Lent 2010: March 2011 Archives

Salus populi ego sum

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The Church's Year of Grace

The Church's Year of Grace, a popular commentary on the liturgical year by Canon Regular of Saint Augustine Dom Pius Parsch, had a profound influence on my earliest discovery of the liturgy. I can still visualize exactly where it was on the shelves of the school library. Beginning in fourth grade, I think, I returned to it often, intrigued by the Beuronese line drawings and the wonderful explanations of Roman stational churches, antiphons, and all such things. It is a great pity that Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minnesota) has not seen fit to republish The Church's Year of Grace. The rising generation of young people eager to grow in the knowledge and love of the traditional liturgy would benefit immensely from a new edition of Parsch's work.

Station at Saints Cosmas and Damian

I delighted in the commentary given by Pius Parsch for this Thursday of the Third Week of Lent. The stational church is the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the beneficent physician martyrs of the East. Parsch sums up the liturgy of the day: "Christ is the Physician, the house of God is the hospital, and the Church, the divinely instituted clinic for healing souls."

Introit

Today's Introit begins with the word salus, health. Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses us while we are yet on the threshold of the Holy Mysteries, saying: "I am the health of the people! In whatever affliction they appeal to Me, I will hear them." The Divine Physician calls his people to health of soul and body.

Gospel

The Gospel (Lk 4:38-44) relates an entire day of healing and deliverance from the powers of darkness, beginning with the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. At vespertide those afflicted with diseases of any kind are brought to Jesus. He lays hands upon each one and heals them. Many are freed from demonic possession. The devils come out of them confessing in loud cries that Jesus is the Son of God. He rebukes them, and they fall silent. The full mystery of His messianic identity is not yet to be disclosed.

The Church: A Spiritual Sanatorium

Dom Parsch invites us to look courageously into the Lord's Face today and say: "Thou art my Physician. Cut away, cauterize, work Thy healing art on me . . . only make me well for everlasting life." He presents the Church as a sanatorium for sin-sick souls. Why, then, are we astonished and scandalized by the weaknesses of our brothers?

Before leaving the world our Saviour established a clinic, the Church, whose main task was to heal sick souls. The Church is a great spiritual sanatorium. All the practices and ordinances of the Church have as their ultimate purpose to heal men and keep them healthy. Think of the sacraments: baptism, penance, extreme unction. Think in particular of the medicinal power of the Holy Eucharist. Yes, the twofold purpose of the Eucharist is to nourish and to heal. Nourishment to build divine life, medicine to overcome the diseases ravaging the soul!
To our great detriment we have practically forgotten the latter significance of the Eucharist. We keep believing that Communion is only for saints, a reward for virtue. The time of Mass is the heavenly Physician's normal office hours. . . .
From today's liturgy we will take with us into daily life this joyous conviction: we have a Healer who wishes to heal our infirmities; we have a clinic providing all the means needed to restore our health; we have a medicine which infallibly produces its effect if we use it as prescribed.

For My Oblates . . . and Others

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Saint Benedict the Practical

When it comes to the observance of Lent, Saint Benedict is very practical, very concrete. He doesn't spend a lot of time telling us what we ought to think. He doesn't tell us what to say. Thoughts about penitence are not penitence. Talking about penitence is not doing it. The patterns of our life are changed, in the end, by what we do. Thoughts are necessary, it is true; but a thought of penitence never translated into action is perfectly useless. Words are helpful -- sometimes -- but words that come out of our mouths to float in the air and disappear do nothing to advance our conversion. Deeds change our lives; deeds re-orient our hearts. They need not be big deeds. Very little ones are surprisingly effective, especially when one little deed follows another and another and another, creating a pattern of conversion.

The Moses of Monks

Saint Benedict, our law-giver, the "Moses of monks" as the tradition calls him, shows us how to carry out the choice for life that Moses, the law-giver of Israel, presents in Deuteronomy. "Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice,and cleaving to him" (Dt 30:19-20). Holy Father Benedict's presentation of Lenten observance can be summed up in two little words: more and less.

More

More: "At this season let us increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food and drink." He insists on our doing something. More prayer. Thinking about doing more prayer is not more prayer. Get up five minutes early to make more time for prayer and you are doing something. Give up five minutes of looking at the newspaper and give it to God in prayer. That is doing something.

Lectio Divina

In Chapter 48 Saint Benedict is explicit about more lectio divina. He even rearranges the daily schedule in order to provide more time for reading during Lent. Do you see how very concrete he is? It is not enough to think about doing more lectio, not enough to talk about doing more lectio. He goes about it very concretely by changing the order of the day. He commissions one or two seniors to go about the monastery to see that the brethren are not wasting the time aside for more lectio by engaging in more of what they should be doing less: talking, wasting time, and distracting others.

Less

Less: less food, less drink, less sleep, less talkativeness, less looseness in speech (cf. RB 49:7). Many folks are put off by Saint Benedict's proposals, but that may be because they read them without taking them in reflectively. He says "less"; he doesn't say how much less. This is where Holy Father Benedict meets Saint Thérèse, the Doctor of the "Little Way." The "less" of Saint Benedict is the very little thing of Thérèse: the word saved for recreation, the second or third cup of coffee, the unkind judgment nipped in the bud.

Do Something

The choice for life remains, all too easily, something that floats in the mist of pious aspirations without taking shape in deeds. Moses teaches that the choice for life comes down to three things: "love the Lord your God, heed his voice, and cling to him" (Dt 30:20). Even these three things risk being formless and vague. Translate, "love the Lord your God," into one concrete act of love -- today. Don't think about loving God, do something to make it real. Translate, "heed his voice," into one concrete act of obedience, of silence -- today. Translate, "cling to him," into a choice for prayer that will cut into your routine and affect your management of time -- today. It need not be long. Pure prayer is often brief.

A Eucharistic Oblation

For Saint Benedict all of these little deeds have immense Eucharistic potential. In speaking of our Lenten deeds of "more" and "less," he uses terms that evoke the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: " . . . cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus offerat Deo" (RB 49:6)" -- "let each one make offering to God in the joy of the Holy Spirit." The "shapes and forms" of Lenten deeds are joined to the "shapes and forms" of the bread and wine placed on the altar.

An Offertory Procession

Lest there be in our offering any impurity of pride, presumption, or vainglory, Saint Benedict would have both our "more" and our "less" submitted to the Abbot for blessing and approval. The line of monks going to the office of the Abbot, each one asking for blessing and approval of his Lenten "more" and "less," is the offertory procession of Lent, making each deed worthy of oblation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Lent is just this: a procession to the altar, a movement into the mystery of the Cross. How could it be anything but joy?

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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