Foremost and Indispensable

Beato 008The following conference was given at Evangelium Ireland on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

Restore All Things in Christ
One–hundred–thirteen years ago, on November 22nd, 1903, Pope Pius X, having been elected only three months earlier, on August 4th, promulgated a document that was to send shock waves through the Church. It was, in fact, a motu proprio concerning the role of sacred music in the liturgy, but in treating of this subject, a field that one might think reserved to specialists, Pope Pius X revealed to the Church and to the world precisely what would drive his whole pontificate. Pope Pius X had but one passion: Instaurare omnia in Christo, «to restore all things in Christ» (Ephesians 1:10). Looking around him — and this even before the carnage and cultural upheaval of the First World War — Pope Pius X saw Europe falling away from Christ. He resolved to revive the Christian soul of Europe by a fresh infusion of what he called «the authentic Christian spirit».

As recently as last Tuesday, July 5th, His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, speaking in London at the Sacra Liturgia Conference, said: «Let us take the personal motto of Saint Pius X — Restore all things in Christ — and make it our standard». I cannot read or recall this phrase of Pope Saint Pius X, «to restore all things in Christ» without thinking of how compellingly it rings in Ireland today. For a very long time, it was thought that even if Europe were to fall away from Christ and, in some way, lose its soul, this could never, would never happen to Ireland. It was thought that Ireland, having been once given to Christ by Saint Patrick, would never fall away from Christ. It was thought that Ireland’s Catholic soul, expressed in a thousand different ways, and informing all of Irish culture, would continue to burn through the ages, blazing against the night sky like Saint Patrick’s fire on the hill of Tara, but things are not today as it was once thought they would always be.

The Authentic Christian Spirit
Ireland, no less than other Christian nations once deemed «forever Catholic», is in need of a fresh infusion of what Saint Pius X called, «the authentic Christian spirit». It is this vital need that sends us back one–hundred–thirteen years to re–visit the saintly pontiff’s prophetic motu proprio. What exactly did Saint Pius X say?

Filled as We are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church. [Pope St Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini, 22 November 1903]

Saint Pius X says that he is filled «with a most ardent desire» — ardent, of course, means burning — the holy pontiff’s teaching still has incendiary potential. It puts me in mind of the words of Our Lord: «I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?» (Luke 12:49) What exactly is the object of the saint’s burning desire? It is, «to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful». And what is the true Christian spirit? Saint Pius is not speaking here of the Holy Spirit, but rather of the supernatural vision of things that the Holy Spirit produces in those in whom He dwells. Let us flash forward sixty years to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated on December 4th, 1963. It is in the second article of this document that we shall find, I think, a reasonably clear description of what Saint Pius X meant when he spoke of «the true Christian spirit».

It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek. [Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 2]

Christian Culture
This is the true Christian spirit that, in shaping a culture, gives rise to literature, poetry, music, architecture, painting, sculpture, and all the arts. This is the true Christian spirit that endows the Church with an enchanting beauty and a mysterious attractiveness. This is the true Christian spirit that makes doctrine luminous, and that makes virtue a thing of joy. This is the true Christian spirit that brings forth laws in harmony with the Beatitudes, and that creates works of mercy to meet every misery. Wherever this true Christian spirit prevails there will a culture of holiness spring up. Saint Paul puts it this way:

It is given to us, all alike, to catch the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, with faces unveiled; and so we become transfigured into the same likeness, borrowing glory from that glory, as the Spirit of the Lord enables us. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Holiness — «catching the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, with faces unveiled» — convinces where all else fails. Holiness, «the true Christian spirit», converts not only individuals, but societies, and entire nations.

Shortly before his death on August 30th, 1954, Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, the Benedictine Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was asked to speak a few parting words to his clergy and seminarians. It was the heyday of Catholic Action in post–World War II Italy: dedicated lay men and women, as well as priests, were spending themselves in every manner of apostolic outreach: weekly study groups, sporting events, theatrical productions, and even parish movie halls. Turning to his seminarians, the dying prelate said:

I have no memento to give you apart from an invitation to holiness. It would seem that people are no longer convinced by our preaching; but faced with holiness, they still believe, they still fall to their knees and pray. People seem to live ignorant of supernatural realities, indifferent to the problems of salvation. But when an authentic saint, living or dead passes by, all run to be there. Do not forget that the devil is not afraid of our [parish] sports fields and of our movie halls: he is afraid, on the other hand, of our holiness. If you are holy, you will save souls. You may be learned, you may be sociologists, you may be athletes, as such you do will do very little.

