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The Source and Summit of the Christian Life

The Source and Summit of the Christian Life

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Originally published in the Latin Mass Magazine.
Originally published in the Latin Mass Magazine.

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Published by: New Liturgical Movement on Oct 16, 2012
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6
Christmas 2012
by Peter Kwasniewski 
 
“The Source and Summit of the Christian Life”
What the Schools Can Teach Us About the Mass
ope Benedict XVI inaugurated the Year 
of Faith on October 11, 2012, the ftieth
anniversary of the opening of the SecondVatican Council and the twentieth anniver-sary of the publication of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church
. One of the reasons given by the HolyFather for having instituted this specialyear of grace is the need to rediscover the authentic teaching of Vatican II—acouncil that continues to be misrepre-sented and misapplied in broad sectorsof the Church. The Pope also writesin his Apostolic Letter 
 Porta Fidei
:“We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess theFaith in fullness and with renewed
conviction, with condence and hope.
It will also be a good opportunity tointensify the celebration
 
of the Faith inthe Liturgy, especially in the Eucharist.”As we move through the Year of Faith,therefore, it behooves all of us who lovethe traditional Mass to consider how wemight become better participants in the
Holy Sacrice of the Mass.
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitutionon the Church,
 Lumen Gentium,
has this remarkable thingto say about all faithful Christians, clergy and laity alike:
“Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrice, which is the source
and summit of the whole Christian life, they offer the divineVictim to God, and offer themselves along with it.”
1
Thesource or fount of our entire life in Christ is His Eucharistic
Sacrice, that is to say, the Mass; whatever share of the life
of God is ours somehow originates from that event. And thegoal, the aim, the peak of our Christian life is nothing other 
than the very same Sacrice, through
our 
 participation
in it, through our com-munion with Jesus Christ, in whom wehave eternal life. “I am the living bread
come down from heaven; whosoever 
eats this bread will live forever,” Hesays in the Gospel of John. “He who
eats My esh and drinks My blood
abides in Me, and I in him.” That is thevery heart of our Christian life, as we goon pilgrimage through this world, as wetravel to the house of the Father, wherewe shall rest in the bosom of the Father,even as His beloved Son.Our Lord in His generosity has giventhe Church many wonderful schoolsof spirituality nurtured within the greatreligious orders, and each of theseschools has, at its foundation, some-thing essential, something elemental, to teach us about our spiritual life, and indeed about the Mass itself. This articlewill therefore offer a running commentary on the partsand aims of the Mass by looking to major characteristics
Our Lord in His generosityhas given the Churchmany wonderful schools of  spirituality nurtured withinthe great religious orders,and each of these schoolshas, at its foundation, something essential, something elemental,to teach us about our  spiritual life, and indeed about the Mass itself.
The Communion of the Apostles
by Luca Signorelli 
P
 
