The Liturgical Providence of God Revisited
Some weeks ago at Holy Mass, I preached on the liturgical providence of God. I attempted to articulate something that I have long believed and experienced in my own life, that is, that God gives one exactly what one needs, at any given moment, and in any given circumstances, through the liturgical dispensation of His Word. The liturgy of the feast of Saint Raphael the Archangel is no exception; one can discover in every antiphon, and in every other element proper to the feast, the Word that cleanses, the Word that is a healing balm, the Word that causes hope to spring up and communicates a divine and heavenly joy.
The Grace of Antiphons
The antiphons of the Divine Office are the liturgical counterpart of the mysteries announced at the beginning of each decade of the Holy Rosary. Just as the mysteries suffuse the recitation of the Aves with a particular light and with the grace they contain, so too do the antiphons of the Divine Office suffuse the psalms with their light and through the psalmody, secrete the grace they contain into the soul.
The Liturgy: Primary and Indispensable
It is a great pity that so few souls allow God to care for them and provide for their needs through the liturgy. I never tire of repeating that the liturgy is where the Holy Ghost comes to the help of us, poor souls who know not how to pray as we ought.
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. (Romans 8:26–27)
People sometimes ask me to guide them through a time of retreat. They would have me provide them with suitable readings, meditations, prayers, and resolutions. Invariably I respond to such requests by directing souls to the liturgy of the Church, which is, according to Pope Saint Pius X, “the primary and indispensable wellspring of the authentic Christian spirit”. Too many pious souls clutter their lives with a panoply of devotions of practices that, while not objectionable in themselves, bring about a certain disunity within the soul and, over time, lead to a state akin to exhaustion.
Answers to Life’s Questions
One who lives from the liturgy, on the other hand, will always find the spiritual food, medicine, light, and conversation suitable to life’s changing circumstances. One who looks to the liturgy for direction will never go away disoriented. One who seeks in the liturgy the answers to life’s questions will never go away without receiving some word of beauty, goodness, and truth.
God Sends His Medicine
The antiphons of the Office for the feast of Saint Raphael the Archangel are a perfect example of the Holy Ghost’s ministrations to souls with diverse needs. The first antiphon, inspired by Tobias 3:25, highlights the healing mission of the Archangel Raphael, whose name means “Medicine of God”.
Ant. Missus est * angelus Raphael ad Tobiam et Saram, ut curaret eos.
Ant.The Angel Raphael was sent * unto Tobias and Sara to heal them.
Wheresoever angels go, joy abounds. Gaudium sit tibi semper is the angelic greeting par excellence. The utterances of the Angels are in such perfect harmony with the mind of God that they effect and communicate what they signify.
Ant. Ingressus angelus * ad Tobiam salutavit eum, et dixit: Gaudium sit tibi semper.
Ant. The Angel went in * unto Tobias, and said: Joy be ever with thee.
Angels, although they are immutanly fixed in the peace of God, recognize the play of human emotions. They sympathise with men. Thus was an Angel sent to console Our Lord in Gethsemani when His sacred humanity was crushed by sorrow: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer” (Luke 22:43).
Ant. Forti animo * esto, Tobia: in proximo enim est ut a Deo cureris.
Ant. Be of good courage, Tobias, * for it is nigh at hand that God shall heal thee.
One recognizes the near presence of the Holy Angels by the presence of a desire to praise God and to confess His mercies. One can detect the presence of devils, on the other hand, by a reluctance to praise God and by temptations to despair of His mercy.
Ant. Benedicite Deum caeli, * et coram omnibus viventibus confitemini illi, quia fecit vobiscum misericordiam suam.
Ant. Bless ye the God of Heaven, and confess Him before all living, for He hath had mercy upon you.
The fifth antiphon sums up the message of the Angels to men in every time and place: peace, deliverance from fear, thanksgiving, and praise.
Ant. Pax vobis, * nolite timere: Deum benedicite, et cantate illi.
Ant. Peace be unto you, * fear not, bless ye God, and give praise to Him.
The Angels exercise the mediatory role revealed in Jacob’s dream:
And he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it. (Genesis 28:12)
The Angels carry the prayers of men into heaven, and from heaven descend to men laden with blessings. This is the mystery of the Supplices te rogamus of the Roman Canon:
We most humbly beseech Thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high, in the sight of Thy divine majesty, that as many as shall partake of the most holy Body ☩ and Blood ☩ of Thy Son at this altar, may be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing.
Quando orabas cum lacrimis, et sepeliebas mortuos, et derelinquebas prandium tuum, et mortuos abscondebas per diem in domo tua, et nocte sepeliebas eos, ego obtuli orationem tuam Domino.
When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and didst hide the dead in thine house through the day, and bury them in the night, I offered up thy prayer before the Lord. (Tobias 12:12)
In the Benedictus Antiphon (Tobias 12:15–17), the Archangel Raphael makes known his name and his function; at the same time, he enjoins Tobias and his son to praise God and to preach, that is, to make known His wondrous deeds. The order of things is crucially important: praise precedes preaching, as in the motto of the Order of Preachers: Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare. Primacy is given always to the praise of God in accord with the precept of Saint Benedict, Nihil Operi Dei praeponatur — To put nothing before the Work of God, that is, the Divine Office (RB 43:3).
Ant. Ego sum Ráphaël Angelus, * qui asto ante Dóminum: vos autem benedícite Deum, et narráte ómnia mirabília eius, allelúia.
Ant. I am the Angel Raphael * who stand before the Lord; but bless ye God, and tell of all His wondrous works, alleluia.
The Collect recognises that we are all wayfarers and that this earthly life is but a journey in the company of the Angels sent by God to keep and shield us. This is today’s essential petition: a prayer to be preserved and protected by the Archangel Saint Raphael.
Deus, qui beatum Raphaelem Archangelum Tobiae famulo tuo comitem dedisti in via: concede nobis famulis tuis; ut eiusdem semper protegamur custodia et muniamur auxilio.
O God, Who didst give thy blessed Archangel Raphael unto thy servant Tobias to be his fellow wayfarer, grant unto us, thy servants, that the same may ever keep and shield us, help and defend us.