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Salus populi ego sum

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The Church's Year of Grace

The Church's Year of Grace, a popular commentary on the liturgical year by Canon Regular of Saint Augustine Dom Pius Parsch, had a profound influence on my earliest discovery of the liturgy. I can still visualize exactly where it was on the shelves of the school library. Beginning in fourth grade, I think, I returned to it often, intrigued by the Beuronese line drawings and the wonderful explanations of Roman stational churches, antiphons, and all such things. It is a great pity that Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minnesota) has not seen fit to republish The Church's Year of Grace. The rising generation of young people eager to grow in the knowledge and love of the traditional liturgy would benefit immensely from a new edition of Parsch's work.

Station at Saints Cosmas and Damian

I delighted in the commentary given by Pius Parsch for this Thursday of the Third Week of Lent. The stational church is the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the beneficent physician martyrs of the East. Parsch sums up the liturgy of the day: "Christ is the Physician, the house of God is the hospital, and the Church, the divinely instituted clinic for healing souls."


Today's Introit begins with the word salus, health. Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses us while we are yet on the threshold of the Holy Mysteries, saying: "I am the health of the people! In whatever affliction they appeal to Me, I will hear them." The Divine Physician calls his people to health of soul and body.


The Gospel (Lk 4:38-44) relates an entire day of healing and deliverance from the powers of darkness, beginning with the healing of Peter's mother-in-law. At vespertide those afflicted with diseases of any kind are brought to Jesus. He lays hands upon each one and heals them. Many are freed from demonic possession. The devils come out of them confessing in loud cries that Jesus is the Son of God. He rebukes them, and they fall silent. The full mystery of His messianic identity is not yet to be disclosed.

The Church: A Spiritual Sanatorium

Dom Parsch invites us to look courageously into the Lord's Face today and say: "Thou art my Physician. Cut away, cauterize, work Thy healing art on me . . . only make me well for everlasting life." He presents the Church as a sanatorium for sin-sick souls. Why, then, are we astonished and scandalized by the weaknesses of our brothers?

Before leaving the world our Saviour established a clinic, the Church, whose main task was to heal sick souls. The Church is a great spiritual sanatorium. All the practices and ordinances of the Church have as their ultimate purpose to heal men and keep them healthy. Think of the sacraments: baptism, penance, extreme unction. Think in particular of the medicinal power of the Holy Eucharist. Yes, the twofold purpose of the Eucharist is to nourish and to heal. Nourishment to build divine life, medicine to overcome the diseases ravaging the soul!
To our great detriment we have practically forgotten the latter significance of the Eucharist. We keep believing that Communion is only for saints, a reward for virtue. The time of Mass is the heavenly Physician's normal office hours. . . .
From today's liturgy we will take with us into daily life this joyous conviction: we have a Healer who wishes to heal our infirmities; we have a clinic providing all the means needed to restore our health; we have a medicine which infallibly produces its effect if we use it as prescribed.

For My Oblates . . . and Others

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Saint Benedict the Practical

When it comes to the observance of Lent, Saint Benedict is very practical, very concrete. He doesn't spend a lot of time telling us what we ought to think. He doesn't tell us what to say. Thoughts about penitence are not penitence. Talking about penitence is not doing it. The patterns of our life are changed, in the end, by what we do. Thoughts are necessary, it is true; but a thought of penitence never translated into action is perfectly useless. Words are helpful -- sometimes -- but words that come out of our mouths to float in the air and disappear do nothing to advance our conversion. Deeds change our lives; deeds re-orient our hearts. They need not be big deeds. Very little ones are surprisingly effective, especially when one little deed follows another and another and another, creating a pattern of conversion.

The Moses of Monks

Saint Benedict, our law-giver, the "Moses of monks" as the tradition calls him, shows us how to carry out the choice for life that Moses, the law-giver of Israel, presents in Deuteronomy. "Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice,and cleaving to him" (Dt 30:19-20). Holy Father Benedict's presentation of Lenten observance can be summed up in two little words: more and less.


More: "At this season let us increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food and drink." He insists on our doing something. More prayer. Thinking about doing more prayer is not more prayer. Get up five minutes early to make more time for prayer and you are doing something. Give up five minutes of looking at the newspaper and give it to God in prayer. That is doing something.

Lectio Divina

In Chapter 48 Saint Benedict is explicit about more lectio divina. He even rearranges the daily schedule in order to provide more time for reading during Lent. Do you see how very concrete he is? It is not enough to think about doing more lectio, not enough to talk about doing more lectio. He goes about it very concretely by changing the order of the day. He commissions one or two seniors to go about the monastery to see that the brethren are not wasting the time aside for more lectio by engaging in more of what they should be doing less: talking, wasting time, and distracting others.


