Advent Liturgy: December 2008 Archives

The Consolations of His Coming

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December 24

Collect at the Hours and at the Mass in the Morning

Come quickly, we beseech You, Lord Jesus, and do not delay, so that those who trust in Your loving mercy may be lifted up by the consolations of Your coming.

Come, Lord Jesus

Today, in the last Collect of Advent -- at Vigils, Lauds, Tierce, Holy Mass, Sext, and None -- the Church addresses the Lord Jesus. It is as if she can no longer contain her longing; she compelled to utter His Holy Name. The last Collect of Advent is inspired by the last page of the Bible. There, Our Lord speaks, saying, "Surely I am coming soon." And the Church, His Spouse, replies, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Ap 22:20).

Domine Jesu

Whereas all throughout Advent the Church, according to her custom, has, for the most part, addressed the Father in her prayers, today she appeals to the Son directly. She calls the Son by his human Name -- Jesus -- and to that Name revealed by the Angel she adds the divine vocative: Lord, Domine Iesu. Hers is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord'; except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).

Do Not Linger on the Way

Today's Collect is remarkably concise. Three lines only. The first line is inspired, not only by the final cry in the Apocalypse of Saint John, but also by Psalm 39:18: "Do not tarry, O my God"; or, as the Douai translation puts it, "O my God, be not slack!"; Ronald Knox translates the same with a certain courtesy: "My God, do not linger on the way."

Expectans Expectavi

The two words borrowed from Psalm 39 -- ne tardáveris -- should make us want to review the whole psalm. What do we discover? That the psalm begins with a verse that sums up the whole Advent experience. Expectans, expectavi! -- "With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and He was attentive to me" (Ps 39:1).

The Consolations of His Coming

The second part of the Collect is: "so that those who trust in your loving mercy may be lifted up by the consolations of your coming." Where our English translation gives "may be lifted up," the Latin text uses sublevéntur, a verb that is wonderfully rich in meaning. It means not only to be lifted up, but also to be relieved of a heavy burden, to be assuaged.

Trust in His Merciful Goodness

What must we do in order to be lifted up? The Collect says that we have only to trust in the pietas of the Lord Jesus, in His tenderness, His lovingkindness, His unwavering divine affection for us. Qui in tua pietate confidunt.

Weakness No Obstacle

Weakness is no obstacle to a holy Christmas. A mediocre Advent is no obstacle to a holy Christmas. The grace of Christmas is not earned; it is freely given. The grace of Christmas will prevail even over our sins, provided that we trust in the pietas of the Infant Christ, in the tender pity of him who comes to us, comes for us already in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness!

Secundum Verbum Tuum

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For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne. (Wisdom 18:14-15)

The Word in the Night

The nocturnal or pre-dawn Office of Vigils (or Matins) is, without any doubt, the Hour most expressive of the mystery of Advent. The Word arrives enveloped in a deep silence and, in that silence, visits the hearts that await His coming.

The Church's Blanket of Prayer

It is comforting to recall that the Church in her wisdom has woven a blanket of prayer that covers all the hours of the night. The great Orders of the Church relay each other in keeping watch for the coming of the Bridegroom. Should the Night Office ever cease being celebrated in monasteries, which God forbid, the world that night will die of the cold. The repartition of the nightwatch is, more or less approximately, as follows. In some instances, individuals may prolong the Night Office in solitary prayer.

From 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. -- Carmelites and some Benedictines
From 11:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. -- Carthusians
From 12:00 midnight until 1:30 a.m. -- Poor Clares, Dominican Nuns, Franciscan Friars of certain reforms, and some Passionists in Greater Solitude
From 2:00 a.m. until 3:15 a.m. -- Benedictines of the Primitive Observance
From 3:00 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. -- Trappists
From 4:00 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. -- Cistercians
From 5:00 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. -- Benedictines

Today's Night Office

This morning's Office of Vigils contained two jewels the first was the responsory Annuntiatum est per Gabrielem after the Third Lesson of the First Nocturn:

He Entered Through the Virgin's Ear

The Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary the entrance of the King. * And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door.


The Reading at the Second Nocturn was taken from Saint Bernard's stupendous homily Super Missus Est:

By the Virtue of the Holy Ghost

You have heard, O Virgin, that you are to conceive and bring forth a Son, and that it will not be through the power of man, but by the virtue of the Holy Ghost.

Waiting for a Word of Mercy

The angel awaits your reply, for it is time that he should return to God, Who sent him. We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for a word of mercy we, who are groaning under the sentence of condemnation. See, the price of our salvation is offered to you ; if you consent, we shall at once be delivered. By the Eternal Word of God we were all created, and behold we die. By your short answer we shall be refreshed and recalled to life. Adam, with all his race Adam, a weeping exile from Paradise, implores it of you. Abraham entreats you, David beseeches you. This is the object of the burning desires of the holy fathers, of your fathers, who are still dwelling in the region of the shades of death. Behold the entire human race prostrate at your feet in expectation.

Hasten, O Lady

And rightly, for on your word depend the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the freedom of the condemned, the salvation of your entire race, of all the children of Adam. Hasten, then, O Lady, to give your answer; hasten to speak the word so longed for by all on earth, in limbo, and in heaven. Yea, the King and Lord of all things, Who has greatly desired your beauty, desires as eagerly your word of consent, by which He has purposed to save the world. He whom you have pleased by your silence will now be more gratified by your reply.

