- Maurice Zundel, The Splendour of the Liturgy, (London, Sheed & Ward, 1943), 36.
- Don Pietro Leone, The Destruction of the Roman Rite, (NH, Loreto Publications, 2017), 14.
- St. Leonard, The Hidden Treasure - Holy Mass, (Rockford, TAN Books, 1952), 22.
- Bishop Schneider in interview with Diane Montanga, 27th March 2020. remnantnewspaper.com
Wednesday, 29 April 2020
In his passages composed for today, as found in the Liturgical Year, Dom Gueranger draws attention to the glories of Christian civilisation. He describes the great beauties which exist as a result of Christianity and recalls that it is through the inheritance of faith that civilisation springs. When Western civilisation seems to all but have abandoned God and the practice of religion, it can be hard to imagine scenes described by the holy abbott, where great pagan nations converted to the practice of the true faith. Yet these great events did indeed happen and the inheritance of faith has been passed down in each successive generation.
However, whilst sitting in front of a computer screen, following along virtually with the Holy Mass from a distance, it is hard to see what exactly the inheritance of faith is today. For we do not live in an age of great Catholic empires or rulers, nor is the practice of religion even smiled upon let alone promoted. What then is left us in this age - what is our inheritance from those glorious centuries past? Is it really nothing at all? Such a thought can very easily spring to mind.
But no, stay these thoughts for just a few moments and recall what was said a few lines earlier, namely the (albeit virtual) ‘attendance’ at Mass. Our inheritance is not the visible dominion of an earthly ruler, devoted to the practice of the faith, but instead is the real presence of Christ in the tabernacles around the world. Our inheritance is also found in the inestimable sacrifice of the Mass, the Mass of ages, passed down to us by saints and great popes, which teaches the most profound theological truths about God Himself. The presence of Christ upon our altars, Whom we worship in the Mass, is indeed the greatest inheritance that we could ask for.
If this Divine presence and the greatest act of worship compose the inheritance which has been bestowed upon us, then how ought we to take the utmost care and protection of these gifts. A precious jewel or heirloom, left to the children of a family and handed down through the generations, is treated as a prized possession of great value and with many sentimental memories attached to it. Or again, a magnificent estate granted to the children of some lordly family, demands to be treated with the proper respect and care due. How much do these worldly gifts of inheritance pale in comparison to the incomprehensible value of the sacrifice of the Mass, whereby God is made present before our eyes! How much more ought the Mass to be treated with the greatest respect than the precious jewels or family estate and what supreme dignity should each Mass be offered with! Furthermore, this inheritance should be made readily available to all the children of God, so that the inheritance which He so lovingly instituted for all ages, might be bestowed upon all His faithful flock.
The splendour of the traditional liturgy.
The glory of the inheritance of faith is most evident in the traditional liturgy of the Church, which by its many rubrics, gestures and prayers contains a synthesis of the faith. Every word and action has been so stipulated as to convey spiritual and theological truths. Indeed many beautiful works have been composed explaining the meaning of the words and gestures of the Mass. Dom Gueranger himself penned one such work called, on the Holy Mass. For example, he mentions the reasoning behind the confiteor, by which the priest and server (on behalf of the congregation) confess their faults to God before ascending to the altar and entering into the holy celebration of Mass. No word is allowed to be changed of those which have been prescribed by the Church for the celebration of Mass. Having ascended the steps of the altar, the celebrant kisses the altar stone. The stone is emblazoned with five crosses to recall the face wounds of Christ; the kiss is full of the “twofold certainty that we shall find life by consenting to lose it, and that He involves us in His death only to make us share His resurrection”. (1)
The beautiful texts of the Offertory prayers express the sacrifice of Christ and contains prayers which in themselves could be the subject of great treatises.(2) Such richness of teaching cannot be found elsewhere other than in the sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, in the sacrifice of the Mass, we have the very source and summit of our spiritual lives, for through the Mass and reception of Holy Communion we encounter Christ in a completely unique manner. It is the sacrament whereby we are united most intimately with God as He is immolated upon the altar. The spiritual life is centred upon sacrifice of oneself to God and in the sacrifice of the Mass, God sacrifices Himself in order that He might give Himself to us.
In reading the many pages explaining this supreme act of worship, one cannot fail to be filled with awe and wonder at the great mystery before him. There can be no greater inheritance than the Holy Mass! St. Leonard of Port Maurice tells us that the principal excellence of the Mass “consists in being essentially, and in the very highest degree, identical with that which was offered on the cross of Calvary”.(3) As such, the effects of the Mass are unlimited, since it is the sacrifice of Christ offering Himself to God. The effects of Mass are directed first to God and thence to us, and these effects are always perfectly and wholly produced due to the principle priest, who is Christ. Indeed, those effects which pertain to us are bestowed according to the manner in which we are disposed to receive them and hence it is only our personal lack of devotion and sin which limits the effects which each Mass has for us.
What glorious inheritance is this that offers such a perfect offering to God and bestows upon His children countless graces!
Protecting this inheritance.
How then ought we to avail of our inheritance, when the world seems so opposed to the practice of faith? In what way can we preserve the wondrous gift of faith and pass it on to the next generation of the faithful?
