Mansit solus

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Genesis 32:23-33


And He Withdrew From Them

The patriarch Jacob prefigures Our Lord at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemani. “How so?” you ask. When Jesus, as was His custom, went out to the Mount of Olives, his disciples followed Him. But, “when He came to the place He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (Lk 22:39-40). And then, He separated Himself from those dearest to Him.

Jesus distanced Himself from the men whom He had chosen to be His own, and so entered the dark struggle alone. Saint Luke says, “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.

And Jacob Remained Alone

Jacob, for his part, sees to it that his two wives, his two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions are transported across the stream. He separates Himself from every earthly good and from all his attachments. The text goes on to say, “and Jacob remained alone” (Gen 32:24). Mansit solus.

Love of Solitude

First, the patriarch Jacob, and then, Our Lord Jesus Christ, exemplify for us the two conditions of true prayer: detachment from all things earthly, and solitude. A soul’s progress in Divine Intimacy is proportionate to her detachment and to her love of solitude. Mansit solus. “And he remained alone” (Gen 32:24).

Undivided Attention

Even the worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy requires these two things of us: detachment and solitude. Liturgical solitude is the nuptial aloneness of the Bride, that is, the whole assembly, with the Divine Bridegroom. It is the Church’s offering of undivided attention to Him Who is the Offerer and the Offering. Just before entering into the most sacred moment of the Holy Mysteries, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy has the faithful sing: “let us now lay aside all earthly cares. So that we may welcome the King of all invisibly escorted by Angelic hosts.” The Great Silence, that in the traditional Roman Missal envelops the entire Canon of the Mass, including the words of consecration, is another expression of the same dispositions of detachment and solitude.

Screens, Veils, and Walls

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass requires a certain corporate solitude. Ancient Christian architecture made significant use of separations, of screens, and veils, and walls. (I am thinking, for example, of San Clemente in Rome.) The sacred liturgy unfolds in a place apart. One who enters church or approaches the altar without leaving Martha’s “many things” behind, will not taste the sweetness of Mary’s “better part.”


Jacob, alone in the silence of the night, encounters God and beholds His Face. The mysterious struggle with the angel, a struggle that lasts until dawn represents the cost of surrender to the design of God. It is the drama of Gethsemani that must be played out in each of us. We speak of Jesus’ agony in the garden; our English word agony derives, in fact, from the Greek word for struggle. “And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt’” (Mk 14:35-36).


In the end, at break of day, Jacob sought and obtained the blessing of Him with Whom he had struggled through the night. He learned, by means of his all-night struggle with the Angel of the Lord that in lesser struggles — struggles against flesh and blood — he would, with God’s help, prevail.

Christ in His Mysteries

The Mass is the real presence of Christ in His Mysteries: the Mass makes present the words and deeds of Our Lord in all their efficacy, and applies them to us. The Mass makes present Christ’s agony in the Garden of Olives, his bitter Passion in all its details, His death, His burial, His resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One who surrenders heart and soul to the mysteries of Christ made present in the Mass is compelled, and graced, to live them out in his own life. The Mass is, then, the source of our participation in the agony of Jesus in Gethsemani; it is the source of our participation in His “Yes” to the Father, in His sacrificial death, His resurrection, and His ascension.

Face to Face

Having received the Angel’s blessing, Jacob calls the name of the place Phanuel, “I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved” (Gen 32:30). Jacob’s words must be our words at the end of every Holy Mass. Vidi Deum facie ad faciem, et salva facta est anima mea. I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been healed!

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

The Mass is not only a sacramental participation in the Mysteries of Christ; it is a contemplation of Christ face to face. To Jacob it was given to behold the glory of God reflected on the face of an angel; to us is given “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The blessing that Jacob sought and received after his night-long struggle is fulfilled in the blessing that, for us, radiates from the Eucharistic Face of Christ.

Healing at the Dawning of the Day

Persevere in the struggle of faith, even when the night seems longer and darker than any night you have known. The nocturnal struggle is the purest form of nocturnal adoration. Healing will be yours at the dawning of the day.


This connection, Dom Mark, with Jacob is new to me. Thanks for expanding my horizons. The references to whole our Church's litugical patrimony is a stunning reminder how the Church REALLY forms her children in the faith and worship of God.

Dear Father,

The Jacob connection is new for me as well.

And I understand the nocturnal struggle only too well, as I've entered into a period of insomnia.

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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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