Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Summorum Pontificum and the Growth of Religious Life, by Fr Stefano M. Manelli, F.I. (Part 1)

The following lecture by Fr Stefano Manelli, the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, was originally delivered at the 2nd annual conference of Giovani e Tradizione and Amicizia Sacerdotale Summorum Pontificum, which took place in Rome on October 16-18, 2009. It was published in Italian in the acts of the conference by Fede e Cultura, in the volume “Il motu proprio Summorum Pontificum di SS Benedetto XVI: un grande dono per tutta la Chiesa.” (The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI: a great gift for the whole Church.) It is reproduced here in an English translation by Mr Zachary Thomas, with permission of the Italian publisher.

Through the knowledge imparted in Divine Revelation, we have access to the pure waters of that unique fountain of Sacred Scripture, welling up like a great river of perennial tradition and running along through the centuries and millennia of the life of the Church: a perennial tradition expressed in a wonderful manner especially by the Fathers of the Church.

Among these Church Fathers, Saint Ambrose writes in his Hexameron: “The Church, like the moon, goes through frequent waning and waxing, but it is precisely by virtue of its waning that it grows and becomes deserving of greater fullness…The Church shines not with a light of its own but with the light of Christ, and draws its splendor from the Sun of justice” (IV, 32).

To speak about the image and the reality of the moon as applied to the Church is really something unknown to modern Christianity, and it might even sound like irreverence to look upon Her as the supreme light that illumines the world. But the saintly Bishop of Milan, with his insightful and surprising speech helps us to understand the ecclesial mystery more profoundly.

We can draw two considerations from his thinking. The Church does not shine with its own light, but, like the moon, reflects the splendors of the crucified and resurrected Lord. A Church that no longer reflects the light of its Founder would no longer be His Church, but another’s. The “lunacity” of the Church, an expression used by Card. Biffi, should not astonish us.

With an insight that is both direct and tender, Anselm writes that the Church is “ex maculatis immaculata;” She is without stain, though composed of sinful men. This Church, which is never without sinners, is always without sin in herself. In her human structure, therefore, she cannot be otherwise than “moonlike,” since she reflects the fragility and debility of fallen humanity on the road to the kingdom of Heaven.

“The ‘lunacity’ of the Church,” Cardinal Giacomo Biffi notes, “manifests itself above all in the continuous oscillations of its luminosity before us. In the same way as the moon, she too is always “robed in the sun,” though she does not always appear the same way to our observation. There come times when her gleam is slender as a blade, barely sufficing to reveal its presence, and moments when every light appears to be swallowed by the night: this is a time of darkness, though not of darkness’s decisive victory.”

Mindful of the words and thought of the saintly Archbishop of Milan, we turn our attention now to the ecclesial reality in which we live. First, it is not at all difficult to admit that in our time the splendor of the Bride of Christ is going through an eclipse of perhaps unique proportions in its bi-millenial history.

This crisis, which entirely encompasses the whole life of the Bride of Christ, according to the Holy Father Benedict XVI, “depends in large part on the collapse of the liturgy” that came not in the Council, but in the post-conciliar period.

Such words, taken up again in another of his writings, extend even beyond the limits of the Church to constitute a fundamental element of all life and of the human sphere: “What is right and what is moral do not remain the same,” the Pope also writes, “as long as they are not anchored in their liturgical center and do not draw their inspiration from it […]. Only if our relationship with God is just will all the other relations of man – those of men with themselves and of man with the rest of created reality—be able to function”.

But where, in general, does the basis of this influence of the liturgical cult on human life reside? With worlds of heavenly light, Cardinal Ratzinger responds in what immediately follows the cited text: “Adoration, the correct modality of cult, of man’s relationship with God, is constitutive of correct human existence in the world: this is for the very reason that in the midst of daily life it makes us participants of the mode of existence of heaven, God’s world, thereby letting the light of the divine world penetrate into our own […]. [Cult] prefigures a more definitive life, and in so doing gives to the present life its proper measure. A life bereft of such anticipation, into which heaven is not at all sketched, would become leaden and empty”.

For the Pope, therefore, the liturgy of the Church becomes the favored channel of divine governance upon the earth, and contains in itself a demiurgical power which fashions the events of the world according to its own model, making itself the “measure” of “the present life.”

If the liturgy has a vital impact on all of ecclesial life, it is easy to imagine the primary influence it exercises on the religious life in particular. The post-conciliar liturgical confusion, in fact, has redounded upon the religious life with such devastating force that we ought not to be talking to you today about “the growth of the religious life,” which is the title of this piece, but rather of the “renewal,” or even more the “recuperation” or “rescue” of the religious life. Without dwelling for too long upon this truly disheartening situation, let us talk about statistics, for in the words of Aquinas, “contra factum non valet argumentum.”