The saints constantly recommend that we strive to increase our devotion at every Mass which we attend, considering that each might be our last. Indeed, the more we understand the infinite worth of each Mass, then the more we are drawn into a deeper union with Christ in the intimacy of the sacrifice. Perhaps, then, one very effective way of protecting our inheritance is by attending Mass more regularly and with greater devotion - offering humble adoration to God and uniting ourselves ever more with the sacrifice of Calvary which is re-produced before our eyes. Whilst the choirs of angels descend to worship their Lord at the consecration, it is not uncommon for the pews to be relatively empty, as we treat our inheritance with less care and attentionthan the more earthly inheritance left us by our parents.
The great truths and beautiful mysteries are thus not availed of, and more often than not we have only ourselves to blame as we enter a decline in the spiritual life. Indeed, as many prelates have recently stated, why should we be surprised at the divine punishment of being deprived of the sacraments, when He has been treated so shamefully for decades. We can take these words of Bishop Schneider as an explanation for the current crisis whereby we are unable to access the great gift of our inheritance:
The situation of the public cessation of Holy Mass and sacramental Holy Communion is so unique and serious that one can discover behind all of this a deeper meaning. This event has come almost fifty years after the introduction of Communion in the hand (in 1969) and a radical reform of the rite of Mass (in 1969/1970) with its protestantizing elements (Offertory prayers) and its horizontal and instructional style of celebration (freestyle moments, celebration in a closed circle and towards the people). The praxis of Communion in the hand over the fast fifty years has led to an unintentional and intentional desecration the Eucharistic Body of Christ on an unprecedented scale. For over fifty years, the Body of Christ had been (mostly unintentionally) trampled by the feet of clergy and laity in Catholic churches around the world. The stealing of sacred Hosts has also been increasing at an alarming rate. The praxis of taking Holy Communion directly with one’s own hands and fingers resembles ever more the gesture of taking common food. In not a few Catholics, the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has weakened faith in the Real Presence, in trans-substantiation and in the divine and sublime character of the sacred Host. The Eucharistic presence of Christ has, over time, unconsciously become for these faithful a kind of holy bread or symbol. Now the Lord has intervened and deprived almost all the faithful of assisting at Holy Mass and sacramentally receiving Holy Communion.(4)
Just as we ought to attend to it with the greatest devotion, so we ought also the protect the Mass jealously, lest we be separated from it. Each Mass is an infinite act of adoration to God, and should be given the highest place in society along with the greatest reverence and the utmost dignity in its celebration and all that pertains to it. Our inheritance is not valued by financiers or seen in the many acres of some great estate. Instead it is the greatest act on earth: an act by which we approach God in a way unimaginable as transubstantiation occurs before our eyes.
Leaving aside for a moment, the external acts which must be done in order to safeguard the celebration of Mass, it is time to examine ourselves, according to the advice of the saints. As Bishop Schneider reminds us, the Holy Mass has been grievously mistreated and taken for granted. Perhaps our greatest means of protecting the Mass is by increasing the devotion with which we attend it and seeking to develop such a love of it that we cannot bear to be separated from it. If the Church in general, namely all of us who have been granted this inheritance, were to treat it thus, then perhaps the current deprivation might not be occurring.
Suggested reading regarding the explanation of the Mass:
Rev. Von Cochem, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass explained.
Don Pietro Leone, The Destruction of the Roman Rite.
Dom Gueranger, On the Holy Mass.
St. Leonard, The Hidden Treasure - Holy Mass.
Sunday, 26 April 2020
(Foreward: This article is somewhat lengthier than others, yet it is of great importance to dwell upon the truths contained within the liturgical texts and their import for our current situation.)
Ego Sum Pastor bonus.
The love of Christ knows no bounds, for He came to lay down His life for us in order that we might have life in Him. In the epistle and Gospel for todays’ Mass we gain an insight into the Divine love and learn of the signs of the true, faithful pastors. Christ also teaches us to be on guard for the hirelings, or the unfaithful shepherds, and this is of particular importance in this time of spiritual crisis. We are still in the midst of a joyful Easter-tide, joyfully celebrating the triumph of Christ over the cross. There can be no better time then, to have before us the texts which describe the love He had for us - a love which moved Him to such a death. St. Peter recounts that Christ:
did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly; Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Such is the indescribable love of God, upon which the saints and mystics have written many beautiful words and have yet still failed to adequately describe such perfection. Such is the un-fathomable love of God, who repaid our sins and offences with this most perfect act of sacrifice. It can be all too easy to become disconnected from the truth of the cross, especially when we see the image so often. How often can we pass a crucifix by whilst making but a brief mental note of the figure transfixed there. Again, if we stop and gaze at Christ hanging on the cross, it is often rare that we really comprehend what our eyes are seeing, as we tend to take such an image for granted.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep”. (John 10:11) Yet there is no pleasant pastoral scene here, with a happy shepherd peacefully watching over a flock in some beautiful pasture. Hanging upon the cross is the form of the Good Shepherd, who loves His flock to the point of death. His body is beaten, bruised and bloodied, yet this is welcomed by Him out of love for us. His flesh is torn and falling off and his blood steadily dripping from His many wounds. Christ is the Good Shepherd who knows the dangers facing His flock and who took upon Himself the awful price of our salvation.
