Friday, 27 February 2015

Dom Gueranger on the the Liturgical Year

The following passage is taken from Dom Gueranger's preface to The Liturgical Year. This is, I think, an excellent summary of the ancient teaching of the fathers of the Church on the liturgy as something which allows us to relive the work of God. Gueranger's writing is permeated with a sense of liturgical realism, the idea that we not only are enabled to think about the mysteries of faith, through the liturgy, but are also enabled to encounter them mystically, in a very real way. The work of salvation is thereby constantly renewed in us, in a way that fosters and nourishes grace and faith and steers us on towards our final destiny.
This is also shows the divine character of the liturgy, which is something quite beyond the power of human creativity to concoct. The liturgy as received in tradition cannot be attributed to the ingenuity of any single individual, or even group of individuals. It can only be attributed to the work of God, working through the hands of men. 
The year thus planned for us by the Church herself produces a drama the sublimest that has ever been offered to the admiration of man. God intervening for the salvation and sanctification of men; the reconciliation of justice with mercy; the humiliations, the sufferings, and the glories of the God-Man; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and His workings in humanity and in the faithful soul; the mission and the action of the Church - and are there portrayed in the most telling and impressive way. Each mystery has its time and place by means of the sublime succession of the respective anniversaries. A divine fact happened nineteen hundred years ago; its anniversary is kept in the liturgy, and its impression is thus reiterated every year in the minds of the faithful, with a freshness, as though God were then doing for the first time what He did so many ages past. Human ingenuity could never have devised a system of such power as this. And those writers who are bold and frivolous enough to assert that Christianity has no longer an influence in the world, and is now but the ruin of an ancient thing - what would they say at seeing these undying realities, this vigour, this endlessness of the liturgical year? For what is the liturgy, but an untiring affirmation of the works of God? a solemn acknowledgement of those divine facts, which, though done but once, are imperishable in man’s remembrance, and are every year renewed by the commemoration he makes of them? Have we not our writings of the apostolic age, our acts of the martyrs, our decrees of ancient Councils, our writings of the fathers, our monuments, taking us to the very origin of Christianity, and testifying to the most explicit tradition regarding our feasts? It is true that the liturgical cycle has its integrity and its development nowhere but in the Catholic Church; but the sects which are separated from her, whether by schism or by heresy, all pay the homage of their testimony to the divine origin of the liturgy by the pertinacity with which they cling to the remnants they have preserved - remnants, by the way, to which they owe whatever vitality they still retain.

But though the liturgy so deeply impresses us by annually bringing before us the dramatic solemnization of those mysteries which have been accomplished for the salvation of man and for his union with his God, it is nevertheless wonderful how the succession of year after year diminishes not one atom of the freshness and vehemence of those impressions, and each new beginning of the cycle of mystic seasons seems to be our first year. Advent is ever impregnated with the spirit of a sweet and mysterious expectation. Christmas ever charms us with the incomparable joy of the birth of the divine Child. We enter, with the well-known feeling, into the gloom of Septuagesima. Lent comes, and we prostrate ourselves before God’s justice, and our heart is filled with a salutary fear and compunction, which seem so much keener than they were the year before. The Passion of our Redeemer, followed in every minutest detail, does it not seem as though we never knew it till this year? The pageant of Easter makes us so glad, that our former Easters appear to have been only half kept. The triumphant Ascension discloses to us, upon the whole economy of the Incarnation, secrets which we never knew before this year. When the Holy Ghost comes down at Pentecost, is it not the case that we so thrill with the renewal of the great Presence that our emotions of last Whit Sunday seem too tame for this? However habituated we get to the ineffable gift which Jesus made us on the eve of His Passion, the bright dear feast of Corpus Christi brings a strange increase of love to our heart; and the blessed Sacrament seems more our own than ever. The feasts of our blessed Lady come round, each time revealing something more of her greatness; and the saints - with whom we fancied we had become so thoroughly acquainted - each year as they visit us, seem so much grander, we understand them better, we feel more sensibly the link there is between them and ourselves.

