Monday, November 24, 2014

Classics of the Liturgical Movement: Dom Paul Delatte, OSB

It seems that this series is, at least for now, very much an introduction to monastic authors. That is hardly surprising, given the centrality of the sacred liturgy in the life of a disciple of St. Benedict or any monk whose heritage is Benedictine. Today’s author, Dom Paul Delatte, O.S.B. (1848-1937; abbot of Solesmes 1890-1921), will surely be known to many readers because of his famous Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, which many consider the best line-by-line spiritual commentary on that monastic masterpiece. Its pages are rife with profound insights into the properly and inherently liturgical Christian life that is ours in virtue of our baptism into the priesthood of Jesus Christ and how we can realize this lofty calling. The book resonates with all the great principles for which Dom Guéranger fought and to which the original traditionally-oriented members of the Liturgical Movement gave their energies in the early twentieth century. These are the very same principles we embrace today and wish to implement to the fullest.

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On the "liturgical character" of creation, how it reflects the Blessed Trinity, and why formal public worship is the most exalted glorification of God:
Creation as a whole possesses in a true and special way a liturgical character. It resembles the divine life itself: for the Holy Trinity is a temple wherein, by His eternal generation, the Word is the perfect praise of the Father, “the brightness of his glory and the figure of his substance”; where the communion of Father and Son is sealed in the kiss of peace and in the personal joy which is their common Spirit. Glory has been defined as clara notitia cum laude, clear knowledge conjoined with praise; by the twofold procession of which we have just spoken God finds in Himself His essential glory. It is enough for Him; and the glory which He must receive from His works is only necessary on the creature’s side; for God it remains accidental and exterior. Yet He may not renounce it: “I will not give my glory to another.” (131)
          Furthermore, we should notice that this accidental glory of God is only complete on condition that it is at once objective, formal, and expressed. Objective glory is the real manifestation of the perfections of God; all being, all life, all created beauty, whether natural or supernatural, is ontologically the praise of God. Formal glory is paid only by rational creatures, who alone are capable of appreciating objective glory and of tracing it to its source; and only in this act do we get religion and liturgy. Without saying anything in this place about the religion of the angels, we may at least remark the truly sacerdotal position of man in the midst of the lower creation. The Apostle says in his Epistle to the Hebrews: “Every high-priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices” (5:1). Man himself is taken out of creation, raised above it, and made its priest, so that he may offer to God, in his own name and in the name of the whole world, an intelligent homage. By his very nature an abridgement of the universe—a “microcosm,” as the ancients put it—his function is to collect the manifold voices of creation, as if all found their echo in his heart, as if he were the world’s consciousness; and his mission is to give life to all with his thought and love, and to make offering of all, whether in his use of the world or in explicit praise. The religious system of the world is completed and made perfect only in him; he is the link between the world and God; and when this link is broken, then the whole creation is affected and falls: “cursed is the earth in thy work” (Gen 3:17). (131-32)
Dom Delatte's discussion of what religion essentially implies is reminiscent of both Aquinas and Newman, and brings into sharp relief the dual note of submission and determinateness that are foreign to much of the modern world's conception of Christian worship:
It [a religious act] always implies an intellectual appreciation of divine excellence, a humble self-abasement, the will to confess submission, and finally an actual recognition of the divine sovereignty, whether by way of an expressive act and confirmation of some sort, merely internal in character, or by an act which is at once internal and openly manifested. It is this last act which properly speaking makes the act of religion and worship, in which the glorification of God is consummated. However, a liturgy is something more than this; it is the sum of acts, words, chants, and ceremonies, by means of which we manifest our interior religion; it is a collective and social prayer, the forms of which have a character that is regular, definite, and determined. (132)
Most magnificently, Dom Delatte unfolds before us a mystical vision of the unity of liturgy, Church, and the Word Incarnate, reminiscent of the best of patristic thought:
[A]ll particular liturgies center round, are merged in, and draw their strength from, the collective liturgy of that great living organism the Church, which is the perfect man and the fulness of Christ. The whole life of the Church expresses and unfolds itself in its liturgy; all the relations of creatures with God here find their principle and their consummation; by the very acts that in the individual as in the whole mass realize union with God, the liturgy pays God “all honour and glory.” In it the Holy Spirit has achieved the concentration, eternalization, and diffusion throughout the whole Body of Christ of the unchangeable fulness of the act of redemption, all the spiritual riches of the Church in the past, in the present, and in eternity. And as the bloody sacrifice, and the entry of our High Priest into the sanctuary of heaven, mark the culmination of His work, so the liturgy has its center in the Mass, the “Eucharist.” The Divine Office and the Hours are but the splendid accompaniment, the preparation for or radiance from the Eucharist. It may be said that the two economies, the natural and the supernatural, meet in this synthetic act, this “Action” par excellence. So our Holy Father [St. Benedict] and other ancient writers are well inspired when they call the liturgy in its totality the Opus Dei (Work of God): the work which has God and God alone for its direct object, the work in which God is solely interested, of which He is the principal agent, but which He has willed should be accomplished by human hands and human lips. (133)
We also find valuable insights into the Benedictine monastic ideal and its permanent relevance in the life of the Church. There is a quiet and strong confidence in the way he characterizes the stable calling of the monk in the body of the faithful:
The proper and distinctive work of the Benedictine, his lot and his mission, is the liturgy. He makes his profession so as to be in the Church—which is an association for the praise of God—one who glorifies God according to forms instituted by her who knows how God should be honoured and possesses the words of eternal life. He is wholly a man of prayer, and the diverse forms of his activity take spontaneously a religious colour, a quality of adoration and praise. . . . The holy liturgy is for us, at one and the same time, a means of sanctification and an end. But it is especially an end. Our contemplation nourishes itself therein without cessation, and so to speak finds in the liturgy its adequate object and proper term. (134-35)
          [W]e believe in the apostolic and social value of our prayer, and we believe that by it we reach directly not only God and ourselves, but our neighbours also. Even without speaking of its secret influence on the providential course of events, is not the spectacle of the Office worthily celebrated a very effective sort of preaching? Since the days of the primitive Church (Acts 2:42-47) the Catholic liturgy has been a principle of unity for the people of God, and social charity has been created by it. (137)
          [W]e are content to be makers of nothing that is visible or tangible, and to have no other usefulness than that of adoring God. We are glad and content to attain by the Work of God nothing but the essential end of all things, the end of the whole rational creation, the very end of the Church. So to act is to take here and now the attitude of eternity, and to rehearse for heaven; for, according to St. John, the work of those who are admitted into the heavenly Jerusalm is contemplation and a royal service. (137)
In reading Delatte one is often taken aback by the sharp contrast between his mentality, refined, precise, and lofty, and the sloppy thinking that overtook the later liturgists. For example, the clear distinction he is able to draw between private and public, informal and formal, is glaringly absent from the minds of Catholics today:
Now, faith tells us that God is everywhere present and that His gaze, though He be not seen, illumines all human activity; it tell us too that in every place and at every moment we are able, and sweet duty binds us, to live before Him and do Him homage. This homage, however, is private, not official, and has its source in personal love; it is quite free in its expression, and though it ever remains profoundly respectful, yet is it without forms and ceremonial. But the sacred liturgy pays God an official worship; and if God is not more present at the Divine Office than at private prayer, we are nevertheless especially bound to awaken and exercise our faith when we take part in this official audience, wherein all details are foreseen and all gestures regulated by the etiquette of God. God’s audience-chamber is always open, but the Divine Office is a solemn levee. There God is enwrapped in more compelling majesty; we appear before Him in the name of the whole Church; we identify ourselves with the one, eternal High Priest, Our Lord Jesus Christ; we perform the work of works. (186)
It is fitting to conclude these excerpts with Dom Delatte's gentle mockery of the worship of novelty and the fad of progress:
Those who doubt and deny win immediate fame. And the deference refused to tradition, to antiquity, to authority, is given at once and wholly, with infinite thoughtlessness, to the notions of some writer or other, to one of those prophets of the hour who trumpet the vague phrases: progress, evolution, broad-mindedness, and dogmatic awakening. This is intellectual foolery. And it seems to me that good sense and dignity require from us not only an attitude of reserve, but above all a spirit of tranquil resistance and conservatism. Conservation is the very instinct of life, a disposition essential for existence. We shall be truly progressive if we hold fast to this spirit, for there is no progress for a living organism which does not preserve continuity with its past. (310)
Thanks be to God that in the Church today there are still many monks striving to live, as did Dom Paul Delatte, according to the spirit and letter of the wise Rule of St. Benedict, which gives absolute primacy to the worship of God, the greatest and best.

Stiftskirche Schlägl
(Other installments in this ongoing series "Classics of the Liturgical Movement":
          Canon Simon's Commentary on the Rule;
          Dom Chautard's Soul of the Apostolate)

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