This is the image of the true Shepherd, which is presented before us every time we behold the cross. Each time we gaze at the crucifix we must always remember that we are gazing at the most profound act of love, which showed Itself in the most cruel torments and death. “I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me”. (John 10:14) When we thus behold the cross we do indeed know Christ, for we cannot know Him without knowing the cross. We know Him since He has died for love of us, giving us the path to eternal life and a share in His Divine life. How can we mistake such a Shepherd, for who can even dare to pretend to such perfect love and such selfless sacrifice, except God?
The faithful shepherds.
Let us then read the lives of the early popes and bishops of the Church, who suffered persecutions and martyrdoms for the sake of Christ and the Church. We can recall the many missionaries to distant lands who also endured such torments and often death for spreading the faith. In this country, we have only to turn to those great martyr priests of the Protestant revolution to see the actions of true shepherds. They who risked their lives just by coming back into England in order to minister to the faithful, were on fire with zeal for God and for His flock which He had entrusted to them. For priests, such as St. Edmund Campion or Robert Southwell, the care of their flock meant only one thing - to imitate Christ in His care for us in all things, even unto martyrdom. St. Peter’s epistle for today contains the words “Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed”. (1 Peter 2:24) Just as Christ took upon Himself our sins even under death, so He calls His disciples and faithful shepherds to minister unto the faithful in like manner. Christ, the faithful Shepherd, endured stripes and death in order to liberate us and He calls upon those who come after Him to love Him and His sheep in this way.
The mark of the Shepherd and His faithful shepherds is one of giving life for the sheep: “the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep”. (John 10:11) Whilst this has often not been necessary for priests or bishops at certain periods in history, it is a call to which they must be always ready to respond. If the shepherds are not called upon to respond with their lives in a bloody martyrdom, they must be prepared to give themselves in other ways, perhaps enduring injustice or public derision. It is a call to which we, the faithful, must also be ready to respond to, should we be called upon to profess the faith at the price of our lives.
The shepherd tends to his flock out of love and for a reason, namely in order to protect them from the evils that beset them. But he differs from a mere hireling in that the hireling has no love for the sheep, nor indeed for the shepherd. He loves not the work which he performs. Christ warns us of the danger of the hireling who will not stay by his sheep. Whilst Christ eagerly endures the cruelest of deaths for us, the hirelings cannot abide such a thought and flee at the earliest opportunity: “the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep”. (John 10:13) Yet the hirelings do not merely flee, for the Gospel mentions that they “seeth the wolf coming” and thus escape before the danger has even properly arrived. (10:12) When the hireling has abandoned the flock, the sheep are left defenceless and at the mercy of the wolves.
For the unfaithful shepherd, the hireling, not only has no care for the task of caring for the sheep, but has no care for the sheep themselves. His primary concern is for himself and his preservation. Such is the way with all hirelings who are not the shepherd, according to the words of the Gospel. For it is only the true Shepherd and those who follow Him who are able to protect the flock with the love and selfless care which is necessary. Beware the hirelings who care neither for their task nor for the faithful sheep.
We have mentioned the Protestant revolution in reference to the faithful shepherds, but we can do so also with regard to the bishops and priests who threw away their shepherds’ crooks and became hirelings. Out of the English clergy, only St. John Fisher opposed King Henry VIII in his wanton abandonment of the faith and its tenets. The unjust monarch seemingly so commanded the fear of those former shepherds as to move them to abandon their charge and flee from the protection of the flock. The faithful members of the Church, who were under the care of these hirelings, were left without protection or leadership by their former shepherds.
So also we can observe such a similiar occurrence in present day China. Whilst many priests and bishops have endured persecution for adhering to the faith and ministering to the faithful,(1) many others have seen the approach of the wolf and chosen the easier path.(2) The actions of the unfaithful hirelings have resulted in great trials for the faithful shepherds as well as for the faithful flock. Persecution of the Church in China has increased ever since the Vatican signed a deal with the Chinese authorities, described as a move which betrayed the Church in China.(3) The hirelings have disregarded the words of Pope Pius XI who warned against the dangers of subordinating religion and God to the state.(4)
A virus that breeds hirelings.
Would that we could leave such a thought here without further treatment. Yet that papal warning is one which has been sadly disregarded all across the world by those called to be faithful shepherds, but who have instead become fearful hirelings. The pope issued his thanks to those “who have persisted in their Christian duty and in the defence of God’s rights in the teeth of an aggressive paganism”. (5) Unfortunately Pius XI could not issue such thanks again today to the majority of the shepherds. In the time of this current virus, we find ourselves separated from the churches. Faithful priests have been left without a flock to minister to and are thus frustrated in the exercise of their Divine vocation. Such priests ardently wish to hear confessions, administer Holy Communion and celebrate public Masses, yet are prohibited from doing so. Countless numbers of the faithful are deprived of the sacraments, the very life blood of the Catholic life. These faithful priests do indeed deserve the words of praise which come from Pius XI, since their zeal has remained undiminished in the face of aggressive paganism, no matter how that paganism is dress up.
But what of the shepherds - have they abandoned the flock? The true shepherds are Christ-like and do not fear the things of this world. In England, the bishops conference decreed on the 18th March that all public masses must cease as of the evening of 20th March. (6) Such a decision was enacted before the civil authorities forbade mass gatherings and ordered the nation wide lockdown, effective from the evening of 23rd March. Surely such a decision by our shepherds strikes us as very similiar to that described in the Gospel? Are these not the actions of hirelings, who instead of seeking to enable the faithful to avail of the sacraments as much as possible, have chosen to place earthly, temporal goods above those of the spiritual?
