In the Tridentine liturgical books, as in most of the mediæval rites that preceded their promulgation, 2 November was liturgically the second day in the Octave of All Saints. The commemoration of the faithful departed was, as it were, a supplement to the day within the Octave, consisting in an obligation of saying the Office of the Dead in addition to the office of the day, and of saying a Mass of the Dead.
Supplementary offices, although they have fallen into desuetude after the liturgical revolutions of the 20th century, were an ancient element of the Roman rite. Indeed, the origin of the term “double” (duplex) to describe major feasts in the Roman calendar before the reforms of John XXIII seems to hark back to the pre-Carolingian practice in Rome of having a “double office” on major feast days. Originally, in the Roman basilicas only the dominical and ferial offices were sung. Offices in honour of a saint were celebrated at the respective tomb on the saint’s feast day as part of a vigil rite which comprised Vespers, three Nocturns, and Lauds.
When offices in honour of saints first began to be sung in the basilicas, they were a supplement to the ferial office, resulting a double office. Eventually, both began to blend together. Pierre Batiffol analyzes some passages from Amalarius of Metz about the antiphonary of Corbey, attributed to Pope Hadrian I, and explains:
It results from these two passages that the most solemnly observed festivals of the saints had, at Rome, two nocturn offices, one at nightfall, without invitatory, and the office in the middle of the night, with invitatory. I conjecture that the office celebrated at nightfall without invitatory was the proper office of the saint, the vigil office of the festival; and the office with invitatory celebrated in the middle of the night was the ferial office, now transformed into the office of the saint.
But this ferial nocturn was destined in the end to be ousted even from the precarious position which had remained to it: every vestige of duality of the office, of the joint celebration of the offices of the feria and the Saint’s day, was effaced: there was no longer more than one nocturnal office, and that office was altogether given up to the saint.
A vestige of the old system of double offices seems to have survived, however, in the Office of the Dead. It appears first in the 8th century, as attested by Amalarius, the Ordo Romanus X, and other sources. By this time a vigil had developed as part of the funerary rites, akin to the vigil primitively kept in honour of a saint’s feast. Upon someone’s passing, his body was borne to St Peter’s Basilica and received at the door with the singing of the psalm Miserere with two antiphons. After the body was taken within, the vigil began; like a saint’s vigil, this office comprised Vespers, three Nocturns, and Lauds. Mass would then be sung in the morning, followed by the Diaconia, later called Absolutio, and the burial.
The structure of this Office is of the primitive Roman form. Vespers and Lauds have no hymn or short lesson and conclude with the Kyrie eleison and Lord’s prayer, and the Nocturns begin without an invitatory, like in the vigils of saint’s days. The readings of the Nocturns were taken entirely from the book of Job.
It was thus brought over by Bl. Charlemagne across the Alps, and although at first the recitation of this Office was only attached to actual funeral Masses as part of the obsequies, it soon began to be said in attachment to any solemn Mass of the Dead, and as these multiplied, especially in monasteries, so did its accompanying Office. The spirit of the monastic reform of St Benedict of Aniane, so partial to the singing of supplementary offices, surely helped fillip its diffusion.
Already in the 9th century Amalarius reports that Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the Dead were sung daily in certain places, except on feasts. Such was the custom in Cluny and its daughter-houses, where on ferias and simple feasts Vespers and Lauds of the Dead were sung in choir after Vespers and Lauds of the day, and Matins of the Dead was sung after supper.
Cluny was also responsible for setting aside 2 November as a day particularly devoted to prayer for the poor souls in Purgatory. Around the beginning of the 11th century, having been told by a pilgrim that the poor souls earnestly yearned for the prayers of his monks, Abbot St Odilo ordered that the day after All Saints be devoted to prayer for this purpose. Liturgically, of course, this involved the celebration of the Office and Mass of the Dead.
The custom quickly spread throughout northern France and England, and reached Rome by the 13th century. The Ordo Romanus XV, describing the papal liturgy at the time of Martin V, states that, on the evening of 1 November, after Second Vespers of All Saints, the Pope would preside over Vespers of the Dead, incensing the altar at the Magnificat, and then at Matins and Lauds of the Dead. During the day, he would attend a Requiem Mass sung by one of the cardinals.
By the 16th century, St Benedict of Aniane’s ideals had triumphed insofar as the obligation to say the Office of the Dead on all ferias and simple feasts—as well as the Little Office of Our Lady, the Penitential Psalms and Litany in Lent, and the Gradual Psalms in Advent and Lent—had become general for all the clergy. The spirit of the age was, however, far from St Benedict’s own, and the recitation of these supplementary offices were widely considered too onerous. Pope St Pius V acquiesced to remove the obligation to say them with his bull Quod a nobis, although the rubrics of the Tridentine breviary do suggest that the Office of the Dead continue to be said on the first day of the month not impeded by a nine-lesson feast, as well as on Mondays of Advent and Lent similarly unimpeded. When said in choir, the old rule would remain that Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the dead would follow Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the day. The only supplementary office that did remain obligatory was the Office of the Dead on All Souls.
As found in the Tridentine breviary, the Office of the Dead has generally preserved its ancient structure, lacking the Deus in adjutorium, a hymn, and a short lesson. The Kyrie eleison has dropped out, however, and after the Lord’s prayer some preces are said consisting of the versicles A porta inferi, Requiescat in pace, Domine exaudi orationem meam, followed by Dominus vobiscum and the collect. The office concludes with the versicles Requiem æternam and Requiescant in pace.
The Tridentine breviary codified the practice that had arisen in the later Middle Ages of saying only one of the three Nocturns when reciting the Office of the Dead outside the more solemn context of a funeral or All Souls, and distributes the Nocturns across the days of the week: on Monday and Thursday the first Nocturn is said; on Tuesday and Friday the second; and on Wednesday and Saturday the third. On days when only a single Nocturn is said, psalm 145 is sung without an antiphon the Lord’s prayer at Vespers and psalm 129 similarly at Lauds.
In the course of the Middle Ages, various customs arose for solemn celebrations of the Office of the Dead, especially on All Souls. As mentioned above, the Office of the Dead originally had no Invitatory at Matins, but the Invitatory Regem cui omnia vivunt begun to be sung in the Abbey of St Gall in the 9th century on more solemn occasions, and became relatively widespread in the 13th century. In the post-Tridentine books, the Roman and Norbertine breviaries call for this Invitatory to be said with psalm 94 whenever the full three Nocturns are said, and the Carmelite breviary only on All Souls, but it is absent from the Cistercian, Carthusian, and Dominican books. The traditional use of Lyons has the Invitatory In manu tua instead, borrowed from Wednesday Matins.
Some uses also began to modify some of the readings of Mattins of the Dead on All Souls’, replacing the ancient readings taken from Job with pericopes from St Augustine’s Enchiridion and De cura pro mortuis gerenda. The Parisian use, for instance, reads Job for the first two Nocturns and and St Augustine on the third. The Dominican use reads St Augustine on all three Nocturns, and the Carmelite use reads Job on the first Nocturn, St Augustine on the second, and, rather unusually, an excerpt from chapter 15 of St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians on the third.
Indeed, some dioceses in northern France, including Paris, All Souls was actually transformed into a full liturgical day by providing the Little Hours missing from the Office of the Dead, and this practice was retained by the Dominican use. All Souls still began by saying Vespers of the Dead after Second Vespers of All Saints, but the following day was devoted exclusively to All Souls, rather than to the second day within the Octave of All Saints.
After the usual silent prayers, Prime, Tierce, Sext, and None begin immediately with the three psalms in the psalter for that feria said without Gloria Patri, with Requiem æternam at the end of the triplet, as a simple verse in the Parisian use but as an antiphon in the Dominican use. In the Parisian use, this is followed by one of the responsories sung at Mattins: Qui Lazarum resuscitasti at Prime, Credo quod Redemptor at Tierce, Hei mihi at Sext, and Ne recorderis at None. Then comes the collect, and the verse Requiescant in pace to conclude. In the Dominican use, however, after the antiphon Requiem æternam the hour concludes with the the preces that begin with the verse A porta inferi, as in Vespers and Lauds of the Dead (the Confiteor is said between the antiphon and the preces at Prime).
Outside of the Parisian and Dominican uses and those akin thereto, then, All Souls was the last relic of the ancient practice of saying double offices, and the only remaining day with an obligatory supplementary office. As we shall see in a future post, the following centuries saw various efforts to alter the Office of 2 November to bring it into line with other liturgical days, which culminated in the reforms of St Pius X.
℟. Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna in die illa tremenda, quando cæli movendi sunt et terra, dum veneris judicare sæculum per ignem.
℣. Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
℣. Dies illa, dies iræ, calamitatis et miseriæ, dies magna et amara valde.
℣. Quid ego miserrimus, quid dicam vel quid faciam? cum nil boni perferam ante tantum Judicem?
