Among the souls guided by Blessed Columba Marmion was Mère Marie–Joseph van Aerden of the Carmel of Louvain. The correspondence between Dom Marmion and Mère Marie–Joseph extends from 1900 to 1923. Blessed Marmion often called Mother Marie–Joseph “Thecla” and signed his letters to her “Paul”.
In this letter, dated 9 May 1917, Abbot Marmion treats extensively of the sacred liturgy, taking care to affirm that the liturgy is not a peculiarly Benedictine treasure , but belongs to the whole Church — to Carmelites as much as to Benedictines — and is the nourishment best adapted to all souls. I have translated only the relevant portions of this letter and an interesting bit about the Community of secular priests that flourished in the Diocese of Ferns early in the last century.
9 May 1917
My very dear daughter,
. . . As Our Lord has given you to me to form you and guide you, I am going to set forth for you the true principles concerning the liturgy.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. During His mortal life, He was all of that for us by His immediate action. Since his Ascension, the Church replaces Him and exercises the same functions of way, truth, and life. She is the way by means of her Sacraments especially. By Baptism, she grafts us into the vine, she associates us to His Person as members, she unites us to Him as Head. The Holy Eucharist accentuates and perfects this union. The sacramental liturgy presides, under the guard of the Holy Spirit, over this sacramental action of the Church, and her rites and her ceremonies explain and interpret the true doctrine on this capital point in a way that is authentic and adapted to the intelligence of the faithful. This is why the Council of Trent wishes that pastors explain often these rites to their sheep. She (the Church) is truth because lex orandi lex credendi: liturgical prayer is also the law of our faith.
During the Ages of Faith, although the vast majority of the faithful were uneducated, neither knowing how to read nor possessing books, they were, nonetheless, much more instructed in the mysteries of our faith, in the mystery of Christ, than are the men and women of our days. They had explained to them the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass, the lessons of the Office; in a word, the Church, our mother herself instructed her children in an authentic manner. Erunt docibiles Dei (They were all instructed of God, John 6:45; Isaias 54:13).
It was in the liturgy that I learned to know Saint Paul and the Gospels.
The liturgy, under the breath of the Holy Ghost, draws from the Holy Scriptures, the tradition: the symbolism of the Church, a doctrine that is pure and perfectly adapted to the soul of the faithful. It was in the liturgy that I learned to know Saint Paul and the Gospels. The liturgical texts, for example the Masses de tempore, are masterpieces of doctrinal composition. There the New Testament is explained by the Old, the soul’s attitudes towards God are indicated in the orations. Little by little the soul becomes penetrated with these things and finds her mental prayer prepared by our mother, the Church, as Jacob found the repast prepared by his mother for his father Isaac.
In the 16th century, under the influence of a certain school of the Society of Jesus, the prayer of the faithful came to be divorced from the prayer of the Church. The soul, left alone, withdrawn into herself, sought the meaning of the Scriptures by reasonings and no longer went to Our Lord through the Church; from this stems the great difficulty that souls experience in prayer. To my knowledge, thousands of priests who learned, in seminary, to practice this laborious and dry mental prayer, abandoned it after their ordination, to the great detriment of their souls. The liturgy, understood as the authentic organ by means of which the Church prays and teaches her children to pray, belongs to the whole Church, and Pius X strongly engaged all the priests, the bishops, and the religious Orders to cooperate with him in putting in back into vigour. This was part of his instaurare omnia in Christo, “restoring all things in Christ”. So well did Saint Teresa understand this that she said she would give her life for the smallest liturgical rubric. Understood in this way, it [the liturgy] is not the prerogative or the specialisation of any given religious Order; it belongs to the Church!
If, by the liturgy, you mean the splendour of the offices, or liturgical scholarship, then I do believe that the Order of Saint Benedict is especially called to its study and its exercise, serving, in this way, as a source and model of liturgical knowledge. The good that I have been able to do souls — men, women, children, rich, poor, all —in revealing to them the treasures of spiritual life, of light, of facility in their relations with God that are contained in the liturgy, demonstrates to me the very great importance for every priest, parish priest, curate, for all, to work at spreading abroad this wellspring of spiritual life [that is] so secure and so ecclesial.
One soul perfectly surrendered to God and to His operations, does more for the glory of God and for the Church in one hour than others do by all their activity.
. . . I have the sentiment that Our Lord is going to introduce you into a new dwelling where you will be able to do much for the glory of God and for the Church. It is true that every perfect gift, every grace and heavenly favour descends from the Father, but by a law of His wisdom, He wills that His Christ and the Mystical Body of His Christ should be the channel of His favours. This is why Jesus asks His apostles to pray the Master of the harvest to send forth workers into His field. The Venerable Louis de Blois, O.S.B., said that one soul perfectly surrendered to God and to His operations, does more for the glory of God and for the Church in one hour than others do by all their activity. When you will be in sinu Patris, you will introduce there the one who will be unable to separate himself from his sister in Christo. As for me, I sense powerful graces and great lights in the depth of my soul. It seems to me that Christ, not only abides in me, but that I am, as it were, buried in Him, spiritually surrounded by His holy presence. I adore Him in response to the Father who reveals to me His divinity; all of that, gently, without effort, and more and more habitually. From that comes a great faith and a boundless confidence in the goodness of the heavenly Father, in spite of the habitual view that He gives me of my misery, my uncleanness, my unworthiness. You see, my dear daughter, we are walking together, by the same spirit, towards that eternity where all will be consummated in the love of our God.
. . . Concerning the liturgy, devotion to the Church comprises a great devotion to the prayer of the Church. The divorce between the soul and the prayer of the Church that happened in the 16th century had for result not only the isolation of the soul in her relations with God (as with the Protestants who intend on treating with God without the Pope, without the Church), but it also produced a great ignorance of the ecclesiastical cycle, of the feasts, of the spirit of the mysteries of Jesus Christ and, finally, isolation and separation from this life of the Church that is the channel established by Christ to communicate His life and His grace to His spouse.
. . . I have an idea that I should like to submit to you before I speak of it to His Eminence. I saw in Ireland a Community of secular priests (Diocese of Ferns, County Wexford, Enniscorthy) founded by the bishop, submissive to his direction in all things, employed by him for all his works. Their house is very well arranged with a lovely garden, etc. and serves as a retreat house for priests. I gave a retreat to this community and I marveled at the fruits of holiness and zeal that I encountered there. They have no vows, but their put their money in common, and abstain from all intoxicating drink.