take it up, and let it be thy ceaseless prayer; Come, Lord Jesus! come [Apoc. xxii 20].

It is time for us to depart, and go into the House of God. The Bells are not being rung for us, it is true - still, their melody wakens up Bethlehem in our hearts. How strange this joyous pealing at this midnight hour! But is not everything strange in this mysterious night of the Birth of God? He is going to show himself to us - but it is to be in a Crib, and as a little Child. When he came on Sinai, it was surrounded with thick clouds of smoke, and amidst thunder and lightning: now, there is nothing but humility, stillness and loveliness beyond measure. The Moon, emblem of the brightness reflected from Jesus upon Mary, is shedding its soft light on our path. The stars are twinkling in the firmament, and make us think of the Star which is so soon to rise and guide the Magi to our Saviour’s Crib.
And whilst thus thinking over all these strange mysteries, we have reached the porch of the Church. The Sanctuary sends its light down even to the threshold of the holy place. Beautiful sight, indeed! What wonder that King Clovis, as he entered the Church of Rheims on his first Christmas Night, stood dazzled with the blaze of light, and trembling with emotion said to St Remigius, who had just baptized him: ‘Father! is this the Kingdom thou didst promise me?’ ‘No, my Son,’ replied the Bishop, ‘it is but the way that will lead thee to it.’

Pope St. Leo the Great - Sermon for Christmas

by Fra Angelico
Sermon on the Feast of the Nativity, I.
I. All share in the joy of Christmas
Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lordthe destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the AlmightyLord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the sameform and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth Job 19:4 . Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacredseed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of theheavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result , she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, andElizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin. 
II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men
Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made John 1:1-3, with the purpose of delivering man frometernal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other. 
Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin's purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel's song when the Lord was born is this, Glory to God in the Highest, and their message, peace on earth to men of good will Luke 2:14 . For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought thehumbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?

III. Christians then must live worthily of Christ their Head
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit , Who for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us, has had pity on us: and when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ Ephesians 2:4-5, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil's thraldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Pope St. Leo the Great - Sermon for Advent

Painting by Fra Angelico

In this sermon, Pope Leo the Great preaches of the necessity of self-mortification, particularly in the season of Advent. During this season, we prepare ourselves both corporeally and spiritually for the coming of the Messiah, whose divine wisdom cannot well be infused into our souls if we are burdened down by mundane and fleshly cares. Advent therefore is a penitential season. Our adequate participation in the worship of the holy Child depends upon our worthy preparation. With one more day of Advent left, the spirit of penance should be heightened. Christmas Eve is indeed traditionally a day of both fast and abstinence. We should especially now, therefore, take the following words to heart.
On the Fast of the Ten Month, VIII. 
I. Self-restraint leads to higher enjoyments 
When the Saviour would instruct His disciples about the Advent of God's Kingdom and the end of the world's times, and teach His whole Church, in the person of the Apostles, He said, Take heed lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and care of this life Luke 21:34 . And assuredly, dearly beloved, we acknowledge that this precept applies more especially to us, to whom undoubtedly the day denounced is near, even though hidden. For the advent of which it behooves every man to prepare himself, lest it find him given over to gluttony, or entangled in cares of this life. For by daily experience, beloved, it is proved that the mind's edge is blunted by over-indulgence of the flesh, and the heart's vigour is dulled by excess of food, so that the delights of eating are even opposed to the health of the body, unless reasonable moderation withstand the temptation and the consideration of future discomfort keep from the pleasure. For although the flesh desires nothing without the soul, and receives its sensations from the same source as it receives its motions also, yet it is the function of the same soul to deny certain things to the body which is subject to it, and by its inner judgment to restrain the outer parts from things unseasonable, in order that it may be the oftener free from bodily lusts, and have leisure for Divine wisdom in the palace of the mind, where, away from all the noise of earthly cares, it may in silence enjoy holy meditations and eternal delights. And, although this is difficult to maintain in this life, yet the attempt can frequently be renewed, in order that we may the oftener and longer be occupied with spiritual rather than fleshly cares; and by our spending ever greater portions of our time on higher cares, even our temporal actions may end in gaining the incorruptible riches. 
II. The teaching of the four yearly fasts is that spiritual self-restraint is as necessary as corporeal 
This profitable observance, dearly beloved, is especially laid down for the fasts of the Church, which, in accordance with the Holy Spirit's teaching, are so distributed over the whole year that the law of abstinence may be kept before us at all times. Accordingly we keep the spring fast in Lent, the summer fast at Whitsuntide, the autumn fast in the seventh month, and the winter fast in this which is the tenth month, knowing that there is nothing unconnected with the Divine commands, and that all the elements serve the Word of God to our instruction, so that from the very hinges on which the world turns, as if by four gospels we learn unceasingly what to preach and what to do. For, when the prophet says, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork: day unto day utters speech, and night shows knowledge , what is there by which the Truth does not speak to us? By day and by night His voices are heard, and the beauty of the things made by the workmanship of the One God ceases not to instil the teachings of Reason into our hearts' ears, so that the invisible things of God may be perceived and seen through the things which are made, and men may serve the Creator of all, not His creatures. Since therefore all vices are destroyed by self-restraint, and whatever avarice thirsts for, pride strives for, luxury lusts after, is overcome by the solid force of this virtue, who can fail to understand the aid which is given us by fastings? For therein we are bidden to restrain ourselves, not only in food, but also in all carnal desires. Otherwise it is lost labour to endure hunger and yet not put away wrong wishes; to afflict oneself by curtailing food, and yet not to flee from sinful thoughts. That is a carnal, not a spiritual fast, where the body only is stinted, and those things persisted in, which are more harmful than all delights. What profit is it to the soul to act outwardly as mistress and inwardly to be a captive and a slave, to issue orders to the limbs and to lose the right to her own liberty? That soul for the most part (and deservedly) meets with rebellion in her servant, which does not pay to God the service that is due. When the body therefore fasts from food, let the mind fast from vices, and pass judgment upon all earthly cares and desires according to the law of its King. 
III. Thus fasting in mind as well as body, and giving alms freely, we shall win God's highest favour
Let us remember that we owe love first to God, secondly to our neighbour, and that all our affections must be so regulated as not to draw us away from the worship of God, or the benefiting our fellow slave. But how shall we worship God unless that which is pleasing to Him is also pleasing to us? For, if our will is His will, our weakness will receive strength from Him, from Whom the very will came; for it is God, as the Apostle says, who works in us both to will and to do for (His) good pleasure Philippians 2:13 . And so a man will not be puffed up with pride, nor crushed with despair, if he uses the gifts which God gave to His glory, and withholds his inclinations from those things, which he knows will harm him. For in abstaining from malicious envy, from luxurious and dissolute living, from the perturbations of anger, from the lust after vengeance, he will be made pure and holy by true fasting, and will be fed upon the pleasures of incorruptible delights, and so he will know how, by the spiritual use of his earthly riches, to transform them into heavenly treasures, not by hoarding up for himself what he has received, but by gaining a hundred-fold on what he gives. And hence we warn you, beloved, in fatherly affection, to make this winter fast fruitful to yourselves by bounteous alms, rejoicing that by you the Lord feeds and clothes His poor, to whom assuredly He could have given the possessions which He has bestowed on you, had He not in His unspeakable mercy wished to justify them for their patient labour, and you for your works of love. Let us therefore fast on Wednesday and Friday, and on Saturday keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, and he will deign to assist with his own prayers our supplications and fastings and alms which our Lord Jesus Christ presents, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