℣. Plangent se super se omnes tribus terræ: vix justus salvabitur, et ego? ubi apparebo?
℣. Nunc Christe, te deprecor, miserere peto: qui venisti redimere, perpetim veni salvare.
℣. Tremebunt Angeli, et Archangeli: impii autem ubi parebunt?
℣. Commíssa mea pavesco, et ante te erubesco: dum veneris judicare, noli me condemnare.
℣. Vox de cælis: O vos, mortui, qui jacetis in sepulcris, surgite! et occurite ad judicium Salvatoris.
℣. Creator omnium rerum Deus, qui me de limo terræ formasti, et mirabiliter proprio sanguine redemisti: corpusque meum licet modo putrescat, de sepulcro facias in die judicii resuscitari: exaudi, exaudi, exaudi me Deus, ut animam meam in sinu Abrahæ patriarchæ tui jubeas collocari.
℣. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
℟. Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day: When the heavens and the earth shall be shaken: When Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
℣. I am seized with fear and trembling until the trial shall be at hand, and the wrath to come.
℣. That day, a day of wrath, of wasting, and of misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter.
℣. What will I, most wretched, what will I say, or what will I do? Since I have accomplished nothing good to proffer before such a mighty Judge.
℣. All the tribes of the earth shall mourn for themselves: the just shall scarce be saved, and I? Where will I appear?
℣. Now, Christ, I beseech Thee, I beg Thee, have mercy: Thou who camest to redeem, come to save forever.
℣. The Angels and Archangels shall tremble: but the wicked, where shall they appear?
℣. I dread my misdeeds, and I blush before Thee: when Thou shalt come to judge, do not condemn me.
℣. A voice from the heavens: O ye dead, who lie in your tombs, arise! And hasten to the judgement of the Saviour.
℣. God, creator of all things, Who formedst me of the slime of the earth, and wondrously redeemedst me with Thy own blood: although my body should now rot, Thou shalt make it rise again from the tomb in the day of judgement: hear me, hear me, hear me, O God, that Thou mightst command my soul to be placed in Abraham’s bosom.
℣. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Although most of the great responsories of Matins have only a single verse, it was not uncommon in the Age of Faith to augment the more solemn instances of this repertoire with additional verses. The poignant Libera me responsory in particular enjoyed a remarkable wealth of verses already in the 10th century. It is the ninth responsory of the Office of the Dead when all three nocturns are sung (when only the third nocturn is sung, it is replaced by another responsory that also begins Libera me), and is also chanted after a Requiem Mass at the beginning of the Absolution at the bier. Additional verses were surely composed to provide additional solemnity for major funerals and for the special commemoration of the dead on 2 November, and also because this responsory was also frequently sung during funerary processions.
The verses Tremens, Dies illa, Quid ego (or its variant Quid ergo), and Plangent appear in the earliest MSS; the Tridentine books have only preserved the former two. In the Dominican use on 2 November, the verses Quid ego and a variant of Nunc Christeare sung in addition to the verses in the Roman books, while the Norbertine use has preserved the verses Quid ergo, Plangent, and Nunc Christe on 2 November and on the Office of the Dead sung upon the passing of a member of the community.
The prolix verse Creator omnium, with its beautiful melisma on jubeas, first appears later in the Middle Ages to be sung in procession after Requiem Masses, and it has been retained for this function in the Dominican rite.
Around the 15th century, a set of three rhythmic verses began to be sung with the Libera me responsory. Each stanza has seven verses of ten syllables with a cæsura after the fourth, and all three stanzas are sung to the same melody. Whereas the previous verses speak in the name of one of the dead begging for mercy on the Last Day, these rhythmic verses take up the voice of a narrator describing the Last Judgements, quoting Our Lord Himself as he separates the dead as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. Our Lord’s words in praise of the saved and in condemnation of the damned are put to the same melody, with striking effect.
℣. Quando Deus filius Virginis
Judicare sæculum venerit,
Dicet justis ad dextram positis:
Accedite, dilecti filii,
Vobis dare regnum disposui:
O felix vox! Felix promissio!
Felix dator, et felix datio!
℣. Post hæc dicet ad lævam positis:
Nescio vos, cultores criminis:
Vos decepit gloria sæculi;
Descendite ad ima barathri,
Cum Zabulon et suis ministris.
O proh dolor! Quanta tristitia!
Quantus luctus! Quanta suspira!
℣. Jam festinat Rex ad judicium,
Dies instat horrenda nimium;
Et quis erit nobis refugium?
Nisi Mater Virgo, spes omnium,
Quæ pro nobis exoret Filium.
O Jesu Rex, exaudi poscimus
Preces nostras, et salvi erimus.
℣. When God the Son of the Virgin shall come to judge the world, he will say to the just on his right hand: Come, my beloved children, I have prepared a kingdom to give unto you. O happy word! Happy promise! Happy giver, and happy gift!
℣. Hereafter he will say to them who on his left: I know you not, workers of wickedness! The glory of the world hath deceived you! Go down to the depths of the abyss with the devil and his ministers. Alas! Oh, how much sadness! How much grief! How much sighing!
℣. Now the King hastens to judgement. That day exceeding terrible is nigh, and who shall be our refuge? None but the Virgin mother, the hope of all. May she pray for us to her Sun. O Jesus, our King, hearken, we beseech thee, to our prayers, and we shall be saved.
 The text of this verse manifestly inspired the sequence Dies iræ; even the first notes of the latter are based on the melody of the verse.
Nunc, Christe, te petimus, miserere, quæsumus; qui venisti redímere perditos, noli damnare redemptos.
The Church makes a solemn celebration of Vespers because Abraham and the other patriarchs before the Law, and the priests and prophets under the Law, all offered sacrifices in the evening; and the Lord gave his Body to his disciples while dining in the evening. The five psalms of this hour signify the five wounds of Christ who sacrificed himself for us in the evening of this world. The verse indicates this meaning: Let my prayer rise to your presence as incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice (Psalm 140). With the twelfth hour the day comes to a close, and when the work is done the laborers receive their denarius (Matthew 20). Further, it can be understood as the end of each person’s life, when each will be given the reward he merited.
On the Five Psalms of Vespers
Five psalms are sung because the five senses will be rewarded for their labor. The hymn that follows is understood to be the praise of victory, because just as the laborers in the Gospel gave thanks after receiving their reward, so the saints will be glad in eternal glory after the world has been defeated. The chapter spurs them to rise and meet the coming Lord. In the following verse, it is as if they knock on the door and ask to be let in. Having lit the lamps of good works they enter into the joy of their Lord with the five virgins (Matthew 25).
On the “Magnificat” Canticle
Thus their “souls do magnify the Lord” with the canticle of Holy Mary, and their “spirit rejoices in the Lord who has done great things for them,” whose mercy endures forever.
On the Collect
The collect that follows is a blessing by which each receives the Lord’s blessing. When Vespers of the preceding day is being sung, then it denotes the time of the present life, because from the beginning of the world the day has preceded and the night has followed, signifying that the joy of paradise came first and then—alas!—death has pursued man ever since. But when it is Vespers of the following day, it signifies the happiness of the coming life, because ever since Christ’s resurrection night has gone and the day follows, signifying that after their death in the flesh believers will be granted the day of eternal life.
CAP. LXII. – De Vespera.
Vesperam ideo Ecclesia solemniter celebrat, quia Abraham et alii patriarchae ante legem, sacerdotes et prophetae sub lege, sacrificia ad vesperam offererant; et dominus in vespera coenans corpus suum discipulis tradebat. Quinque autem psalmi huius horae quinque vulnera Christi significant, qui se vespera mundi pro nobis sacrificabat. Hoc et versus insinuat. Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum in conspectu tuo. Elevatio manuum mearum sacrificium vespertinum (Psal. CXL). Duodecima hora dies clauditur, et operariis iam peracto opere denarius dabitur (Matth. XX). Finis autem uniuscuiusque intelligitur, cum pro transacta vita merces cuique redditur.
De quinque psalmis ad Vesperas.
Ideo quinque Psalmi canuntur, quia pro labore quinque sensus remunerabuntur. Hymnus qui subiungitur, laus victoriae accipitur; quia sicut illi post laborem adepta mercede gratulantur, ita isti post devictum mundum pro aeterna gloria iucundantur. Hos capitulum excitat, ut surgentes venienti Domino occurrant; per versum, qui sequitur, quasi ostium pulsant, et sibi aperiri postulant. Accensis autem bonorum operum lampadibus in gaudium Domini sui intrant cum quinque virginibus (Matth. XXV).
De cantico « Magnificat. »
Unde cum cantico sanctae Mariae anima illorum Dominum magnificat, et spiritus illorum in Domino exsultat, qui fecit eis magna, cuius misericordia est in saecula.