This renovative power of the liturgical year, to which we wish to draw the attention of our readers, is a mystery of the Holy Ghost, who unceasingly animates the work which He has inspired the Church to establish among men; that thus they might sanctify that time which has been given to them for the worship of their Creator. The renovation works also a twofold growth in the mind of man: the increase of knowledge of the truths of faith, and the development of the supernatural life. There is not a single point of Christian doctrine which, in the course of the liturgical year, is not brought forward, nay, is not inculcated with that authority and unction where with our holy mother the Church has so deeply impregnated her words and her eloquent rites. The faith of the believer is thus enlightened more and more each year; the theological sensus is formed in him; prayer leads him to science. Mysteries continue to be mysteries; but their brightness becomes so vivid, that the mind and heart are enchanted, and we begin to imagine what a joy the eternal sight of these divine beauties will produce in us, when the glimpse of them through the clouds is such a charm to us.

Yes, there must needs be a great progress in a Christian soul, when the object of her faith is ever gaining greater light; when the hope of her salvation is almost forced upon her by the sight of all those wonders which God’s goodness has wrought for His creatures; and when charity is enkindled within her under the breath of the Holy Ghost, who has made the liturgy to be the centre of His working in men’s souls. Is not the formation of Christ within us [Gal. iv. 19] the result of our uniting in His various mysteries, the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious. These mysteries of Jesus come into us, are incorporated into us each year, by the power of the special grace which the liturgy produces by communicating them to us the new man gradually grows up, even on the ruins of the old. Then again, in order that the divine type may the more easily be stamped upon us, we need examples; we want to see how our fellow-men have realized that type in themselves: and the liturgy fulfil this need for us, by offering us the practical teaching and the encouragement of our dear saints, who shine like stars in the firmament of the ecclesiastical year. By looking upon them we come to learn the way which leads to Jesus, just as Jesus is our Way which leads to the Father. But above all the saints, and brighter than them all, we have Mary, showing us, in her single person, the Mirror of Justice, in which is reflected all the sanctity possible in a pure creature.
Dom Gueranger's approach to the liturgy can be well applied now that we are in the season of Lent. During Lent, we have an opportunity to place ourselves humbly in the presence of God, praying and doing penance, as Christ did in the desert, for our sins, being purified as the earth was purified in the forty days of the deluge. At the end of Lent we will witness the passion of our Lord take place, and the essential work of our purification accomplished. This is no mere mental recollection. This is the work of Christ being presented to us for our true participation in it.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

More on the Loss of Septuagesima

"...Babylon, that city which plots our ruin..."

About a year ago, I wrote here on the problems with the post-conciliar abolition of the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. This season was traditionally a time of preparation for the coming season of Lent, during which we do penance for our sins, in mourning for the death of Christ which we ourselves have inflicted upon him. The three weeks prior to Lent, though not a season of obligatory penance, nonetheless serve to prepare Christian minds for the entrance into the strictly penitential season. While penances have not yet begun in this season, the penitential spirit now begins to take its place in the souls of the worshipers.

But there is also a profound symbolism connected with this season which was lost in the post-conciliar reform. The liturgical year repeatedly presents us with opportunities to consider the history of salvation insofar as it is effected through each of the mysteries celebrated.. One of the significant ways in which this is accomplished is by a renewal and repetition of the imagery of the seven days of creation. The fathers of the Church, based firmly in scriptural footing, understood the number seven to be fundamental for understanding all of human history as directed towards eternal salvation. The concept of the eighth day was accordingly understood as a sign of salvation itself. This concept of the eighth day is firmly rooted in scripture. Circumcision in the Old Testament, which prefigured Baptism, was accomplished on the eighth day by the command of God. The Resurrection of Christ occurred on the first day of the week - the day after the sabbath. The number eight thus signifies resurrection, new life, the renewal of creation, and so, ultimately, eternal salvation itself. The patristic tradition, exemplified by St. Augustine in The City of God, divides all of human history into seven ages. The seventh age, corresponding to the seventh day, signifies a final resting in God in this life, but not yet the eternal life of the beatific vision. This eternal life is the eighth day, a never ending day.

This numerological symbolism manifests itself liturgically in many ways, such as in the division of the traditional liturgical year into seven seasons: Advent, Christmas, Septuagesima, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, and Pentecost. Moreover, within this framework itself there are many other indications of the deep symbolism of the numbers seven and eight. A notable example is the celebration of octaves - eight day prolongations of the celebrations of certain feasts. Before the reforms of the 20th century, octaves were a common feature of the liturgical calendar. This symbolism also appears in the period between Easter and Pentecost. The number seven has many other significant meanings in the life of the Church (seven sacraments, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.), and could take a treatise all by itself.