Mary, the Much-Longed-For-Virgin

Hark ! He calls to you from heaven: "most beautiful among women, give me to hear your voice." If you let Him hear your voice, He will enable you to see our salvation. And is not this what you have sought for, what you have prayed for night and day with sighs and tears? Why, then, delay? Are you the happy one to whom it has been promised, or "look we for another "? Yes, you indeed are that most fortunate one. You are the promised virgin, the expected virgin, the much-longed-for virgin, through whom your holy father Jacob, when about to die, rested his hope of eternal life, saying : " I will look for thy salvation, O Lord."

Answer the Word, Receive the Word

You, O Mary, are that virgin in whom and by whom God Himself, our King before all ages, determined to operate our salvation in the midst of the earth. Why do you humbly expect from another what is offered to you, and will soon be manifested through yourself if you will but yield your consent and speak the word ? Answer, then, quickly to the angel yes, through the angel give your consent to your God. Answer the word, receive the Word. Utter yours, conceive the Divine. Speak the word that is transitory, and embrace the Word that is everlasting. Why do you delay? Why are you fearful?

Courage and Confidence

Believe confess receive. Let humility put on courage, and timidity confidence. It is certainly by no means fitting that virginal simplicity should forget prudence. Yet in this one case only the prudent virgin need not fear presumption, because, though modesty shone forth in her silence, it is now more necessary that her devotion and obedience should be revealed by her speech.

He Stands at the Gate and Knocks

Open, Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith, your lips to compliance, your bosom to your Creator. Behold, the desired of all nations stands at the gate and knocks. Oh, suppose He were to pass by while you delay ! How would you begin again with sorrow to seek Him whom your soul loveth ! Arise run open ! Arise by faith, run by devotion, open by acceptance. Mary speaks. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to thy word."

The Invitatory: Venite adoremus

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Prepare Thy Soul

One might say that, in the structure of monastic Vigils, Psalm 3 (see my previous entry) corresponds to the porch of the vast temple of the Night Office; it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

The King Who Is to Come

During the first part of Advent, that is, until December 17th, the Invitatory Antiphon is: Regem venturum Dominum, venite, adoremus. "The Lord, the King who is to come: O come, let us adore." The first part of the Invitatory points 1) to Christ whose advent in the flesh will be re-presented (made present again!) in mystery by the sacred liturgy at Christmas; 2) to Christ whose secret advent in the souls of the faithful occurs so often as they are visited by his grace; 3) and to Christ, the Bridegroom-King, whose advent in glory we await. We acclaim Him as our Lord and King; one must listen for the resonances with the entire Advent liturgy and, in particular, with Matthew 25:1-46.

A Masterpiece of Three Notes

The Liber Hymnarius gives two melodies for the Invitatory Antiphon (see p. 4): one for weekdays and one for Sundays. The one for weekdays, in the Sixth Mode, is a masterpiece of musical composition. It makes use of only three notes! Yes, three notes: fa, sol, and la! And yet, musically, it is anything but poor. One never tires of repeating it. Its chaste simplicity is a suitable overture to the Night Office during the week.

Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

The melody given for Sundays is a trumpet blast in the Fifth Mode. In fact, if you sing the first part attentively, you can hear the beginning of the hymn tune of J. S. Bach's "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme."

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! / And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Sung Contemplation

The melody of the Invitatory Antiphon given for Sundays emphasizes three key words with a rich melismatic development: Dominum (Lord), venite (O come), and adoremus (let us adore). This is sung contemplation in its purest form.

Repetition: Sing It Again

Note that the text of the Invitatory Antiphon does not change; it is the same on Sundays as on weekdays, and this until December 17th. This is one of the key principles operative in the liturgy of the Church: repetition. The repetition of the same liturgical texts is indispensable; one takes to heart what one learns by heart. The modern craze for variety and options is fundamentally inimical to "the spirit of the liturgy."

The Ve-níghty

Now, for the Venite, Psalm 94 (95) itself: for over 1500 years this psalm has opened the Church's daily round of praise. I will never forget hearing an English lady -- very C. of E.-- share her pious enthusiasm for what she called "The Ve-nighty" at a meeting some years ago of the Barbara Pym Society of North America. Ve-nighty or Vay-née-tay, it is, day after day, the Church's glorious entrance into the the great work of adoration in spirit and in truth.

When the psalm is sung to any one of the melodies given in the Liber Hymnarius, the text is that of Saint Jerome's old Roman Psalter, translated from the Septuagint. Even after Saint Jerome revised his translation, giving us the Vulgate, the Church retained the older version of Psalm 94.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!


In choir, it is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeats the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, six, or more lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, more recently, for the Responsorial Psalm when it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.

A Choir of One

In solitary recitation one has to make the necessary adaptations. I sing the Invitatory Antiphon, and recite the strophes of Psalm 94 quietly, except for the doxology, which I sing to the chant indicated in the Liber Hymnarius. It is one of the loveliest moments of my day.

Come, let us exult unto the Lord,
let us raise a jubilant song to God our Saviour:
let us come before His Face with thanksgiving,
and with joyful psalms sing out to Him.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A great God is the Lord, and a great King above all the gods;
[for the Lord will not cast off His people]:
For in His hand are all the ends of the earth,
and the peaks of the mountains He beholds.

O come, let us adore!

For the sea is His and He made it,
and His hands founded the dry land?

[Here it is customary to kneel. This engagement of the body is integral to Catholic worship. One should feel adoration in one's muscles and joints!]

Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the God who made us.

The Old Roman version and the Vulgate have us weeping, whereas the Hebrew text has us kneeling. With few exceptions, the entire corpus of Catholic and Orthodox commentaries on this psalm address "let us weep before the God who made us." For this reason, the Church holds to it in the sung Office. Saint Peter Chrysologus says that these are "tears of joy, for gladness brings weeping, as well as sorrow, and then grief for our past sins is blended with the hope of blessing and glory to come."