Less: less food, less drink, less sleep, less talkativeness, less looseness in speech (cf. RB 49:7). Many folks are put off by Saint Benedict's proposals, but that may be because they read them without taking them in reflectively. He says "less"; he doesn't say how much less. This is where Holy Father Benedict meets Saint Thérèse, the Doctor of the "Little Way." The "less" of Saint Benedict is the very little thing of Thérèse: the word saved for recreation, the second or third cup of coffee, the unkind judgment nipped in the bud.

Do Something

The choice for life remains, all too easily, something that floats in the mist of pious aspirations without taking shape in deeds. Moses teaches that the choice for life comes down to three things: "love the Lord your God, heed his voice, and cling to him" (Dt 30:20). Even these three things risk being formless and vague. Translate, "love the Lord your God," into one concrete act of love -- today. Don't think about loving God, do something to make it real. Translate, "heed his voice," into one concrete act of obedience, of silence -- today. Translate, "cling to him," into a choice for prayer that will cut into your routine and affect your management of time -- today. It need not be long. Pure prayer is often brief.

A Eucharistic Oblation

For Saint Benedict all of these little deeds have immense Eucharistic potential. In speaking of our Lenten deeds of "more" and "less," he uses terms that evoke the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: " . . . cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus offerat Deo" (RB 49:6)" -- "let each one make offering to God in the joy of the Holy Spirit." The "shapes and forms" of Lenten deeds are joined to the "shapes and forms" of the bread and wine placed on the altar.

An Offertory Procession

Lest there be in our offering any impurity of pride, presumption, or vainglory, Saint Benedict would have both our "more" and our "less" submitted to the Abbot for blessing and approval. The line of monks going to the office of the Abbot, each one asking for blessing and approval of his Lenten "more" and "less," is the offertory procession of Lent, making each deed worthy of oblation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Lent is just this: a procession to the altar, a movement into the mystery of the Cross. How could it be anything but joy?

Ut sanentur

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End of the Penal Code

This morning at Chapter we concluded the eight chapters of the Holy Rule (XXII-XXX) that comprise Saint Benedict's so-called "penal code." The Holy Patriarch reserves the last of these chapters for his treatment of how boys are to be corrected. It was not unusual in Saint Benedict's time for parents to entrust their sons to the monks for a period of intellectual and spiritual education. The lads in question probably ranged in age from five to sixteen. Some of these, but not all, would have been destined for monastic profession. One can only imagine the challenges presented by a troop of boisterous youngsters in the cloister.

Readers of the Holy Rule are sometimes shocked to discover that, where reason fails to bring a brother to mend his ways, Saint Benedict recommends corporal punishment. He even mentions severe fasts (to bed without pudding?) and sharp stripes (a judicious application of the rod).


I am, however, far more impressed by the brilliant first and last sentences of Chapter XXX. "Every age and understanding," says Saint Benedict, "should have its appropriate measure of discipline." What a wise principle! Saint Benedict fosters adaptability, reflection, and due consideration of a brother's age and of his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. There is in the Rule of Saint Benedict nothing of the rigid "one size fits all" approach that one sometimes finds in other ascetical systems.


The last sentence of Chapter XXX sums up the inspiration and justification for all the precedes it in the "penal code": ut sanentur, "that they may be healed." The monastery is, in the end, an infirmary for weak and wounded souls, a place of healing, of purification, and of transformation. Weaknesses, be they physical or moral, are not shocking in a monastic community. They are expected, diagnosed, and, by the all-sufficient grace of Christ, changed into strengths. The Apostles says, "He (Christ) told me, My grace is enough for you; my strength finds its full scope in your weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me . . . when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all."

An Abbot's Prayer

Saint Aelred's splendid Pastoral Prayer might even have been inspired by elements in Saint Benedict's "penal code." I have always loved this particular section of it:

See me, sweet Lord, see me.
My hope, most Merciful, is in your loving kindness;
for you will see me, either as a good physician sees, intent upon my healing,
or else as a kind master, anxious to correct,
or a forbearing father, longing to forgive.

This, then, is what I ask, O font of pity,
trusting in your mighty mercy and merciful might:
I ask you, by the power of your most sweet name,
and by your holy manhood's mystery,
to put away my sins and heal the languors of my soul,
mindful only of your goodness, not of my ingratitude.

Further, against the vices and evil passuions which still assault my soul,
(whether they come from past bad habit, or from my immeasurable daily negligence,
whether their source is in the weakness of my corrupt and vitiated nature,
or in the secret tempting of malignant spirits)
against these vices, Lord, may your sweet grace afford me strength and courage;
that I may not consent thereto, nor let them reign in this my mortal body,
nor yield my members to be instruments of wickedness.

