Saturday, 25 August 2007

The incomparable beauty of holiness...

The incomparable beauty of holiness is never more fully shewn than in the drama, music, poetry and spiritual perfection of the traditional rites of the Catholic Church but especially the traditional Roman rite.

It is indeed a story written by an Angel at the command of the Holy Spirit, Almighty God Himself.

It is a story written, embroidered and made more perfect still over centuries by the Divine Hand re-living and re-capturing the history of His own sacrificial intervention into human history, the greatest of all events.

There was none greater.

The liturgy of the Church re-lives, over the course of the year, the story of our salvation and the life of Christ, just as the Mass itself re-lives, in an unbloody manner, the holy sacrifice of Christ redeeming us and atoning for us.

Thus the liturgical year begins with the coming of Christ, Advent and Christmas, touches upon His hidden life, then leads on to His public ministry, teaching and witness, his time of temptation and trial in the desert, Lent, then of the adoration of the Jews and their betrayal (Passion Week and Palm Sunday).

Then we enter into the most sacred season of the year, Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum of the 3 days when our Lord fulfils the Passover (the Pesach), immolating His own Divine self, the long-awaited Messias, to be the Paschal Lamb without blemish and the perfect offering to the Father, and makes of it the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist and ordains the Priesthood of the new Covenant to perpetuate the memory of both His Sacrifice and His subsequent Ressurrection from the Dead.

On Easter Saturday the children of God wait by the sealed tomb knowing that He has descended into Hell, to the Limbo of the Just, to open the Gates thereof and liberate the Prophets and Patriarchs, all the just who were awaiting entry into Heaven.

In the West until the 12th century, and in the Eastern Church to this day, on Holy Saturday the Faithful keep vigil all night until sunrise, processing with the Pope, the Emperor, the Cardinals, the Prince-Electors, the bishops, nobility, clergy, senators, religious and people and the whole Body of Christ, re-illuminating with fire the lights of the Church as lumen Christi (the light of Christ), singing the praises of God in an exultation (exultet) of praise and praying for Pope, Emperor and people.

There was also final instruction to the neophytes about to be baptised, the story of salvation history from Genesis to the coming of the Messias, blessing the water of regeneration and baptism, invoking the saints, singing the Divine Office, re-enacting the searches for the Body of Christ and the encounter of the Holy Women who were first to find the Empty Tomb and, later, the risen Saviour.

Until 1955, the Papal choir of St John Lateran intoned the 12 Prophecies in both Latin and Greek, making fully 24 readings in all. There was no question of minimising then! How pathetically weak we are that we now complain if we have to keep vigil at the tomb of Christ for more than an hour or so!

Thereafter, during Eastertide, the Church basks in the glory of the Resurrection, a foretaste of Heaven, and remembers the encounter on the Road to Emmaus.

Then comes the Ascension, the first Apostolic Novena of prayer followed by the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost when, until 1955, the Roman Church celebrated, on the eve of this great Feast, a smaller version of the Easter Vigil.

Thereafter is the time of Pentecost, Whitsuntide, when the Church begins to enjoy the fruit of the Resurrection, commemorating the great gifts of God, the Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the great Feasts, the Feasts of our Lady, the saints raised up in each generation, All Saints, All Souls, praying for the Dead, and expounding and glorifying the teachings of the Church, working to restore the social Kingship of Christ, and ending with the prophecies of the End-times.

Then we begin again with Advent.

This is the Liturgical Year, extolled by Rt Rev Dom Prosper Gueranger OSB, the Abbot of the restored Abbey of St Peter of Solesmes, and the great champion of the Roman rite.

Anyone who thinks this is marginal or unimportant has failed dismally to understand the first lessons of prayer.

Imagine you are here:

and you are at Tenebrae (Matins and Lauds) on Good Friday, having heard the great prophecies that tell of the coming Messias, His sufferings and sacrifices to save His people, the great exegesis of St Augustine of Hippo and the choir is about to sing this:

"3 miserere mei Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitatem meam 4 amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea et a peccato meo munda me 5 quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco et peccatum meum contra me est semper...

8 ecce enim veritatem dilexisti incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi 9 asperges me hyssopo et mundabor lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor 10 auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam exultabunt ossa humiliata...

17 Domine labia mea aperies et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam 18 quoniam si voluisses sacrificium dedissem utique holocaustis non delectaberis 19 sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus cor contritum et humiliatum Deus non spernet..."

"3 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. 4 Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 5 For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me...

8 For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me. 9 Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. 10 To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice...

17 O Lord, thou wilt open my lips: and my mouth shall declare thy praise. 18 For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. 19 A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise...."

[Part of Psalm 50, the great psalm written by King David after the Prophet Nathan rebuked him for sinning with Bethsabee]

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