For He is the Lord our God,
and we are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Would you but listen to his voice today!
Do not harden your hearts,
as they were hardened once at Meriba, at Massa in the wilderness.
Your fathers put me to the test, challenged me,
and had proof of my power.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years was I nigh to that generation
and said, These are are ever wayward hearts,
and they know not my ways,
[so] to them I took an oath in my wrath:
They shall never enter into my rest.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A profound bow -- hands crossed on one's knees -- accompanies the first half of the doxology, and thIs throughout the entire Divine Office Again, there is a physicality to Catholic and Orthodox worship. Even when the Divine Office is prayed in solitude or outside of a choral context, one ought to make the effort to include the traditional gestures that are integral to its make-up.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the begining, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come, let us adore.
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

To be continued.

In the School of the Lord's Service

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Venite manuscript.jpg

Food for the Soul

Over the past several weeks I have been reading two fascinating and inspiring biographies by Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. The first is Dom Guéranger, moine au coeur de l'Eglise, and the second, Lumière et force, Mère Cécile Bruyère, première abbesse de Sainte-Cécile. Both books are published aux Éditions de Solesmes. (Yes, rather like a Carthusian, I do attempt to read during my main meal with the book balanced on a stand in front of me. Most of the time, it works.)

Approaches to Prayer

One of the controversies that marked the restoration of Benedictine life at Solesmes had to do with the new -- but, in fact, very ancient -- approach to prayer that both Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère practiced and taught. In the nineteenth centuary and even, to a certain extent today, the greater number of Catholics seeking Divine Intimacy are oriented towards the doctrines and methods of prayer that flowered during the glorious Catholic Revival of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1560-1648).

Simple Adhesion to the Sacred Liturgy

To these relatively "modern" methods and systems of meditation and personal prayer -- prayer in secret, oraison, or oración -- Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère fostered a simple adhesion to the sacred liturgy of the Church as it unfolds hour by hour and day by day in the Mass and Divine Office. They saw no need to look elsewhere for direction, method, inspiration, or light. Their approach is at once childlike and confident because its rests on the certainty that Our Lord, having sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, His Bride, has provided her, in the sacred liturgy, with everything necessary for the growth of her children in Divine Intimacy and in holiness. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).

Source and Summit

When I finished the long Office of Vigils this morning I was struck anew by the wisdom of a simple surrender to the prayer of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. It is -- at least for souls willing to commit themselves to immersion in it, and adhesion to it -- the simplest and, I daresay, most fruitful way of growing in Divine Intimacy. While I respect and honour the various schools of holiness that, over time, have grown up in the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I find in the sacred liturgy the source and summit of them all.

Office of Vigils Revisited

Review with me, if you will, the structure of this morning's Office of Vigils. It began with the sign of the Cross traced over the lips and the threefold invocation taken from David's psalm of spiritual resurrection: "O Lord, open Thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare Thy praise" (Ps 50:15). God Himself opens our lips for prayer, and places within our hearts the very praise of the Son, the Eternal High Priest facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Prayer begins from above. It is, first of all, God's gracious gift to us before becoming our gift to Him.

With Confidence to the Throne of Grace

One enters prayer profoundly aware of one's poverty and creatureliness. The cross traced on one's lips, united to the opening verse from Psalm 50, signifies that it is by "the Blood of the Cross" (Col 1:20) and by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are rendered capable of addressing the Father with a holy boldness. "Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

Psalm 3, A Daily Prayer

Saint Benedict prescribes straightaway the recitation of Psalm 3, and this every day. It is a prophecy of Our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Addressed to the Father, it is the prayer of Christ, "Who in the days of His flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save him from death, was heard for His reverence" (Heb 5:7).

Spiritual Combat

Each day begins on a battlefield; each day is a new engagement in spiritual combat. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12).

Spiritual Adversaries

See how they surround me, Lord, my adversaries,
how many rise up in arms against me;
everywhere voices taunting me,
his God cannot save him. (Ps 3:1-2)

My Glory and the Lifter Up of my Head

And, yet, in the thick of spiritual combat one grows in confidence, in abandonment to the Father's faithful love. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16:2). "And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" (Jn 11:41-42).

And yet, Lord, thou art the shield that covers me,
thou art my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I have but to cry out to the Lord,
and my voice reaches his mountain sanctuary,
and there finds hearing. (Ps 3:3-4)

The following verse is, without any doubt, the reason for Saint Benedict's choice of Psalm 3 at the beginning of each day. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before dying, said, "Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46), can also say, "Safe in my Father's hand, I lay down upon the wood of the Cross, and slept the sleep of death, and rose up again." One baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and nourished with the mysteries of His immolated and glorious Body and Blood from the altar, is, at every moment, immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the ongoing work of redemption. I too can say, with Christ and in Him, "Safe in my Father's hand I lay down, and slept, and rose up again." Sleep and rising, sanctified by the prayer of the Church, are images of our participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Safe in God's hand I lay down, and slept,
and rose up again. (Ps 3:5)

I Will Not Be Afraid

This participation in the mystery of the Cross is the exorcism of fear and the ground of one's confidence in the triumph of Love. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).

Thy Benediction Upon Thy People

And now, though thousands of the people set upon me from every side,
I will not be afraid of them.
Bestir thyself, Lord; my God, save me;
thine to smite my enemies on the cheek, thine to break the fangs of malice.
From the Lord all deliverance comes;
let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people. (Ps 3:6-8)

The psalm ends on a note of assurance and so inspires one to begin the new day in hope. There is a final petition: "Let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people." Even when one prays in the first person singular, even when one prays alone, as I do in the little oratory of my anchorhold, one prays in communion with the whole Church, asking the blessing of the Lord upon all His people and, in my particular vocation, especially upon His priests, my brothers.

