Foliage of Inspiration

Holy Scripture [is] an ‘an immeasurable forest of prophecy.’ This forest is nowhere bare: everywhere there is the same dense foliage of inspiration, and from all the tree-tops of it there rustles the one word, “Christ.”

Frederick van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop

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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].

Fasting and Lent

Can the children of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast.

This Wednesday begins Quadragesima or Lent, the time in which Holy Church has set aside for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. On this practice of fasting (L. ieiunium), I have take a page from the Benedictine monks of Norcia, Italy:

Fasting and Abstinence

The Church’s current regulations in the U. S. require fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence from meat on the Fridays of Lent; and abstinence from meat or some other penitential or charitable work on every non-Lenten Friday of the year, unless the Friday falls on a solemnity. Abstinence is binding from age 14; fasting is binding from age 18 until age 59. “According to the Church’s law, the ‘substantial observance’ of Fridays as days of penance, whether by abstinence or in other ways, ‘is a grave obligation.’ (Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, 1966, Norm II, 2).” (Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1979).

What is Fasting?

Fasting according to the Church’s norms means eating only one full meal per day. Two smaller meals or snacks may also be eaten, sufficient to maintain one’s strength, but together they should not equal the one full meal. No food may be taken between meals; but liquids, including milk and juice, may be taken between meals. Expectant mothers and the sick are not bound to fast. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In the current regulations, fasting is always accompanied by abstinence from meat. That is, both of the obligatory fasting days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) are also days of abstinence from meat. “Self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended.” (NCCB, November 18, 1966). Fasting on Holy Saturday is specifically recommended by the Church (currently).

What is Abstinence?

Abstinence from meat means that no meat (the flesh and organs of mam- mals and fowl), meat gravy, or meat soup may be taken.

The Monastic Fast

The Rule of St. Benedict establishes a fourfold variation in the yearly rhythm of feasting and fasting. From Easter until Pentecost there are two meals, both lunch and supper, since we cannot fast while the Bridegroom is with us. From Pentecost to mid-September, there is fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, with one meal only, taken in the middle of the afternoon, around 3:00 pm. (There was no custom of breakfast in the Rule). From mid-September until Lent, there is one meal only, taken in mid-afternoon (except Sundays and feasts). During Lent, there is one meal only, but taken later in the day, at 5:30 pm. The Rule also has the monks abstain from meat (although there is some ambiguity in the text about the details). In all these variations, there is a wonderful harmony between what happens in church and what happens at table, as we celebrate the feasts and fasts of the Church’s liturgical year.

the-battle-of-carnival-and-lent
Brueghel’s “The Battle of Carnival and Lent” (1559)

Because I largely think the heart of the Church is located in the monasteries and convents of her religious, I believe the last fast, “the monastic fast” is particularly instructive and surely edifying, even to the lay faithful. Consider also the Catholic Encyclopedia, published a decade into the twentieth century (1909):

In the United States of America all the days of Lent; the Fridays of Advent (generally); the Ember Days; the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost, as well as those (14 Aug.) of the Assumption; (31 Oct.) of All Saints, are now fasting days… Fasting essentially consists in eating but one full meal in twenty-four hours and that about midday. It also implies the obligation of abstaining from flesh meat during the same period, unless legitimate authority grants permission to eat meat. The quantity of food allowed at this meal has never been made the subject of positive legislation. Whosoever, therefore, eats a hearty or sumptuous meal in order to bear the burden of fasting satisfies the obligation of fasting. Any excess during the meal mitigates against the virtue of temperance, without jeopardizing the obligation of fasting.

In many ways, the Church has as of recent years relaxed many of its fasting obligations. I have no doubt the bishops have their reasoning for relaxing the Lenten fast, just as they have relaxed the Communion fast — from midnight of the previous day to three hours before to now simply one hour prior (e.g., not eating during Mass…) But for me, the point of the matter is that our Lord fasted in his earthly life and that the saints after him fasted as well. For my own practice, I hope to maintain the fast throughout the day until returning home from work, breaking the fast for a late afternoon/evening meal with my family and then resuming the fast for the remainder of the day.