Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The School of Prayer

Following on from yesterday's post, I think the issue of Liturgy, which is so dear to my heart, merits further elaboration. I often get the impression when I am in church or talking to people or reading some of the articles or letters in the Catholic press that most of the baptised simply do not grasp the inherent value of the Liturgy; they are there but often seem clueless about what is unfolding around them. This is a travesty when one considers the fact that Vatican II's call for participatio actuosa was a call for "full, conscious and active participation" (cf SC 14). And this participation is achieved by priests instructing the faithful and helping them to understand what the Liturgy is about. Articles 14 - 19 of Sacrosanctum Concilium insist on this, stating that study and instruction of liturgy is the means to facilitating participation. This would suggest that participation is not about external activity but first and foremost, an interiorization and mental engagement with the action; we need to understand what is happening. So the fact that so many people seem clueless with regards to Liturgy highlights that this level of participation envisaged by the Council is simply not achieved.

As the Holy Father writing in his book, 'The Spirit of the Liturgy' says:
"Unfortunately the word [active participation] was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity... We should be clearly aware that external actions are quite secondary here. Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio." (p171, 174)

As such, Benedict XVI immediately strikes at the core of Liturgy - it is oratio, prayer. It is not so much a celebration of the community, or humanity, or our experiences and rites of passage; it is the "great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified" (SC 7). The Liturgy is defined as "an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, [it] is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree" (ibid.). This is an awesome declaration indeed! What do we mean by the Liturgy? The Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Liturgy of the Hours: this is the very action of the whole Christ, the praying Christ - Jesus the Head and his Body, the Church.

Therefore, the Holy Father insists that "the Liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the Liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the Liturgy: Jesus Christ... It is a revelation received in faith and prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received." (From the paper 'The Theology of the Liturgy' given at the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference.)

I said yesterday that the Liturgy is an antidote to an individualistic approach to faith and the pick-and-mix spirituality. I believe that the reason why this is so is made clear in the quotation above. The qualities of faith and prayer are fostered in a spirit of humility and service; the spirit of the Liturgy. There is no recourse to one's subjective feelings or flippant emotions. Rather, there is an objective school of prayer, a schooling in authentic worship, praise and glorification of God which in turn builds in us the virtues necessary for our sanctification. We need merely insert ourselves into this school and thus participate in it.

Again, to quote Benedict XVI, writing in 'The Feast of Faith':"Therefore the Eucharist does not stand or fall by its effects on our feelings. Feelings come to an end, and ultimately all entertainment becomes tedious - as we know all too well nowadays. What we need is the presence in our lives of what is real and permanent so that we can approach it. No external
participation and creativity is of any use unless it is a participation in this inner reality, in the way of the Lord, in God himself. Its aim is to lead us to this breakthrough to God..."
(pp 150-151).

As such, Liturgy is habit forming, in the best Thomistic sense of that word: habitus. If we truly participate in the oratio of the Liturgy, it schools us in those dispositions that "incline [the will] to more ready pursuit of determinate goods proposed by reason" (cf ST IIaIIae, 52, 1, McDermott trans.); it schools us in virtues, makes us holy. Liturgy allows us to touch the divine, to enter into a relationship with God. This means that it is an interaction with one who is Other than us; it cannot be something we manipulate on a personal whim or fancy.

Let me give the final word to His Holiness, the Pope: "[Liturgy] cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity - then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals himself to us and gives our existence a new direction." (From 'The Spirit of the Liturgy', p22)

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI is shown above celebrating Holy Mass.


Blogger ChrisOw said...

This is getting better and better... I'd like to request for permission to reproduce this material if you don't mind. It will surely come in handy one day.

4:48 pm  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Thanks Chris. I can't say I have copyright on any of the quoted stuff (!!) but anything I place on here, whether my own or not is for the greater glory of God and thus to be reproduced etc as often as necessary for the purposes of evangelization!

Of course, credit, where due is appreciated...

I suspect things are getting better because I have access to my personal library here in England now and I have been digging the books out of the boxes!

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just to add, Liturgy is not just Eucahrist and Litury of the Hours. There are also the OTHER sacraments


3:37 am  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Thanks for the comment. I believe there is some merit in holding that the sacraments come within the ambit of Liturgy. However, I believe the classical view of Liturgy (and one that predominated the Liturgical Movement) is to see the Liturgy as primarily (and perhaps even exclusively in their strict, high view of Liturgy) Mass and Office. For the Liturgical Movement cf "The Organic Development of the Liturgy" by Alcuin Reid OSB.

The Vatican II constitution on Liturgy reveals this bias: it is concerned basically with the Mass and the Office, not the other sacraments. The revision of those comes about almost as an overspill because the sacramental rites are derived from the Liturgy. SC mentions the sacraments and processions, music, art etc but it appears only insofar as these lead to or are derived from the Mass and the Office.

Ratzinger's book "The Spirit of the Liturgy" as well as the Guardini inspiration of that book also has this bias.

Finally, Kunzler in his masterful book "The Church's Liturgy" explains: "While in the Christian East to begin with 'liturgy' was employed as a general term for all celebrations of worship - corresponding to the concept of 'sacramentum' used by the Latin Fathers gradually its usage narrowed down later to the celebration of the Eucharist..."

This is not to suggest that the sacraments are peripheral or not part of Christ's redeeming work in the Church. It is only to stress that my emphasis on Mass and Office has firm foundations in liturgical scholarship and the theology of Liturgy as it stands today. My emphasis is thus led by this reading of theology and in particular the bias of SC.

11:38 am  

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