10 June 2015

Liturgical Prayer Is Also the Law of Our Faith



Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. During His mortal life, He was all of that for us by His immediate action. Since his Ascension, the Church replaces Him and exercises the same functions of way, truth, and life. She is the way by means of her Sacraments especially. By Baptism, she grafts us into the vine, she associates us to His Person as members, she unites us to Him as Head. The Holy Eucharist accentuates and perfects this union. The sacramental liturgy presides, under the guard of the Holy Spirit, over this sacramental action of the Church, and her rites and her ceremonies explain and interpret the true doctrine on this capital point in a way that is authentic and adapted to the intelligence of the faithful. This is why the Council of Trent wishes that pastors explain often these rites to their sheep. She (the Church) is truth because lex orandi lex credendi: liturgical prayer is also the law of our faith.

During the Ages of Faith, although the vast majority of the faithful were uneducated, neither knowing how to read nor possessing books, they were, nonetheless, much more instructed in the mysteries of our faith, in the mystery of Christ, than are the men and women of our days. They had explained to them the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass, the lessons of the Office; in a word, the Church, our mother herself instructed her children in an authentic manner. Erunt docibiles Dei (John 6:45; Isaias 54:13).

The liturgy, under the breath of the Holy Ghost, draws from the Holy Scriptures, the tradition: the symbolism of the Church, a doctrine that is pure and perfectly adapted to the soul of the faithful. It was in the liturgy that I learned to know Saint Paul and the Gospels. The liturgical texts, for example the Masses de tempore, are masterpieces of doctrinal composition. There the New Testament is explained by the Old, the soul’s attitudes towards God are indicated in the orations. Little by little the soul becomes penetrated with these things and finds her mental prayer prepared by our mother, the Church, as Jacob found the repast prepared by his mother for his father Isaac.

In the 16th century, under the influence of a certain school of the Society of Jesus, the prayer of the faithful came to be divorced from the prayer of the Church. The soul, left alone, withdrawn into herself, sought the meaning of the Scriptures by reasonings and no longer went to Our Lord through the Church; from this stems the great difficulty that souls experience in prayer. To my knowledge, thousands of priests who learned, in seminary, to practice this laborious and dry mental prayer, abandoned it after their ordination, to the great detriment of their souls. The liturgy, understood as the authentic organ by means of which the Church prays and teaches her children to pray, belongs to the whole Church, and Pius X strongly engaged all the priests, the bishops, and the religious Orders to cooperate with him in putting in back into vigour. This was part of his instaurare omnia in Christo, “restoring all things in Christ”. So well did Saint Teresa understand this that she said she would give her life for the smallest liturgical rubric. Understood in this way, it [the liturgy] is not the prerogative or the specialisation of any given religious Order; it belongs to the Church!

If, by the liturgy, you mean the splendour of the offices, or liturgical scholarship, then I do believe that the Order of Saint Benedict is especially called to its study and its exercise, serving, in this way, as a source and model of liturgical knowledge. The good that I have been able to do souls — men, women, children, rich, poor, all —in revealing to them the treasures of spiritual life, of light, of facility in their relations with God that are contained in the liturgy, demonstrates to me the very great importance for every priest, parish priest, curate, for all, to work at spreading abroad this wellspring of spiritual life [that is] so secure and so ecclesial.

--Blessed Columba Marmion, in a letter to a spiritual directee

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