And as I thus resist,
do you all the while heal all my weakness perfectly,
cure all my wounds, and put back into shape all my deformities.

Saint Aelred (1110-1167), the Bernard of the North, was abbot of Rievaulx in England from 1146 until his death. His Pastoral Prayer reveals how profoundly the Rule of Saint Benedict had shaped his ideal and led him to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.


I sometimes wonder if those of you who keep watch before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus for the sake of His priests, really grasp the significance of your adoration. Allow me on this Lenten First Friday of March to suggest something of what you are doing, and of what Our Lord is doing through you, when you persevere in prayer close to the tabernacle or in the radiance of the monstrance containing His adorable Body and Blood.

A Divine Work

You are participating in a divine work, in a work of grace. You are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face as an empty vessel to be filled with the power and sweetness of the Holy Spirit, so that souls might drink of His Love and, drinking, know that His Love is sweeter than any earthly delight.


You are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face as an intercessor in whose soul the Holy Spirit is sighing with ineffable groanings, and obtaining from the Father, through Christ, the Eternal High Priest, all that the Father desires to give His priests in this world and in the next.


You are a reparator opening yourself to receive the love that so many others ignore, refuse, or treat with indifference, coldness, and disdain. By offering yourself to the Lord Jesus in an adoration of reparation, you console His Eucharistic Heart, which burns with love and so desires to fill souls with His tender mercy.


When you are before HIs Eucharistic Face, you are the privileged friend of His Heart, keeping Him company in His loneliness and allowing Him to share with you His sorrows, His grieving over sin, and His designs for a priesthood made pure and radiant with holiness.


When you are before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face, you are with Him a victim of love, handed over and bound to remain at your place before the altar with no desires or plans other than to love, to adore, to make reparation, and to represent all priests in a prayer that simple, and confident, and life-changing.

The Work of Christ the Priest

When you are in adoration before His Eucharistic Face, you are are not idle; you are working in a way far more efficacious than any human undertaking can be. This is your work and it is Christ's work in you. This is a work that many will criticize and not understand. You are before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus in a divinely active collaboration with Him, who from the Sacrament of His Love, continues His priestly mediation before the Father on behalf of poor sinners.

Never Doubt

Never doubt of the value of your hours of adoration. It is this that Our Lord is asking you to do, and He will draw from your presence in the sanctuary a great good and a superabundance of graces for His priests.

Confirmetur in eo caritas

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This morning at Chapter (a daily reflection on a chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict) we read one of my favourite passages: "That the Abbot Be Solicitous for the Excommunicated" (Chapter XXVII).

Let the Abbot show all care and concern towards erring brethren because "they that are in health need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Mt 9:12). Therefore, like a wise physician he ought to use every opportunity to send consolers, namely, wise elderly brethren, to comfort the troubled brother, as it were, in secret, and induce him to make humble satisfaction; and let them console him "lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor 2:7); but, as the same Apostle saith, "let your charity towards him be strengthened" (2 Cor 2:8); and let everyone pray for him.

The Excommunicated Brother

First of all, what does Saint Benedict mean by "an excommunicated brother"? Saint Benedict so cherishes life together that he can think of no better corrective measure than depriving a brother, in whole or in part, of participation in the daily round of community activities and, in particular, of meals and of the solemn choral prayer. One might think of it as an adult version of the very effective "time out" that my brother, the father of three, uses with his sometimes obstreperous children.

Toward Repentance and Healing

Saint Benedict is not so much concerned with punishing offences as he is with bringing the offending brother to repentance and to healing. The measures prescribed in the so called "penal code" of the Holy Rule are medicinal and therapeutic, not punitive. Saint Benedict presents them as remedies for the variety of spiritual infirmities that can and do affect even the most fervent monastic communities.

Sapiens Medicus

The brothers in question are not iniquitous criminals; they are weak men who have fallen short of the ideal, frail sinners who keep on missing the mark, even after repeated admonitions and interventions. The first biblical passage that Saint Benedict quotes in this chapter is Matthew 9:12: "They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill." He describes the abbot (the father of the monastery) as a sapiens medicus, wise physician. He would have him use "every remedy in his power" to restore an ailing brother to spiritual health.

Salutary Intervention

In my own long experience of religious life, I have, more than once, witnessed situations in which a brother gave clear signs of delinquency; in which there was evidence of patterns of unhealthy and perhaps sinful behaviour; in which a brother by "acting out" was, in fact, crying out for help. Also, more than once, I have witnessed superiors turn a blind eye to the problem, refusing to intervene, even in cases where a wise and compassionate intervention could have brought about a real conversion of life and avoided scandal.