The culture of holiness: this is is «the true Christian spirit» that Pope Saint Pius X wanted to see «flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful». It is the tiny mustard seed; it is the bit of leaven in the mass of dough. It is, in the words of Saint Paul, the good fragrance of Jesus Christ permeating society:

I give thanks to God, that he is always exhibiting us as the captives in the triumph of Christ Jesus, and through us spreading abroad everywhere, like a perfume, the knowledge of himself. We are Christ’s incense offered to God, making manifest both those who are achieving salvation and those who are on the road to ruin; as a deadly fume where it finds death, as a life-giving perfume where it finds life. Who can prove himself worthy of such a calling? We do not, like so many others, adulterate the word of God, we preach it in all its purity, as God gave it to us, standing before God’s presence in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14–16)

Active Participation

Following closely Pope Pius X’s line of thought, we see that his declared goal was «the restoration of all things to Christ»; his means was the infusion of the «true Christian spirit». How did Saint Pius X envisage the acquisition and communication of what he calls «the true Christian spirit»? Was it by means of study and reflection? By means of study days and conferences? By means of works of mercy and social justice? By means of meditations, arduous self–examination, and a rigorous fidelity to certain ascetical practices and devotions? The saintly pontiff spoke of none of these things, all of which, while good in themselves, are no guarantee of seeing  «the true Christian spirit flourishing in every respect and preserved by all the faithful». This is, in fact, what Saint Pius X says:

We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church. [Pope St Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini, 22 November 1903]

The «true Christian spirit», by means of which all things can be restored to Christ our King and Eternal High Priest, flows out from the altar and returns to the altar. Its wellspring is in the sanctuary. Saint Pius X, therefore, deems it necessary «to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font». Saint Pius X’s own words are the source of the somewhat provocative title I gave to this talk: «Foremost and Indispensable».

Sanctity and Dignity of the Temple

The revitalisation of Catholicism in Ireland, and anywhere else, begins with taking care, before anything else, of the sanctity and dignity of the temple, that is, of our churches and of the sacred liturgy enacted in our sanctuaries. As goes the liturgy, so goes everything else. Irreverence in the liturgy foments irreverence everywhere else. Indifference and legalistic minimalism in the liturgy beget indifference, and legalistic minimalism in every sector of Christian life. Shoddiness, meanness, and ugliness in things liturgical propagate shoddiness, meanness, and ugliness in all of life. To put it quite bluntly: there can be no restoration of Ireland to Christ and no evangelisation of the culture until there is a restoration of sanctity, dignity, reverence, and beauty to the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

There is, says Saint Pius X, a «foremost and indispensable font» from which the «true Christian spirit» flows, and this «foremost and indispensable font» is «active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church». This last phrase is Saint Pius X’s description of the sacred liturgy: « the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church».

Defining the Sacred Liturgy

References to the sacred liturgy can often be confusing. People hold a variety of understandings and misunderstandings of what the term means. Let us, for a moment, fast forward from 1903 to 1963 to hear the Second Vatican Council’s definition of the sacred liturgy in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. The definition is not set apart in the text; it is, in fact, buried in article 7, rather like the treasure hidden in the field:

Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father. Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 7)

Allow me to present this definition in other words: The liturgy is the action of Jesus Christ, «Mediator between God and men and High Priest who has gone before us into heaven», united to His Body the Church, in the glorification and adoration of the Father, and in the sanctification of men, and this by means of sacred signs, perceptible to the senses. These sacred signs — think: water, oil, bread, wine, fire, light, incense, hieratic gesture, ritual chant, facing east, etc. — are not chosen arbitrarily; they are revealed in sacred Scripture, transmitted in sacred Tradition, and hallowed by means of continuous use in the Church universal.

Pope Pius XII, in the first article of his masterful encyclical of 20 November 1947, Mediator Dei, gives a sweeping, almost lyrical description of what the sacred liturgy is. The passage concludes:

The priesthood of Jesus Christ is a living and continuous reality through all the ages to the end of time, since the liturgy is nothing more nor less than the exercise of this priestly function. (Mediator Dei, art. 1)

Sixteen years later, in 1963, the Second Vatican Council, affirming and amplifying Pope Saint Pius X’s use of the terms «foremost and indispensable», goes on to say this:

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 7)

Beginning at the Altar

The effective restoration of all things to Christ, the restoration of Ireland to Christ, cannot begin with a crusade for the reform of moral norms, as desirable and necessary as this may be. Nor can it begin merely with a renewed and more diligent application to catechesis and apologetics, as desirable, urgent, and praiseworthy as these things are. The restoration of all things to Christ, the restoration of Ireland to Christ, must begin from the altar, that is, from the pierced Heart of the Lamb. The Church has always held to a three part ordered progression in these matters: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

