Monastic: December 2008 Archives

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A Friend in Heaven

Today, December 16th, is the dies natalis (heavenly birthday) of the Servant of God, Father Lukas Etlin, O.S.B., a monk of Conception Abbey. I made a novena to Father Lukas last month beginning on November 16th. On the evening of December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was given a picture of Father Lukas. I slipped it into the pocket of my habit before driving home. Less than fifteen minutes later I was the astonished and grateful surviver of a terrible automobile crash. No bumps, bruises, scratches, aches, or pains.

From Switzerland to Missouri

Father Lukas was born Alfred Etlin, on February 25, 1864 in Sarnen, the capital of Canton Obwalden in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. In 1886 young Alfred left the natural beauty of his homeland for the new monastery founded by Abbot Frowin Conrad in Conception, Missouri. Clothed in the Benedictine habit, Alfred became Frater Lukas. He made monastic profession on November 13, 1887 and was ordained a priest on the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1891. He offered his First Mass at the Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri on the Feast of Saint Bernard, August 20, 1891.

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!

Psalmody

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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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.

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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