I know of one instance in which a student brother residing in a community other than his own was giving unmistakable signs of moral distress, unhealthy personal choices, and depression. The brother in question kept strange hours, failed to participate in community prayer and meals, and avoided the companionship of the religious residing in the same house. Although the superior of the host community had no canonical authority over this brother (who belonged to another religious Order), he certainly had an evangelical obligation to offer him the ministrations of mercy and of healing. Instead, like the priest and the levite of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the superior passed the brother by; he never sought out the brother for a personal conversation, and never attempted to intervene in a situation that had become a question to many. At the very least, he could have approached the brother in difficulty as a priest to a brother priest and said, "I sense -- or I know -- that you are in difficulty, brother. How can I help?"

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Over a decade later, this same superior, denounced the brother whom he had virtually ignored in the throes of a grave spiritual and emotional crisis. He destroyed the brother's reputation, causing untold anguish and grief. All of this happened long after the brother had recognized the error of his ways, sincerely repented, and begun to strive for holiness of life and emotional health. The superior, although a son of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis, would have done well to take a lesson from the Rule of Saint Benedict.


Even when Saint Benedict is obliged to separate a wayward monk from the rest of the community to give him time to reflect, and also to prevent the spread of his spiritual malady to others, the wise abbot sends trustworthy elders to "secretly comfort the troubled brother, to induce him to make humble satisfaction, and to console him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Here one sees the magnanimity and resourcefulness of Saint Benedict; the abbot shares the duties of his spiritual paternity with chosen elders in the community. They are, as it were, the envoys of his mercy and paternal tenderness.

Charity and Prayer

When a brother shows signs of spiritual distress by disobedience, possessiveness, disregard for the Rule, or aggressive behaviour, that brother should not be judged, condemned, and forsaken. "Let charity be strengthened toward him," says Saint Benedict. The remedy is more love, not less. And, he adds, "let everyone pray for him." Charity and prayer can melt even the most hardened hearts, provided that those loving and praying, persevere and not lose heart.

The Care of Weakly Souls

The next section of Chapter XXVII reveals the Heart of Jesus living in the heart of Saint Benedict:

For the Abbot is bound to use the greatest solicitude, and to strive with all prudence and diligence, that none of the flock entrusted to him perish. For the Abbot must know that he has taken upon himself the care of weakly souls, not a tyranny over the strong; and let him fear the threat of the Prophet wherein God saith: "What ye saw to be fat, that ye took to yourselves, and what was diseased you threw away" (Ezek 34:3-4). And let him follow the tender example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek the one that had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such pity, that He was pleased to place it on His sacred shoulders and thus carry it back to the fold (cf Lk 15:5).

Paternal Solicitude

In dealing with the wayward sheep of his flock, the abbot is to manifest the greatest solicitude, that is, an almost maternal devotedness. For an abbot after the heart of Saint Benedict there can be no greater tragedy than the loss of a brother. I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Saint Paul: "I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For I wished myself to be anathema from Christ, for my brethren. . . ." (Rom 9:1-2).

Father and Physician of Souls

The abbot is above all a father and a physician of souls. He is entrusted with the care of those bearing the burden of moral infirmities, and of weaknesses of soul and body. The abbot is not a tyrant driving the strong with threats and inspiring fear; he is a shepherd tending the flock with love and inspiring confidence. Saint Benedict warns the abbot of the sin of preferring "the fat" -- the gifted, the charming, the virtuous, the intelligent, and the comely -- and of throwing away "the diseased" -- the not-so-gifted, the trying, those caught in webs of vice, the unintelligent, and the unattractive.

The Lost Sheep

Saint Benedict enjoins the abbot to follow the tender example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine well-behaved and observant sheep, so as to search for the one who, deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil, has lost his way in the mists of temptation. If that one sheep cannot walk, the abbot is bound to carry him on his shoulders and, perhaps, to keep him by his side until, at length, he recovers health and begins to give signs of newness of life.