No, these are not the actions of faithful and courageous shepherds, intent on guarding the faithful and preserving the truths of the faith, but rather the actions of hirelings who “hath no care for the sheep”. (John 10:13) Yet perhaps this seems harsh, for the bishops of England and Wales only prohibited public Masses a few days before the national lockdown came into force. One might argue - what do those few days really matter?
The first answer which we must make to this is that such an action shows to the faithful that their shepherds do not care enough about spiritual welfare to try and provide for their sheep when the wolf is on the prowl. They also demonstrated this fact to the secular governments, proving to the state that the Catholic hierarchy would quietly accept all the sacrifices, unjust sacrifices, which were asked of them. But most importantly, these hirelings denied the faithful of their spiritual nourishment, which is more important even than bodily health, and denied the faithful clergy a way of ministering to their congregations and fulfilling their vocation. In this earthly life our first consideration must be to God and to those matters which pertain to our salvation. To this end, the promulgation and availability of the sacraments and the various aspects of the Church’s life are never to be considered secondary to any temporal good.
The decision taken by the Catholic Bishops’ conference of England and Wales to ban all public acts of worship, is seemingly in direct violation of Canon 455 of the Code of Canon Law, which states: “A conference of bishops can only issue general decrees in cases where universal law has prescribed it or a special mandate of the Apostolic See has established it either motu proprio or at the request of the conference itself”. (7) Dr. Caridi, a prominent canonist, clarifies that there is no such prescription in universal law which can permit the bishops to ban public Mass. (8) Nor has there been any mention of a special Apostolic mandate prohibiting public acts of worship. Whilst the current canon law of 1983 makes no mention of any permission for the banning of Masses, it does however contain a directive relating to the duty of a bishop: “he is to endeavour constantly that the Christian faithful entrusted to his care grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments and that they understand and live the paschal mystery”. (9) The Code also stipulates that the faithful have the right to receive the spiritual fruits of the Church, particularly the “word of God and the sacraments”. (10)
It light of the Ecclesial ban of public acts of worship, no matter the motive behind it, the bishops are reneging on their canonical duty to constantly ensure that the flock in their care are able to advance in the spiritual life. (As stipulated in Canon #387). It is also the duty of the bishops to lead by example and to move their flock to the practice of the virtues by their own holy lives. However, the message which they have proclaimed to the faithful during this time, is that there are (apparently) times when we can make excuses for abandoning the first and foremost duty of the Church and place the spiritual life on pause whilst we cater to lesser needs. Hence, the directive issued by the bishops of England and Wales, prohibiting public acts of worship, was an abject rejection of their call to be faithful shepherds. It was in violation of canon law and proved to the state that the Catholic Church would prefer to put aside the spiritual life and well being of the country instead of making a stand for the fundamental right and duty of the Church - namely the public worship of God.
Such strong words, so unfamiliar or even unpleasant to the constitution of many Catholics of this land, are not without considerable ecclesial backing. There are a number of authoritative shepherds and teachers who have issued statements affirming the great need of the sacraments during this time. Bishop Schneider refers to the words of St. John’s Gospel for today in issuing the following statement: “If a priest observes in a reasonable manner all the necessary health precautions and uses discretion, he has not to obey the directives of his bishop or the government to suspend Mass for the faithful”.(11) Another canonist, Philip Gray, declared that regarding the public suspension of masses by the bishops, “I do not believe such a directive is legitimate”.(12) He further stated that those true shepherds who seek to be in faithful imitation of Christ would find suitable ways to permit the faithful safe access to the sacraments: “there are reasonable measures that a bishop can put in place to allow all the sacraments to continue. That is what Christ would expect of us. These are the ordinary means of salvation”.(13) Cardinal Burke also issued a statement regarding the current global situation, in which he taught that: “it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers”. (14)
Petition the hirelings to become shepherds.
What then should be our response to such an unjust denial of our access to the sacraments? In those places where state law has demanded the closure of churches it is no longer merely the bishops who have forced the faithful away from the altar. Nevertheless it is vital to petition the shepherds to call for a re-opening of the churches and to enable a more ready access to the Mass and the sacraments. Indeed, it is our canonical duty as the faithful and members of the mystical body of the Church, to make known to our shepherds our spiritual needs:
The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires…they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful. (15)
The shepherds must not be left in any doubt about the critical need that their flock has of returning to the sacraments. In a time of crisis, the people of God must be able to turn to Him more than ever, particularly through the celebration of the Mass. The bishops must lead by example and, supported by the prayers and petitions of the faithful, must lobby the government to allow for the free practice of religion and the celebration of Mass. Indeed, no temporal government ever has the right to prohibit the Church from the practice of the worship of God, nor is any such law just.
The bishops must be reminded of the truth which Cardinal Burke proclaims: “We bishops and priests…We need to insist that the regulations of the State, also for the good of the State, recognize the distinct importance of places of worship, especially in time of national and international crisis”. (16)
For those places which have not been subject to a governmental closure of the churches, such petitioning of the bishops is even more crucial. These shepherds must be convinced of the great spiritual error of their closure of the churches and the deeper need the faithful have of spiritual health and sustenance. The primary duty of the shepherds of the flock of Christ is not the physical, temporal health of her members, but their eternal and spiritual salvation. There exists no greater good, nor is there any alternative fulfillment of their vocation, than to teach the truth and lead the faithful to Heaven through the public life of the Church in Her glorious sacraments.
