Friday, January 29, 2021

St Francis de Sales on the Sacred Liturgy

Since today is the feast of St Frances de Sales on the calendar of the Extraordinary Form, here are some passages from the second part of his classic spiritual treatise Introduction to the Devout Life regarding the sacred liturgy and devotion to the Saints. The addressee “Philothea”, a name which means “one who loves God”, is not a specific person, but the reader of the book.

St Francis de Sales, ca. 1691-1700, by the Spanish painter Francisco Ruiz de la Iglesia (1649-1704); Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Chapter XIV ~ Of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and how we ought to hear it
Hitherto I have said nothing of the most holy, sacred, and august sacrament and sacrifice of the Mass, the center of the Christian religion, the heart of devotion, and the soul of piety; a mystery so ineffable as to comprise within itself the abyss of divine charity; a mystery in which God communicates himself really to us, and in a special manner replenishes our souls with spiritual graces and favors.
2. When prayer, O Philothea! is united to this divine sacrifice, it becomes so unspeakably efficacious as to cause the soul to overflow, as it were, with heavenly consolations. Here she reclines upon her well-beloved, who fills her with so much spiritual sweetness, that she resembles, as it is said in the canticles, a pillar of smoke, proceeding from a fire of aromatic wood, from myrrh and frankincense, and from all the powders of the perfumer.
3. Endeavor, therefore, to assist at Mass every day, that you may jointly, with the priest, offer up the holy sacrifice of your Redeemer, to God his Father, for yourself and the whole Church. “The angels,” says St John Chrysostom, “always attend in great numbers to honor this adorable mystery”; and we, by associating ourselves to them, with one and the same intention, cannot but receive many favorable influences from so holy a society. The choirs of the Church triumphant and those of the Church militant unite themselves to our Lord in this divine action, that with him, in him, and through him, they may ravish the heart of God the Father, and make his mercy all our own. Oh, what a happiness it is to a soul devoutly to contribute her affections for obtaining so precious and desirable a treasure!
The Last Supper, 1592-4, made by the Venetian artist Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-94) for the basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore in his native city; note the angels in the upper part of the painting. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
4. Should some indispensable business prevent you from assisting in person at the celebration of this sovereign sacrifice, endeavor at least to assist at it by a spiritual presence, uniting your intention with that of all the faithful; and using the same interior acts of devotion in your closet that you would use in some church represented to your imagination.
5. Now, to hear Mass in a proper manner, either really or mentally,
1. From the beginning, till the priest goes up to the altar, make with him your preparation, which consists in placing yourself in the presence of God, acknowledging your unworthiness and begging pardon for your sins.
2. From the time he goes up to the altar till the Gospel, consider the birth and the life of our Lord, by a simple and general consideration.
3. From the Gospel till after the Creed, consider the preaching of our Saviour and protest that you resolve to live and die in the faith and obedience of his holy word, and in the communion of the holy Catholic Church.
4. From the Creed to the Pater Noster apply your heart to the mysteries of the passion and death of our Redeemer, essentially represented in this holy sacrifice, and which, with the priest and the rest of the people, you must offer to the honor of God the Father, and for your salvation.
5. From the Pater Noster to the Communion, strive to excite a thousand desires in your heart, ardently wishing to be forever united to our Saviour by everlasting love.
6. From the Communion till the end, return thanks to Jesus Christ for his incarnation, life, passion, and death: as well as for the love he testifies to us in this holy sacrifice; conjuring him to be forever merciful to you; to your parents and friends, and to the whole Church; and finally, humbling yourself with your whole heart, receive devoutly the benediction which our Lord gives you through the ministry of his officer, the officiating priest.
But should you prefer, during Mass, to meditate on the mystery you proposed for your consideration on that day, it is not necessary that you should divert your thoughts to make all these particular act; but, at the beginning, direct your intention to adore, and offer up this holy sacrifice, by the exercise of your meditations and prayer; for in all meditations the aforesaid acts may be found either expressly or tacitly and equivalently.
Chapter XV – Of Vespers and other public exercises
