Food for the Soul
Over the past several weeks I have been reading two fascinating and inspiring biographies by Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. The first is Dom Guéranger, moine au coeur de l’Eglise, and the second, Lumière et force, Mère Cécile Bruyère, première abbesse de Sainte-Cécile. Both books are published aux Éditions de Solesmes. (Yes, rather like a Carthusian, I do attempt to read during my main meal with the book balanced on a stand in front of me. Most of the time, it works.)
Approaches to Prayer
One of the controversies that marked the restoration of Benedictine life at Solesmes had to do with the new — but, in fact, very ancient — approach to prayer that both Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère practiced and taught. In the nineteenth centuary and even, to a certain extent today, the greater number of Catholics seeking Divine Intimacy are oriented towards the doctrines and methods of prayer that flowered during the glorious Catholic Revival of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1560-1648).
Simple Adhesion to the Sacred Liturgy
To these relatively “modern” methods and systems of meditation and personal prayer — prayer in secret, oraison, or oración — Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère fostered a simple adhesion to the sacred liturgy of the Church as it unfolds hour by hour and day by day in the Mass and Divine Office. They saw no need to look elsewhere for direction, method, inspiration, or light. Their approach is at once childlike and confident because its rests on the certainty that Our Lord, having sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, His Bride, has provided her, in the sacred liturgy, with everything necessary for the growth of her children in Divine Intimacy and in holiness. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27).
Source and Summit
When I finished the long Office of Vigils this morning I was struck anew by the wisdom of a simple surrender to the prayer of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. It is — at least for souls willing to commit themselves to immersion in it, and adhesion to it — the simplest and, I daresay, most fruitful way of growing in Divine Intimacy. While I respect and honour the various schools of holiness that, over time, have grown up in the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I find in the sacred liturgy the source and summit of them all.
Office of Vigils Revisited
Review with me, if you will, the structure of this morning’s Office of Vigils. It began with the sign of the Cross traced over the lips and the threefold invocation taken from David’s psalm of spiritual resurrection: “O Lord, open Thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare Thy praise” (Ps 50:15). God Himself opens our lips for prayer, and places within our hearts the very praise of the Son, the Eternal High Priest facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Prayer begins from above. It is, first of all, God’s gracious gift to us before becoming our gift to Him.
With Confidence to the Throne of Grace
One enters prayer profoundly aware of one’s poverty and creatureliness. The cross traced on one’s lips, united to the opening verse from Psalm 50, signifies that it is by “the Blood of the Cross” (Col 1:20) and by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are rendered capable of addressing the Father with a holy boldness. “Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid” (Heb 4:16).
Psalm 3, A Daily Prayer
Saint Benedict prescribes straightaway the recitation of Psalm 3, and this every day. It is a prophecy of Our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. Addressed to the Father, it is the prayer of Christ, “Who in the days of His flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save him from death, was heard for His reverence” (Heb 5:7).
Each day begins on a battlefield; each day is a new engagement in spiritual combat. “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph 6:12).
See how they surround me, Lord, my adversaries,
how many rise up in arms against me;
everywhere voices taunting me,
his God cannot save him. (Ps 3:1-2)
My Glory and the Lifter Up of my Head
And, yet, in the thick of spiritual combat one grows in confidence, in abandonment to the Father’s faithful love. “I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn 16:2). “And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always” (Jn 11:41-42).
And yet, Lord, thou art the shield that covers me,
thou art my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I have but to cry out to the Lord,
and my voice reaches his mountain sanctuary,
and there finds hearing. (Ps 3:3-4)
The following verse is, without any doubt, the reason for Saint Benedict’s choice of Psalm 3 at the beginning of each day. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before dying, said, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46), can also say, “Safe in my Father’s hand, I lay down upon the wood of the Cross, and slept the sleep of death, and rose up again.” One baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and nourished with the mysteries of His immolated and glorious Body and Blood from the altar, is, at every moment, immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the ongoing work of redemption. I too can say, with Christ and in Him, “Safe in my Father’s hand I lay down, and slept, and rose up again.” Sleep and rising, sanctified by the prayer of the Church, are images of our participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord.
Safe in God’s hand I lay down, and slept,
and rose up again. (Ps 3:5)
I Will Not Be Afraid
This participation in the mystery of the Cross is the exorcism of fear and the ground of one’s confidence in the triumph of Love. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
Thy Benediction Upon Thy People
And now, though thousands of the people set upon me from every side,
I will not be afraid of them.
Bestir thyself, Lord; my God, save me;
thine to smite my enemies on the cheek, thine to break the fangs of malice.
From the Lord all deliverance comes;
let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people. (Ps 3:6-8)
The psalm ends on a note of assurance and so inspires one to begin the new day in hope. There is a final petition: “Let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people.” Even when one prays in the first person singular, even when one prays alone, as I do in the little oratory of my anchorhold, one prays in communion with the whole Church, asking the blessing of the Lord upon all His people and, in my particular vocation, especially upon His priests, my brothers.
To be continued.