To be continued.

Splendor gloriae tuae

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Sunrise over St-Loup.JPG

I took this sunrise photo last November at Saint-Loup-sur-Aujon. It goes very well, I think, with today's beautiful Advent Collect:

Oriatur quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
in cordibus nostris splendor gloriae tuae,
ut, omni noctis obscuritate sublata,
filios nos esse lucis Unigeniti tui manifestet adventus.

Let the splendour of Thy glory, we beseech Thee,
Almighty God, rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
so that the advent of Thine only-begotten Son,
may show us to be sons of the light.

And then there is the Collect for today's feast of Saint Lucy:

Intercessio nos, quaesumus, Domine,
sanctae Luciae virginis et martyris gloriosa confoveat,
ut eius natalicia et temporaliter frequentemus,
et conspiciamus aeterna.

We entreat Thee, O Lord,
that the glorious intercession
of the virgin and martyr Saint Lucy
may warm and comfort us,
so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday
in the passing of time,
and fix our sight on things eternal.

Cleansing of the Mind

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Here is today's Collect in the Missale Romanum and in the Liturgia Horarum. In the 1962 Missale Romanum it is the Collect of the Second Sunday of Advent.

Excita, Domine, corda nostra
ad praeparandas Unigeniti tui vias,
ut per eius adventum,
purificatis tibi mentibus servire mereamur.

Bishop England in 1843

The Right Reverend Dr. John England, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina translated this Collect in his 1843 edition of The Roman Missal Translated into English for the Use of the Laity:

Stir up, O Lord, our hearts
to prepare the ways of thy only-begotten Son:
that by his coming
we may be enabled to serve thee with pure minds.

And here is how I translated the same Collect this morning:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord,
to make ready the paths of Thine only-begotten Son
that His coming may enable us to serve Thee
with minds that have been cleansed.

The Sacramentary

But in the current Sacramentary we find a prayer that cannot possibly claim to be a translation of the original text.

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.

On Whose Watch?

Why is this "translation," given in the 1970 Sacramentary, still in use after 38 years? Incredible, is it not? Who did this "translation?" And who approved it? And why was it so widely accepted without question? It bears absolutely no resemblance to the original Collect it purports to render in English. It is a flagrant betrayal of the lex orandi.

Deleterious Spiritual Consequences

Did it not occur to the translators of the Sacramentary to consult the first American translation of the Roman Missal, that of Bishop England? Or any other for that matter? I know that the new ICEL translation, in accord with the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, is on the way, but all the same! Has anyone reflected on the deleterious spiritual consequences of using flawed liturgical texts?

Some Provocative Questions

I have the joy of offering Holy Mass in Latin and in the Extraordinary Form every day so that, personally, this debacle doesn't affect me. I am aware nonethless of the sufferings and problems of conscience that the current Sacramentary inflicts on a number of priests. And what of the faithful deprived for the past forty years of faithful and accurate translations of the liturgy of the Church?

Salus Animarum Est Suprema Lex

In the light of the old axiom so often quoted by canonists and moral theologians, that "the good of souls is the supreme law," would a priest be justified in using an accurate translation of the text the Church wants us to have, the text given in the editio typica, while waiting for the new ICEL translation? Or does a narrow and blind legalism impose the obligatory use of texts that are, even to those with a minimal knowledge of the Missale Romanum, flawed to the extent of depriving souls of actual participation in the prayer of the Church? Is not the good of souls at stake? I'm just asking the questions!

Our Lady in Advent

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This morning at Vigils the Second Reading was from a homily by Abbot Geoffrey of Admont. It was wonderfully suitable, coming after the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Loreto, and before that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

All the patriarchs and prophets . . . being illumined by the Spirit of God, were able to see future events in advance, and by their discourses made known and loved the grace of salvation that, through Christ and His blessed Mother was to come into the world.

Note well that it is through Christ and His blessed Mother that the grace of salvation comes into the world. One detects the patristic leit-motif of Christ the New Adam, and of Mary the New Eve. Then, the Abbot of Admont goes on to present the Canticle of Canticles. I love this section. It echoes what Isaac of Stella says elsewhere.

From among these ancients, one very great sage (sapientissimus) Salomon, wrote a book to the praise and honour of Our Lady Mary: it is the Canticle of Canticles. While it can be applied to the holy Church and to every faithful soul, it is especially fitting to her by whom the Salvation of the world appeared to believers.

Finally, he says:

Nam sicut ista sollemnitas specialiter est Domini nostri Iesu Christi, ita et specialitedr est eiusdem Genetricis suae, cum qua ipse Dominus et Redemptor salutem humani generis operari voluit.
Even if the coming solemnity belongs especially to Our Lord Jesus Christ, it also belongs especially to His Mother, with whom Our Lord and Redeemer Himself willed to work the salvation of the human race.

This twelfth century text witnesses compellingly, I think, to the Marian doctrine of co-redemption. Geoffrey of Admont, a monk of the Benedictine Congregation of Hirsau, was abbot of the monastery of Admont in central Austria from 1138 until his death in 1165. About two hundred of his homilies have been preserved.

The Heavenly Physician

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Paolo Veronese, 1547.jpg

I cannot resist offering a little commentary on the Collect of the day, one of Advent's most beautiful prayers:

Omnipotens Deus,
qui nos praecipis iter Christo Domino praeparare,
concede propitius,
ut nullis infirmitatibus fatigemur,
qui caelestis medici consolantem praesentiam sustinemus.

Almighty God,
Who commandest us to prepare the way for Christ the Lord,
mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities
whilst we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician.

