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.


  1. A wonderful Post.

    Thank You.

    Dom Gueranger never fails to encourage one to read, or understand, The Liturgy.

    A Great Blessing. Ideal for Lenten Recollection.

  2. How apposite !!!

    I've just seen a Post about Dom Gueranger, on the Blog "Vultus Christi", at
    which is a MUST READ for all your Readers.

    I respectfully commend it to you and your Readers.

    It is headlined: "Dom Guéranger: A Prophet".