New Reflections on the Contemplative Life

St. Francis in the Wilderness
Having emerged from a period of quietude on this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my recent thoughts. Lately, my considerations of theology, philosophy, liturgy, spirituality, art, music, education, and life in general have in many ways coalesced and united. They are still in the process of merging into a larger system of thought. My readings of late have been various but not unrelated, ranging from the reflections on the monastic life by Dom Columba Marmion and Hubert Zeller, to the philosophical reflections on life, liturgy, and art, by the Thomist thinker Josef Pieper. And several more authors to go along with them. A common theme in my recent thought, motivated by all of these writers, has been the expansion of the spirituality of the liturgy to the whole arena of human life in general. This manner of thinking is one that is deeply contemplative, one which sees the world through a lens that is informed by the liturgical or sacramental mindset of the Church, as exemplified especially in her monastic tradition and that of the Fathers.

All of this has been especially pertinent to me as someone who has been professionally and classically trained as a musician. From childhood my parents helped to instill in me a love of classical music, and I have played the piano from a very young age, performing and experiencing firsthand the riches of the classical tradition. Moreover I have very often been involved in the liturgical choirs of my communities, and am generally familiar with the repertoire of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony. Liturgy and music have proven to be two of the most central aspects of my life, layman though I am. But recent studies have led me to see all of my musical experience in light of the liturgy itself, so that, even outside the context of the directly liturgical celebration, music has become to me something eminently liturgical.

A chapter on Music and Liturgy in Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy was especially instrumental in adapting my mind to this manner of thinking. Ratzinger has a way of uniting music and liturgy to life in general, opening up to an awareness of the whole of creation as a grand, cosmic liturgy, in which all creatures participate in the great song of praise. This vision of the world is deeply Biblical, echoing the words of the Psalms, and the song of the three youth in the furnace, which constantly attribute the praise of God to the works of creation: “Let the heavens proclaim the Lord…etc.” But this vision is also found in a philosophical form in the pagan thought of the ancient Greeks, such as Pythagoras and Plato, who saw the story of the cosmos as a divine musical composition. Music, like liturgy, bears a real relation to the work of God – indeed, “the work of God,” Opus Dei, is the name which is applied to the liturgy itself by St. Benedict.