7
Christmas 2012
“The Source and Summit of the Christian Life”: What the Schools Can Teach Us About the Mass
of Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, andIgnatian spirituality.
The Benedictines
The motto of the Order of Saint Benedict is
ora et labora.
 This is a rule for the whole of life. Benedictines faithfulto their 
 Rule
are well known for the beautiful balance of their lives: they know how to balance work and prayer, the bodily and the spiritual, the manual and the intellectual,
the exterior and the interior; they know how to balance the
individual and the social, as well. Prayer is like breathing
in, taking in God’s grace; and work is like breathing out,
using the gifts He gives us to build His kingdom in theworld.
Ora et labora.
Or like the pulse of our circulatorysystem: the blood returns to the heart to be oxygenatedand is then pumped out into the rest of the body to bringthe oxygen where it’s needed. Saint Pioof Pietrelcina once remarked: “Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.” We, too, inour souls, need to return to the heart, theSacred Heart of Jesus, to be renewed by
His grace; and when this has happened,
we are then able to be sent forth to therest of the members of His MysticalBody, to serve their needs.
Ora et labora.
We give ourselvesto God, in the Mass, in public prayer,
in private prayer; and He gives us the
strength to go out and work. And we
nd that the more earnestly we strive
to serve Him in everything we do, themore eagerly we come back to prayer,to the fountain of life, because we seehow much we need His help to do greatthings. Even the Mass follows this principle. We are
 praying 
in our spirit, but we are also
working 
with our senses and our limbs: we
stand, we sit, we kneel; we make gestures; we sing, speak,
and fall silent. Why do we
do
all these things? Over andabove the symbolism of particular words and actions, thereis a general reason: when we worship we are not altogether  passive, we are
active
: we put our muscles and vocal cordsinto it, as a way of giving ourselves, body and soul, to theLord. But neither are we activists who think that worshipis all about saying and doing stuff. The very
best 
activitywe have as human beings is our 
receptivity
to God’s grace,and that is actually the most important thing in our partici- pation at Mass: not what we do externally, but what we dointernally, or what we allow
to be done
to us. The externalgestures and words are to initiate, guide, and strengthenour internal reception of the graces God wants to give us.Once again, see the wisdom of the Benedictines. They donot say
 Labora et ora,
work rst and then pray, but
Ora et labora:
x your mind on the Lord, and then go about your 
work—even the “work” of the Church’s liturgy.In the structuring of human life there are two mainerrors to be avoided, and each involves exalting oneside of the balance to the detriment of the other. There is prayer without work: we call this quietism, the view thatone should abandon oneself to God in such a way thatone needs to do nothing else and be concerned with noone else: there is, in effect, no work to be done. And thenthere is work without prayer: we could call this, for lack of a better term, activism—as if the most important thingwe need to be doing is working “out there in the world”to solve its problems. This attitude, of course, is far morecommon in our day and age than the opposite one. When’sthe last time you met a quietist?Saint Benedict calmly reminds us:
Ora—et labora:
Pray rst,
then
work.
 
Go to Mass,
then
resume your daily business, whatever it may be. Do not puteven important matters before the
unumnecessarium,
“the one thing necessary.” Notice the wisdom of the monks andnuns. They limit whatever work theymust do to set periods of time each day,so that their work never interferes withtheir prayer. They build up sacred wallsaround the prayer times and make surethey are inside those walls at the appro- priate hour. Like a fortress or a citadel,this refuge cannot be destroyed. “Letnothing take precedence over the work of God,” says the
 Rule.
Saint Benedict al-ways refers to the liturgy as “the work of God,”
opus Dei.
He calls it this for two
reasons: rst, because it is really more properly God’s work; we are putting ourselves in a position
to let Him work in us. As Jesus says in Saint John’s Gospel:“My Father worketh even until now, and I work.” He is the potter, we are the clay. If the clay isn’t on the wheel or inthe potter’s hands, it won’t get shaped. Saint Benedict alsomeans that it is our work for God: we show Him that He is
rst in our lives, and we give Him our mind, our voice, our 
song, our silence.Our spiritual life is by far the most important thing for usto take care of, no matter where we are or what we are do-ing in our lives. If we had piercing intellects like the angels,
we would see this very clearly; as it is, we are rather foolish,and we are constantly tempted to put second things rst, and put rst things off. At the end of the day—at the end of 
each
day, when we examine our consciences—the number onequestion has to be: Have I drawn close to the Lord today?
 At the end of the day—at the end of 
each
day,when we examine our consciences—the number one question has to be: Have I drawn close tothe Lord today? Have I prayed? Have I givenmyself a chance to pray? Have I received, if it was possible, the sacramentsthat He offers to me for 
my sanctication?
 