I end this lengthy article with a reference to the Gospel of Matthew. “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it”. (Matthew 16:25) We, the faithful, are not called to be rash in the face of some possible virus, nor are we deciding to ignore any medical advice. Yet, we must exercise our primary duty of worshiping God, particularly through the holy sacrifice of the Mass. We must also exercise our duty of calling upon our bishops to be faithful shepherds in imitation of Christ and to end the unjust closure of our Churches. Furthermore, we must lobby and petition the governmental ministers, as well as the bishops, to acknowledge the unique dignity of the Church and the vital importance of opening Her doors for public worship.
Viva Christo Rey - Long Live Christ the King!
- https://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2019-annual-report “Freedom of Religion”
- Pope Pius XI, Mit Brenender Sorge, http://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge.html, paragraph 8-13.
- Mit Brenender Sorge, 13.
- Code of Canon Law 1983 #455.
- Canon #387.
- Canon #213.
- Philip Gray JCL, Lay Witness, Vol 38, No 2 - Pastoral Remedies in Time of Crisis, stjosephcanonlaw.com.
- Canon #212.
Thursday, 23 April 2020
In this second week of Easter, the spiritual authors still put before us in our daily meditations, the subject of faith. The reason is of course quite justified, because how can we truly hope to dwell on the mystery of the Resurrection or understand it in any way without the gift of faith. The virtue of faith is particularly important when we find our normal lives challenged by extreme restrictions and rules. In such times especially, we must have recourse to prayer, whereby we engage in conversation with God. Yet in an age so dominated by scientific facts and hard evidence, it is not uncommon that we come across evidence of individuals disregarding the worth of prayer. However, faith and prayer are intimately and inseparably united since faith necessitates prayer whilst prayer relies upon faith. Thus in light of this, and particularly with regard to the current times, we must ask is prayer efficacious and how so?
Efficacy of prayer.
In order to answer the question of whether prayer is efficacious, we must turn to the words of Sacred Scripture where we find the wonderful promise of Christ: “And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you”. (Luke 11:9) Yet again the Saviour teaches that “Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you”. (John 16:23) The divine promise has been given therefore, that assures us of the efficacy of our prayers. The spiritual authors note however, that the source of the efficacy of prayer is not within us, but rather in God. Fr Garrigou-Lagrange teaches that “the source of its [prayers’] efficacy is in God and in the infinite merits of Christ”. (1) Thus it would be wrong to imagine that our prayers, whilst having received the divine assurance of being heard, are efficacious due to our own power. As members of the mystical body of Christ, our prayers ascend to Him and through Him and it is only from Him that they have efficacy. Hence we can be like the faithful centurion from the Gospels who recognised that the power of prayer came from God Himself: “I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed”. (Matthew 8:8)
With the divine assurance of the efficacy of prayer it is no surprise that the Church, through her magisterium, doctors, fathers and theologians, has constantly urged her members to turn to prayer. We have been given such a wondrous gift by which we can communicate with God in this manner and it would be more than foolish not to make use of it. St. Therese likens the gift of prayer as to being a queen who has constant access to her king and is able to receive all that she asks. We can be full of the greatest confidence in the true efficacy of prayer, for God can neither deceive nor be deceived and His words contain no falsehoods. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, in a sermon preached upon this very topic, recalls the words of St. John Chrysostom, who said that “the princes of the earth give audience only to a few; but God grants it to every one that wishes for it”.
But there remains the tricky issue of the many prayers which have been made to God and are as yet apparently unanswered. Perhaps this is something which is even an issue for us at the present moment in a time of upheaval. How can we combine the promise of God to hear our prayer, with those prayers which seem to be unanswered?
Firstly, we must examine whether the object of our prayer is truly worthy of prayer itself. This will be discussed below under the conditions of prayer. But in short, we should not belittle God by praying earnestly that our favourite sports team might win the next game! We ought never to forget Who it is we converse with when we pray. But secondly, we must remember that whilst our prayers may not have been answered yet, this is only because God in His infinite wisdom, does not see fit to do so. We must recall the many saints who prayed for years before their prayers were answered. St. Monica beseeched God for seventeen years for the conversion of St. Augustine! We can only see our immediate needs, whilst God knows exactly when it is best for our prayer to be answered. By allowing us to continue in trial and having constant recourse to prayer, He allows us to draw closer to Him. Indeed, “the simple fact that we continue to pray shows that God is helping us for without a new actual grace we would not continue to pray”. (2) God never responds to our prayers, if they be true prayers, with a simple refusal. It may be the case due our limited knowledge, that whatever we are praying for might not in actuality be good for us, and God is answering our prayer by providing us with something that is better for our spiritual life.
Such a period of trial, or spiritual dryness, is a special gift from God, granted to those souls whom He knows will eventually flourish under such circumstances. It was the state in which many of the great mystics spent a number of years: saints such as Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Just as we receive spiritual consolation and joy in prayer, we should not be surprised if we also receive trial and hardship in our prayer.
Thus, even if our prayers seem to go unanswered, we must not deduce from this that God has broken his word to us. If they are real prayers, then either God is permitting us to continue in a state of trial or He is answering them in a way which we do not yet see or understand.
The Conditions of prayer.