Indeed, music is more than an arbitrary human convention: it is an art that springs from the depths of the nature of man – man who is the crown and pinnacle of the cosmos, the essential component that gives meaning to the whole. As such, music expresses the meaning of all creation, inasmuch as it is bound up in man himself. All of human desire, the inner straining after the true, good, and beautiful, is expressed in music. To the philosopher, music offers an opportunity to approach closer to the possession of the good, true, and beautiful; for the man informed by faith, music answers to the straining further after the triune God Himself. All of creation pertains to this condition of straining: no irrational or inanimate creature would be worth anything if it were not bound up somehow in the dynamism of human life. Music, therefore, by expressing the “weal and woe” of humanity (to use a phrase of Schopenhauer, quoted by Pieper), is also an expression of the meaning of the cosmos as a whole, the work of God.

This likeness of music to the liturgy itself is no accident. The book of Psalms – perhaps the single most important text in the liturgy – is notable for its employment of the whole range of human emotions in the service of divine worship. These are no mere animal passions. These are the passions transformed by the graces of supernatural knowledge and love, drawn up into and absorbed by the spiritual pursuit of God, the offering or gift of self. They are the very expression of that pursuit and that offering. Historically, the Psalms were not only the prayer book of the ancient Jews, but also the hymn book; indeed, to pray and to sing were practically the same thing for the Jews. Song is an expression of human emotion in its deepest essence, a complex reproduction of the spiritual life of humanity as such: whence its distinct and inexpressible power over the human spirit. It is only natural, therefore, that prayer be sung. Prayer: the expression of human selfhood in complete service to the almighty, and the direction of all passions and affections to worship and adoration – what better aid could prayer have but music, which intensifies and directs those very same affections in the very expression of them? Whence Augustine famously wrote that “He who sings prays twice,” and “Only the lover sings.” Liturgy, because it is so largely concerned with prayer and the offering of the self, with all its emotions and desires, must therefore be an eminently musical thing.

Something similar to what I have said of music may be said also of the other arts, and of course, the cosmos itself, in relation to the liturgy. All of the arts – practiced well (that is, of course, an indispensable condition) – can serve as a way of opening the human mind to the contemplation of the Truth. The arts, like music, play a sacramental role: they manifest the work of God, and thereby God Himself, to the one who sees with the eyes of faith. Hence, they afford an opportunity for the soul to offer itself to God in humble submission – to begin to be absorbed into the divine Beauty which peaks from underneath visible reality. The cosmos likewise is an opportunity for this experience. Indeed, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Viewed thus, all of life is transformed into an extension of the liturgy, a proclamation of God, an occasion for worship.

The saints were supernaturally alive with this contemplative, experiential vision of reality. They saw things through the eyes of faith, and thus were keenly aware of the divine Beauty which lies beneath the surface. Yea, more than this, they were aware of the divine Persons who exist all things by the presence of immensity (omnipresence) and who became present substantially in the souls of the saints themselves by a divine indwelling. The saints were absorbed into God, transformed, deified, lost in the “transluminous obscurity” of the divine which they were allowed to know in all things. In the words of the Pseduo-Areopagite, they were “patient of the divine things” by a certain “connaturality” or “sympathy” with them. Moreover, this mystical experience sometimes produced marvelous works of writing, poetry, and even music. The Confessions of Augustine are the work of a soul in tune with the universe and so in touch with God, a soul who breathed the life depicted by the book of Psalms, a soul who knew the depths of emotion conveyed in the music of contemplation: “How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face - tears that did me good.” Likewise, the Eucharistic hymns of Thomas Aquinas express the intimate contact with God which he attained through that great sacrament. The sublime music of St. Hildegard von Bingen cannot be described but as the very sound of a soul overwhelmed in divine ecstasy, attuned by the divine harmony.

Cancion de Angeles, by Bouguereau
These were men and women of faith: their experiences were of a supernatural level. By analogy, and at a natural level, there are also the poets and ancient philosophers who penetrated deeply into the meaning of things, saw and tasted the beauty and sweetness which lie at the root of every human longing. These were the men who found their way out of Plato’s cave, who reached beyond the boundaries of mundane existence and aspired to the true greatness that is man’s destiny (a greatness which is, paradoxically, man’s death to himself and renunciation of his present greatness, and an absorption into the greatness of Another). I am thinking of Plato himself, his student Aristotle, the poets and artists of human history, the Shakespeares and Keats’ and Shelleys, the Bachs and Mozarts and Chopins, the Boticellis and Da Vincis and Bouguereaus, and so many more – mystics in a natural but profound sense. These souls knew the ritual of life, they fulfilled to the best of their abilities the liturgical dimensions of human nature, so far as they were permitted within the bounds of nature. The example of these men demonstrates to us the inherent dynamism in man towards the fulfillment offered by the Christian life, which is first and foremost liturgical: the contact of the divine mystery, the experience and contemplation of the transcendent God, as it manifests itself in the opus Dei. Man, even in his natural state, is deeply aware of his calling to something greater than himself, something which he must possess. And so he desires to possess it. His life is marked by a constant straining for this possession.