Lex Orandi

The lex orandi in its givenness is what constitutes the Catholic liturgy. The words we sing and say in organic continuity with tradition; the way we sing and say them in organic continuity with tradition; the sacred signs that, in organic continuity with tradition, engage our senses; the gestures received from tradition that are the choreography of worship: all of these things, functioning together symphonically, make up the lex orandi. To one who asks the question, «What do you Catholics believe?», one should be able to respond confidently, «Come and see how we worship». The liturgy of the Church precedes her theology or, rather, it is her theologia prima, her first theology. The liturgy itself, celebrated as the Church intends it to be celebrated, is her single most powerful force for the conversion of souls, for growth in the knowledge of the mysteries of the faith, and for the restoration of peoples and cultures, in pulchritudine pacis, in the beauty of peace (Isaias 32:18), to Christ the King .

Lex Credendi

The lex credendi is the articulation of Catholic doctrine; it emerges from the ground of the liturgy; it is what theologians ponder and write about; it is what preachers preach and teachers teach; it is what one finds synthesized, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The lex credendi always looks back to the lex orandi, and points forward to it.

Lex Vivendi

The lex vivendi is all that pertains to the moral law, to the eradication of vice, the practice of virtue, and the development and practice of Catholic social ethics. The lex vivendi is the irradiation of the sacred liturgy and the application of Catholic doctrine into every sector of human life.

Nothing Preferred to the Work of God

The sacred liturgy, the lex orandi, then, comes first. Restore the sacred liturgy and you will restore right doctrine; restore right doctrine and you will restore the right moral order. Saint Benedict puts it this way in his Rule: «Let nothing, then, be preferred to the Work of God». Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this principle on February 14th, 2012, in his last public address, dedicated to the correct interpretation of the documents of Second Vatican Council:

I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin [the Council] with the [Constitution on the] liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. Operi Dei nihil praeponatur: this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council. . . . In this sense, over and above the practical factors that advised against beginning straight away with controversial topics, it was, let us say, truly an act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy, God, adoration.

Returning to the Foremost and Indispensable

The rejuvenation of the Catholic faith in Ireland and the restoration of all things in Ireland to Christ must begin, then, with what Pope Saint Pius X calls «foremost and indispensable»: «active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church». Allow me, then, to propose, ten points of return to what is «foremost and indispensable», ten markers on the road to the restoration of all things in Christ.

I. Learn about the sacred liturgy. Come to know the liturgy. Make your liturgical education a priority. Cultivate your knowledge of the Roman Missal and the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours). Given that the sacred liturgy is the «foremost and indispensable font of the authentic Christian spirit», study of the sacred liturgy is imperative for anyone who is committed to the restoration of all things to Christ. Out of the hundreds of excellent titles that I could mention, I would recommend Pope Benedict XVI’s, The Spirit of the Liturgy, as being suitable for those just beginning to discover the splendour of the Church’s worship.

II. Keep abreast of the marvelous developments that are taking place in the promotion of the Church’s liturgical life, both in its traditional expression, the Usus Antiquior and in the so–called «reform of the reform», and respectfully invite and encourage your priest friends to do the same. You will want to read everything that His Eminence, Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, writes concerning the sacred liturgy. I would call your attention, notably, to the masterful and compelling discourse that Cardinal Sarah pronounced in London on Tuesday last. He said, among other things:

I want to make an appeal to all priests… I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—Eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God… I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre. And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year… may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: «they have turned their back to me» (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord!I would like to appeal also to my brother bishops: please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshippers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.

III. Recover a sacral vocabulary: it is time to speak again, notably, of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Just «Eucharist» is not good enough; while technically correct and theologically rich in itself, the unqualified use of the expression has led to a loss of awareness of Holy Mass as a Sacrifice offered to God, as the actualisation here now of the redeeming mystery of the Cross, the immolation of the Lamb of God, the glorious exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is time also, perhaps, to dust off our superlatives and restore reverence to our language: Most Holy Trinity, Most Blessed Sacrament. The sacral superlative is like the humeral veil used at Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament: it is a way of handling certain words with a perceptible care for reverence. Of course, all such linguistic devices can become devalued and trivialised, but this happens not because of any inadequacy inherent in the words, but because the brightness of faith is somehow obscured in the mind of the speaker. I should like to emphasise that the retrieval of the term, «Holy Sacrifice of the Mass» will do more to restore reverence in our churches than the multiplication of sermons and the proliferation of study groups. Language shapes thinking; thinking determines the course of life. Language has consequences.