Oratio quae sequitur est benedictio qua quisque a Domino benedicitur. Cum vespera de praecedenti die cantatur, tunc praesentis vitae tempus denotatur; quia ab initio mundi dies praecessit, nox sequebatur, significans quod gaudium paradisi praecessit: mors hominem, heu! sequebatur. Cum vero de sequenti die celebratur, tunc futurae vitae laetitia designatur, quia a Christi resurrectione nox praecedit, dies sequitur, designans quod post mortem carnis dies vitae dabitur credentibus.
Ch. 63 On the Little Office of Mary
We sing the Office of Our Lady or of All Saints out of devotion, not because any law obliges us, so that, because like worthless servants we have carelessly discharged the service we owe, we offer gifts to the friends of Our Lord, so that through them we might render our service acceptable and obtain grace from Our Lord.
On the Blessing of Food and the Table Reading
The custom of blessing food and giving thanks after a meal began with Our Lord who blessed five loaves and said a hymn after the Last Supper. Reading at table was instituted by Augustine, who desired that our minds should be refreshed along with our bodies, because man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God (Matthew 4).
On the Collation
That religious gather for the collation is a custom that comes from the holy fathers, who used to come together in the evening to discuss the Scriptures. The discussions they had were called collationes, and thus these texts, similar to their discussions, are read at the collation.
CAP. LXIII. – De cursu sanctae Mariae.
Cursum de sancta Maria vel de omnibus sanctis nulla lege constricti, sed ob devotionem canimus, ut, quia servi inutiles debitum servitium negligenter persolvimus; munera amicis Domini nostri offerimus, ut per eos obsequium nostrum acceptabile faciamus, et gratiam Domini nostri obtineamus.
De benedictione cibi, et lectione.
Consuetudo cibum benedicendi, vel post cibum gratias agendi ab ipso Domino coepit, qui quinque panes benedixit, et post coenam hymnum dixit. Legere autem ad mensam sanctus Augustinus institituit, qui mentes cum corporibus refici voluit, quia non in solo pane, sed in verbo Dei homo vivit (Matth. IV).
Quod religiosi ad collationem conveniunt, hoc a sanctis patribus acceperunt, qui in vesperis solebant in unum convenire, et de Scripturis insimul conferre, et quae ipsi tunc invicem contulerunt, collationes dicebantur, et haec his similia ad collationem leguntur.
Ch. 65 On Compline and theEvening and Morning Confession
We make the confession at Compline to wash away whatever sin we have committed during the day. We do it at Prime to punish whatever sins we committed during the night. It is called Compline because it brings our daytime service to a close. Since during the night our body is bereft of the human senses, so in this hour we commit it more earnestly to God. We sing four psalms because we are composed of the four elements.
On the Hymn “Te lucis”
In this hymn we ask for victory over the phantasies of the night. In the verse we seal ourselves, as the apple of his eye, with the sign of divine protection.
On the “Nunc dimittis”
In the Nunc dimittis we desire God’s peace and light.
On the “Pater noster”
In the Lord’s prayer and the symbol of faith we strengthen ourselves against our enemies.
On the “Credo”
We say the Pater noster and Credo at Prime because we begin all our works through Christ in whom we believe. We say the same prayers at Compline, because we conclude our daily works in him. Compline, which is sung at the time when day is taken away by night, recalls to our mind the time when our life is taken away by death. We begin with Converte nos so that we may be converted from evil and God’s anger may be turned away from us. And because we put no trust in our merits, we invoke God through the verse Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.
Then we sing the psalm Cum invocarem (Psalm 4), which sings of the Lord’s death on Holy Saturday, so that when we fall asleep in death, we may rest in the peace that is Christ. Next we sing In te, Domine (Psalm 30), which Our Lord sang from the cross, when he breathed his last and commended his spirit into his Father’s hands, so that he may be pleased to receive our spirit when we die. Next we add Qui habitat (Psalm 90), in which we sing of the temptation and passion of Our Lord, so that the Lord may save us during the night from the temptation of the asp and the basilisk, and deliver us from the attacks of the lion and the dragon. Next we sing Ecce nunc (Psalm 133), so that we may be blessed in the house of the Lord. In the hymn, chapter, and verse we ask for victory, so that we may triumph in Christ who has conquered the world. In the canticle of Simeon we ask for peace, so that just as Simeon entered the peace of eternal life after he saw Christ the light (Luke 2), so after the light of faith we may enter into the peace of eternal rest.
CAP. LXIV. – De Completorio et de confessione sero et mane.
Ad completorium ideo confessionem agimus, ut quidquid in die commisimus, diluamus. Ad primam vero ideo agimus, ut quidquid in nocte peccavimus, puniamus. Completorium inde dicitur, quod diurna servitus nostra per hoc completur. Et quia corpus nostrum in nocte ab humanis sensibus destituitur, ideo per hanc horam intentius Deo committitur. Ideo autem quatuor psalmos, quia ex quatuor elementis subsistimus.
De hymno « Te lucis.»
Per hymnum victoriam de nocturnis illusionibus rogamus: per versum nos signaculo divinae custodiae quasi pupillam oculi sigillamus.
De « Nunc dimittis. »
Per Nunc dimittis pacem et lucem Dei optamus.
De « Pater noster. »
Per Dominicam orationem et symbolum fidei nos ab hostibus firmamus.
De « Credo. »
Ad Primam ideo Pater noster, et Credo in Deum dicimus, quia cuncta opera per Christum incipimus, in quem credimus. Ad Completorium eadem dicimus, quia diurnas operationes in eo concludimus. Per completorium enim, quod tunc canitur cum dies a nocte excipitur, illud tempus nobis ad memoriam reducitur cum vita nostra a morte praecipitur. Ideo per Converte nos inchoamus, ut a malis convertamur, et ira Dei a nobis avertatur. Et quia de meritis desperamus, Deum per versum Deus, in adiutorium meum intende invocamus.
De Completorio, « Cum invocarem.»
Tunc psalmum Cum invocarem (Psal. IV), qui de morte Domini in Sabbato sancto psallitur, cantamus, quatenus in morte dormientes in pace, quae est Christus, quiescamus. Deinde In te, Domine (Psal. XXX) scilicet canimus, quem Dominus in cruce cantavit, cum iam exspirans spiritum in manus patris commendavit, ut tunc spiritum nostrum suscipere velit. Hinc Qui habitat (Psal. XC) subiungimus, quem de tentatione vel passione Domini canimus, quatenus tempore nocturno ab aspidis et basilisci tentatione Dominus nos eruat, et a leonis et draconis incursione eripiat. Deinde Ecce nunc (Psal. CXXXIII) psallimus, quatenus in domo Domini benedici possimus. In hymno, capitulo et versu victoriam poscimus, ut in Christo, qui vicit mundum, triumphemus. In cantico Simeonis pacem rogamus, ut, sicut Simeon (Luc. II), postquam lumen Christum vidit, pacem vitae intravit, ita nos post lumen fidei intremus pacem requiei.
The following is the text of a conference given by R.P. Dom Bohineust, O.S.B., on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Association Pro Liturgia last month, the original French of which appeared on the Pro Liturgia website.
Jacob had a dream: Behold, a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it! Jacob awoke from his dream and said, “Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven!”
Terribilis est: this place is terrible. So we sing during the dedication of a Church. But the whole liturgy is this “terrible place” where God meets man. It is a “gate of heaven”, a “ladder” set up between heaven and earth. Liturgy is the place where earth and heaven meet.
At a certain period, this truth was called into question, and some tried to oppose the spiritual life and the liturgical life.
Dom Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes, tells this story: “A good Jesuit, while giving a retreat in a house of our order, asked that the superior halt the Divine Office in order that he might not be distracted from the exercises of St. Ignatius!”
In contrast to the Spiritual Exercises, where everything is controlled and calculated, “The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there,” wrote Romano Guardini.
In the opening of The Liturgical Year, Dom Guéranger says, “Prayer is man’s richest boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life, for it brings him into communication with God, who is light, nourishment, and life.”
If prayer in general is man’s “very life”, what are we to say about the prayer of the Church, the liturgy! The Church is truly the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, of the one who teaches us to pray.
During the waning of the Middle Ages, however, a spiritual current dubbed devotio moderna forsook the solemn celebration of the Hours of the Office for the sake of a more individual form of piety. Private prayer and spiritual exercises began to be preferred to solemn celebration. This was a divorce between theology and spirituality, between asceticism and mysticism, and a decisive break from the practice of the the ancients. For it was not so in St. Benedict’s Rule. For him, the time of greatest dedication to the spiritual life, the time for retreat, was the liturgical season of Lent.
Dom Guéranger castigated this view of things very severely. Against it, he had recourse to the liturgical mystics, especially St. Gertrude.
For St Gertrude, the mystery of God is lived in the liturgy. The liturgy is not merely preparatory; it was during the course of the liturgy that she received her mystical graces. All of her prayer prolonged in private the mystery she lived in the liturgy.
