Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summorum Pontificum and the Growth of Religious Life, by Fr Stefano M. Manelli, F.I. (Part 2)

This is the second part of a lecture by Fr Stefano Manelli, the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 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. To read the first part, click here.

2. Religious Life and the Holy Mass
Certainly the even more profound spiritual motive that binds the religious life to the liturgy is, in particular, the liturgical prayer par excellence: the Holy Mass. The religious state, indeed, following the thought of the spiritual authors of primary importance such as P. Ludovic Colin and Ven. Columba Marmion, has a very particular connection to the Holy Sacrifice of the altar.

“What is the religious?” Fr Ludovic Colin asks. He responds: “A host. And religious life? A mystical Mass.”

For every religious, in fact, the three solemn vows signify the ascent of Calvary, and being crucified with Jesus! The religious must go up and surrender himself as one with his crucified Lord, and every time that the sacrifice of the cross is so renewed on the altar, then also he will renew his sacrifice and place himself again on the altar with the Divine Victim.

A man accomplishes a sacrifice, a true holocaust, insofar as he is consecrated and devoted totally to God, because in so doing he dies to the world to live in God. This sacrifice, after the Mass and martyrdom, is the most perfect, the most acceptable to God and the most fecund in time and for all eternity. And indeed, in the religious state we discover all the elements constitutive of the sacrifice of the altar, namely: oblation (in the offertory), immolation (at the consecration), consumption of the victim (at communion).

Not only does the religious who takes a vow of poverty, of chastity, and of obedience offer himself to God, but the very formula of offering is also an act of consecration, by which comes about, so to speak, the transformation of the Christian into a religious, a spiritual victim and a holy offering.

At his profession, the religious truly gives and consecrates himself to divine service; God, by His own will, ratifies and confirms this consecration for all eternity. As has been justly observed, religious profession is at once a work of God and a work of man. We may say that God holds in his hands the soul that offers itself to Him, and blesses it: “Accepit in manus suas et benedixit.” This blessing is not merely a word without meaning, but an act, a work of sanctification and of consecration.

And the consecration entails the immolation and the total consumption of the victim. This aspect is more grave and splendid, the fulcrum of the religious state. In fact, the religious is, through his vocation, a being-sacrificed, a living host which is consumed totally in the holocaust of love for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls.

“It is not the case of a bloody immolation: here the blood of the soul takes the place of that of the veins; a mystical death suffices for a spiritual sacrifice. Here, for example, St. Francis de Sales writes to a spiritual daughter: ‘Look, my dear daughter, upon a spirit consecrated on the altar to be sacrificed, immolated, and consumed in a holocaust in the sight of the living God.’ ”

For the celebration of the Year of the Priest, our Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, wanting side by side with the holy Curé of Ars, who was a model for secular priests, to place also a model of a holy priest for the religious, has selected St. Pio of Pietrelcina, a saint of our times, a Franciscan Cappuccian who was marked with the bloody stigmata for fifty long years of his life, and happily declared by Pope Paul VI “a representative of the stigmata of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He was an extraordinary priest who, especially in the celebration of the Holy Mass, appeared like St. Francis of Assisi to be a true “image of Jesus crucified” (from the Preface of the Mass of St. Francis of Assisi).

3. Religious Life and the Divine Office
Liturgical prayer surpasses in power and efficacy every other praise or prayer or good work. It is an incontestable truth, and the saints have understood it well. St. Magdalen de Pazzi, for example, valued the recitation of the canonical Hours above any private devotion. When one of her religious asked for a dispensation from some prayers, she responded: “No, my daughter; I would mislead you if I should permit it; for you could believe that this particular devotion of yours gives more honor to God and is more acceptable to the Divine Majesty; while it is actually a small thing compared to the Office which you recite with the other sisters.”

This is the wisdom of the saints, and the faith speaks in the same way. The Divine Office is worth more than any other work, it is really the work of God par exellence. Others are “opera hominum” (the works of men), while the Divine Office is from God, as a homage of praise that comes down from God through the Incarnate Word, presented to the Church in the name of Christ.

The Divine Office can become, and often does for a few, a true sacrifice; and thus it can be called in the fullest sense a “Sacrificium Laudis” (Ps. 49:23). This can happen in various ways: foremost because the recitation of the Office (especially the old Office) follows very precise norms and ceremonies to which one must faithfully adhere. This is what constitutes the penitential aspect of the praise of God. Moreover, it is necessary to impress upon the mind a loving attention to the divine Psalmody, and to that end, repeated efforts are necessary to subdue the appetites and our natural inconstancy. These are all sacrifices acceptable to God.
Usually, there are joined to these sacrifices the sufferings found in community life. If it is edifying to behold religious united in choral prayer, one must also remember that it entails many sacrifices, inevitable and frequently, albeit not voluntarily, recurring: “Sumus homines fragiles... qui faciunt invicem angustias.” (We are fragile men ... who constrain each other. St Augustine, Sermon 69)

Following the example of the Divine Teacher, who was praying even through the unspeakable torments of the crucifixion, the religious ought to know how to praise God not only when he is filled with consolation, but also, and especially, when he is suffering. The souls who love Him follow Jesus everywhere, following Him more willingly to Golgotha than to the mount of the Transfiguration.

Who indeed remains with Jesus at the foot of the Cross? The Virgin Mother, who loved Him with a love that was totally disinterested. Magdalen, the sinner whom Jesus had pardoned much because she loved much. And St. John, who had his knowledge from the divine heart. All three remained there in their places, when the soul of the Supreme High Priest, Christ, offered for the salvation of the world his dolorous hymn; the other apostles, on the other hand, and even St. Peter who had made so many protestations of his love for Jesus, were far from Calvary, thinking instead of the mountain of Tabor, where everything would be alright: “It is good for us to be here; if Thou will, let us make here three tabernacles.” (Matt. 17,4)

The Holy Mass and the Divine Office therefore constitute, in their substance, the soul of the religious life, the divine fountain from which each day the religious will drink, and by which he strengthens himself to grow in his life of union with the crucified Lord, ending in perfect unity with Him (cf. Rm 8:29). Thus, one can easily understand the importance that the Mass and the Divine Office have in the religious life, both in general and in the life of every religious in particular.

4. What has happened since the ‘70s?
Until the 1970s, the liturgical patrimony unique to each religious Order remained nearly unchanged, except for several marginal and opportune modifications regarding, for example, the liturgical calendar, that always enriched and streamlined the sacred rites under the vigilant supervision of the official Church. In these years the Church still enjoyed an extraordinary fecundity of religious vocations, a consequent growth of Missions ad gentes, and a solidity and maturity of Christian life among the people of God.

What has happened, then, from the ‘70s onward? In effect what has happened after the celebration of the Second Vatican Council, which was a grandiose (????) unlike the Church had ever seen in her history, is that the liturgical reform that had been promised, instead of achieving the hoped-for and expected growth of the Christian life, managed to cause a turn-around that has impacted negatively on the whole Church and people of God [74]. Even more, it has impacted with especially negative force on the establishment of religious life (particularly in the West).


In consequence, a liturgy that is well established, sturdy, and solid is demonstrated and guaranteed as such especially by the vitality and the fecundity of the monastic and religious life. And vice versa, a monastic and religious life that is strong and fruitfully growing demonstrates and guarantees in the most certain manner the authenticity of the liturgy of the Mystical Body of Christ; whereas a monastic and religious life that is in ruinous decline, as today, can be nothing other than a testimony to a liturgy with a deficit of substance and “vital force,” to use the very expression of Pope John Paul II.

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