Besides hearing Mass on Sundays and holidays, you ought also, Philothea, to be present at Vespers and the other public offices of the Church as far as your convenience will permit. For, as these days are dedicated to God, we ought to perform more acts to his honor and glory on them than on other days. By this means you will experience the sweetness of devotion, as St. Augustin did, who testifies in his Confessions, that hearing the divine office in the beginning of his conversion, his heart melted into tenderness, and his eyes into tears of piety. And, indeed, to speak once for all, there is always more benefit and comfort to be derived from the public offices of the Church than from private devotions, God having ordained that communion of prayers should always have the preference.
The procession of servers, cantors and sacred ministers makes it way through St Patrick’s Church in Philadelphia, which is packed for last year’s celebration of First Vespers of Candlemas according to the Use of Sarum. Photo by Allison Girone.
Enter, then, willingly into the confraternities of the place in which you reside, and especially those whose exercises are most productive of fruit and edification, as in so doing you practice a sort of obedience acceptable to God; for, although these confraternities are not commanded, they are nevertheless recommended by the Church, which, to testify her approbation of them, grants indulgences and other privileges to such as enter them. Besides, it is always very laudable to concur and cooperate with many in their good designs; for although we might perform as good exercises alone as in the company of a confraternity, and perhaps take more pleasure in performing them in private, yet God is more glorified by the union and contribution we make of our good works with those of our brethren and neighbors. I say the same of all kinds of public prayers and devotions, which we should countenance as much as possible with our good example, for the edification of our neighbor, and our affection for the glory of God and the common intention.
Chapter XVI – Of the honor and invocation of Saints
Since God often sends us inspirations by his angels, we also ought frequently to send back our inspirations to him by the same messengers. The holy souls of the deceased, who dwell in heaven with the angels, and, as our Saviour says, are equal and like to the angels, (Luke 20, 36), do also the same office of inspiring us, and interceding for us by their holy prayers. O my Philothea! let us then join our hearts with these heavenly spirits, and happy souls; and as the young nightingales learn to sing in company of the old, so, by the holy association we make with the saints, we shall learn to pray and to sing the divine praises in a much better manner. “I will sing praises to thee, O Lord,” says David, “in the sight of the angels.” (Psalm 137, 2) Honor, reverence, love, and respect in a special manner, the sacred and glorious Virgin Mary, she being the mother of our sovereign Lord, and consequently our mother. Let us run, then, to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her bosom with a perfect confidence, at all times, and in all occurrences. Let us call upon this dear Mother; let us invoke her motherly love; and, endeavoring to imitate her virtues, let us bear a true filial affection towards her. Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for, without being seen, they are at present with you. Always bear a particular love and reverence towards the angel of the diocese wherein you dwell, and of the persons with whom you live; but especially towards your own angel guardian. Address yourself often to them, honor and praise them, and make use of their assistance and succor in all your affairs, spiritual or temporal, that they may cooperate with your intentions.
A Guardian Angel Fighting for the Soul of a Dying Man, 1850s, by the Russian painter Alexey Tyranov (1808-59); Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The great Peter Faber, the first priest, the first preacher, and the first proposer of divinity in the Holy Society of Jesus, and the companion of St. Ignatius, its founder, returning from Germany, where he had done great service to the glory of our Lord, and travelling through this diocese, the place of his birth, related, that having passed through many heretical places, he had received innumerable consolations from the guardian angels of the several parishes, and that on repeated occasions he had received the most sensible and convincing proofs of their protection. Sometimes they preserved him from the ambush of his enemies, at other times they rendered several souls more mild, and tractable to receive from him the doctrine of salvation: this he related with so much earnestness, that a gentlewoman then very young, who heard it from his own mouth, related it but four years ago, that is to say, about threescore years after he had told it, with an extraordinary feeling. I had the consolation last year to consecrate an altar on the spot where God was pleased this blessed man should be born, in a little village called Vilaret, amidst our most craggy mountains. Choose some particular saint or saints, whose lives may please you most, and whom you can best imitate, and in whose intercession you may have a particular confidence. The saint, whose name you bear, is already assigned you, from your baptism.

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