Of course, men seek for this possession in various places, oftentimes the wrong places. Modern culture is marked by a disdain for the contemplative life just described: the vocations of the poet, the musician, and the cloistered monk all appear vain to modern man, who no longer appreciates the value of leisure. Our culture seeks human fulfillment in work and industry, in the active life divorced from contemplation. But as Josef Pieper shows in Leisure the Basis of Culture, this pursuit itself turns out to be vain in the end. Human life acquires its worth not from that which is useful or practical, but from that which is good on its own merits, for its own sake, per se; in other words, that which is the object of contemplation. In fact it is the most useless things that turn out to be the best and the most beautiful, the things of true value; whereas what is only useful turns out to be completely worthless.

Narcisuss, by John William Waterhouse
Another example is the modern tendency to exalt human selfhood as its stands. We live in a culture of narcissism. But as we have seen, the contemplative worldview which we have explored involves precisely the opposite of self-assertion or self-exaltation: it is the complete absorption of the self into the being of another. The ecstasy of the poets was the abandonment of themselves to the beauty which so captured their wonder and attention. Likewise, and even more so, the mark of the saints was the complete forgetfulness – nay, even renunciation – of themselves, to be completely united to God Himself. The story of these contemplative souls is a love story – not the love of self, but always the love of Another, whose Goodness is from and of Itself. Religion is indeed a kind of self-expression, but an expression of self-renunciation in submission to Another, not an expression of self-assertion. This is an especially important truth, the denial of which is extremely dangerous to the religious health of any human society. Any exaltation of the mundane, the ego, or the merely human risks neglecting the true value of any created thing, which comes not from itself but from God. All the contemplatives whom I have mentioned, whether artists, poets, or saints, recognized this truth in some manner. Either they implicitly experienced the bittersweet nostalgia for the divine perfection which is beyond all created goodness, or they directly experienced the divine sweetness itself by the gifts of grace and faith.
These are some of the thoughts which I have concluded, after considering the extension of the liturgical and contemplative mindset to the other areas of life. In brief, the liturgy transforms the vision of man so that he proceeds through all of life seeing the signs of God, and straining all the more after the sight of God Himself. By this account, man has a way of accessing God through all things, either in the distant manner of nature, or in the direct and experiential manner of grace. These thoughts may serve, moreover, to inform our understanding of education, which is the formation of the whole human person according to wisdom. Wisdom, as I have written on this blog before, comes in many forms, but all ordered towards the vision of God. The primary act of wisdom is contemplation, which is perfected by vision. Education will thus have vision as its end. The educated and cultured man therefore shares somehow in the character of the saints themselves, inasmuch as he is marked by the desire of this vision, “as a dear longs for fountains of water”; and for this reason he will live his life centered around and nourished by the sacred liturgy, and moreover always in accordance the spirit of its inner essence, which extends to all of human existence.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

St. Benedict- On the Spirit of Silence

From the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 6
Let us do what the Prophet says: "I said, 'I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.' I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38[39]:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words. 

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, "In much speaking you will not escape sin" (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). 

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress; the disciple's part is to be silent and to listen. And for that reason if anything has to be asked of the Superior, it should be asked with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence. 

But as for coarse jests and idle words or words that move to laughter, these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban, and for such conversation we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

Friday, 18 September 2015


The title of my blog was originally chosen, in the inability to think of anything else more profound, to indicate my purpose here as a pursuit of philosophical and theological knowledge. Much - nay, most - of what I have written, however, concerns the sacred liturgy. At first, I was afraid this might not fit the title perfectly, but I have since changed my mind. The common phrase in the Easter rites is "Wisdom! Be attentive!" The liturgy indeed has a direct relationship to wisdom. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Thomas, following Origen, writes that the divine worship is somehow a participation in the divine wisdom. In other places, following Psuedo-Dionysius, he writes that the liturgical signs have the purpose of turning our minds to God in contemplation. Contemplation itself, moreover, is founded on the gift of wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit. This being the very purpose of the liturgy, the connection to wisdom is essential. Hence, by a sort of accident, the liturgical focus of my blog has indeed come to square with my original title.

The liturgical orientation to wisdom involves above all things a profound sense of wonder at the mysteries of faith, the ineffable greatness of God that manifests itself under the veil of sacred signs. The liturgy is essentially sacramental - it is a complex of signs and symbols, intended to bring our minds into contact with certain hidden, divine realities. That contact, that touch, that "taste" of the divine sweetness is wisdom, or the contemplation that flows from wisdom. The Latin word for wisdom is sapientia, which comes from sapere - "to taste." Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, our knowledge of the divine truths is elevated to something more powerful than abstract knowledge: it becomes experiential. Our contemplation of these truths moreover has the effect of making us grow in charity, in devotion, in the union of ourselves to God - our divinization. This occurs principally through the contemplation of Christ's humanity - a sacrament, of sorts, of His divinity - which itself is signified through the sacramental rites of the liturgy - principally the Eucharist. Wisdom and sacramentality are intricately united in the liturgy.

