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Afterwards let him go into the Novitiate, where he is to meditate and study, to take his meals and to sleep. Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations. Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him.
From the Parish Book Stall: A Classic
If a novice is to become fervent in the Work of God, as Saint Benedict requires, he must be introduced to the sacred liturgy by one who lives it. I had the good fortune, in it must have been 1963 or 1964, of discovering a book that did just that for me: The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean–Baptiste Chautard. Someone in my home parish had taken the initiative of putting a modest book stall in the vestibule of the church (or it may have been a work of the then flourishing Legion of Mary), and the book stall was well–stocked with classic titles in paperback. Among them was The Soul of the Apostolate. I was drawn to the little book as I have been similarly drawn to particular books since then, guided, I think, by the Holy Ghost. Allow me, here, to make an appeal for parish book stalls! Provided that they are supplied with classic orthodox titles, they can play a determining role in someone’s life and also, without a doubt, become the catalyst for a priestly or religious vocation.
Fervent in the Work of God
Dom Chautard’s treatment of the liturgical life set me all afire. It disposed me to want to become “fervent in the Work of God” and so oriented me toward contemplative Benedictine life at a very sensitive stage in my development. I appreciate Dom Chautard’s presentation of the liturgical life for its depth, and breadth, and remarkable freedom from a fussy rubricism. Like Blessed Columba Marmion, Dom Chautard experiences every detail of the sacred liturgy in the light of Christ’s ceaseless glorification of the Father. The liturgy is meant to be a feast for the eyes, the ears, and all the senses, not for the mere gratification of one’s aesthetical appetite, but for the lifting of the heart and mind into the mystery of “what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Listen to Dom Chautard
Here then are some selected passages from The Soul of the Apostolate:
It is You, Jesus, that I adore as Center of the Liturgy. It is You Who give unity to this Liturgy, which I may define as the public, social, official worship given by the Church of God, or, the whole complex of means which the Church uses especially in the Missal, Ritual, and, Breviary, and by which she expresses her religion to the adorable Trinity, as well as instructs and sanctifies souls. O my soul, you must go into the very heart of the Adorable Trinity and contemplate there the eternal Liturgy in which the three Persons chant, one to another, their divine Life and infinite Sanctity, in their ineffable hymn of the generation of the Word and the procession of the Holy Spirit. Sicut erat in principio . . .
Angels and Men, Heaven and Earth
God desires to be praised outside of Himself. He created the angels, and heaven resounded with their joyous cries of Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. He created the visible world and it magnifies His power: “The heavens announce the glory of God.” Adam comes to life and begins to sing, in the name of creation, a hymn of praise in echo of the everlasting Liturgy. Adam, Noah, Melchisedech. Abraham, Moses, the people of God, David, and all the saints of the Old Law vied in chanting it. The Jewish Pasch, their sacrifices and holocausts, the solemn worship of the Lord God in His Temple, gave this praise, especially since the fall. “Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner.”
God Praising God
You, Jesus, You alone are the perfect hymn of praise, because You are the true glory of the Father. No one can worthily glorify Your Father, except through You. Per Ipsum, et cum Ipso et in Ipso est tibi Deo Patri . . . omnis honor et Gloria.” You are the link between the Liturgy of earth and the Liturgy of heaven, in which You give Your elect a more direct participation. Your Incarnation came and united, in a living and substantial union, mankind and all creation, with the Liturgy of God Himself. Thus it is God Who praises God, in our Liturgy. And this is full and perfect praise, which finds its apogee in the sacrifice of Calvary.
The Sacramental Economy
Divine Savior, before You left the earth, You instituted the Sacrifice of the New Law, in order to renew Your immolation. You also instituted Your Sacraments, in order to communicate Your life to souls. But You left Your Church the care of surrounding this Sacrifice and these Sacraments with symbols, ceremonies, exhortations, prayers, etc., in order that she might thus pay greater honor to the Mystery of the Redemption, and make it more understandable to her children, and help them to gain more profit from it while exciting in their souls a respect full of awe.
Beginning on Earth What We Will Do in Heaven
You also gave Your Church the mission of continuing until the end of time the prayer and praise which Your Heart never ceased to send up to Your Father during Your mortal life and which It still goes on offering to Him, in the Tabernacle and in the splendor of Your glory in heaven. The Church, who loves You as a Spouse, and who is full of a Mother’s love for us, which comes to her from Your own Heart, has carried out this twofold task. That is how those wonderful collections were formed, which include all the riches of the Liturgy. Ever since, the Church has been uniting her praises to those which the angels and her own elect children have been giving to God in heaven. In this way, she already begins to do, here below, what is destined to occupy her for all eternity.
United to the praises of the man-God, this praise, the prayer of the Church, becomes divine and the Liturgy of the earth becomes one with that of the celestial hierarchies in the Court of Christ, echoing that everlasting praise which springs forth from the furnace of infinite love which is the Most Holy Trinity.
What Is the Liturgical Life?
Lord, the laws of Your Church do not bind me strictly to anything but the faithful observance of the rubrics and the correct pronunciation of words. But is there any doubt that You want my good will to give You more than this? You want my mind and heart to profit by the riches hidden in the Liturgy and thus be more united to Your Church and come thereby to a closer union with Yourself. Good Master, the example of Your most faithful servants makes me eager to come and sit down at the splendid feast to which the Church invites me, certain that I will find, in the Divine Office, in the forms, ceremonies, collects, epistles, gospels, and so on which accompany the holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the administration of the Sacraments, healthful and abundant food to nourish my interior life.