Prepare the Way for Christ the Lord

The prayer is articulated around the text of Isaiah that we heard yesterday in the First Reading: "In the desert, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God" (Is 40:3). The author of the Collect retained only the spiritual imperative of the biblical text: prepare the way for Christ the Lord. This is the message of John the Forerunner, the prophet sent "before the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76).

The Joy of Spiritual Desire

Advent is about waiting, but in this waiting there is nothing passive, nothing of the quietism that would have one sit inert, like a lump without passion, energy, or desire. Advent has been called the Lent of Winter, and with good reason. The very qualities that characterize the Lent of Spring, should characterize Advent. Does not Saint Benedict say that "a monk's life ought at all times to bear a Lenten character" (RB 49:1)? What is the essence of this Lenten character? Saint Benedict, after inviting us to a spontaneous generosity in prayer, in self-denial, and in silence, sums it all up by saying, "and so with the joy of spiritual desire, look forward to holy Pascha" (RB 49:7). The "joy of spiritual desire" is the key to "preparing the way of the Lord" (Is 40:3).

Beset With Infirmities

The second part of today's Collect is another example of the realism and confidence found everywhere in the Roman liturgy: "mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities whilst we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician." The prayer does not deny that we are beset with infirmities. It makes us admit our weakness. It does not minimize the temptation we all have to weariness, to the classic monastic complaint of accedia: a loss of energy, a kind of "throwing in the towel," a giving in to the dullness and inertia of routine.

Come, and I Will Refresh You

We are waiting for the "consoling presence of the heavenly Physician." Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies is sent to minister to us in our infirmity. This is the thrilling message of the First Reading: "It is he that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not. Youths shall faint, and labour, and young men shall fall by infirmity. But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Is 40:29-31). We are waiting for the consoling presence of Him who says, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:28).

The Remedy for Every Infirmity

The "heavenly Physician" of the Collect waits for us in the adorable mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of our healing, the remedy for every infirmity. Approach the altar then -- both for Holy Communion and for adoration -- with Saint Benedict's, "joy of spiritual desire" (RB 49:7). The heavenly Physician "stands at the door and knocks" (Rev 3:20). Open to him.

Ave, liber incomprehensus

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At Matins this morning I listened, enchanted, to Saint Epiphanius' rapturous praises of the All-Holy Mother of God. The witness of Saint Epiphanius is precious: born in Palestine of Jewish parentage in about the year 310, he went to Egypt as a youth to pursue there his monastic vocation. In 367 he was called out of the desert to serve the Church as bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus. Sensitive to the least whiff of heresy, he was ever ready to defend the Catholic Orthodox faith. He died whilst returning from Constantinople to Cyprus in 402. Listen to him praise Our Lady. What would happen, I wonder, if a priest were to preach today with such lyricism and holy passion?

More Beautiful than the Cherubim

What shall I say,
what praise shall I make of the glorious and holy Virgin?
She surpasses all beings, God alone excepted;
she is by nature more beautiful than the cherubim, the seraphim,
and the whole army of heaven;
neither heavenly nor earthly tongue are sufficient to praise her,
not even that of the angels.

Immaculate Lily, Unfading Rose

Rejoice! Thou full of grace, gate of the heavens;
carried upward in his discourse,
the author of the Canticle wrote of thee
when he exclaimed:
Thou art a garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain
The Virgin is this immaculate lily,
the unfading rose who engendered Christ.
O Holy Godbearer, immaculate ewe,
thou hast brought forth Christ the Lamb, the Word of thee incarnate!

Ever-flowing Wellspring of Sweetness

Immense is the grace of this holy Virgin.
Wherefore does Gabriel address her first with this greeting:
Hail, full of grace, shining heaven!
Hail, full of grace, adorned with numberless virtues!
Hail, full of grace, thou golden urn containing the heavenly manna!
Hail, full of grace, thou who quenchest those who thirst
from the ever-flowing wellspring of sweetness!

Purple Fit for Kings

Hail, O most holy and immaculate Mother,
who didst bring forth Christ, He who before thee is.
Hail, O purple fit for kings, thou has clothed the King of heaven and earth!
Hail, O book incomprehensible: thou hast displayed the Word, the Son of the Father,
for all the world to read!


At Matins this morning there were two stupendous readings from Benedictine sources: one from Saint Peter Damian, Bishop (1007-1072), and the other from Saint Bede the Venerable (672-735).

Years ago I taught several courses in homiletics to seminarians and to candidates for the permanent diaconate. More often than not their question was: "How can we learn to preach well?" Invariably I would give them the same answer in three points: 1) Read the Fathers; 2) Read the Fathers; and 3) Read the Fathers. With the passing years I have become, if anything, even more convinced that one must learn the art of preaching in the school of the Holy Fathers.

Saint Peter Damian

First off, Saint Peter Damian captivated me with his magnificent rhythmed prose. Here is the opening of his sermon:

O singular humility! The Word was made flesh and, having come forth as the Perfect Man, forsook the mass of men and sought out John, desired John, went towards John.
O singularis humilitas! Verbum caro factum, et in perfectum egrediens virum, relicta hominum universitate, Ioannem quaerit, Ioannem desiderat, ad Ioannem vadit.

He closes with a veritable litany of praise in honour of Saint John the Forerunner. I will give only my English translation, trying to do justice to the text:

Patriarch, Prophet, and Angel

Listen! John is a patriarch, even more is he the realization and summit of the patriarchs; he is a prophet, and more than a prophet, because he pointed out with his finger the One whose advent he announced; he is an angel, et even the one chosen among the angels, and the Lord Himself bears witness to this, saying, "Behold, I send out my angel to prepare my way before my Face."