They are also united in nature and the arts, and in things not supernatural. St. Thomas distinguishes three types of wisdom: that of the philosopher, that of the theologian, and that of the saint. The first is acquired through study and effort in the pursuit of truth, under the natural light of reason, using the principles of logic, metaphysics, and so forth. The philosopher seeks, as far as he is able, to know the highest causes of the universe. But this comes along also with an appreciation of the beauty of things. Beauty and truth are both objects of contemplation, inasmuch as truth has an intelligible beauty of its own, for which we are prepared to contemplate by the contemplation of the sensible beauty of created things. Nature thus assumes a kind of sacramentality of its own, so indispensable to the vocation of the natural theologian. The famous passage of Romans chapter 1 verse 20 comes to mind: "From the visible things of the world the invisible things of God are seen." Wisdom 13 asks, "Should they not learn to recognise the Artificer by the contemplation of his works?...Such great beauty even creatures have, reason is well able to contemplate the Source from which these perfections came." The philosopher thus has at his disposal the whole of the created world and its beauty, from which to gather up knowledge and contemplation of the higher realities. The fourth proof for the existence of God, given by St. Thomas, relies on this comparison of earthly beauty to its heavenly exemplar.

The second type of wisdom, that of the theologian, is likewise acquired by study and effort, but on the basis of faith, rather than the light of natural reason. Like the philosopher, the theologian seeks the highest causes, or Cause, of things, and he proceeds in a scientific manner to the knowledge of that Cause. Moreover, he too sees the created world as a source of knowledge, a sign of higher things; but he looks at the world also under the light of revelation, which elevates his knowledge to something supernatural. He sees now in the world a reflection of those truths which are not accessible to reason alone. He sees all of creation praising the Lord in the manner depicted so often by the Psalms, and thereby he finds himself better able to participate in the joy (and sorrow) of the Christian mystery. Moreover, the theologian knows by revelation the humanity of Christ, a sensible sign of divinity. The physical actions of Christ as man are known by the theologian as being also the spiritual works of God for the redemption of man. The liturgy, for the theologian, as well as the expressions and concepts of his science, are further signs which participate in the sacramentality of Christ's humanity, as means for the theologian to access the knowledge of God.

The third type of wisdom, which is the infused gift of the Holy Spirit, is on that account not acquired by human effort. It still makes use of created things in some way, as signs of higher realities, but the knowledge of those realities is of a different order completely. The theologian and the philosopher knew these realities still in a human mode, inseparable from discursive reasoning and reflection; the contemplative saint knows them in a divine mode, as God knows Himself, and all things in Himself. The saint participates in a very real way in the knowledge of God, in a manner more like to vision than speculation - albeit not with the clarity of Beatitude. For this reason, the contemplative soul makes use of material signs in such a way that he does not remain so bound up in them as the philosopher and the theologian do, but rests in a much more perfect degree in the purely spiritual comprehension of God. The liturgical signs especially, along with all created things, are the opportunity for the soul to receive from God the grace of such an intimate knowledge, a knowledge by connaturality with God, by "suffering divine things."

Each of these forms of wisdom is a foretaste of that Wisdom which is the Beatific Vision. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pope Pius XI on the Importance of the Liturgy

Pope Pius XI
People are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year -- in fact, forever. The church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God's teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.  
-- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, on the Kingship of Christ, paragraph 21
Pope Pius XI certainly recognized the superior experiential and mystical approach of the liturgy over a merely doctrinal approach. This squares nicely with the patristic, Thomistic, and all-around traditional Catholic understanding of the relationship between liturgy and doctrine: liturgy is indeed at the center of the Christian life, more so than doctrine, inasmuch as it allows the faithful to participate actually in the realities themselves which are the subject of doctrinal teaching. Liturgy enables a real encounter with the God that doctrine merely talks about.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Current Liturgical Questions and Attempted Solutions

St. Thomas Aquinas before a Crucifix

I have been researching a bit lately for a treatise I hope to write for my senior thesis at Thomas Aquinas College. Unsurprisingly, this treatise will deal with the subject of the liturgy. My first aim is to provide some foundations and principles from which to formulate a theology of the liturgy, relying principally on Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church - not to mention the sacred liturgy itself, most of all. A secondary aim is to provide some firm principles by which to evaluate the liturgical reforms of the last century. 

In my research, I have encountered several ideas all pertaining to the question of the liturgy with which I hope to better acquaint myself, and many questions and problems which I hope to resolve. In this post I would like to discuss some of those problems, many of which I have already discussed in some form or another on this blog. Many of my questions surround the question of liturgical realism. What I mean by liturgical realism is the understanding that the liturgy does not merely recall to mind, in an abstract or imaginative way, the mysteries of Christ, but it actually re-presents them here and now. In the liturgy, according to this understanding, the worshiper does not merely think about the mysteries, but he actually encounters or experiences them mystically. This is how the Fathers often treat of the liturgy. When the Fathers speak of liturgical symbolism, they speak with such conviction and passion that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that they believed they were actually re-visiting the mysteries represented in the liturgical signs. Oftentimes they expressly state this belief. For example, Dionysius the Areopagite states that through the sacred symbols we are led to the divine realities themselves, in order to attain our deification. If this understanding is correct, it seems to me all the greater a crime to basically reinvent the rites of the liturgy, as was done in the course of the 20th century.