Not Just for Monks

In reflecting on this chapter of the Holy Rule, it occurred to me that it could just as well apply to bishops and to their priests as to abbots and their monks. It might even apply to fathers and to their children. At the end of Chapter every morning I pray, "Stir Thou up, O Lord, in our hearts, the Spirit to whom our holy father Saint Benedict was obedient, that filled with tht same Spirit, we might love what he loved and put into practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord." Would that all priests had a share in the spirit of the Holy Patriarch of Monks: self-sacrificing love, mercy, wisdom, patience, and zeal for souls.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us

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Psalm 113B
Second Vespers of the Second Sunday of Lent
Holy Family Cathedral,
Tulsa, Oklahoma
28 February 2010

In the Light of His Face

At Sunday Vespers in both December and January, we focused our meditation on Psalm 109 and 111 respectively. This evening, once again, it is the second psalm of Vespers that will draw us into the mystery of Christ. Not for a minute can I forget that is the Sunday of Our Lord's Transfiguration on Mount Thabor; I propose, then, that we approach our meditation of the psalm in the light of His transfigured Face shining more brightly than the sun, the same Face that radiates invisibly, and penetrates our hearts, from the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

His Exodus

Psalm 113 has two parts; the first, Psalm 113A, sung at Vespers on Sunday of the First Week, uses a lively poetry to describe the jubilation of nature as the children of Israel, bearing the Ark of the Covenant in procession, make their way into the Promised Land. The Western Church's tradition refers to Psalm 113 by its opening words in Latin: In Exitu, "in the Exodus." These two words link the psalm with today's Gospel of the Transfiguration. We read in Saint Luke's account of the glorious event on Mount Thabor: "and behold there talked with Him two men. And they were Moses and Elias, appearing in majesty. And they spoke of His exodus that He should accomplish in Jerusalem" (Lk 9:30-31).

The exodus of Our Lord, that is to say, His passion, death, and resurrection, completes and fulfils the exodus of Israel out of Egypt. No longer do we sing only of the exodus of Israel, for in Christ Jesus, people of all nations are called out of bondage in the Egypt of their sins.

Glory to God

Not to us, Lord, not to us the glory; +
let thy name alone be honoured; *
thy name for mercy, thy name for faithfulness;

why must the heathen say, *
Their God deserts them?

Our God is a God that dwells in heaven; *
all that his will designs, he executes.

Psalm 113B is divided into five sections. It opens with a confession of God's glory: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory" (Ps 113B:1). Glory belongs to God alone because of his mercy and truth. The children of Israel experienced during their exodus the steadfast mercy of God, his utterly reliable love. The Lord glorified Himself by revealing His mercy in wondrous deeds. The psalm flings back right into the face of the heathen their ancient taunt, "Where is your God?" (Ps 113B:2).


The heathen have silver idols and golden, *
gods which the hands of men have fashioned.

They have mouths, and yet are silent; *
eyes they have, and yet are sightless;

ears they have, and want all hearing; *
noses, and yet no smell can reach them;

hands unfeeling, feet unstirring; *
never a sound their throats may utter.

Such be the end of all who make them, *
such the reward of all who trust them.

The next section takes on the perennial problem of idolatry. Man, left to his own devices, becomes a maker of idols. Idols are, the psalm says, "the handiwork of men" (Ps 113B:4). Look closely at verses 5-7. You will notice that the psalmist gives precisely seven descriptions of the impotence of idols. Why seven? Seven is the biblical number of perfection. (1) They have mouths but they do not speak. (2) They have eyes but they do not see. (3) They have ears but they do not hear. (4) They have nostrils but they do not smell. (5) They have hands but they do not handle. (6) They have feet but they do not walk. (7) No sound comes from their throats. By making use of seven affirmations, the psalmist is telling us that the idols, made by men are perfectly empty, absolutely and utterly nothing, deader than deadest of the dead. This section ends with a remarkable piece of wisdom: "If you make idols, you will become just like them. If you trust in idols, you will become just like them: empty, false, powerless, and dead.

Adoration and Trust

It is the Lord that gives hope to the race of Israel, *
their only help, their only stronghold;

the Lord that gives hope to the race of Aaron, *
their only help, their only stronghold;

the Lord that gives hope to all who fear him, *
their only help, their only stronghold.

The third part of the psalm (verses 9-11) is an exhortation to trust God. Trust is an expression of adoration. It addresses three classes of people: the Sons of Israel, the Priestly Order (the House of Aaron), and all who fear God, that is all righteous Gentiles. If you would worship God, trust him. Adoration without trust is hollow. A 17th century French mystic (Mère Mechtilde du Saint-Sacrement) put it this way: adorer et adhérer, "adore and adhere." If you would adore God rightly, adhere to His will for you, and trust Him with your life.


The Lord keeps us in mind, and grants us blessing, *
blesses the race of Israel, blesses the race of Aaron;

all those who fear the Lord, *
small and great alike, he blesses.

Still may the Lord grant you increase, *
you and your children after you;

the blessing of the Lord be upon you. *
It is he that made both heaven and earth;

to the Lord belongs the heaven of heavens, *
the earth he gives to the children of men.