The Liturgical Movement continued Dom Guéranger’s work. Finally, Vatican II declared in Sacrosanctum concilium 13:
But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.
Obviously, the liturgy is not the only activity of the Church, but it is “the source and summit of the life of the Church” (ibid., ch. 1).
But here we encounter a paradox. We must explain the liturgy, but it is the liturgy that should teach us in a living manner.
Our intention is to show that the liturgy is the gate of heaven, the spiritual life in its highest degree.
Life is a communication and an exchange. The spiritual life is a commerce with God through the medium of knowledge and love, an admirable commerce (admirabile commercium), as an antiphon of 1st January says about the Incarnation: “O admirable exchange! The creator of mankind, taking on a living body, willed to be born of the Virgin, and becoming man without man’s seed, bestowed his divinity upon us”.
Indeed, the liturgy itself is an “admirable commerce” between God and men. It is a ladder between heaven and earth, a “hole in heaven”, as Leon Bloy said. It allows God to send down his gifts to men and men to send up their prayers towards God, perhaps by the ministry of angels!
Following the Fathers of the Church, we might describe the liturgy in two words: celebration and solemnity. To “celebrate” is to proclaim something to many people. “Solemnity” is that quality that expresses the fact that something important is going on, that a bit of heaven is touching the earth.
But the Fathers insisted further: the liturgy is a celebration of faith. It is a solemnity of love, sollemnitas amoris, as St Gregory the Great said, he who was a Father of the liturgy and a Father for Benedictine monks.
The liturgy is a celebration of faith and solemnity of love. The spirit of the liturgy is nothing less than the Spirit of holiness, truth, and love.
The Liturgy is a Life of Faith and Love
God gives himself because he is Love. Man receives the gift of God in faith and responds in love through prayer.
As in every friendship, the love of God for man demands a response. Thus we can discern a two-fold movement: of God toward man (the gift of grace) and of man toward God (thanksgiving): and this is the liturgy.
We might say therefore that the liturgy is a descent of God toward man, of heaven toward the earth; and an ascent of man toward God, of the earth toward heaven.
These two lines are not parallel, but they meet one another. Liturgy is the place of encounter between God and his People, the place of their Covenant. That is the meaning of liturgy: action for the people, public service and service of God.
Without an authentic encounter with God, there can be no liturgy, as is is the case with Islam. For the encounter to take place, God must come to us and we to him: God gives himself to us and we to him. The liturgy is a solemn celebration, in faith and love, of this reciprocal giving of God and man.
I. The Gift of Grace and the Act of Thanksgiving: The Liturgy’s Twofold Movement
“The glory of God and the salvation of the world” are the two essential ends of the liturgy.
Before men praise God, and in order that they might praise him, God supplies them with the gifts of grace; he sanctifies them. The end of the liturgy is not merely to worship God, but first of all to confer on men the grace of God through the sacraments.
What would we have to offer God, if God had not first given himself to us? This is what is stated in the Offertory prayer: de tua largitate accepimus panem quem tibi offerimus; and in the Roman Canon: offerimus praeclarae maiestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis.
The Curé of Ars said very simply, “There are two things for uniting ourselves with Our Lord and obtaining his salvation: prayer and the sacraments. All those who have become saints frequented the sacraments and elevated their soul to God by prayer.”
My plan is therefore the following:
1st Part: The Descent down the Ladder: the gifts of God, the sacraments;
2nd Part: The Ascent up the Ladder: the prayer and the offering of the saints;
3rd Part: The Sacrifice, which is the central act of the liturgy, in which both of these elements find their most perfect expression, because it is simultaneously ascent and descent.
a. Sanctification: The Descending Movement of God toward man
1. The first gift of God to man is the Word of God
Sanctification begins with the proclamation of the Word of God. The Word of God is the first of God’s gifts.
“The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword” (Heb 4:12). We cannot call Sacred Scripture a sacrament in the technical sense of the word, but the very words of Sacred Scripture bear a light and force that are divine.
Sacrosanctum Concilium says, regarding the presence of Christ in the liturgy: “Praesens adest in verbo suo, siquidem ipse loquitur dum sacrae Scripturae in Ecclesia leguntur.”
Liturgy is a place where, according to the Fathers, Scripture receives authentic interpretation, because there the Word of God is fully accomplished, there all the figures of the Old Testament are truly fulfilled.
“Today” is realized for the faithful who receives what is read from Holy Writ into his heart with a living faith. This is the hodie about which Leo the Great spoke.
In the liturgy, says Dom Delatte, “one receives the thought of God from the lips and heart of the Church.”
The liturgy, in its entirety, is the living transmission of the truths of the Faith. It is the putting into living practice of these truths of the Christian faith. To the extent the Christian practices his faith, he manifests its truth.
This is especially true of liturgical chant. “It is impossible to sing the introit of Easter, Resurrexit, several times,” says Dom Gajard, “without better understanding the feast of Easter and redemption.” One might say the same of the Mass of the Dead.
The liturgy is, Dom Guéranger said, “Tradition in its highest degree of power and solemnity.” It is the “main instrument of Tradition”. It is more efficacious in its way than any encyclical!
Pius XI says as much in his great encyclical on what he called the “plague of anti-clericalism,” in which he proclaimed the new feast of Christ the King:
For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church [which few read]. […] The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature.
Dom Gérard Calvet writes:
With the liturgy, I enter into the being of the Church, into its innermost sanctuary. […] And when I say the amen which concludes a liturgical prayer I subscribe to an objective thought which I make mine and which surpasses me infinitely. It is in this way that, little by little, we acquire a supernatural instinct which will quite naturally lead the faithful to sentire cum Ecclesia: that capacity of feel and think with the Church.
No one can appreciate liturgical solemnity if his sense of the faith is spoiled or perverted. Correct faith is an integral part of the celebration. So much so that because of its doctrinal nature the liturgy has always been a great witness of faith. To understand a Church’s creed it is enough to hear the echo of its prayer: lex orandi, lex credendi.
We end with the words of St. Augustine: “When thou repeatest the Creed, thou dressest thy heart.”
b. The Gift of Grace in the Sacraments
God’s first gift is the proclamation of the Word of God. For God does nothing without explaining what he does. The sanctification of man in the liturgy begins by listening to his Word.
Actually, the proclamation of the Word of God and the dispensing of the sacraments are two facets of the same mystery of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in his Church.
They brighten and reflect one another. The proclamation of the Word of God always precedes the celebration of the sacramental rite. The sacrament completes the spiritual work that the act of hearing the Word of God brought slowly to maturity.
The liturgy is the enactment of all the sacraments that confer upon Christ’s faithful the power of his saving mysteries.
St. Thomas says: “They obtain their effect through the power of Christ’s Passion; and Christ’s Passion is, so to say, applied to man through the sacraments”
They come from God; by the sacraments, God communicates his grace to man, which is to say his own Life. They are the means chosen by God for man’s sanctification.
It is in order that that we may fully profit from this sanctification that the Church—in the liturgy of the Word, in its teaching, its chants—stimulates, clarifies, and develops our faith.
The celebration of the sacraments is itself an act of worship offered to God. It is always an act of prayer. Grace elicits gratitude, gift elicits thanksgiving.
God’s descent toward man calls for man’s ascent toward God. This ascension takes place through prayer.
2. Man’s Ascent to God: Prayer and Worship Offered to God.
Worship is the collection of acts by which the community honors God, carries out, “manages” its relations with God, cultivates its friendship with him. It is the debt of honor and glory that man gives to God.
Worship is man’s response to God and his gifts, wherein he offers himself, his intelligence and will, along with his whole body.
Its principal acts are thanksgiving, prayer, praise, adoration, and offering.
Thanksgiving corresponds to the gift of grace.
“Prayer is an elevation of the soul towards God,” says St. John Damascene. Through prayer, man offers his intelligence, desires, and projects to God. Prayer is the “interpretation of our desires,” according to St. Augustine.
Praise and thanksgiving do not mean the same thing. The difference consists in this: praise is made for a good, even if the good is not ours. We thank God for a gift that is ours, that we have received. On both counts, praise and thanksgiving, we go out of ourselves. Praise and thanksgiving are necessarily the heart of prayer, because to pray we must go out of ourselves. Redeemed man must offer praise for the salvation that he shares with others, and thank God for the salvation he has received. Through his acts of praise and thanksgiving, we can recognize a man who has been saved.
In adoration, a person offers his whole self, including his body.
We know that Our Lord prayed on his knees, and that Stephen, Peter, and Paul prayed on their knees. The hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians represents the cosmic liturgy as the act of bending the knee at the name of Jesus (2:10). When the Church bends her knee at the name of Jesus she takes the attitude of him who “was equal to God” but “lowered himself even to death.” This gesture is a confession of Jesus Christ that no word can replace.“The body must be trained, so to speak, for the resurrection”, as Cardinal Ratzinger beautifully puts it.