Apostle, Evangelist, Harvester, Virgin

John is an apostle, and even the first of apostles and their prince, because, "there was a man sent by God"; he is an evangelist, and again the first harvester of the Gospel, the first to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom; he is a virgin, and the very ensign of of virginity, the hallmark of modesty, the example of chastity.

Martyr, Elias, Friend of the Bridegroom, Preparer of the Bride

John is a martyr, and the light of martyrs, the pattern of the most constant witness between the birth of Christ and His death; John himself is Elias, a lamp burning and giving light, the friend of the Bridegroom, the one who prepares the Bride.

The monastic Office contains not one, but two patristic readings on Sundays and the greater feasts. There is the reading of the Second Nocturn, corresponding to the Second Reading in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, and there is a patristic homily on the Gospel of the day, read after the three Old Testament canticles of the Third Nocturn, and before the Te Deum. Then follows the Holy Gospel itself, at the end of which there is an Amen, and the ancient hymn in praise of the Most Holy Trinity, the Te Decet Laus.


Saint Bede the Venerable

In the homily on the Gospel (Mark 1:1-18), Saint Bede the Venerable speaks of the solitary life. It is noteworthy that he admits of two forms of solitary life. The first, he says, is that of those who withdraw into the desert, a word that we must here take to mean monasteries, cloisters, anchorholds, and the like. The second, is that of those who, without leaving the world, but rather remaining in the midst of it, spurn its desires and cleave to God alone in the cloister (or hidden place) of the heart.

God Alone

Typically furthermore, the desert where John dwelt represents the life of holy men cut off from the pleasures of the world: whether they live as solitaries or in the midst of crowds, ceaselessly, by the soul's intent, they spurn the desires of this present world; they find their joy in cleaving to God in the secret place of the heart, and in Him alone do they place their hope.

Et Mansi in Solitudine

It is towards this solitude of the soul, so cherished by God, that the prophet, succoured by the Holy Spirit, says: "Who shall give me wings like those of the dove, that I may take my flight and be at rest?" (Ps 54:7) And, cheering himself that he has, with God's help, arrived there so quickly, he adds, by way of deriding the webs of earthly desires: "Behold, I have fled far way, and made my abode in solitude" (Ps 54:8).

Non transalpinare necesse est

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Non te opportet, o homo, maria transfretare, non penetrare nubes, non transalpinare necesse est. Non grandis, inquam, tibi ostenditur via: usque ad temetipsum occurre Deo tuo. (Saint Bernard, Sermo I In Adventu)

At Matins this morning the Second Reading was from our incomparable Saint Bernard. The titles in boldface and the comments in italics are mine.

History's Vesper Hour

It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord's coming.
He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, " it was evening, and the day was far spent " (Lk 24:29); the sun of justice had well nigh set, and but a faint ray of his light and heat remained on earth.

Isn't it extraordinary how Saint Bernard relates the Emmaus story (Lk 24:29) to the end of time? This, in turn, must be related to the theme of our current Vespers hymn, Conditor Alme Siderum: the Word becomes flesh in the vespertide of history:

Vergente mundi vespere,
Uti sponsus de thalamo,
Egressus honestissima,
Virginis matris clausula.

Earth waning to her vesper hour,
He like a bridegroom from his bower,
His Virgin Mother's spotless shrine,
Came forth in dignity divine.

Note too that Saint Bernard draws upon Psalm 18:5-6 (Caeli ennarrent) for his imagery of the sun, and of its light and heat.

As Iniquity Abounded, the Fervour of Charity Had Grown Cold

The light of Divine knowledge was very small,
and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold.
No angel appeared, no prophet spoke.
The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away,
both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind.

The Collect for the feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis (September 17th) makes use of Saint Bernard's expression: "the fervour of charity had grown cold." Iniquity so abounded on earth, he says that the angels and the prophets themselves are hopeless baffled by mankind's exceeding obduracy and obstinacy. His description of the global situation on the eve of the Incarnation fits the global situation today.


Plenitude and Affluence of Things Temporal

Then it was that the Son of God said : " Behold, I come" (Heb 10:7).
And "while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the Almighty Word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne" (Wis 18:14-15).
Of this coming the Apostle speaks :
"When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son" (Gal 4:4).
The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal.
Fitly, therefore, did the Eternal God come when things of time were reigning supreme.

"The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal." Not long ago I was talking with a friend in Ireland. She said that Ireland's economic boom (now in recession) and unprecedented prosperity had, in fact, led to -- and here I again use Saint Bernard's words -- "the oblivion and penury of things eternal." This is true, of course, not only of Ireland, but of any society sated by "the plenitude and affluence of things temporal." Man is, alas, all too often driven to God only when, out of a salutary want, or even misery, he experiences his radical dependence upon Him.

He Comes Daily and Invisibly to Work Our Salvation

As He once came visibly in the body to work our salvation in the midst of the earth,
so does He come daily invisibly and in spirit to work the salvation of each individual soul ; as it is written : " The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord."
And that we might know this spiritual advent to be hidden, it is said :
" Under his shadow we shall live among the Gentiles" (Lam 4:20).

This is one of Saint Bernard's cherished motifs, probably because it so corresponds to his own experience of "being visited by the Word." The Word continues His advent and renews it in one soul after another, visiting us by His grace in the shadow and obscurity of faith's dark night.

At Least Raise Your Head

Wherefore, if the infirm cannot go far to meet this great Physician,
it is at least becoming they should endeavour to raise their heads
and lift themselves a little to greet their Saviour.