The fourth part of the psalm sings that God will bless those who bless Him. The tone is eucharistic. The praise that ascends to God as the people's offering returns to them in blessings. All are blessed, "the little no less than the great" (Ps 113B:13). The praise we offer the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit returns in a superabundance of blessings upon our heads.

The Work of the Living

From the dead, Lord, thou hast no praises, *
the men who go down into the place of silence;

but we bless the Lord, we, the living, *
from this day to all eternity.

Psalm 113B ends with a solemn promise to worship and praise God. "But we who live will bless the Lord now and forever" (Ps 113B:18). Praise is the work of the living. Those who follow their idols down in to the silence will never know the bliss of endless praise. Man's perfect happiness is in the praise of God.

The Tonus Peregrinus

Psalm 113 has the unique distinction of having its own proper tone in the chant: the hauntingly beautiful Tonus Peregrinus or Pilgrim's Chant. It is the only psalm to which a particular musical tone is attributed. In exitu Israel de Egypto, * domus Iacob de populo barbaro. The Tonus Peregrinus is found in an almost identical formula used by the Yemenite Jews for the same psalm. It is one of the few chant formulae the origins of which can be traced back to a Hebrew model. This, of itself, is a compelling reason for our preserving it in the liturgy today, and passing it on to future generations.

The Currency of Adoration

Psalm 113 reminds us today that the worship of carved and artfully fashioned images are not the only forms of idolatry. Our culture is saturated with images; television, videos, DVDs and the internet flood the imagination with sights and sounds and, all too easily, feed new forms of a very old sin: idolatry. Whoever worships things made by man, more than the Maker of all things, is an idolator.

How does one know what one worships? The question is best answered, I think, by another one: where do you spend your time? For whom and with whom do you spend it? Time is the currency of adoration. Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:21). Our treasure lies where we put our time. Time spent with idols makes us just like them: empty, sterile, and dead. Time spent with Christ, time before His Eucharistic Face, is transfiguring. It makes us like Him: merciful, fruitful, and gloriously alive to God.

O mulier, magna est fides tua

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A Favourite Antiphon

This evening's Magnificat Antiphon, taken from the gospel of the day (Matthew 15:21-28) is one for which I wait all year long. Its yearly occurrence is an occasion of grace for those who have ears to hear:

O mulier, magna est fides tua:
fiat tibi sicut petisti.

O woman, great is thy faith:
be it done unto thee even as thou wilt.

This is another lovely example of the gregorian melody (see the Antiphonale Monasticum, p. 350) providing exactly the right musical vesture for the body of the sacred text. It enhances the sacred text and prolongs it, without impeding its movement and its integrity.

A Eucharistic Thursday

Before considering the antiphon any further, let us look briefly at the Mass of the day. The stational church is that of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, so called because it was, in ancient times, the location of a distribution of bread (and some say ham, i.e. panini) to hungry pilgrims and to the poor. Whenever bread appears in the liturgy, even tangentially, one can expect to find allusions to the Bread of Life, a fortiori on a Thursday, the weekly rememoration of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist. In light of this, consider today's eucharistic Offertory and Communion Antiphons:

Offertory Antiphon: Psalm 33:8-9

Immitet Angelus Domini in circuitu timentium eum,
et eripiet eos:
gustate et videte, quoniam suavis est Dominus.

The Angel of the Lord shall encamp around those who fear Him,
and shall rescue them:
O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet.

One might reasonably expect to find this text used as the Communion Antiphon. It is, in fact the designated Communion Antiphon for several Masses per annum, and in antiquity served as the common Communion processional. Here, however, it is sung at the Offertory. Why? Is it only because Saint Laurence, today's titular saint, is reputed to have prayed this verse while being roasted on his grill? Or might it not also reflect the Gospel that immediately precedes it?

The Angel of the Lord

Who is the Angel of the Lord in this context? Might it not be our Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of Great Counsel (Is 9:6) sent "to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24)? He is close to them that fear Him, that is, to the humble who adore Him and persevere in crying out their need. Enter the Gospel's Chanaanite woman, coming from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon: "And behold a woman of Chanaan who came out of these coasts, crying out, said to Him, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil" (Mt 15:22; also today's Benedictus Antiphon).

The Bread of Sons

In speaking to the Chanaanite woman, Our Lord alludes to "the bread of sons" that is not to be given to the catelli, that is, to little puppies (Mt 15:26); Saint Thomas uses this very image in his glorious sequence for the Mass of Corpus Domini, the Lauda Sion. It is, by the way, Saint Thomas, who changes the endearing catelli of the Gospel text into dogs!