Man is not truly himself except when he adores. Adoration is the sign by which the creature receives his identity and summation, setting itself before God’s face.
Silence itself, when it follows choral chant, is a form of adoration: every created word effaces itself before the Creator.
Adoration is the creature’s homage to its Creator. It is the offering of itself to God, of everything it possesses.
Liturgy is the highest and holiest expression of the Church’s thought and understanding, for the sole reason that it is carried out by the Church in direct communication with God through Confession, Prayer, and Praise […]
Through Prayer, the Church expresses her love for God and desire to be please Him and be united to Him. This desire is at once humble and strong, because she is the beloved, and the lover is God.
Hence the ravishing unction, the ineffable melancholy, and the inexpressible tenderness of her formulas. Some are simple, others solemn; in them them one senses sometimes the gentle and tender sollicitude of a royal spouse towards the king who chose and crowned her; at other times the ardent sollicitude of a mother’s heart alarmed for her beloved children. Always, however, one senses this knowledge of the things of another life, so profound and so distinct—whether by confessing their truth or yearning to taste its fruits—that no other sentiment can be compared to it, nor any other expression approach its expression.
On Praise: the Church cannot contain in silent contemplation the transports of love and admiration that the sight of the divine mysteries cause within her. Like Mary, at the sight of the great things that He that is mighty has wrought within her, she rejoices in Him, and doth magnify him […]
These three principal parts—Confession, Prayer, and Praise—become a source of inexhaustible poetry in the liturgy. It is a poetry inspired by the same spirit that dictated the canticles of David, Isaias, and Solomon. It is a poetry as charming in its images as it is profound and unlimited in its sentiment. God owed His Church a language worthy of serving such lofty thoughts and such ardent desires.
a. Worship given to God encompasses all human life
Cardinal Ratzinger speaks in this way: “Cult, liturgy in the proper sense, is part of this worship, but so too is life according to the will of God; such a life is an indispensable part of true worship. ‘The glory of God is the living man, but the life of man is the vision of God,’ says St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 4, 20, 7), getting to the heart of what happens when man meets God, but life becomes real life only when it receives its form from looking towards God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God.”
b. Worship is Filial
Christ reveals the secrets of God’s life. We dare to say “Our Father” to him. The grace he gives us is filial.
Through Revelation God makes himself known and brings himself close to us: worship in spirit and truth is faith and charity.
Through him, with him, and in him, we adore, we glorify, we give thanks to the Father.
Fr. Bouyer said that the liturgy is “a resumption of all things in the immense flood of divine love, flowing back finally in filial love towards its source, the Father.”
c. The Liturgy is the Prayer of Christ and His Church
The Principle from which all these acts of worship derive is ultimately the Holy Trinity:
This is what D. Guéranger says (Institutions liturgiques, I, 16):
The liturgy is something so excellent that, to discover its principle, one must go all the way up to God. God, in His contemplation of His infinitive perfections, praises and glorifies Himself ceaselessly, as if He loved with an everlasting love.
Nevertheless, these various acts carried out in the divine essence only acquired a visible and truly liturgical expression when one of the three Persons took up human nature and was able thenceforth to carry out the duties of religion towards the glorious Trinity.
Cardinal Journet (The Church of the Word Incarnate, vol. 2, p. 202) puts it in another way:
1. Thus the Savior’s human nature, within which the entirety of creation found itself represented and summed up, has been able to implore the heavens marvellously, with one stroke crossing the depths of heaven and penetrating the regions of eternal silence, sinking like an arrow cast into God’s heart. […]
This imploration infinitely surpasses our acts of adoration, offering, and supplication, rising upwards whither none of these acts can reach, and opening above them the very abyss of the divine infinity. Nevertheless, it does not seek to dispel of annihilate these acts. Rather, it seeks to provoke them, arouse them, and draw them into its wake. […] The supreme supplication of Christ carries with it the supreme supplication of the entire Church, who is his body and his Spouse.
2. As a result, the whole Church constitutes, with Christ, a single mystical person worshipping, offering, and supplicating.
Thus also D. Guéranger, who puts it lyrically (The Liturgical Year, General Preface):
Ever since that day of Pentecost, [the Holy Ghost] has dwelt in this His favoured bride. He is the principle of everything at is in her. He it is that prompts her prayers, her desires, her canticles of praise, her enthusiasm, and even her mourning. Hence her prayer is as uninterrupted as her existence. Day and night is her voice sounding sweetly in the ear of her divine Spouse, and her words are ever finding a welcome in His heart.
And Charles Péguy, in a poetic manner (the Paterin The Mystery of the Holy Innocents):
In the same way that the wake of a great ship goes on widening till it disappears and is lost,
But begins with a point which is the point of the ship itself,
So the immense wake of sinners widens till it disappears and is lost.
But begins with a point and it is the point which comes towards me, which is turned towards me.
It begins with a point which is the point of the ship itself.
And the ship is my own Son, loaded with all the sins of the world.
And the point of the ship is the point of my Son’s hands joined in supplication.
3. There is a direct connection between these two movements of the sanctification of man and the glory of God.
When God gives man being and grace, he renders him capable of returning to him freely. The ascending line has its source in the descending line. God gives himself to man and thus enables man to give himself back to him.
The return to God is provoked by God himself. The descending line is the most important because it is necessarily first. The gift of grace is primary. There is a primacy of divine initiative in the liturgical encounter. Man does not take the initiative.
These two movements which we can and must distinguish, of men toward God and of God toward men, are strictly related: worship is for the sanctification of man. But these two ends are subordinated: sanctification is for the sake of worship.
There is an inter-penetration: the opposition is apparent. There is an intimate co-penetration of the divine action and man’s response in the work of sanctification and worship. It is not magic, but collaboration with man. Christian worship is impossible without the gift of grace.
If the order of these two movements is reversed, then worship devolves into magic. If we drag God down to our level, it devolves into idolatry; if we exult transcendence without the gift of grace, the result is Islam which has no liturgy. If we forget transcendence, the result is self-celebration of the community centered on itself, about which Ratzinger warns us so often:
The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then the liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around.
The Church is the subject of the liturgy
Pope Paul VI published the conciliar constitution on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Conciliumon 4th December 1963:
Sacrosanctum Conciliumn. 7 says:
Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man [descending line] is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs [the sacraments]; in the liturgy the whole public worship [ascending line] is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.
These definition summarizes, with slight modification, the one given by Pius XII in Mediator Dei 16 years earlier. But whereas Mediator Dei places the emphasis on the public cult rendered by Christ the Head and his Body as a basic principle or as a self-evident notion, Sacrosanctum Concilium focuses on the exercise of the Christ’s exercise of his priestly functions and explains what this consists in: representing and effecting the sanctification of man. Sacrosanctum Concilium thus explicitly marks the importance of the sacraments in the liturgy.
It is the priesthood of Christ, of which the liturgy is the exercise, that explains the unity of this two-fold movement and the fact that every rite makes reference to the adoration and glorification of God. Sacrosanctum Concilium thereby invites us to consider the central place of sacrifice in the liturgy.
II. The Central Place of Sacrifice in the Liturgy
1. Ritual permits us to enter into contact with the sacred
To understand what a sacrifice is, we must reflect on the notion of rite.
The liturgical rite is where the encounter between God and man receives its expression. It is the act in which the reciprocal gift of God to man and man to God is effected.
Rite is a shared action of God and man, a collaboration of God and man, in which God’s action is primary. Through rites, man imitates God, acts like him, acts with him. For the Christian, rite is the prolongation and imitation of the salvific acts of Christ.
Rite is rich in meaning. It puts men symbolically (and really, if it is a sacrament) in contact with what is beyond the scope of the creature, with what is sacred. Man attains the divine. As part of the cosmos, man enters, at least symbolically, into relation with the Creator of the cosmos.
Today the word “ritual” often has a negative connotation. It evokes rigidity and attachment to pre-established forms. It is often contrasted with creativity, which is thought to be the only safeguard of a genuine living liturgy.
Rite has nothing to do with creativity or a “fabricated” liturgy.
Rite is received. “Rites are rites because it is believed that if they were instituted by anyone, it would have had to have been the gods themselves”, says Fr. Bouyer. Thus, the sacraments have been instituted by Christ.
“The life of the liturgy does not consist in ‘pleasant’ surprises and ‘attractive’ ideas but in solemn repetitions,” says Cardinal Ratzinger.Novelties are always suspect. St. John Chrysostom had to give a sermon in order to justify the introduction of the new feast of Christmas at Antioch.
Rite is solemn. Every sacred liturgy tends by means of a ritual to lift us out of the banal and quotidian, not for mere aesthetic reasons, but to help the faithful see that the action that is taking place comes from God. The majesty of the liturgical ceremony signifies that something celestial is taking place on earth.