In what regard then can we say that prayer is efficacious, for we pray for a variety of things, some of which are far less worthy and noble than others? There are certain conditions which must be met for the thing prayed for as well as by the person praying in order to prayer to be true prayer.
Conditions of the object prayed for.
Prayer must not be seen as some magic card, by which we can attain whatever goal we desire. It is a direct conversation with God and as such should be treated with the dignity it requires. For instance, if one were to meet the Queen, it would be extremely unfitting to ask her to provide the money to buy a favourite car or gadget. It is just so with prayer: prayer is a requisite for attaining Heaven and as such we must pray for supernatural goods which will lead us to heaven, as well as those temporal goods which will assist us in this regard. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange teaches that ultimately, the object of all our prayer must be to have a greater love of God. Whatever is thus not in accord with that end does not meet the condition for being a worthy prayer. Hence we should ask for the spiritual goods we need in order to attain Heaven, but only in so far as they bring us closer to God. No matter what the spiritual good prayed for is, it cannot be bad in itself, but can be bad if prayed for with the wrong intention. For instance, praying for the virtue of humility only so that we might be known as humble, would not be a fitting prayer. Accordingly then, we must submit all our prayers to the will of God, praying that no matter our own desires, His will be done.
But we should not think that we must avoid praying for anything apart from spiritual goods. Whilst temporal goods are too lowly to be the chief object of our prayers, they are a necessity of our earthly life. Consequently we can and ought to petition God for all those temporal goods which are necessary for us to live well and to attain salvation. With these kinds of prayers especially, the spiritual authors counsel us to be particularly wary of selfish desires dominating our prayer and clouding our judgement as to the object of our prayer. They recommend dedicating these prayers to the will of God particularly, always asking for temporal goods only in so far as is in accord with providence.
Conditions of the person praying.
With regard to ourselves too there are certain conditions which must be met, in order to pray worthily. These can be summarised in the chief conditions of confidence or faith, humility, attention and perseverance.
It is here that we turn our attention back to the very start of this discussion and bring faith once more before our minds, for the relation between faith and prayer is, as mentioned, crucial. Faith is essential when praying because to pray without faith in God is pointless. If we lack faith in our prayer then we firstly insult God, who has promised that He hears and answers our prayers. If we pray whilst being full of doubt that He can indeed do so, then we also express a certain lack of belief in God and in His attributes. Such an action merits the words of God to satan, when Christ said “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”. (Matthew 4:7) In fact, faith in our prayer is an essential element in it being effective as mentioned in the Gospel: “all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you”. (Mark 11:24) Thus when we pray, if we do so worthily, we should not be surprised to find our prayers answered. Prayer is not some dealing with an unreliable and unknown being. Rather, worthy prayer is conversing with God, a God who has promised to hear and answer our prayers. We can and ought to approach Him with the utmost confidence and faith. Indeed, it would be less surprising if the sun and moon suddenly ceased to be than if God did not answer a prayer.
Humility is another condition which must be met, since it would be wrong to misuse the promise of God in such a way as to almost demand to have our wishes heeded. We do not have the right to approach God in the intimate manner in which we can do in prayer, since through our own sinfulness we have infinitely offended Him. Yet in His goodness He has deigned to grant us the grace of such an intimate union with Him. St. James warns that “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble”. (James 4:6) Pride in prayer twists the relation between God and man, and seeks to conform God’s will to ours instead of aligning our will with His.
Giving proper attention to those around us is part of normal, polite behaviour, yet it is often something which we fail to give to God in our daily prayers. If one examines ones own prayers throughout the day, it will be surprising to recall just how many were full of distractions, or made only half heartedly whilst our minds were otherwise occupied. Hence the spiritual authors teach that we must at least have a serious desire to mean what we say to God. Involuntary distractions are not a fault in our prayers and can even lead to prayer being more meritorious. Such involuntary thoughts are part of human nature, and as long as we resist them when they arise, they form no obstacle to prayer. It is the voluntary distractions which give rise to an impediment to prayer, for through these distractions we make clear the desire to be engaged in something other than conversing with God.
Finally, we must be persevering in praying, seeking not to have a speedy answer to prayer, but instead uniting ourselves with the will of God. If we do not have perseverance for the object of our prayer, it would seem that we were not particularly bothered as to its attainment. Even in temporal society we must wait up to several years for certain things such as a degree or promotion. As children we were taught that our desires cannot be satisfied immediately, because in this manner we would swiftly become spoiled. It is just so with prayer, for we must demonstrate our devotion and ardent desire through persevering and unfailing prayer.
To summarise, prayer is not a senseless petitioning of an untrusted being, which bears no relation to the real world. Nor is prayer a form of magic by which we can have all our wishes answered, as if by some legendary genie. Prayer is the very real and personal conversation with an almighty God, who hears and answers us. Prayer, if done worthily according to the conditions set out, is always efficacious. If we have a true and lively faith, which is necessary in order to have a lively spiritual life, then we truly can turn to God in full confidence in constant prayer, and await His aid.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you”. (John 15:7)
- Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. The Three Ages of the Interior Life - Volume One, (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2019), 434.
- Ibid, 436.