8
Christmas 2012
Have I prayed? Have I given myself a
chance
to pray? HaveI received, if it was possible, the sacraments that He offers
to me for my sanctication?
 Nothing else in life can
 substitute
 
 for 
the divine power of 
the sacraments; nothing can substitute for the unique role of 
the sacred liturgy and interior prayer, which are indispens-able causes and conditions of spiritual growth. In a nutshell:if we want to grow spiritually, we have to make
these
thingsthe axis on which our life turns.
The Carmelites
One of the most well-known aspects of Carmelite spiritual-ity is its presentation of the spiritual life as a progressionthrough three stages: purgation, il-lumination, and union. These stagesare often referred to as the purgativeway, the illuminative way, and theunitive way. Their names manifestthe predominant activity of each.
In the rst stage, we make many
and repeated efforts to mortify our sinful habits so that we may developa way of life that is truly given over to God. In the second stage, thecleansing of our moral imperfec-tions continues, but the predominantnote is that of being enlightened by Gods grace as He takes an ever greater initiative in teaching us Hissovereign goodness. In this stage
we become more receptive; since
the main impediments to His actionhave been purged away, God ismore and more free to act within us.
 His
reality becomes increasingly the point of departure of 
our 
thoughts,willings, and actions, and their  point of arrival. In the third stage,God draws us into contemplativeunion with Himself: it is entirelyHis doing, only He can elevate usto such a tasting and seeing of Hisgoodness, and all that we can do ismake ourselves available for the in-vasion of His tenderness. It is not somuch a union we bring ourselves to,as a union He brings about in us, as it pleases His Majesty.We are assured by the great Carmelite Doctors Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Jesus that, in spite of the harshway that leads up to this stage, and in spite of our helpless-ness to achieve it, one taste of the sweetness of the Lord is
worth every suffering, every pain, every hardship; indeed, it
is heaven breaking into our fallen world. It is not somethingto worry ourselves about (am I almost there? will it happento me? when will it happen?). It is our job, rather, to do thatwhich falls more within our power: the road of purgation,and the seeking of illumination. God will do the rest, in His
good time; He will make us rest in Him when we are tted
to do so, if not in this life, then in the life to come, providedwe depart this one in the state of grace.A holy priest shared with me a beautiful insight into howthis Carmelite spiritual doctrine applies to the very structureand experience of the Mass.Every Mass consists of three basic parts: a penitential
 preparation; instruction from the Word of God; and therenewal of the sacrice of Calvary,
when the divine Victim is offeredup to God and we, His members,are offered to God in union withHim as our Head. Mass thereforedeliberately begins with a purga-tive ritual: we are bidden to recallour sins, we confess them in the
Conteor,
we beseech the Lord’smercy in the
 Kyrie eleison.
We seek to purify ourselves of whatever mayhinder our progress to union withChrist. As we transition to the Col-lect, we are opening our minds andhearts to be instructed by the Wordof God: this begins the illuminative phase of the Mass, when we kneelor sit down to hear the lesson or lessons, and stand to receive theGospel, in which the Word of GodHimself teaches us. If we are alertand attentive, God’s Word will be able to penetrate our souls sothat His Truth can give form andmeasure to our thoughts and our desires. God is shaping us to beready for union with Himself. Withthe Offertory, we initiate a new ac-tion: a response, symbolized by the bread and wine we make and bring, by which we tell the Lord that weare ready to be offered up to Him
as a sacrice, to be joined to Hisself-oblation on the Cross, and to be surrendered to the re
of His love. We are entering on the unitive path, where our role is to present ourselves at the feast, ready to receive
the Lord Jesus, Who comes to us in the Sacrice and gives
Himself to us. Although we come forward to His altar, itis He who takes us up into communion with Himself. As
The Mass is our miniatureimmersion in the whole of the spiritual life, if only we openourselves to it! It does not, of course, take us entirely
through
the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways—that would bequite a shortcut!—but it is
like
these ways in its very structure,and it accomplishes something of their work in our souls.
“The Source and Summit of the Christian Life”: What the Schools Can Teach Us About the Mass
The Last Communion of Saint Louis, King of France 
byGabriel-Francois Doyen

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