What a touching image Saint Bernard gives us here! The sinsick soul is compared to someone who is weakened by illness and confined to bed. So feeble is he that, when the physician comes, he cannot get out of bed to greet him. He cannot even raise himself enough to sit on the edge of the bed. He can do no more than lift his head a little from his pillow. This is all Our Lord asks of us. If you cannot go to the door to greet Him, it is enough that you should raise your head a little. That mere token of openness to divine grace is enough to set in motion the process of interior healing.

Turn Within Thyself to Meet Thy God

For this, O man, you are not required to cross the sea,
to penetrate the clouds, to scale the mountain-tops.
No lofty way is set before you.
Turn within thyself to meet thy God,
for the Word is nigh in thy mouth and in thy heart (Dt 30:14).

Conversion -- turning Godward -- is a very simple interior movement made possible by prevenient grace. The Word, says Saint Bernard, quoting Deuteuronomy 3:14, "is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart." Nothing hard or rigourous is required; the pietas (fatherly devotedness) of God is such that He does everything to facilitate our conversion toward Him.

Compunction and Confession

Meet Him by compunction of heart and by confession of mouth,
or, at least, go forth from the corruption of a sinful conscience,
for it is not becoming
that the Author of purity should enter there.
And this is said concerning that advent by which He will deign to illumine
every soul with an invisible power.

For Saint Bernard there are two ways of going forth from the stinking rot of a sinful conscience. The first is by way of compunction: the blessed sorrow for sin experienced when one is pierced through by the Word. The second is by way of confession: auricular, sacramental confession. Then, the soul is fit to welcome the Author of purity who enters her by means of the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Gesù Bambino con Croce.JPG

First Tuesday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Bishop Slattery invited me to preach at Holy Mass in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family on the occasion of the Diocesan Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, observed annually on the First Tuesday of Advent. It was wonderful to see all the priests of the diocese and a good number of deacons assembled around our Bishop. Here is the homily I gave:

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Some of you, brothers, after completing your Morning Prayer today, may have glanced ahead at the Magnificat Antiphon. I, for one, did -- and I found there why we are here this evening: "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near" (Is 55:6).

Saint Bernard, especially in his darker moments, used to ask himself, Bernarde, ad quid venisti? "Bernard, what are you doing here? Why have you come?" Given that it was Bernard's custom to find answers to his questions in the Scriptures, he may well have replied to himself: "You've come to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near" (Is 55:66). This is why we have assembled in our cathedral this evening; to seek the Lord while He may be found and together, with one another and for one another, to call upon Him while He is near.

Times and Places Fragrant With Grace

Our Lord can, without any doubt, be sought anytime and anywhere. One can call upon Him in any place, at any moment, and out of any situation. And yet, there are times and places that are especially fragrant with His grace. There are moments when the veil hiding His Face seems less opaque, when His voice seems to strike the ear of our hearts more clearly

To call upon the Lord is to engage Him in conversation. The Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, tells us just how we are to go about calling on the Lord. (This is an example of how the liturgy, taken just as it is given, makes all prayer extraordinarily simple. It is the indispensable primary school of prayer.) Look for a moment, if you will, at today's Collect: the prayer that pulls us together, the prayer that, from the very beginning of Mass, imparts the radical God-ward orientation without which there is no prayer.

The Collect

Using a prayer that comes from the 5th century scroll of Ravenna, we say today:

Lord God, be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your paternal care;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now,
by the contagion of our former ways.

This prayer, with the realism that characterizes our Roman Rite, just assumes that we are in tribulation. Of course it would. These 5th century Roman prayers emerged out of real life pastoral situations, often marked by crisis, by animosities, persecutions, and weariness.

Pietas Auxilium

And then we ask for the help of God's pietas -- auxilium pietatis. Pietas is a translator's conundrum. It is God's provident, strong, reliable, paternal love. His pietas is the bedrock of what Saint Paul calls the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Pietas is what makes a man dutiful and tender in caring for his wife and children, a reflection of how the Father, in Christ, loves the household of the Church.

Consoled Ahead of Time

The prayer goes on to say that because the Son is coming again, we are consoled ahead of time. "That being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come. . . ." There is consolation, brothers, even in the apparent absence of God, because waiting engenders hope, and hope is, in the uncertainties and losses of this life, the one thing that consoles us.

Old in Sin

Finally we come to point of the whole prayer: the famous ut clause: so that. "So that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come, we may be untainted, -- the Latin even more pointedly says unpolluted -- even now, by the contagion of our former ways." The contagious pollution of our former ways! I told you the Roman liturgy is realistic.

Sin is the great unseen pollutant. It ages us prematurely. It robs us of that joy of our youth that we go to the altar in search of, day after day. It is easy, brothers, to be reinfected by ancient patterns of sin, by the contagion of what is old. Such is the plight of the "old man" in me and in you, the decrepit man who, so often as he sins, becomes more decrepit.

The Child

The Son who is to come in the Collect is the Child of the First Reading. . "And a little Child shall lead them" (Is 11:6). We are led by One who has the Face of a little Child, a Face at once open and full of mystery. This is the image of a healthy presbyterate: men of all ages content to be led by a little Child.

The Anointed One

This same Child is the Father's anointed Priest. The Anointing poured over His head runs down even to the hem of His garment (cf. Ps 132), covering each of us, His priestly members, and steeping us in the fragrance of His sacrifice. This too is the image of a healthy presbyterate: one in which the seven gifts of the Divine Anointing are in operation: "the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. . . and the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2-3).

His Prayer to the Father

The Gospel brings us back to the mystery of the Child-Priest. We surprise Him in the very act of praying to His Father. So intimate is the tone of this prayer that it has been compared to the most sublime pages of the Fourth Gospel.