Sunday, 19 April 2020
The texts of the Mass which the Church places before us on this Low Sunday, are centred upon the virtue of faith and are particularly poignant in the times in which we find ourselves today. In his epistle, St. John writes of faith in God which is a victory that overcomes the world. By confessing belief in the Tri-une God, we have the surest gift of faith, because we place our entire faith in Him. St. John’s Gospel records the famous passage of St. Thomas seeing and believing in the risen Christ after having expressed his incredulity at the veracity of the Resurrection. ‘Doubting Thomas’ is gently yet severely chastised by God, who present Himself before the disciple, just as He presents Himself before us in the Blessed Sacrament.
Traditionally, today was the day upon which the converts received at the Easter vigil would relinquish their white garments which they had worn in joyful celebration of their entrance into the Church. Having been received but a week prior, they would now be presented with such powerful texts in the Mass, demonstrating the fullness of the faith in Christ to which they and we are continuously called. It is this which gives rise to one of the names for this day, Domenica in albis (depositis) since it was the day upon which the new converts would put off the white garments which they had worn during the past week.
There are certain key points which can be extrapolated from the liturgical texts which have especial relevance to the peculiar situation in which many of us find ourselves in this time of global panic and hysteria. Dom Gueranger is very clear in noting that the texts all are centred upon faith. Indeed he states that it was upon this day that Christ won the perfect faith of His disciples, since they could not fail to recognise His divine power and majesty.(1) The holy abbot observes that we are called to a similiar profession of faith, completely recognising and praising the Divinity of Christ. Faith is of absolute importance in our daily lives and in the progression of the spiritual life, but it is of increased importance now, when the materialistic order of the world seems to be falling into chaos. When our surroundings are changing beyond recognition and daily life is suddenly thrown into confusion, the one constant upon which we can rely and to whom we must turn, is Christ. To do so, we must strengthen the virtue of faith.
Christ is present in the tabernacle of our souls.
In the Gospel, St. John records Christ’s divine entrance into the locked room in order to join the disciples who were gathered there. The Evangelist mentions that they “were gathered together, for fear of the Jews”. (John 20:19) Note this well - that the disciples were hidden away from the Jews out of fear for their lives. At a times when they quite justly should have been able to celebrate publicly the glorious triumph which Christ had wrought over death, the disciples were instead hoping to be forgotten by the Jews. It is into this room full of fearful men that Christ enters and shows the wounds of His passion.
Perhaps one might state that there are no similarities between this passage and our current situation, for we are not enduring any possible persecution from the populace, nor has Christ or indeed any member of the clergy been publicly put to death near us. Yet, read again and the parallels will strike you clearly. Whole nations have placed their citizens under virtual house arrest, supposedly for fear of spreading the novel Covid-19 virus. The doors are locked, and people live in every growing fear at the perceived threat of an unseen enemy. Churches have been unjustly shut by decrees of governments and bishops, and the faithful are prohibited from celebrating the joyful liturgies of Easter. We have been prohibited from doing so even behind the closed doors of a church; private, let alone public veneration of Christ has been postponed out of misplaced temporal fear.
So perhaps then, our situation is not altogether without similarities to the one depicted in the opening lines of the Gospel. Whilst the apostles hid from fear of bloody persecution, we have been forced to hide, albeit from a less merited fear of infection. Whilst they could not celebrate the public liturgy in adoration of God, we are likewise unjustly banned from such essential worship of God. The need for faith has not been so great for a number of generations.
Yet, we must develop an ardent faith in God, because it is only He who can liberate us from such a situation. Even though the doors were locked, Christ visited His disciples by virtue of His divine power and so He can visit us in the silence of our souls even though the doors of the churches are locked. In fact, faith is the crucial virtue which is necessary in these times, because without faith we will be lost to the panic and despair which is so prevalent amongst those who have lost sight of God and of the spiritual life. We can take inspiration from the many famous martyrs and countless numbers of the faithful who have endured persecution, simply for their profession of the faith. They had to suffer through a time when daily life could continue as normal, if only they rejected God and abandoned the faith. Instead, the chose to cling resolutely to the glorious faith, for which many paid with their lives.
St. John mentions that “He shewed them His hands and His side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord”. (John 20:20). The disciples found solace and joy in the apprehension and sight of God, but not just God alone, if one can say that, but also through the evidence of His wounds. It is a beautiful passage that can be swiftly passed over, yet it contains so much depth. Just as they received a renewal of courage and joy from the sight of the resurrected Lord, with the marks of His passion, so we can also receive solace through uniting ourselves to Christ on the cross, perhaps through prayers and devotions to His holy wounds. In the times of persecution, what comfort must it have given the faithful to gaze upon the crucifix and see the torments which Christ underwent for love of them. Whilst we are cruelly separated from Our Sacramental Lord in the Eucharist, we can find great comfort through the practice of the virtue of faith and through devotion to Our Lord on the cross. It is only through the cross that we can find joy, since in our pitiful, sinful condition, we are prone to wallowing in self-pity. In turning to the cross, we see our crucified Saviour, who endured far greater sufferings that we can ever imagine. When enlightened by faith, we can view our own trials as a wonderful way of uniting ourselves to the crucified Lord, whose passion and death we have so recently celebrated.
Times of faith and purgation.
The Gospel records the doubt of St. Thomas, who could not have faith in the resurrection until he had seen for himself, Christ alive and standing before him. It was only when he could visibly see the risen Lord and place his hands into Our Lord’s pierced side, that his faith was confirmed.
We have not such occasion to approach Christ thus, to talk with Him or to place our hand into his side, and so how can we expect to enliven our already weak faith? Or yet, do we not actually have such an occasion?