The Claretian religious Angel Pardilla, professor at the “Claretianum,” in a very careful study entitled “I religiosi ieri, oggi e domani (Editrice Rogate, Roma, 2007), has made the point in a nearly exhaustive way about the first forty years after the Council, from 1965-2005, regarding the total and percentage losses of the male Institutes of Pontifical Rite, dwelling in particular on its canons regular, monks, the so-called Mendicant Orders, regular clerics, the religious Congregations clerical and lay, and the Institutes of Apostolic life. Well, these six types of religious life have all, without exception, witnessed a dramatic decline in entries, and a more or less large number of desertions, with one or the other often exceeding 50%!

Let’s take a few significant examples.

The six largest orders of male religious in 2005 (and certainly still today) were the Jesuits, (19,850 members), the Salesians (16,645), the Friars Minor (15,794), the Cappuccians (11,229), the Benedictines (7,798) and the Dominicans (6,109). The same orders had very different numbers in 1965: (36,038); (22,042); (27,009); (15,838); (12,070); (10,091). If the total number of religious may be reckoned at 329,799 in the year 1965, forty years after the close of the council there remain 214,903. There are around 115,000 fewer religious, more than one third of all the religious, forty years after the council: To regain these 115,000 religious lost throughout only forty years may take several centuries.

Finally, it should be noted that the sad road of this deadly “backwards march” continues disastrously unabated today. For example, the Friars Minor are losing around 300 to 400 brothers every year, the Jesuits around 400 to 500. These are signals of the reversal caused by this lethal backwards march.

Well then, in the face of this shocking hecatomb of the religious life which has taken place and is still progressing, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum seems to be really an anchor of salvation for recovering the precious liturgical and spiritual patrimony which the traditions of the religious Orders have jealously guarded through centuries and centuries. The vitality and the fecundity of the Vetus Ordo is being manifested in the growth of vocations to the Orders, in the gift of a doctrine of the Saints bequeathed to the Church, in the flowering of great sacred art (painting, sculpture, architecture) and music, great poetry and literature: all for the glory of God and for the edification of the Body of Christ.

It is undeniable, in fact, that there exists the closest of relationships between the religious life and the liturgy, a relationship of primary necessity and fundamental strength, on which the religious life of every institute must depend. Therefore, religious life must be radically dependent on the liturgy both in its progress and its decline.

If, in these fifty post-conciliar years, the religious life continues to experience a disastrous decline, not to say a self-destruction, no one can deny the concrete responsibility of a liturgy lacking the strength to do what ought to be its connatural office of nourishing and sustaining the religious life. Let us reflect briefly.

1. Religious Life and the Liturgy

The religious life is the consecration to God of the whole person, and manifests in the Church that wonderful institution intended by God, which is the eschatological sign of the life to come. Every religious carries to completion his total self-donation, as a sacrifice offered to God, and through this his whole existence, as sacrificial offering, becomes an uninterrupted act of worship of God in charity. This uninterrupted worship of God finds just here its most ample and complete manifestation in the sacred liturgy, which regulates and animates every day of the religious community through the Holy Mass and the celebration of the Divine Office, which marks the very hours of the day like a poem.

In every religious institute, in fact, prayer at the key times of the day should always occupy the first place, and should be exemplary and fervent in each of its expressions. To love prayer, to live by prayer, to aspire to continual prayer, as the Lord commands (“Prayer is always necessary”; Luke 18, 1), as St. Benedict taught (“Ora et labora,”) and as the Seraphic Father St. Francis recommends, (“Pray always, with a pure heart”; Rule, chap. X), is a fundamental duty, and a vital one.

It is important, however, to maintain that the most perfect prayer of the Church, and the prayer most appropriate to religious, is the sacred liturgy itself.

It would be enough to recall here, among many holy authors, the Ven. Columba Marmion, the famous Abbot of Maredsous in Belgium, and the author of precious spiritual and liturgical works. In his book dedicated to the religious life, Christ the Ideal of the Monk, he stresses precisely the fundamental importance of the life of prayer in the monastic life, and in particular of liturgical prayer, pointing out the inescapable importance not only of the Holy Mass, but also of the Divine Office. He affirms, in fact, that “the recitation of the Divine Office, called by St. Benedict the “Opus Dei,” is the prayer of the Church par excellence, and has an inalienable and incommunicable privilege, because it is the work of God, accomplished with Jesus Christ, in His name, by the Church which is His Spouse. In this praise, […] the Church does not content herself with the common worship of all her sons, but—just as she chooses a few out of her own sons for a more particular preference, in order to associate them more closely to herself in the eternal Priesthood of her Bridegroom—so she entrusts an elect portion of them with a praise more important and more valuable: they are the priests and the religious who carrying out functions in choir. The Church makes them ambassadors at the divine throne; she selects them as deputies to the Father in her name and the name of her Bridegroom.”

Liturgical prayer, therefore, is the prayer most appropriate to religious, so much that it can be said that every hour of the monastic day, or of the religious fraternity, is marked by it. In Religious Institutes, in fact, that which is usually understood as “common life” has as its first and special meaning just that “prayer in common,” or liturgical prayer, which becomes the soul of the religious community. Gathered in choir, united in one voice, the religious render to God that cult which is due Him on behalf of all humanity.

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