The Supreme Rule of the Council

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Our Benedictine Pope

In his address to the clergy of Rome last Thursday (14 February 2012), the Holy Father revealed something of his own profoundly Benedictine soul by quoting the Rule of Saint Benedict, and by giving us the text he quoted as the key to understanding and interpreting the Second Vatican Council. Operi Dei nihil praeponatur (Rule of Saint Benedict 43:3). In fact, the Holy Father calls this phrase "the supreme rule of the Council." Would that this "supreme rule" had been understood and implemented during the past fifty years!

Beginnings and Re-Beginnings

What the Holy Father declares, concerning the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, is an over-arching principle that must be applied to every beginning and to every re-beginning in the life of the Church. "It was, let us say, truly an act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy, God, adoration." Had this principle been applied to the new beginnings of diocesan and parish life, and to the new beginnings or re-foundings of religious life, what might the fruits have been?

It is, I think, never to late to begin again. Is this not one of the truths that the liturgy of Lent presents to us again and again? Who will have the courage to begin again, starting this time around from the supreme and indispensable terminus a quo: the liturgy, God, adoration.

The Liturgy, God, and Adoration

To begin with the liturgy is not to set about tinkering with it; it is to submit to it, as it is. To begin with God is not to engage in a critical analysis of theology; it is to to fall prostrate saying, "The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God" (1 Kings 18:39). To begin with adoration is, in the inspired words of the Cherubic Hymn of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, "to lay aside all earthly cares" in homage to "the King of KIngs who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts."


Not long ago, a religious wrote me expressing concern over the direction being taken, even now, by her Institute. My question to her and to other consecrated men and women would be: Was the reform and renewal of your Institute guided and directed by what Pope Benedict XVI calls "the supreme rule of the Council"? Did it begin in humble submission to the Sacred Liturgy as it was and as it is? Was the point of departure of all your deliberations God . . . or man? Was the ambiance in which your renewal unfolded one of adoration?

Now Is the Acceptable Time

The time of catering to the appetite for novelty, to the demands of itching ears, and to the voices of dissent repeating the latest secularist ideologies is over. Reflecting on the situation here in Ireland, it seems to me that "now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2) to begin afresh: with the liturgy, with God, with adoration. Operi Dei nihil praeponatur -- "Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God" (Rule of Saint Benedict 43:3). If this is, in fact, the supreme rule of the Council, then it must be the supreme rule for straightening the crooked paths of the past fifty years, for leveling the mountains of our accumulated ideological prejudices, and for rebuilding, in the Holy Spirit, a temple worthy of the thrice-holy God: the Body of Christ, His Church.

Excerpt from the Discourse of Pope Benedict XVI 14 February 2013
The Beauty, the Profundity of the Missal
After the First World War, Central and Western Europe had seen the growth of the liturgical movement, a rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy, which until then had remained, as it were, locked within the priest's Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their own prayer books, prepared in accordance with the heart of the people, seeking to translate the lofty content, the elevated language of classical liturgy into more emotional words, closer to the hearts of the people. But it was as if there were two parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar-servers, who celebrated Mass according to the Missal, and the laity, who prayed during Mass using their own prayer books, at the same time, while knowing substantially what was happening on the altar. But now there was a rediscovery of the beauty, the profundity, the historical, human, and spiritual riches of the Missal and it became clear that it should not be merely a representative of the people, a young altar-server, saying "Et cum spiritu tuo", and so on, but that there should truly be a dialogue between priest and people: truly the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people should form one single liturgy, an active participation, such that the riches reach the people. And in this way, the liturgy was rediscovered and renewed.
Operi Dei nihil praeponatur
I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. "Operi Dei nihil praeponatur": this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council. Some have made the criticism that the Council spoke of many things, but not of God. It did speak of God! And this was the first thing that it did, that substantial speaking of God and opening up all the people, the whole of God's holy people, to the adoration of God, in the common celebration of the liturgy of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this sense, over and above the practical factors that advised against beginning straight away with controversial topics, it was, let us say, truly an act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy, God, adoration.


"It is, I think, never to late to begin again."

Deo gratias.

~ Br Melchesidech

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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