St. Gregory the Great wrote as much in his Dialogues (IV, 58): “For what right believing Christian can doubt, that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible?”. Solemnity is an integral part of the Catholic liturgy, and must be fostered as an indispensable part of its message, as long as it does not fall into pomposity or mannerism.
Romano Guardini insists in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “We are not concerned here with the question of powerfully symbolic gestures, as if we were in a spiritual theater, but we have to see that our real souls should approach a little nearer to the real God, for the sake of all our most personal, profoundly serious affairs.”
“I like the rule that corrects emotion,” says Georges Braque, “I like the emotion that corrects the rule.”
And Joseph Ratzinger says that “rite” consists in the “practical arrangements” for praise.
Rite is opposed neither to emotion or to praise, nor to life. On the contrary, it permits us to enter into contact with the Holy and Living One.
Every life has its rites, because life spontaneously knows that it is the most sacred thing.
It is true that modern society has tried to desacralize life at all costs!
2. But what is the sacred?
To answer that question, let us take an image by Gustave Thibon. Imagine a marine sponge at the bottom of the sea. If it were to become conscious, it would have a very clear idea of the sacred. For the sponge, the ocean would be the sacred. Its immensity surpasses the sponge entirely. The ocean penetrates into its pores, since it has holes, and so it is more interior to it that the sponge is to itself, intimior intimio meo, as St. Augustine would say. The ocean is immanent within her. And transcendence and immanence are the two divine qualities on which the notion of the sacred is founded.
The sacred is a thing that has become inviolable in virtue of its connection or contact with the divine. It is the quality of a thing that is in contact or relationship with God.
The sacred has two dimensions: (1) everything that exists, insofar as it exists, comes from God and has a direct relation to him; (2) every being tends back to God.
1) There is the immanent sacred: at the depths of every creature, by reasons of a fundamental relation that exists between a creature and its Creator. From this point of view, every being is sacred.
2) There is a transcendent sacred: the sacred is beyond limited beings, in the divine sphere that one might reach through a series of separations and purifications. Here the point of view of transcendence is privileged. The divine is the Wholly Other who pulls us out of ourselves.
In these two perspectives we can clearly discern our two motions, the descending and the ascending, always keeping the primacy that belongs to the immanent sacred: the limited creature cannot attain the divine if it does not first have its origin in God, in whom it really participates. Before being the end of creatures, God is their source. Everything comes from God, everything goes back to God. The two motions are concomitant, and we should not talk about a going out and returning between God and the creature. God does not cease to come to be with his rational creatures and give them the means to come back to him.
All of this becomes apparent from the notion of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a rite par excellence, whose purpose is to “do the sacred.”
There are two ways to “do the sacred.”
In the ascending direction—the transcendent dimension of the sacred—it is a matter of “passing” into the divine domain. Man must overcome his limits in order to attain the sacred domain of God.
“To do the sacred,” in this perspective, means to celebrates certain rites of passage. Burning the victim causes it to pass into the other world; in this instance, the victim actually represents the one who offers it. By means of the sacrificed animal, man tries to approach God. Here, the type of sacrifice is the holocaust.
“It is the offering of a sweet savour which Scripture itself tells us is the prayers of the Saints” says Romano Guardini in his Sacred Signs. “Incense is the symbol of prayer. Like pure prayer it has in view no object of its own; it asks nothing for itself. It rises like the Gloriaat the end of a psalm in adoration and thanksgiving to God for his great glory.
Rites of purification by water are also a part of this passage of man toward God.
In the descending direction of the immanent sacred, “to/\do the sacred” does not mean “to produce the sacred,” because that is not within the creature’s power. “To do the sacred” is to “consecrate,” and only God consecrates! It means to recognize the sacred character in the depths of every being and allow is to blossom. All beings are sacred in themselves because they have been created by God, but this quality only becomes manifest in “consecrated” beings.
“This altar is admirable” says St. John Chrysostom, “Being but a stone by nature, it becomes holy because it receives Christ’s Body”
Every meal has a sacred dimension. We acknowledge this when we begin them with the Benedicite. To recognize the sacrality of the meal as foremost among human acts, is to recognize the total dependence of man in relation to the Living God their Creator.
Yet a meal only takes on its entire religious significance in the act of sacrifice. Here the table is set by God. God and man are sit down convivially, in the strongest sense of the world: they are united in the same life. In this perspective of the immanent sacred, the sacrifice par excellence will be the sacrifice of communion: man sits at the table laid out by God, and God sits at the table of man.
The two lines of the sacred and of sacrifice that we have just presented are entirely complementary: the divine action is always primary, when it consacrates or attracts things to itself. In sacrifice, man receives from God what he offers and gives in order to receive once again.
This is the sense of the prayer over the oblations of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Receive our oblation, O Lord, by which is brought about a glorious exchange [commercia], that, by offering what you have given, we may merit to receive your very self. Through Christ our Lord. ”
In sacrifice, man truly joins in the work of God. But what God loves in the sacrifice is the love that is offered him.
Interior, spiritual sacrifices the sign of this love. Ps 50:10: “The sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God is a contrite heart.”
4. The Eucharistic Sacrifice
a. The Passion of Christ is a true sacrifice, not merely ritual but existential, which fulfills all the sacrifices of the law.
“Instead of material fire,” St. Thomas explains, “there was the spiritual fire of charity in Christ’s holocaust.”
Death is the supreme act of love. It is the moment in which an entire life draws itself together to give itself.
1. Christ prays for the redemption of the world by giving his whole being in sacrifice. This is ascendant mediation. His offering gathers together the sacrifices of Abel and Abraham, and of all the martyrs and saints of later days, and unites them to his own.
2. At the same time, there is a response from on high, a descending mediation. The sacrifice of Christ pierces the heart of God, as is signified when when Christ’s heart is wounded by the lance. All the graces that had been withheld since the beginning of the world, St. Paul says, were poured out upon Christ to be spilled into the world.
1. God descends to meet his people in the Incarnation, to the point of giving himself to them as food. He gives them his Spirit.
2. His humanity enters into Glory, something that no sacrificial rite had been able to obtain. It passes into the divine realm: “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24).
What the holocausts and other “rites of passage” sought in vain, Christ’s Pasch has obtained for his humanity actually, and for all of us, in hope. By his sacrifice, he has passed entirely into the divine realm.
And he draws mankind with him into the heavenly dwelling: “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).
b) The Eucharist
The Eucharist is where this two-fold movement of the liturgy, which we have tried to explain, is most profoundly realized. A sacrifice offered to God, a supreme act of worship and adoration, it is the supreme gift of God to mankind. The victim presented to the Father is the same one we receive (de tuis donis ac datis) through the act of Transubstantiation. But after we have offered it to God, it is given to us as food. Communion is required for the integrity of the sacrifice. Thus the most disinterested act of worship, the “sacrifice of praise” to the glory of God, is at the same time the act by which we receive from God the very source of all grace.
We find this truth expressed in the Canon, in the Supplices: “We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, command these to be carried by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine Altar on high, in the presence of Thy divine Majesty, that as many of us as shall, by partaking at this Altar, receive the most sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with all heavenly blessing and grace.”
The Eucharist is a meeting between God and man. Divine agency is always primary. God gives himself to his People and the Church gives herself to her God in a joint action that celebrates the New Covenant sealed in the blood of the God-Man.
The Eucharist is the gift of a benefactor and the thanks of the beneficiary, a gift of grace and a thanksgiving.
The two motions that meet in the liturgy achieve synergy through Christ, the collaboration of God and his People.
The Mass is a sacrament and a sacrifice. It is the sacrament of sacrifice.“The Mass is the bloody sacrifice swathed in the sweetness of the consecration of the species of bread and wine”, said Cardinal Journet.
Meal and Sacrifice cannot be opposed. Because God is God, transcendent and immanent—remember the sponge!—the meal is an integral and inseparable part of the sacrifice. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote, “To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ. And as for the joy it heralds, it presupposes that we have entered into this mystery of death. Eucharist is ordered to eschatology, and hence it is at the heart of the theology of the Cross”.
The liturgy affects our daily life in its entirety.It integrates the offering of our individual lives into Christ’s own offering, making them “living sacrifices” in communion with the “sacrifice of Christ” (Rm. 12:1).
Liturgy and the Feast of the Resurrection?
We are seated around the table of the Kingdom, because the glorified Christ gives himself to us as food. Each time, God joins us (immanent sacred) and draws us into his Glory (transcendant sacred). The Per ipsumat the end of the Canon is a good expression of the actualization of the two dimensions of the sacrifice offered on Calvary: we receive from God what we give back to him, until he comes again.
Ever since the New Covenant was sealed in the blood of the Son Incarnate, the liturgy of heaven is inaugurated on the earth. That is why the descending-ascending structure is progressively resolved into the eternal order of the Trinitarian life. Then, God will be all in all. The union will be consummated and there will be, so to speak, no more need for the liturgy.This is truly the “solemnity of love”!