IV. Do whatever you can to promote the recovery of the sung liturgy as normative. Pope Saint Pius X wrote in 1903: «Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times» (Tra le sollecitudini II:3). I fear that in most places, after one–hundred–thirteen years, we are still waiting for this to happen. In 1963 — fifty–three years ago — the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council decreed: «Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them» (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 54). Have these steps been taken? In 2007 — nine years ago — in the Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict XVI wrote: «While respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy». I would suggest that there has been a certain amount of passive resistance to these directives. Enough anti–liturgical lethargy. Enough foot–dragging. What does the Apostle say? «Let your contentment be in the Holy Spirit; your tongues unloosed in psalms and hymns and spiritual music, as you sing and give praise to the Lord in your hearts».

V. Encourage your priests. Many zealous, young priests find themselves, willy–nilly, in an environment of anti–liturgical lethargy, and of a dull, beaten down indifference to the ars celebrandi, the art of proper celebration. Certain of our priests were not given in their years of seminary the deep and thorough liturgical formation that the Second Vatican Council mandated. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy treated clearly of the question:

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 14)

Priests are often held back from availing themselves of Summorum Pontificum or from implementing elements of the Reform–of–the–Reform, or from improving, elevating, and beautifying the celebration of the sacred  liturgy by a real or perceived lack of encouragement from the people. Many priests suffer from a paralysing fear of criticism. Give heart to priests who manifest zeal for the sacred liturgy. Tell them that you appreciate their efforts. Support them in every little step towards the restoration of all things to Christ through the worthy, reverent, and beautiful celebration of the sacred mysteries. And when they begin to restore the ad orientem position at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, stand behind them.

VI. Consider taking up the prayer of the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours) either in whole or in part. Again, in 1963 — fifty–three years ago — the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy decreed:

Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually» (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 100).

In the great ages of the liturgical piety the Breviary was, along with the Missal, the spiritual storehouse from which all the faithful drew their sustenance. Ireland’s own Frank Duff, founder of the Legion Mary, was intensely devoted to the Divine Office. In December 1917, Frank Duff began to recite the Divine Office, and continued to recite it daily in Latin until the end of his life. «I have looked on the Divine Office», he said, «as pure communication with God».

VII. Engage bodily in the liturgy of the Church. You will find an excellent introduction to the physicality of the liturgy in Romano Guardini’s little classic, Sacred Signs. This means more than learning how to make the sign of the cross, how to stand, bow, genuflect, kneel, and walk in procession. It means more than appreciating the use of water, oil, bread, wine, fire, incense, and lights. It also means recovering the bodily disciplines of fasting, abstinence, and keeping vigil, but always at the rhythm of the liturgy, in harmony with the Church–at–Prayer.

VIII. Accept, once and for all, that the sacred liturgy takes time. It is an investment of time or, even better, a lavish pouring out for God of what is most precious in human life, the passing hours and minutes of our days and nights. Resist the stingy, mean, calculating legalistic minimalism of those who see the sacred liturgy only in terms of satisfying an obligation. Know that the liturgy is a sacred act of love in which the Church, the Bride of Christ and His Beloved, receives His Body and, in turn, offers herself unreservedly to Him, in complete openness to the operations of the Holy Ghost. Once you cross the threshold of the sacred liturgy, leave behind the chronos of the world (measured time) with its calendars, and clocks, and mobile phones and Ipads, and pass into the kairos of the kingdom of heaven, the eternal moment of God, the hodie (today) in which all the mysteries of Christ are made present, the foretaste of eternity.

IX. Envelop your participation in the sacred liturgy in silence. Silence before, and silence after. The loss of silence in so many churches is, I think, a direct result of the endemic desacralisation that has swept through society. It is further related to the relational configuration set up by «Mass facing the people» and to the trivialisation of the solemn hieratic gesture that was once the Kiss of Peace. At the same time, the resolution to practice silence and to foster it, both before and after Holy Mass, is a significant contribution to the recovery of the sacred.

X. Offer yourself daily in response to the Father’s desire for adorers in spirit and in truth. «The hour cometh, and now is», said Our Lord to the Samaritan woman at the well, «when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him» (John 4:23). You will discover that, not only is the sacred liturgy «foremost and indispensable» in the restoration of all things to Christ; it will become «the One Thing Necessary» (Luke 10:42), for the liturgy is Christ, Mediator between God and men. Thus will you begin, slowly and over time, to say with Saint Ambrose: «Face to face, hast Thou made Thyself known to me, O Christ, for I have found Thee in Thy mysteries» (Apologia Prophetae David, 12, p.58, PL14, col. 875).