The Liturgical Life (1): ab initio

Prayer is man’s richest boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life, for it brings him into communication with God, who is life [Jn viii.12], nourishment [ibid vi. 35], and life [ibid 14. 6]. But of ourselves, we know not what we should pray for as we ought [Rom. viii. 26]; we must needs, therefore, address ourselves to Jesus Christ, and say to Him, as the apostles did: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray’ [Lk xi. 1]. He alone can make the dumb speak, and give eloquence to the mouths of children; and this prodigy He effects by sending His Spirit of grace and of prayers [Zach. xii. 10], who delights in helping our infirmity, asking for us with unspeakable groanings. (1)

So begins Dom. Prosper Guéranger’s General Preface (1-19) to his L’Année Liturgique — The Liturgical Year — a 14-volume treasure trove which I have been meditating upon for the better part of three years. part of my devotions includes reading the days prayers and reflections before and sometimes only after the Mass and various Offices of the day. This practice is rather easy and sensical when it comes to the Saints, where Guéranger’s work serves as a helpful but more meditative Butler’s Lives of the Saints [link], which are themselves deeply edifying and commendable for anyone who wishes to grow in the imitatio sanctorum.

But I keep coming back every Advent to Guéranger’s commentaries, which I still find rich, deep, and full of insight. By why talk about this now and here? Well, I was recently following a blog like to another WordPress blogger, a Protestant, who among other things, eschews the keeping for Christian feast days, most notably, the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, which we commonly call Christmas. Now, I do respect his sola scriptura stance, for ‘at least it’s an ethos.’ But why are the liturgical year and the liturgical life so necessary for one’s soul? The positive affirmations of such a question are more important.

Consider Guéranger’s opening remarks to the work entire. The issue is prayer. When we are born into Holy Mother Church through the sacrament of Baptism, we like infants are infansunable to speak — and so we cry and wail without the what [quid] to say and the how [quo modo] to say it. As a father of a 7-month old (my third times around), I know what it’s like to have a child who doesn’t know what she wants nor does she have the capacity to ask. So too is it the newly baptized Christian who has asked, or on her behalf, of Christ’s Church for “faith.”

In asking for faith [fides, how to be fidelis or loyal to Christ], the baptized is further initiated into the catechism of one’s way of “living, moving, and being” [cf. Acts xvii. 28], which consists of learning, among other things, the orationes [from orare, to speak, pray, or plead] of the Church: the Paternoster or Our Father, the Ave or Hail Mary, and Credo or Apostles’ Creed [1]. Then there are, of course, the prayers of the Mass and the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours that give the new Christian the words to say. This is why the priest exhorts those assisting or hearing Mass, oremus – let us pray.

The words, given to the Church by the Word Incarnate or inspired by the Holy Spirit and carried on by his apostles and their successors, are the words of eternal life [Jn 6. 69]

And so we should learn these words in order to hear the Lord’s voice, to respond to His voice, and, when ready, to bring out the good stored in our hearts, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh [Lk 6. 45] and to render account to God himself [Rom. 14. 12].

In the end, I hope to go slowly through Guéranger’s work and comment on his commentary. This will be a lovely labor and one I hope I can accomplish with great gladness.

[1] For an in-depth display of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and catechesis, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1214-1321 (pp. 312-333 or here and following). For an interesting study of early Christian catechesis, see F. van der Meer’s Augustine the Bishop, ch. 12: “Becoming a Christian,” 347-87 [Amazon link].

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