“Man was created to contemplate his Creator,” wrote St Gregory the Great, “to be always seeking his face and to dwell in the solemnity of his love.”
The liturgy is a feast
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote (The Feast of Faith, p. 63):
All civilizations have found that those who celebrate a feast need some external motive empowering them to do so. They cannot do it of themselves. There needs to be a reason for the feast, an objective reason prior to the individual’s will […]
In other words, when “celebration” is equated with the congregation’s group dynamics, when “creativity” and “ideas” are mistaken for freedom, the fact is that human nature is being soft-pedaled; its authentic reality is being bypassed. It does not take a prophet to predict that experiments of this kind will not last long; but they can result in a widespread destruction of liturgy.
Now let us turn to the positive side. We have said that liturgy is festal, and the feast is about freedom [… But where we speak of freedom], we also raise the question of death. Therefore the festal celebration, above all else, must address itself to the question of death. Conversely, the feast presupposes joy, but that is only possible if it is able to face up to death […]
The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice.
That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.”
“The most beautiful raiment” that the father gives the prodigal son symbolizes the robe of baptism. In the feast prepared by the father, the Fathers of the Church see an image of the feast of faith, of the celebration of the Eucharist that anticipates the eternal banquet. The ring they see the mark of the elect. The “symphony of the heavenly choirs” is an image of the symphony of faith, which makes of Christian life a joyful feast: the restoration of the Covenant by a sacrificial banquet.
St. Augustine comments, “His servants are the ministers of the Church. They owe a service, they perform a duty. […] He gave instructions for the fatted calf to be killed; that is, for his son to be admitted to the table at which Christ who was slain is fed upon. […] What is a symphony? A concord of voices. […] The only thing which gives pleasure in a choir is the voices of many singers, blending as one, achieving a unity out of them all, not breaking out into a discordant variety. […]”It is meet to feast and rejoice, for Christ has died for the impious.
The Liturgy is Joy.
“Joy always announces the triumph of life”, said Bergson. Where is this truer than in the liturgy? The liturgy is life with God, life in God, life at its maximum intensity.
God is Love. He gives Himself by creating man in His own image and by calling him to enter into His joy, the eternal joy of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Intra in gaudium Domini tui.
“What is the liturgy?” Charlemagne once asked his learned minister Alcuin. “The liturgy is the joy of God.”
O admirabile commercium : Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est : et procedens homo sine semine, largitus est nobis suam Deitatem.
See P. M. HUMBERT, L’Écriture symphonique, p. 98.
Dom Gérard Calvet, Four Benefits of the Liturgy, p. 28.
On Sunday we sing nine psalms at Prime so that we may be able to praise the Trinity in the joy of the Resurrection with the nine orders of angels. First we sing five psalms about the Passion of Christ, signifying that Christ came into glory through his five-fold Passion. If we wish to imitate him now, we will reign with him in the resurrection. Then we add four more psalms, declaring that the Church praises God in all four regions of the world through the four Gospels. Deus, in nomine tuo signifies rejection of error; Confitemini our confession of praise; Beati immaculati following God’s Law; Retribue the soul’s new life; Quicunque vult our faith, which contains everything else, and by which we join the company of the angels.
CAP. LVIII. – De prima Dominicis diebus.
In Dominica die novem psalmos ad Primam psallimus, quatenus cum novem ordinibus angelorum in gaudio resurrectionis Trinitatem laudare possimus. In primis quinque psalmis de passione Christi cantamus, quia Christum per quinque partitam passionem ad resurrectionis gloriam pervenisse significamus. Quem si nunc imitari volumus, in resurrectione ei conregnabimus. Deinde quatuor subiungimus, quia Ecclesiam in quatuor partes mundi per quatuor Evangelia Deum laudare praedicamus. Per Deus, in nomine tuo erroris desertionem, per Confitemini laudis confessionem, per Beati immaculati legis Dei operationem, per Retribue animae vivificationem exprimimus, per Quicunque vult fidem nostram depromimus, in qua reliqua omnia concludimus, et per quam angelis associari credimus.
Ch. 59 On the Four Times the Faith is Proclaimed
The Catholic Church receives the Catholic faith proclaimed and strengthened during four ages, and guards it inviolate across the four regions of the world. First, she lays her foundations in the Apostle’s Creed, Credo in Deum, when she sings it daily at the beginning of the day and the beginning of the hours, namely at Prime; she brings all her works to completion through the Creed when she recites it at Compline. Next, she proclaims the faith in Credo in Deum Patrem, which is read at synods and was proclaimed by the Synod of Nicea. Third, the faith Credo in unum, promulgated by the Council of Constantinople, is sung at public masses. Fourth, daily at Prime she repeats the faith Quicumque vult, which Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, published at the behest of the Emperor Theodosius. Throughout the other hours the Holy Trinity is given worship.
CAP. LIX. – De fide quatuor temporibus edita.
Fidem catholicam quatuor temporibus editam imo roboratam Ecclesia catholica recipit, et in quatuor mundi climatibus inviolabiliter custodit. Primo Symbolum apostolorum, scilicet Credo in Deum, fundamentum sibi ponit, dum hoc quotidie in principio diei, et in principio horarum, scilicet ad Primam canit; per hoc opera sua consummat, dum hoc ad Completorium recitat. Deinde fidem Credo in Deum Patrem, quae in synodis legitur, quamque Nicaena synodus edidit. Tertio fidem Credo in unum in conventu populi ad missam modulatur, quae per Constantinopolitanum concilium propalatur. Quarto fidem Quicunque vult quotidie ad primam iterat, quam Athanasius Alexandrinus episcopus rogatu Theodosii imperatoris edidit; per reliquas horas colitur sancta Trinitas.
Ch. 60 Prime on Ferial Weekdays
During the day office on ferial weekdays, we imitate the laborers in the vineyard, who enter the vineyard for work at different times (Matthew 20). The priest who begins imitates the shepherd, letting out the sheep for morning pasture after they have been in the fold all day. The flock of sheep is the Christian people, the pasture our Lord’s commandments. But wild beasts lurk along the path, enemies of God’s flock. On one side, the “a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5); on the other lurks a dragon, slaying the strays with his venom and greedily gulping up those who lose their way. Here a wolf pounces and carries one off, scattering the flock. There a bear charges, rips through the flock and disperses it. Thus, our shepherd shouts Deus, in adiutorium meum intende! Praying that the flock may escape these dangers. The sheep of Our Lord’s pastures invoke the supreme pastor in a hymn, “that He from harm may keep us free in all the deeds this day shall see.”
CAP. LX. – De Prima in privatis diebus.
In privatis diebus imitamur in diurno officio operarios in vinea laborantes, et diversis horis ad excolendam vineam intrantes (Matth. XX). Porro sacerdos qui incipit imitatur opilionem, oves tota die inclusas mane in pascua eiicientem. Grex ovium est plebs Christiana, pascua Domini mandata. Itinera vero obsident bestiae gregi Dei inimicae. In una namque parte leo rugiens circuit quaerens quem devoret (I Petr. V); in altera draco insidians deviantes veneno interimit, aberrantes avide deglutit. Hinc lupus irruens rapit, et oves dispergit. Inde ursus invadens lacerat gregem et dissipat. Unde pastor Deus, in adiutorium meum clamat, quatenus ovile haec pericula evadat. Oves autem pascuae Domini in hymno summum pastorem invocant, uti eas in diurnis, actibus a nocentibus custodiat.
Ch. 61 Deus, in nomine tuo
Next they call a halt their journey with the psalm Deus in nomine tuo (Psalm 53) and beg the Lord in his might to free them from danger, because “strangers have risen up against them” and “the mighty have sought after their soul.” They ask God in his might to scatter their enemies and “deliver them out of every trouble.”
Beati immaculati in via.
With the psalm Beati immaculati (Psalm 118), they enter the vineyard, which is the Christian religion, and pasture in the pasture of life, which is the Law of the Lord, where they work sedulously when they “keep his commandments.”
In the vineyard they work diligently when in Retribue they behold the “wondrous things of God’s Law” (Psalm 118 (II)). They cultivate it above all when they express their faith in Quicunque vult. Through the Law of the Lord, which is love, we return to the homeland; through the psalm Deus, in nomine tuo, we prepare for the journey; through the psalm Beati immaculati, we understand love of God; through Retribue, love of neighbor.
On “Quicunque vult salvus esse.”
The faith Quicunque shows us our course; for we walk through faith to arrive at vision.
On the Chapter.
In the chapter the master comforts the workers, because all who invoke the Lord’s name will be saved. Thus in the Responsory they are quick to repeat their faith, and along with Peter they invoke Christ the Son of the living God, whom they ask for help in their labors in the verse Exsurge, Domine (Matthew 16).
On Kyrie eleison.
The Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison that follow are said for three reasons. First, to put aside any superfluous thoughts that distract us while singing. Second, so that God may hear the priest’s prayer that follows. Third, so that the Lord’s prayer, as it were prepared by this little preface, may be said with more fervor. We say it silently because in it we speak to God, who hearkens not to words but to the heart. The last part is said out loud, so that all may affirm it. The two verses Vivet anima and Erravi sicut ovis are understood to be the penitent, who are led back to the flock as straying sheep by their shepherd. They now recite the Symbol because through faith they purify their hearts, which their wicked works had stained.
On the Credo in Deum.
The Credo in Deum is said in secret, because a secret penance is enjoined upon our secret sins.
On the Prayers and Confession
Prayers, a confession, and a prayer follow because the penitent are received back into communion on the basis of such fruits.
On the Chapter “Pretiosa in conspectu”
Shepherds often move and lead their flocks to other pastures. The religious imitate this practice when they follow their prelate from the church and gather for the chapter meeting. There God’s animals are given licking salt, when the passion or life of the saints is read to them from the Martyrology. The shepherd gives them a sort of feed when he shows them the patience of the saints in the verse Pretiosa. Then he invokes the divine help three times through Deus, in adiutorium, so that God’s flock might escape all spiritual dangers. Then he blesses the flock when he asks that they may be “guided and sanctified in God’s Law.” After all these things they are refreshed by the reading, and then all of them are guided in their work as workers in the vineyard.
When Terce is sung, it is as if new workers take their turn in the vineyard.
When Sext is sung the labor is taken up by others.
When None is sung, the burden is taken up by still others. At Vespers they receive their denarius. Terce, Sext, and None are celebrated each with three psalms because in these three hours the Trinity is worshipped. But someone may ask why Prime (Prima) is not followed by Second (secunda), and why after Terce we have Sext and not Fourth (quarta) or Fifth (quinta), and why it is None that follows Sext instead of Seventh (septima) or Eighth (octava). Note that the day is divided into twelve hours, and at each hour one section from the psalm Beati immaculati is sung. At the first hour Beati immaculati; at the second, Retribue; at Terce, Legem pone; at the fourth, Memor esto; at the fifth Bonitatem; at Sext, Deficit; at the seventh, Quomodo dilexi; at the eighth, Iniquos odio; at None, Mirabilia; at the tenth, Clamavi; at the eleventh, Principes. This psalm proclaims God’s Law, i.e. charity, in which the laborers work every day for eternal life. Thus in each section something from that Law is recalled, because only through it, as a sort of royal highway, may we enter into the heavenly homeland.
On “Beati immaculati.”
In Beati immaculati it says, “who walk in the Law of the Lord;” in Retribue, “I have considered the wonderful things of thy Law,” and “out of thy law have mercy on me.” In Legem pone, it says “I will search thy Law.” In Memor esto, it says “I declined not from thy Law” and “I have said, I will keep thy Law.” In Bonitatem, it says “The Law of thy mouth is good to me” In Defecit, it says “not as thy Law.” In Quomodo, it says, “I have loved thy Law.” In Iniquos, it says, “I have loved thy Law.” In Mirabilia, it says “They have not kept thy Law.” In Clamavi, it says “I have not forgotten thy Law.” In Principes, it says “But I have loved thy Law,” and “Thy Law is my meditation.” There is always an office at the third hour [i.e. Terce] because the Trinity is worshipped in all the offices.
CAP. LXI. – Deus, in nomine tuo.
Deinde per psalmum Deus in nomine tuo iter arripiunt, et Dominum in virtute sua se a periculo liberare petunt, quoniam alieni eis insurrexerunt, et fortes animas eorum quaesierunt, ut Deus in virtute sua illos dispergat, et eas ex omni tribulatione eripiat.
Beati immaculati in via.
Per Beati immaculati (Psal. CXVIII) vineam, quae est Christiana religio, ingrediuntur, et in pascua vitae, scilicet in lege Domini pascuntur. In qua impigre operantur, dum testimonia Dei scrutantur.
In hac fortiter laborant, dum in Retribue mirabilia de lege Dei considerant. Hanc summopere excolunt, dum fidem suam in Quicunque vult exponunt. Per legem Domini, id est dilectionem, ad patriam revertimur; per psalmum Deus, in nomine tuo ad iter praecingimur; per psalmum Beati immaculati dilectio Dei, per Retribue dilectio proximi accipitur.
De « Quicunque vult salvus esse. »
Quicunque item fides cursum nostrum exprimit; per fidem enim ambulamus ut ad speciem perveniamus.
In capitulo paterfamilias operarios consolatur, quia omnis qui nomen Domini invocaverit salvatur. Unde alacres in responsorio fidem iterant, et cum Petro Christum filium Dei vivi invocant. Quem in versu, Exsurge, Domine (Matth. XVI), se adiuvare in incoepto opere postulant.
De « Kyrie eleison. »
Kyrie eleison et Christe eleison, quod sequitur, ob tres causas dicitur: Primo, ut superflua cogitatio, quae psallentibus obrepsit, dimittatur; secundo, ut sequens oratio sacerdotis exaudiatur; tertio, ut Dominica oratio, quasi quadam praefatiuncula ornata, intentius dicatur. Quae ideo silenter dicitur, quia Deo in ea loquimur, qui non verba sed cor intuetur. Cuius ultima pars ideo aperte dicitur, ut ab omnibus confirmetur. Per duos versus, scilicet Vivet anima, et Erravi sicut ovis, poenitentes intelliguntur, qui per pastorem velut oves errantes ad gregem reducuntur. Qui mox Symbolum recitant, quia fide corda sua purificant, quae prava opera maculaverant.
De « Credo in Deum. »
Ideo autem Credo in Deum occulte dicitur, quia occulta poenitentia occulte peccantibus iniungitur.
De precibus et confessione.
Idcirco etiam preces, et confessio, et oratio, sequuntur, quia per tales fructus poenitentes in communionem recipiuntur. Ob hanc etiam causam septem poenitentiales psalmi ac litaniae canuntur.
De capitulo « Pretiosa in conspectu, »
Solent pastores loca mutare, et greges ad alia pascua minare. Hoc religiosi imitantur, dum praelatum de ecclesia sequentes in capitulum congregantur; ibi Dei animalibus sal ad lambendum datur, dum eis in Martyrologio passio vel vita sanctorum pronuntiatur. Opilio vero eis quasi pabulum ponit, dum per versum Pretiosa patientiam sanctorum proponit. Deinde divinum auxilium ter per Deus, in adiutorium invocat, ut grex Dei periculum animarum evadat. Deinde quasi ovile benedicit, dum eos dirigi et sanctificari in lege Dei poscit. Post haec lectione reficiuntur, et tunc singuli in opera quasi vineae cultores diriguntur.
Dum Tertia cantatur, quasi a novis operariis in vinea laboratur.
Dum Sexta canitur quasi ab aliis labor suscipitur.
Dum nona canitur et psallitur, quasi iterum ab aliis onus suscipitur. In Vespera denarius recipitur. Tertia, Sexta, et Nona, ideo ternis psalmis celebrantur, quia in his tribus horis Trinitas veneratur. Sed quaeritur, cum Prima dicatur, cur Tertia et non potius secunda sequatur. Item cum Tertia ponatur, cur deinde Sexta et non quarta vel quinta dicatur. Itemque cur Sextam Nona, et non magis septima vel octava prosequatur. Sciendum est quod dies in duodecim horas dividitur, et pro unaquaque hora unum capitulum de psalmo Beati immaculati, concinitur. Pro Prima hora Beati immaculati, pro secunda, Retribue: pro Tertia, Legem pone; pro quarta, Memor esto; pro quinta Bonitatem; pro Sexta, Defecit; pro septima, Quomodo dilexi; pro octava, Iniquos odio; pro Nona, Mirabilia; pro decima, Clamavi; pro undecima, Principes; per hunc psalmum lex Dei, id est charitas nobis pronuntiatur, in qua operarii pro aeterna vita quotidie operantur. Unde et in singulis capitulis aliquid de lege memoratur, quia per hanc solam quasi per regiam viam superna patria intratur.
De « Beati immaculati. »
In Beati immaculati dicitur, « qui ambulat in lege; » in Retribue, « Consideravi mirabilia de lege tua, » et « De lege tua miserere mei. » In Legem pone, « Scrutabor legem tuam. » In Memor esto, « A lege tua non declinavi, » et « Dixi custodire legem tuam. » In Bonitatem, « Bonum mihi lex oris tui. » In Defecit, « Non ut lex tua. » In Quomodo, « Dilexi legem tuam. » In Iniquos, « Legem tuam dilexi. » In Mirabilia, « Non custodierunt legem tuam. » In Clamavi, « Legem tuam non sum oblitus. » In Principes, « Legem autem tuam dilexi, » et « Lex tua meditatio mea est. » Semper in Tertia hora officium solvitur, quia Trinitas in omnibus colitur.