The Liturgical Cycle
Let us dwell on the basic idea that ties all the elements of the Liturgy together, and the fruits by which progress may be recognized will preserve us from illusion. Each one of the sacred rites may be compared to a precious stone. Yet how much greater will be the value and brilliance of those that belong to the Mass and Office, when I know how to enshrine them all together in that marvelous setting: the liturgical cycle. When my soul lives, throughout a certain period of time, under the influence of a mystery, and is nourished by all that Scripture and tradition offer that is most instructive in this subject, and is constantly directed and made attentive to the same order of ideas, it must necessarily be influenced by this concentration, and find in the thoughts suggested by the Church a food as nourishing as it is delightful, and which will prepare it to receive that special grace which God reserves for each period, each Feast of the Cycle. The Mystery comes to fill me not only as an abstract truth, absorbed in meditation, but gripping my whole being, bringing into play even my sense faculties, to stir up my heart and direct my will. It is more than a mere commemoration of some past event, or an ordinary anniversary: it is living actuality with all the character of a present event to which the Church gives an application here and now, and in which she really and truly takes part.For instance, in the Christmas Season, rejoicing before the altar at the coming of the Holy Child, my soul can repeat: “Today Christ is born, today the Savior has appeared, today the angels sing on earth . . .” At each period in the liturgical Cycle, my Missal and Breviary disclose to me new rays of the love of Him Who is for us at the same time Teacher, Doctor, Consoler, Savior, and Friend. On the Altar, just as at Bethlehem or Nazareth, or on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, Jesus reveals Himself as Light, Love, Kin dness, and Mercy. He reveals Himself above all as Love personified, because He is Suffering personified, in agony at Gethsemani, atoning on Calvary.
The Full Development of the Eucharistic Life
And so the liturgical life gives the Eucharistic life its full development. And Your Incarnation, O Jesus, that brought God close to us, making Him visible to us in You, continues to do the very same thing for us all, in each of the mysteries that we celebrate. So it is, dear Lord, that thanks to the Liturgy, I can share in the Church’s life and in Your own. With her, every year, I witness the mysteries of Your Hidden life, Your Public life, Life of Suffering, and Life in Glory; and with her, I cull the fruits of them all. Besides, the periodic feasts of Our Lady and the Saints who have best imitated Your interior Life bring me, also, an increase of light and strength by placing their example before my eyes, helping me to reproduce Your virtues in myself and to inspire the faithful with the spirit of Your Gospel.
The Prime and Indispensable Source of the True Christian Spirit
How am I to carry out, in my apostolate, the desire of Pius X? How are the faithful going to be helped, by me, to enter into an active participation in the Holy Mysteries and, in the public and solemn prayer of the Church which that Pope called the PRIME AND INDISPENSABLE SOURCE of the true Christian spirit, if I myself pass by the treasures of the Liturgy without even suspecting what wonders are to be found therein? If I am going to put more unity into my spiritual life, and unite myself still more to the life of the Church, I will aim at tying up all my other pious exercises with the Liturgy, as far as I possibly can. For instance, I will give preference to a subject for meditation which has a connection with the liturgical period, or feast, or cycle. In my visits to the Blessed Sacrament, I will converse more readily, according to the season, with the Child Jesus, Jesus suffering, Jesus glorified, Jesus living in His Church, and so on. Private reading on the Mystery or on the life of the Saint being honored at the time will also contribute much to this plan for a liturgical spirituality.
The Danger of a Shallow Liturgical Life
My adorable Master, deliver me from all fake liturgical life. It is ruinous to the interior life, above all because it weakens the spiritual combat. Preserve me from a piety which would have the liturgical life consist in a lot of poetic thrills, or in an intriguing study of religious archaeology, or else which leads to quietism and its awful consequences; for quietism strikes at the very roots of the interior life: fear, hope, the desire of salvation, and of perfection, the fight against faults and labor to acquire virtue. Make me really convinced that in this age of absorbing and dangerous occupations, the liturgical life, no matter how perfect it may be, can never dispense anyone from morning mental prayer. Keep far from me all sentimentality and fake piety which make the liturgical life consist in impressions and emotions, and leave the will the slave of the imagination and feelings. Not that You want me to remain cold to all the beauty and poetry which the Liturgy contains. Far from it! The Church uses her chant and her ceremonies to appeal to the sense faculties, and to reach, through them, the souls of her children more fully, and to give to their wills a more effective presentation of the true goods, and raise them up more surely, more easily, and more completely to God. I can therefore enjoy all the changeless, wholesome refreshment of dogma thrown into relief by liturgy, and let myself be moved by the majestic spectacle of a solemn High Mass, and esteem the prayers of absolution of the touching rites of Baptism, Extreme Unction, the Burial Service, and so on.
Becoming a New Man in Christ
But I must never lose sight of the fact that all the resources offered by the holy Liturgy are nothing but means to arrive at the sole end of all interior life: to put to death the “old man” that You, Jesus, may reign in his place. I will, therefore, be leading a genuine liturgical life if I am so penetrated with the spirit of the liturgy that I use my Mass, Prayers, and Official Rites to intensify my union with the Church, and thus to progress in my participation in the interior Life of Jesus Christ, and hence in His virtues, so that I will give a truer reflection of Him in the eyes of the faithful.