Ecce Panis Angelorum,
factus cibus viatorum:
vere panis filiorum,
non mittendus canibus.
In figuris praesignatur,
cum Isaac immolatur,
agnus Paschae deputatur,
datur manna patribus.

Hail! Bread of the Angels, broken,
for us pilgrims food, and token
of the promise by Christ spoken,
children's bread, to dogs denied!
Shown in Isaac's dedication,
in the Manna's preparation,
in the Paschal immolation,
in old types pre-signified.

The Sweetness of the Lord

Could not the liturgy be presenting today's Offertory Antiphon as the thanksgiving song of the Chanaanite woman after Jesus praises her faith in Him? Christ, the Angel of Great Counsel, entered the circle of the Chanaanite woman's anguish, and compelled by her great faith, granted her petition. Thus did she, a Gentile, taste the sweetness of the Lord reserved for the sons of the Law.

Communion Antiphon: John 6:52

The Communion Antiphon completes the eucharistic imagery of the Offertory Antiphon. It is Our Lord Himself who speaks, addressing each communicant and the whole body of the faithful as they approach the altar to partake of His Body and Blood. Here, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there are no catelli waiting for crumbs from the table, for all who are fed from the altar are sons and daughters of the New Covenant.

Panis, quem ego dedero,
caro mea est pro saeculi vita.

The bread that I will give
is My flesh for the life of the world.

At Vespers

At vespertide, the Church remembers the words of Our Lord to the Chanaanite women by singing them before and after the Magnificat. The evening sacrifice of thanksgiving ends with Jesus' saving words addressed not only to the woman from Tyre and Sidon, but also to the woman called Ecclesia: His Bride and the Mother of the faithful:


Every Lent I choose -- or rather ask Our Lord to choose for me -- a saint or saints to be my Lenten companions. From Ash Wednesday until Holy Pascha I journey with them, converse with them, seek their intercession, and marvel at their friendship. Last week, as I prayed over this, I found myself strangely moved to pick up an old book that first came into my hands thirty-eight years ago! Published in 1925 by the Abbey of Maredsous as part of the wonderful old monastic collection Pax, it bears the title: Une mystique bénédictine du XVIIe siècle, La Mère Jeanne Deleloë, Reliquiae. Reading the volume's lengthy introduction by Dom Bonaventure Sodar, O.S.B. -- who also inscribed the book with an elegant Latin verse -- I was moved by a particular passage on the saints. I found it so compelling, in fact, that I decided to translate it for the readers of Vultus Christi. In a few places I was obliged to lighten or rework Dom Sodar's gloriously subtle tournures de phrase. I hope that, in reading it, you will find the text as stimulating as I did in translating it.

The Exigencies of the Divine Majesty

After the sacraments, which introduce us into the circulation of the very life of God, the great blessing that He gives us is contact with the saints. No one can approach the saints without rather quickly feeling a salutary uneasiness: the uncomfortable memory of a past that is lost to us and of a present that is more or less off course. The saints have a way of affirming that the exigencies of the Divine Majesty have a bearing on them; this casts low our prideful pretensions and throws us into a state of amazement. The saints have a certain way of thinking of God, of silencing themselves before Him, and of pronouncing His Name, which compels us to groan with them . . . and to say as they did, trembling all the while, "Where then is our awe?"

For Those Caught in Life's Wreckage

The saints also have a way of thinking of an other, of listening to an other, of speaking to an other; they stretch forth their hands to those caught in life's wreckage, they make every poverty their own poverty, they restore dignity to those who have fallen. The saints have a certain way of not thinking of themselves and of emptying their souls of themselves. Doing this, they open within their souls an abyss of detachment capable of holding whatever miseries we care to hurl into it.

Right Into the Arms of Christ

The saints act upon us less by their exhortations than by their examples, and less by what they do than by what they are. It is the radiance of their charity that presses us right into the arms of Christ. The saints are irresistible, as the Almighty is irresistible, because, in the image of God, they have become pure love.

Their Sympathy Opens Our Souls

One who has not kept company with the saints passes his time on earth in a cold isolation. One who has not been charmed by them knows nothing of the price of friendship. One who would know oneself, and move beyond the wisdom of the world's philosophers, must yield to the attraction of the saints. More than analysis and more than study, their sympathy opens our souls. When an unfulfilled heart yearns for the mysterious joys of a noble love with its battles and its triumphs, it need only recall that never has love been sung, or wept over, or lived as by these heroes. The saints stand ready at every moment to intone with accents that are ever new the canticle of eternity: Unus uni. "My Beloved is mine and I am His. Mine eyes have dried up with weeping as I wait for my Beloved."

The Hand of An Other

Seeing the saints so full of courage, so uncompromisingly given to God alone, who of us would not say, "And I, am I not Christian too?" -- and then -- Quod isti et quod istae, cur non ego? "If they succeeded, why in my place should I not try ?" A noble ambition, but it is not prudent to set out unaccompanied on a path so perilous and harsh. So as not to slip and fall, one needs the hand of an other. Lest one grow faint and succumb to weariness, one needs the example of their enthusiasm. Lest one lose one's way, one needs the brightness of their torches. In the chaos and obscurity of this vain and empty world --inanis et vacua -- it is their light that makes life's great avenues places of security and order, even unto salvation.

The Dates That Count

It is the saints who make history's epochs what they are. More than captains, and academics, more than politicians, and artists, and philosophers, it is the saints who confer distinction on the centuries. The saints determine the dates that count. Should one want to reduce the events of world history to their true proportions, it would be enough to mark the passage of the saints. They alone signal the days and hours of the coming Kingdom, and the unfolding drama of the Divine Warrior, and of His conquest of souls.

Between the porch and the altar

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The priests shall pray, with fasting and with weeping, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thine heritage to destruction. V. The priests shall weep between the porch and the altar, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people, and give not Thine heritage to destruction (Joel 2:17).

In the First Lesson at Mass on Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-18), as well as in one of the magnificent Lenten responsories at Matins, the Prophet Joel emphasizes the role of the priests who serve in the temple, the ministers of the Lord. Taking their place as mediators between the porch and the altar, they represent sinful men before the Face of the All-Holy God, and the Mercy of God before sinful men. Theirs is, in effect, a mediatorship of intercession and reparation.

The priestly mediatorship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the men with whom He shares His priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, fulfils and perfects the priestly mediatorship of the Old Dispensation. The Servant of God Pope Pius XII writes in Mediator Dei, his monumental 1947 encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy:

Mediator between God and men and High Priest who has gone before us into heaven, Jesus the Son of God quite clearly had one aim in view when He undertook the mission of mercy which was to endow mankind with the rich blessings of supernatural grace. Sin had disturbed the right relationship between man and his Creator; the Son of God would restore it. The children of Adam were wretched heirs to the infection of original sin; He would bring them back to their heavenly Father, the primal source and final destiny of all things. For this reason He was not content, while He dwelt with us on earth, merely to give notice that redemption had begun, and to proclaim the long-awaited Kingdom of God, but gave Himself besides in prayer and sacrifice to the task of saving souls, even to the point of offering Himself, as He hung from the cross, a Victim unspotted unto God, to purify our conscience of dead works, to serve the living God.[3] Thus happily were all men summoned back from the byways leading them down to ruin and disaster, to be set squarely once again upon the path that leads to God. Thanks to the shedding of the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, now each might set about the personal task of achieving his own sanctification, so rendering to God the glory due to Him.

In the life of adoration and reparation that is beginning in the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, there is a compelling awareness of the call to participate in Our Lord's priestly mediation by abiding "between the porch and the altar," that is, between those of our brother priests on mission to the world; those whom circumstances have, in some way or another, separated from the altar; and those who, being alienated from the altar, have lost sight of the wellspring and summit of their priestly service.

The word "altar" represents not only the place of sacrifice, but also the one offered upon it, and the fire from heaven that ratifies and consumes the oblation. Pope Pius XII writes, "The Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar, where constantly the sacrifice of the cross is represented and with a single difference in the manner of its offering, renewed." As Adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, living within the enclosure of the monastery, or living as Oblates in the world, we are called to place our own bodies in the breach and, in some way, by the oblation of ourselves, to close the gap between "the porch and the altar."

Listen again to Pope Pius XII:

The divine Redeemer has so willed it that the priestly life begun with the supplication and sacrifice of His mortal body should continue without intermission down the ages in His Mystical Body which is the Church. That is why He established a visible priesthood to offer everywhere the clean oblation[4] which would enable men from East to West, freed from the shackles of sin, to offer God that unconstrained and voluntary homage which their conscience dictates.

The priestly life of the Redeemer -- one of supplication and of sacrifice, or victimhood -- is prolonged not only in the priesthood of the ordained, but also in the oblation of the layfaithful who take to heart the exhortation of the Apostle:

I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service (Rom 12:1).

One of the singular graces of this Lent will be, it seems to me, a more profound awareness of what it means to abide in a state of adoration and victimal oblation "between the porch and the altar," before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, for the sake His beloved priests, and of His Spouse, the Church.

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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March 2011: Monthly Archives