Semper rationabilia meditantes

Again, this week, while we were still on the threshold of the Holy Mysteries, in the Introit of the Mass, Our Lord spoke to us, saying: “I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you.” The words are given us by the prophet Jeremias, but the message is that of Our Lord Himself, speaking in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The reassurance given us by these words allows us to pray the Collect with confidence:

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that ever meditating on such things as be reasonable (semper rationabilia meditantes), we may in every word and work of ours, do that which is pleasing to Thee.

Semper rationabilia meditantes. Translators have long puzzled over how best to render this phrase. One English missal gives ever pondering on reasonable things, while another rather clumsily gives ever meditating upon the truths Thou hast proposed for our meditation. What are these rationabilia? It seems to me that these must be the verba Verbi, the very words of the Word, the words contained for us in the tabernacle of the Gospels. Does not Our Lord Himself say, “The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life” (John 6:63)?

The second phrase that challenges translators is semper meditantes. Most are content to render it as ever meditating. This works provided that one understands meditantes in the light of the teachings of the Fathers. To meditate is to repeat, not simply in one’s head, but with one’s mouth, an lips, and tongue, and teeth, and breath. Such meditation (or repetition) engages the whole human person in such wise that the rationabilia, the logoi of the Logos, the verba Verbi, enter through the ears, are taken in by the intelligence, repeated, and held in the secret of the heart until, at length, they produce Christ in our lives. Those of you who have read Caryll Houselanders little book on Our Lady, The Reed of God, will grasp the sense of this. The dear eccentric English mystic says it far better than I could ever hope to do:

God did mean it to be the ordinary thing, for it is His will that Christ shall be born in every human being’s life and not, as a rule, through extraordinary things, but through the ordinary daily life and the human love that people give to one another. Our Lady said yes. She said yes for us all. (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God)

There is a Marian subtext to today’s Collect. At bottom, it sends us to what Saint Luke tells us concerning the interior life of the Virgin Mother: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19); and again, “And his mother kept all these words in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

The conclusion of the Collect asks that our reception, repetition, and holding fast to the Word may be fruitful in both word and deed. The words and deeds that spring from the Word cannot be but pleasing to the Father — quae tibi sunt placita — for in them He recognises traits of likeness of His First–Born, his Beloved Son, the blessed fruit of the Virgin’s womb. In the Epistle Saint Paul alludes to these things when he says: “And you became followers of us, and of the Lord; receiving the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Again, in the Gospel, Our Lord Himself tells us that His word is like a seed implanted deep in a field that grows up into a splendid tree with spreading branches, and like leaven hid in three measures of meal, causing it to rise. The last phrase of the Gospel sends us back to the rationabilia of the Collect: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35). What are these “things hidden from the foundation of the world” if not the verba Verbi, the very utterances of the Word, ceaseless repeated in the liturgy of the Church?

The Offertory and Communion Chants of the Mass turn all of this to prayer. The seed of the Word, having fallen into the deepest places of the heart, becomes a cry rising out of the depths, a cry in which the Father recognises the voice of His beloved Son: “From the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my prayer: from the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord” (Psalm 129:1–2). This is the cry that the Father never fails to answer, and so, in the Communion Antiphon, Our Lord completes the assurance He gave us in the Introit, by saying to each one and to all of us: “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive and it shall be done to you” (Mark 11:24).

It is in the strength of this divine promise that we can go forth from the Holy Sacrifice today, confident that, by the quiet operation of the Holy Ghost, the seed of the Word will bring out of the humus of our poverty, our fraility, and our brokenness, things pleasing to the Father, traits of light in which He recognises the likeness of the adorable Face of His Christ.

Aspice, Deus, et respice in faciem Christi tui.
Behold, O God, and look on the face of thy Christ. (Psalm 83:10)

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