I would like to understand precisely how the doctrine of liturgical realism is true. How is it possible that the mysteries of Christ are actually present, in a real way, here and now, not merely in our mental recollection of them? How is this different than the manner in which the seven sacraments re-present the sacred mysteries? What is the role of the liturgy with regard to grace?

Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948)
Modern explorations of liturgical realism inevitably involve a discussion of what is called the “theology of the mysteries.” In the early 20th century, a form of this doctrine appeared in the work of the highly controversial Benedictine monk, Dom Odo Casel, a theologian of the liturgy. He proposed basically a form of liturgical realism, according to which the mysteries of Christ’s life – His actions and passions, the events He wrought and experienced, etc. – somehow became really present in the liturgy. Casel compared the Catholic idea of liturgy to ancient Pagan ideas of creation, in which nature was viewed as a complex of symbols through which further realities could actually be encountered. Casel proposed that the Catholic liturgy was essentially the same thing: symbols through which the reality symbolized could actually be touched somehow. In the case of the liturgy, the realities symbolized are the mysteries – the acts and passions of Christ during His life. Thus, the mysteries are somehow present here and now in the liturgy, not just as past events commemorated or meditated upon, but as presently existing realities.

It is generally recognized that Casel did not adequately explain how this liturgical realism is possible; Casel did not write with an aim to give any philosophical explanation, after all. But his theory was the subject of much controversy. From the little research I have done, it appears that many Thomists of the neo-scholastic tradition (many of them hardcore Aristotelians) were included among those who could not accept Casel’s doctrine. Today, certain members of the Society of St. Pius X in fact accuse Casel of originating many of the ideas which influenced the liturgical reform (a claim which I rather doubt).

But certain voices among Thomists, calling for a deeper, renewed study of St. Thomas’ works, have discovered that Thomas himself embraced a certain “theology of the mysteries” which provides deeper and more adequate explanations than Dom Casel could formulate. St. Thomas’ doctrine, moreover, reveals itself to be deeply rooted in a tradition inherited from the Fathers of the Church themselves. Among the few writers who have called attention to this aspect of Thomas’ teaching is Jean-Pierre Torrell, OP, a scholar on the deeply spiritual theology of the Angelic Doctor. Torrell points out in Saint Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, that St. Thomas in fact developed a more detailed account of the mysteries than is generally recognized. In the Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas devotes a very large section to the life of Christ, and His actions and sufferings. This section of the Summa has until recently been much overlooked even by self-proclaimed Thomists. In this section, St. Thomas provides some simple but profound principles by which to explain the possibility of the ever-presence of the mysteries of Christ.

St. Thomas explains that the mysteries of Christ have the capacity to transcend all space and time on account of their spiritual power. Christ was not only man, but God; as such, all His actions and sufferings are efficacious for the salvation of man even now, 2000 years after Christ walked the earth. Moreover, due to the eternal nature of Christ's priesthood, which forms an essential part of His headship of the Church, the mysteries of Christ are accessible principally through the priestly ministry of the Church. Thus, it is possible for the faithful now to somehow be transported back in time, insofar as they come into contact with the specific graces associated with each of Christ's actions and passions which occurred in the past. (Not only this, but the faithful are also brought into mystical contact with heaven itself, which they hope to achieve. There is thus a marvelous convergence of past, present, and future in the Christology and Eschatology of the sacraments.) This provides a necessary basic principle for explaining how the mysteries of Christ may be present through the sacred liturgy. But the more specific details of this explanation are yet lacking. How is it that the liturgy has the power to bring us into contact with the graces of Christ's mysteries?

The Crucifixion, by Fra Angelico

On a Thomistic basis, it is easy to answer this question with regard to the sacraments. The sacraments have been instituted by God as instrumental causes of grace, such that they actually contain the powers of Christ's mysteries and sanctifying grace itself. But it is not so easy with the extra-sacramental parts of the liturgy, which, though they in many ways resemble the sacraments themselves, are distinct from them. The liturgy, like the sacraments, consists in signs and symbols of higher realities. But St. Thomas says that "Holy Water and other consecrated things are not called sacraments, because they do not produce the sacramental effect, which is the receiving of grace" (IIIa, q.65, a.2, ad.6). This is essentially the modern distinction between sacraments and "sacramentals" - the latter including the sacred liturgy itself: sacraments confer grace, but sacramentals do not. St. Thomas goes on to say: "They are, however, a kind of disposition to the sacraments: either by removing obstacles: thus holy water is ordained against the snares of the demons, and against venial sins: or by making things suitable for the conferring of a sacrament; thus the altar and vessels are consecrated through reverence for the Eucharist."

However, although the sacramentals do not confer grace, they nonetheless maintain an intimate connection with grace. St. Thomas says elsewhere that "Human institutions observed in the sacraments are not essential to the sacrament; but belong to the solemnity which is added to the sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients" (IIIa,  q.64, a.2, ad.1). This devotion, St. Thomas writes, comes not without contemplation, for "devotion is an act of the will to the effect that man surrenders himself readily to the service of God. Now every act of the will proceeds from some consideration, since the object of the will is a good understood... Consequently meditation [or contemplation] must needs be the cause of devotion" (IIa IIae, q.82, a.3). In particular, devotion is aroused by the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ (Ibid, a.3, ad.2). Since the sacramentals and liturgical objects surrounding the sacraments have the purpose of arousing devotion, it seems that a contemplative disposition is imperative in the well-reception of the sacraments themselves. However, contemplation itself, which St. Thomas understands as an experiential knowledge of God, is impossible without grace. This contemplation is infused by God from the outside, unattainable by human effort. It is founded on the gift of wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit, which pertains only to the life of grace.

Thus, on the one hand, the liturgy, a sacramental, does not have the power of giving grace in the manner that the sacraments do. But on the other hand, the liturgy does have the purpose of arousing devotion, which is caused by contemplation, which itself is caused by none other than grace. Sanctifying grace comes with an increase of the three theological virtues, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the highest of which is wisdom - the foundation of contemplation. So even sacramentals must have a connection to grace, though not as instrumental causes, as in the case of the sacraments. Interestingly, in the case of the sacraments, St. Thomas adamantly opposes the theory that the sacraments merely constitute an occasion in which God grants grace. In more modern terminology, this is the idea of moral causality. Rather, St. Thomas insists, the sacraments themselves inherently have the God-given power to confer grace - the theory of instrumental and physical causality. I wonder, however, would St. Thomas endorse a theory of moral causality with regard to the sacramentals, and thus the parts of the liturgy not divinely instituted?

St. Thomas teaches in several places, following in the footsteps of Dionysius the Areopagite, that the signs and symbols in the sacred liturgy are meant to lead the mind of the worshiper to divine things, so as to be united spiritually to God. In other words, the sacred signs are meant to lead the mind to contemplation. However, infused contemplation, precisely because it is infused, cannot be acquired by human effort. Hence, the liturgy, as a human institution, cannot simply by itself lead the mind to infused contemplation; rather, it can only be the fitting occasion, as it were, for the infusion of contemplation. As such, it is the fitting occasion for the infusion of sanctifying grace, modified, as it were, by each of Christ's mysteries presented in the liturgical rites. Liturgy is the preparation of the soul for the well-reception of the grace which flows from each of the individual works of Christ. The sacred liturgy itself proclaims this doctrine in many instances, when it petitions God to make efficacious the graces of a specific mystery, as in the collect for the Transfiguration: "Sanctify, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts offered by the glorious transfiguration of Thine only begotten Son, and by the splendors of that very illumination cleanse us from the stains of our sins." This implies, further, that the reception of the sacraments themselves will be all the more beneficial and complete in the very context of the liturgy.

Thus, although the liturgy is a human institution, it cannot be purely so, simply because it is so powerful an aid to the reception of grace and contemplation. The liturgy is an occasion of grace precisely because it is rooted firmly in faith in the mysteries of Christ, which are divine. The mysteries of Christ are revealed to us in a more or less determinate scheme (which is manifest even amidst the variety of liturgical rites - indeed, complemented by it), and our receptivity to them must be conditioned according to that scheme, in conformity and openness to it. This means that, in order to be a "patient of divine things" (in the words of Thomas and Dionysius), it is imperative to maintain a disposition of humility, self-denial, and self-alienation, and a complete devotion to the work of God. In the liturgy, everything must revolve, not around man or the self-hood of the worshiper, but around God and the God-man Jesus Christ. We must direct our attention away from the merely human, the common, and the mundane, and focus in on the divine mysteries themselves, so that they may draw us up in contemplation to divine union.

This has several further consequences, two of which are especially important in considering the present liturgical crisis. Firstly, it is a grave crime to reduce the theocentricity of the liturgy and create an heightened awareness of man's humanity and self-hood in its place. The only legitimate place for man's self-consideration in the liturgy is in humble submission to God, so that God may draw the soul up to Himself towards the divine intimacy that is the goal of worship. There is no place for self-assertion or self-"fulfillment," in the common sense of those terms. Worship is precisely the wrong place for man to assert his own value as man. Rather, it is where man must recognize his nothingness before God, in order to be united to Him by grace and contemplation. Man's divinization is only accomplished by the grace of God encountered in His mysteries. I have discussed in other posts certain ways in which the liturgical reform violated these very principles, producing a liturgy that promotes human self-hood at the cost of the theocentricity and christocentricity of the traditional liturgy.

Secondly, since the liturgy is rooted in a divine faith in the sacred mysteries, it must be received as something from tradition, not constructed at the whims of men. The best liturgical historians have asserted that all the great classical rites were not written by men; rather, they grew organically from the seeds which Christ planted in His life, teaching, and institution of the sacraments. Christ Himself taught that "No one comes to the Father except through Me." From the beginning, it was thus ingrained in the Christian instinct that in order to reach the Father, it is necessary to participate in the life of the Son, the Incarnate Word. "God became man so that man might become God," said St. Athanasius. Many other Fathers too, such as St. Augustine, attest to the ancient belief in the necessity of participation in the mysteries. The liturgy, revolving around the sacraments of Christ, developed as the realization of this very principle. The contemplation of the mysteries and the reception of the sacraments naturally gave birth to the liturgical rites, and men simply followed the lead of divine inspiration in executing the acts of worship. Every new development of the liturgy was thus always in harmony with, or indeed extrapolated from, what came before, so that everything in the liturgy was founded on the basic institutions of Christ. Tradition was the norm, and development always occurred on the basis of tradition. But at various points in history, men sought to usurp the role of tradition and re-construct the liturgy according to their own conceptions. The 20th century has yielded the most recent examples of this. The result was almost always an imperfect and deficient means of leading the soul to contemplation and participation in the sacred mysteries.

These points could be argued with more substantial support from the writings of St. Thomas and the Fathers of the Church, such as Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Pope Leo the Great, and others. I think it can be well established that the tradition which we have inherited as Catholics, East and West, contains the seeds of a liturgical theology according to which the recent reforms cannot be condoned. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Plato's 'Phaedo': The Desirability of Death

Merely because I find it so fascinating, I am posting an excerpt from the Platonic dialogue, Phaedo, wherein Plato attempts to show that the philosopher must have a certain desire for death. Socrates has been condemned to death, and seeks to convince his friends that he has good reason not to be afraid in such circumstances.
And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?
Simmias laughed and said: Though not in a laughing humor, I swear that I cannot help laughing when I think what the wicked world will say when they hear this. They will say that this is very true, and our people at home will agree with them in saying that the life which philosophers desire is truly death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the death which they desire.
And they are right, Simmias, in saying this, with the exception of the words "They have found them out"; for they have not found out what is the nature of this death which the true philosopher desires, or how he deserves or desires death. But let us leave them and have a word with ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being dead is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in herself, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the soul-that is death?
Exactly: that and nothing else, he replied.
And what do you say of another question, my friend, about which I should like to have your opinion, and the answer to which will probably throw light on our present inquiry: Do you think that the philosopher ought to care about the pleasures-if they are to be called pleasures-of eating and drinking?
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what do you say of the pleasures of love-should he care about them?
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body-for example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
I should say the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of the body and turn to the soul.
That is true.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the body.
That is true.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having; but that he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though he were dead.
That is quite true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge?-is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses?-for you will allow that they are the best of them?
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Yes, that is true.
Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?
That is true.
And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul runs away from the body and desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an absolute justice?
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
Of course.
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Certainly not.
Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense? (and I speak not of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything). Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of the essence of that which he considers?
And he attains to the knowledge of them in their highest purity who goes to each of them with the mind alone, not allowing when in the act of thought the intrusion or introduction of sight or any other sense in the company of reason, but with the very light of the mind in her clearness penetrates into the very fight of truth in each; he has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and of the whole body, which he conceives of only as a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge when in company with her-is not this the sort of man who, if ever man did, is likely to attain the knowledge of existence?
There is admirable truth in that, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when they consider all this, must not true philosophers make a reflection, of which they will speak to one another in such words as these: We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?
Certainly, Socrates.
But if this is true, O my friend, then there is great hope that, going whither I go, I shall there be satisfied with that which has been the chief concern of you and me in our past lives. And now that the hour of departure is appointed to me, this is the hope with which I depart, and not I only, but every man who believes that he has his mind purified.
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And what is that which is termed death, but this very separation and release of the soul from the body? 
Simply speaking, according to an Aristotelian philosophy, this argument fails; for man is a creature composed of both body and soul, whereas Plato regards man as a soul encaged within a body. Consequently, Plato holds that man cannot have speculative knowledge unless he divorces himself from the body, which is otherwise an obstacle to the acquisition of this knowledge. The Aristotelian, on the contrary, recognizes that man cannot exercise philosophy or even have any kind of speculative knowledge without the aid of the body; for the agent intellect must abstract from the phantasm in the imagination, which in turn only exists because of the senses themselves. 

That being said, I do think there is a way in which a Thomist theologian - who is also an Aristotelian philosopher - may elevate Plato's idea to a conformity with Christian theology. In this life, the Thomist says, natural knowledge can only be attained with the aid of the bodily senses. But due to fallen human nature, the body has also become a burden and a hindrance. The flesh rebels against the spirit, influences it, sometimes deadens it. Consequently, in order to rise to perfect contemplation of the truth - the divine truth - one must first prepare oneself by rising above the senses, mortifying the body, checking the bodily passions, etc. This is necessary until death, after which - hopefully - the harmony of the human person will be restored, and the soul will rest in the vision of the divine essence, and the body will enjoy the fullness of its own perfection. For the Christian, death is desirable not for its own sake, but only because it is a necessary step to a fuller life.