It dawned on me when reading Dom Gueranger that the time comprising Septuagesima through Easter is another particular manifestation of this symbolism within the liturgical year. Septuagesima Sunday marks the seventieth day (7 x 10) before Easter itself. In this season we enter into a renewed commemoration of the mystery of salvation and its working through history. The word Septuagesima signifies the number seventy, in commemoration of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity - itself a symbol of the captivity of man in sin. The Church adapts the symbolism of seventy years to the period of forty days plus the three weeks of Septuagesima - not an exact equality (it amounts to 63 days), but the essential idea of the numerological symbolism is preserved. Lent itself is also named Quadragesima. Hence, the period from Septuagesima symbolically constitutes a reverse countdown, so to speak, to Easter day, which marks the end of the seventy days. We are aware in a special way, during this time, of our captivity in sin, and the history of our salvation is presented for our contemplation in a specially vivid way. The collects of this period begin to remind us ever so poignantly of the darker realities of our fallen nature.

The Collect of Septuagesima Sunday:
The prayers of your people, we beseech you, O Lord, graciously hear, that we who are justly afflicted on account of our sins may be, for the sake of your name, mercifully set free.
The Collect of Sexagesima Sunday:
O God, who see that we trust in no deed of our own: mercifully grant that we may be defended against all hostile forces by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles. [There is a special devotion to St. Paul expressed in the liturgy of this day.]
The Collect of Quinquagesima Sunday (which is today):
Our prayers, we beseech you, O Lord, mercifully hear: and, when we have been freed from the fetters of our sins, protect us from every misfortune.
This rich theology and spirituality of the liturgy - with all its deep biblical and patristic symbolism of the seven days and their culmination in the eternal eighth - is quite lost in the liturgy of Pope Paul VI. The traditional symbolism of man's bondage in sin, from which he is freed by the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and reborn into eternal life on the eighth day, is now quite botched and distorted. As a consequence, that continuous contemplation through the liturgical year, previously facilitated by the ancient liturgical tradition, is now crippled and maimed.

This is a classic example of where the rationalistic concerns of the liturgical reformers were given precedence over the theology already inherent in the traditional liturgy. Rationalism subjects everything in the liturgy to human scrutiny, and the suitability of liturgical elements is judged in the cold light of the principles of "reason." The reformers considered Septuagesima to be superfluous, and unnecessary backward extension of Lent (which, of course, it is not). "Reason" would demand that such a thing be done away with; so they did away with it. They thought that by eliminating Septuagesima they could "restore Lent to its full importance" (in the words of Archbishop Bugnini). Lauren Pristas argues persuasively that quite the opposite is true, since one does not really tend to prepare for what is not important - as the Church does in the preparatory season of Septuagesima. Moreover, Septuagesima fits into the symbolic framework of the number seven, something worth preserving in and of itself. But the ancient tradition of the Church was not well enough esteemed. Rationalism prevailed, and the Church lost yet another of the riches of her venerable liturgy.

I close with a brief meditation from Dom Gueranger, from his own treatise on the Mystery of Septuagesima:
We are sojourners upon this earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots our ruin. If we love our country, - if we long to return to it, - we must be proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives. She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river’s bank, till the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem [Ps. cxxv]. She will ask us to sing to her the melodies of our dear Sion: but, how shall we, who are so far from home, have heart to sing the Song of the Lord in a strange Land? [Ps. cxxxvi]. No, - there must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage, or we shall deserve to be slaves for ever.

St. John Damascus - Concerning Worship in the East

The following passage is a chapter from St. John Damascus'  Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.
It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light (1 John 1:5), and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, you kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rides upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed (Genesis 2:8): and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West. So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses (Leviticus 16:14) had its veil and mercy seat towards the East. Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East (Numbers 2:3). Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven (Acts 1:11); as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning comes out of the East and shines even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:27).

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.
This is, I think, a good example of the patristic attitude towards liturgical worship. Of note is the deep reverence for tradition that underlies the reason for every liturgical action. This reverence for tradition, methinks, is founded in an understanding of the profound symbolic element of the liturgy, according to which it is a complex of signs pointing to higher realities for man's contemplation. As such it is not within man's authority to mould the liturgy according to his own conceptions. The liturgy and its symbolism are molded naturally through the centuries, for man to receive for his own edification in the worship of God. The liturgy is treated as a given.