For Christ is present in the tabernacles of the altars all around the world, and freely gives Himself to us in sacramental form in every Communion which we make. We do not have the opportunity to place our hand on Him, but instead have the far greater privilege of receiving Him into us. St. Augustine teaches that we are changed into Christ Himself: “and you shall not change Me into yourself as bodily food, but into Me you shall be changed”. (2) In this most beautiful sacrament we thus have a far more beautiful and intimate exchange with Christ than even St. Thomas did when meeting the risen Lord. Along with St. Paul we can utter the words, “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me”. (Galatians 2:20).
Yet Christ also said in response to Thomas’ doubt, “blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed”. (John 20:29). This line should be of especial comfort to us during these times, when we cannot approach the Holy Eucharist as we would normally. Now, more than ever in our lives are these divine words appropriate. This time of forced removal from the sacraments, particularly from the Mass, is the time when our faith is to be tested. It can either flourish or perish. If our faith is surface deep only, then such a removal from the sacramental life of the Church will prove deadly for us. Such a faith would not be founded upon the true principles of the Gospel, but would rely upon outward signs for its stimulus. If we rely solely upon the external elements of the faith, then our own faith will not survive being deprived from them.
Thus, in order to have a true faith which will carry us through turmoil, we must be centred upon Christ, relying wholly upon Him. Whilst we cannot attend the ceremonies of the Church, we must listen more than ever to the still and small voice of calm, by which Christ speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. True, the sacramental life goes hand in hand with the interior life, yet if we cannot have access to the one, then we must strengthen the other. By developing an intimate inner union with God in this manner, we will soon return to the public celebration of the Mass with renewed faith and zeal. The Eucharistic mysteries will seem more wondrous and sublime and incomprehensible in their truths, yet at the same time we will be brought deeper into the incredible mysteries which are contained therein. If we seek to develop a faith according to the Gospel, then we can dare to hope to experience the sweetness of which the saints write, when we are once more before the altar.
St. Thomas found faith through putting his hand into the side of the Saviour: we will find a renewal of faith through placing ourselves in His most Sacred Heart and allowing ourselves to be thus enlightened about the Divine truths. If we use this time as one where we seek to deepen our faith and renew its vigour, then we can hope to receive the blessings of which Christ speaks, given to those who have not seen and yet believe.
The true practice of a lively faith.
In practicing this faith which the Mass calls us to, we ought to make use of the opportunity to truly live such a faith. What does this entail?
In short, it translates to having a firm and lively trust in God, sure in the knowledge that nothing happens without His willing so, and remembering that He has already won the victory over sin and death. His salvific death and triumphant resurrection have crushed the devil and all his demonic legions. Hence, no matter the turmoil we see before us, we have only to cling to the cross and be assured of the omnipotence and omniscience of God. When we pray, we must do so in full confidence that God hears and answers our prayers: “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened”. (Matthew 7:7) Any true and fervent prayer, made with worthy conditions, is answered by God, although perhaps not always in the way in which we desire. We have the example of the virtuous centurion, who acknowledged the power and majesty of God when making his request: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed”. (Matthew 8:8)
Such is the faith to which we are called by order of Christ and through example of the Gospels. This is a faith which must be active however. Faith without activity cannot be regarded as true faith. For instance, we cannot imagine that the Church would have canonised any person who professed to have a lively faith in Christ, yet did not put this into practice by enduring the martyrdom which awaited those who professed belief in Christ. The martyrs are those who put their faith into visible practice.
No matter the trials which are presented to us, this faith, this living and ardent faith, must be our guiding principle. See the example of St. Charles Borromeo, who continued with his pastoral duties amidst the deadly plague which tore through Milan between 1576 and 1578. Whilst following prudence in the measures he took not to spread the virus, he ensured that the sacramental life of the Church continued. Of key note, is the fact that the saintly cleric called upon the faithful to a practice of prayer and penance, keenly aware that such plagues are sent from God and that the remedy must be spiritual, not just physical. Instead of decreasing the sacramental and spiritual life, St. Charles actually increased it.
His actions must serve as an example for us all, but particularly for our clergy. The state and ecclesial governments should be very wary of prohibiting the public life of the Church in such a manner as is currently in force, since to do so is one of the gravest signs of a lack of faith. Such actions do not manifest a firm or lively faith, but, at the worst, express a betrayal not only of the faithful, but also of Christ Himself. Instead of sealing off access to the sacraments, the faithful pastors of the Church rather counsel us to follow the example of St. Charles and to increase public and private devotion. Faith is not compatible with the abandonment of the propagation of the sacraments.
During this painful time of separation from the sacraments, we can use the opportunity to grow in love of God and strengthen our faith in Him, confident that He cannot abandon us. We ought also to pray for our spiritual and temporal leaders, that they might lead us wisely through this time, but chiefly that they might recognise the primacy of Christ the King and the desperate need that all men have, regarding access to the sacraments. The sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, are our life source in the spiritual life. In permitting us to endure such a period of separation from them, God is granting us the opportunity to join Him in suffering and to merit many graces by testing and strengthening our faith.
(1) Dom Gueranger, The Liturgical Year. VII Paschal Time - Book 1; Quasimodo Sunday.
(2) St. Augustine, The Confessions. Translated by F.J. Sheed. London, Sheed & Ward, 1984, 113.
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