The Magnificat of Jesus

Saint Luke shows us the Son filled with gladness in the Holy Spirit -- this is the Magnificat of Jesus, an echo of His Mother's exultation in the first chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel. It is, at the same time, Saint Luke's transmission of the uninterrupted priestly prayer of the Heart of Jesus. It is Eucharistic --"Father, I give you thanks"-- corresponding in its own way to Chapter Seventeen of Saint John.

The Great Thanksgiving

This prayer of Jesus is, in essence, the model of the Preface of every Mass. Listen to it in a liturgical key:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that you have hidden all this from the wise and the prudent,
and revealed it to little children.
Be it so, Lord, since this finds favour in your sight.
Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations,
and all the warriors of the Heavenly array,
we raise a ceaseless hymn of praise, as we sing . . . .

The Delight of the Child

The Child-Priest praises the Father who has entrusted everything into His hands. None knows who the Child is, except the Father, and none knows who the Father is, except the Child, and those to whom it is the Child's delight to reveal Him. Be certain of one thing, brothers, this Child-Priest is most at ease in conversing with other children because among them He runs the least risk of being misunderstood.

Blessed Are the Eyes That See What You See

And just as in John 17 Jesus addresses His friends, His chosen disciples, so too in today's Gospel, His final words are for us priests. Although Our Lord mentions prophets and kings, He does not mention priests, and this because He is addressing His priests, those of the New Covenant. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see; I tell you, there have been many prophets and kings who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it" (Lk 10:24).

The Joy of Our Youth

This is the affirmation of our priesthood. We need look nowhere else. This is the consolation of our priesthood in the face of our every experience of humiliation and weakness. This is the joy of our priesthood, joy offered by a Child. Welcome it today at the altar, brothers, and there recover, not for ourselves only, but for the sake of the whole Church, the joy of our youth.

Invenisti gratiam apud Deum

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Advent and the Annunciation

Our Lady, the glorious Virgin of Isaiah's prophecy (Is 7:14), is everywhere present in the liturgy of Advent, and this from the very first day. This morning at Matins, I delighted in the beautiful responsories woven around Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child, and the mystery of the Annunciation.

Praying With a Short Attention Span

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah -- and all the long readings at Matins, for that matter -- are, in the ancient tradition subdivided into small lessons; each lesson is followed by a responsory. This practice is eminently pastoral. It takes into account the weariness that one sometimes brings to the long Night Office and the perennial problem of all who try to remain recollected in prayer: the short attention span! Each lesson is no more than five or six verses long, and is followed immediately by a responsory that engages the listeners in an inter-active meditatio.

This morning, for example:

Lesson I: Isaiah 7:1-6, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear.
Then, the Responsory:

R. The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph, to bring unto her the Word ; and when the Virgin saw the light she was troubled till the Angel said : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. * Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.

Lesson II: Isaiah 7: 7-9, If you do not believe, surely you shall not established.
Then, the Responsory:

R. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
V. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? and the Angel made answer.
R. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Lesson III: Isaiah 7: 10-17, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
Then, the Responsory, this time with a Gloria Patri:

R. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ : * Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.


The wisdom and benefits of this carefully crafted approach to the readings at Matins/Nocturns is, I should think, evident to anyone who has attempted to pray his way through the more turgid reformed Office of Readings which gives them en bloc, as it were.

Advantages of the Traditional Structure

If I were to sum up the advantages of the traditional structure of lessons and responsories at Matins/Nocturns, I would say:

1. The lessons are brief, allowing the listener to extract one significant phrase to be stored up in his heart. See the phrases from each of the lessons that I give above as an example of this. Doing this, one is already practicing lectio and meditatio.

2. The responsories, built around the repetition of a single sentence, deepen one's meditatio and effectively dispose the soul to oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (simple abiding in adoring love).

3. The Gloria Patri added to the last responsory (for which, according to the injunction of Saint Benedict, all rise out of reverence for the Most Holy Trinity) gives to the whole structure a doxological impetus. In Christian prayer, praise has the last word.

A Critique of the Structure in the Liturgia Horarum

Now, if I may be so bold as to critique the structure found in the current reformed Office of Readings of the Liturgia Horarum:

1. The readings are relatively long, giving one the impression of a didactic exercise. One has the impression that the framers of this innovation (and I knew one of them very well) wanted to supply for the average priest's need to have some element of study or spiritual reading in his day. The very designation, Office of Readings, is suspect, reflecting more the goals of its framers in the 1960s than the tradition of the Church. This pragmatic use of the Divine Office -- killing two birds with one stone, as it were -- is foreign to the tradition. Saint Benedict, in fact, reserves the time after the Night Office precisely for study.

2. The suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading is a regrettable impoverishment of the Divine Office. The responsories of Matins constitute, in fact, one of the richest elements in the liturgical corpus of the West.

3. Again, the suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading minimizes the fruitful interplay of listening to the Word and tunefully (chantfully?) repeating it until, at length, it descends into the heart as a seed of contemplation.

4. The doxology in the responsories was completely suppressed by the artisans of the reformed liturgy. A most curious innovation, given the great antiquity of the Gloria Patri in this particular context. A mere detail, one may say -- Not at all, say I. It reveals the shift in the liturgical paradigm from God to man. The liturgy becomes something one can use for one's personal growth as opposed to something one offers gratuitously to God.

Liturgical Haste Makes Liturgical Waste

The current reformed Liturgia Horarum was put together in haste. It reflects the prejudices and limitations of the redactors who were, in fact, more concerned with producing a practical breviary for the modern clergy -- something to be read-- than they were with working in organic continuity with the Church's age-old and perennially fruitful practice of the Divine Office.

The time has come, I would argue, for a complete mise en question of the 1970 reform of the Divine Office. Any future reform of the Divine Office will, I pray, incorporate the recovery of elements such as those discussed above.

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory