Monday, October 20, 2014

Classics of the Liturgical Movement: The Soul of the Apostolate

One of my all-time favorite spiritual books is The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O. It was St. Pius X’s bedside reading, which already tells you a lot about the quality of Chautard (and, frankly, about the quality of Pius X, who, were he alive today, would not touch a book by Kasper, Martini, or other neo-modernists except to condemn their propositions—but I digress). Of the many pages where Dom Chautard touches on ways of living the Church’s liturgical life more profoundly, here is an exquisite taste of his wisdom, at once utterly practical and motivated by the highest and purest ideals, the ideals of the original liturgical movement that we would do well to recover for ourselves today. While it is clear that Dom Chautard in this passage has the clergy foremost in mind, his counsel applies analogously to any Catholic involved in a liturgical apostolate, such as serving or singing the chant, or any member of the faithful who simply wants to participate more actively (in the right sense) in the mysteries of Christ.

Without further ado, let us hear what the gracious Abbot has to say:
          To do well my liturgical work is a gift of Your bounty, O my God! Omnipotens et misericors Deus, de cujus munere venit ut tibi a fidelibus tuis digne et laudabiliter serviatur. [Almighty and merciful God, whose gift it is that the faithful serve Thee worthily and laudably.] O Lord, please grant me this gift. I want to remain in adoration all during my liturgical function. That sums up all the methods in one word.
          My will casts down my heart at the feet of the Majesty of God and keeps it there. All its work is now contained in the three words, digne, attente, devote [worthily, attentively, devoutly] from the prayer Aperi, and they most aptly express what must be the attitude of my body, of my mind, and of my heart.
          DIGNE. A respectful position and bearing, the precise pronunciation of the words, slowing down over the more important parts. Careful observance of the rubrics. My tone of voice, the way in which I make signs of the Cross, genuflections, etc.; my body itself: all will go to show not only that I know Whom I am addressing, and what I am saying, but also that my heart is in what I am doing. What an apostolate I can sometimes exercise [this way]!
 Then, Dom Chautard adds a substantial footnote to this point:
          Apostolate or Scandal. There are many souls who look at religion through a hazy intellectualism or ritualism, and to such persons, a whole sermon by a second-rate priest has far less meaning than the apostolate of a genuine priest whose great faith, piety, and compunction shine forth in his ministrations at a baptism, funeral, or, above all, at Mass. Words and rites are arrows that strike deep into such hearts. When the liturgy is thus lived, they see in it the certitude of the mystery expressed. The invisible begins to exist for them, and they are prompted to invoke Jesus, whom they hardly know at all, but with whom they sense that the priest is in close communication. But only weakening or total loss of their faith follows when the spectacle before them merely turns their stomach, and moves them to cry out: "Why, you can't tell me that priest believes in a God or fears Him! Look at the way he says Mass, administers baptism, recites his prayers, and performs his ceremonies!" What responsibilities! Who would dare to maintain that such scandals will not be visited with the strictest of judgment?
          How the faithful are influenced by the way a priest acts: whether it be that he displays deeply reverential fear, or an insolent nonchalance in his sacred functions!
          Once, when studying in a university graduate school, into which no clerical influence entered at all, I chanced to observe a priest reciting his breviary, he being unaware that he was the object of my attention. His bearing, full of respect and religion, was a revelation to me, and produced in me an urgent need to pray from then on, and to pray in the way this priest was praying. The Church appeared to me, concretized, so to speak, in this worthy minister, in communion with his God.
Dom Chautard’s meditation on the three words digne, attente, devote continues:
          In the courts of earthly kings, a simple servant considers the least function to be something great, and unconsciously takes on a majestic and solemn air in performing it. Cannot I acquire some of that distinctive bearing which will show itself by my state of mind and by the dignity of my bearing when I carry out my duties as member of the guard of honor of the King of Kings and of the God of all Majesty?
          ATTENTE. My mind will be eager to go foraging through the sacred words and rites in order to get everything that will nourish my heart. Sometimes my attention will consider the literal sense of the texts, whether I follow every phase or whether, while going on with my recitation of the prayers, I take time to meditate on some word that has struck my attention, until such time as I feel the need to seek the honey of devotion in some other flower: in either case, I am fulfilling the precept mens concordet voci [let mind and voice agree—from the Rule of Saint Benedict].
          At other times, my intellect may occupy itself with the mystery of the day or the principal idea of the liturgical season. But the part played by the mind will remain in the background compared to the role of the will. The mind will serve only as the will’s source of supply, helping it to remain in adoration or to return to that state.
          As soon as distractions arise it shall be my will to return to the act of adoration; but I shall make this movement of the will without irritation or harshness, without a sudden violent jerk, but peacefully (since everything that is done with Your aid, Lord Jesus, is peaceful and quiet), yet powerfully (since every genuine desire to cooperate with Your aid, Lord, is powerful and strong).
          DEVOTE. This is the most important point. Everything comes back to the need of making our Office and all our liturgical functions acts of piety, and, consequently, acts that come from the heart. “Haste kills all devotion.” Such is the principle laid down by St. Francis de Sales in talking of the Breviary, and it applies a fortiori to the Mass, Hence. I shall make it a hard and fast rule to devote around half an hour to my Mass in order to ensure a devout recitation not only of the Canon but of all the other parts as well. I shall reject without pity all pretexts for getting through this, the principal act of my day, in a hurry. If I have the habit of mutilating certain words or ceremonies, I shall apply myself, and go over these faulty places very slowly and carefully, even exaggerating my exactitude for a while.
          With all due proportion, I shall also apply this resolution to all my other liturgical functions: administrations of the Sacraments, Benediction, Burials, and so on. As far as the Breviary is concerned, I shall carefully decide in advance when I am to say my Office. When that time comes, I shall compel myself, cost what it may, to drop everything else. At any price, I want my recitation of the Office to be a real prayer from the heart. O my Divine Mediator! Fill my heart with detestation for all haste in those things where I stand in Your place, or act in the name of the Church! Fill me with the conviction that haste paralyzes that great Sacramental, the Liturgy, and makes impossible that spirit of prayer without which, no matter how zealous a priest I may appear to be on the outside, I would be lukewarm, or perhaps worse, in Your estimation. Burn into my inmost heart those words so full of terror: “Cursed be he that doth the work of God deceitfully” (Jer 48:10).
          Sometimes I will let my heart soar, and take in by a panoramic synthesis of Faith, the general meaning of the mystery which the liturgical Cycle calls to mind; and I will feed my soul with this broad view. At other times, I will make my Office a long, lingering act of Faith or Hope, Desire or Regret, Oblation or Love. Then again, just to remain, in simplicity, LOOKING at God will be enough. By this I mean a loving and continuous contemplation of a mystery, of a perfection of God, of one of Your titles, my Jesus, of Your Church, my own nothingness, my faults, my needs, or else my dignity as a Christian, as a priest, as a religious. Vastly different is this simple “looking” from an act of the intellect in the course of theological studies. This “look” will increase Faith, but will give even greater and more rapid growth to Love. It is a reflection, no doubt a pale one, but still a reflection of the beatific vision, this “looking” and it is the fulfillment of what You promised even here below to pure and fervent souls: “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.”
          And thus every ceremony will become a restful change because it will bring my soul a real breathing spell and relieve it from the stifling press of occupations. Holy Liturgy, what sweet fragrance you will bring into my soul by your various “functions.” Far from being a slavish burden, these functions will become one of the greatest consolations of my life. How could it be otherwise when thanks to your constant reminders I am ever coming back to the fact of my dignity as a child and ambassador of the Church, as member and minister of Jesus Christ, and am ever being more and more closely united to Him Who is the “Joy of the elect.”
          By my union with Him I shall learn to get profit out of the crosses of this mortal life, and to sow the seeds of my eternal happiness and by my liturgical life, which is far more effective than any apostolate, I will see that other souls have been drawn to follow after me in the ways of salvation and sanctity.

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