Catechism XXXII ~ Thoughts for Eastertide


by

St. Gregory of Nyssa

What other objection is alleged by our adversaries? This; that (to take the preferable view2014) it was altogether needless that that transcendent Being should submit to the experience of death, but He might independently of this, through the superabundance of His power, have wrought with ease His purpose; still, if for some ineffable reason or other it was absolutely necessary that so it should be, at least He ought not to have been subjected to the contumely of such an ignominious kind of death. What death, they ask, could be more ignominious than that by crucifixion? What answer can we make to this?

(The objection appears to be that it is unworthy of the Divine Nature or God to die, especially an execution as shameful as crucifixion. To have such a thought objecting to Christian Faith is, according to St. Gregory, a sickness (of the mind) and the Catechism is written to be the cure to such ailments of mind. The answer to such an objection as mentioned above is therefore not merely a counter argument. It is a medicine. The entire Catechism was composed as a medicine to cure the mind. )

Why, that the death is rendered necessary by the birth, and that He Who had determined once for all to share the nature of man must pass through all the peculiar conditions of that nature. Seeing, then, that the life of man is determined between two boundaries, had He, after having passed the one, not touched the other that follows, His proposed design would have remained only half fulfilled, from His not having touched that second condition of our nature. Perhaps, however, one who exactly understands the mystery would be justified rather in saying that, instead of the death occurring in consequence of the birth, the birth on the contrary was accepted by Him for the sake of the death; for He Who lives for ever did not sink down into the conditions of a bodily birth from any need to live, but to call us back from death to life.

The natural cycle of life for human beings is such that our birth is the cause of our death. Had we not been born we would not die. Death is the consequence of our birth. For the Lord Jesus Christ things are different. The birth of Jesus Christ is the consequence of His death on the Cross. St. Gregory goes on to explain below.

Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate man, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole man. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature2015 had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of mankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature. What, then, is there beyond the bounds of probability in what this Revelation teaches us; viz. that He Who stands upright stoops to one who has fallen, in order to lift him up from his prostrate condition? And as to the Cross, whether it possesses some other and deeper meaning, those who are skilled in mysticism may explain; but, however that may be, the traditional teaching which has reached us is as follows.

Did you get that? Death is a condition that has spread throughout human nature. For that reason, every human being must inevitably die. This is the so-called human condition. God descends into human nature (by becoming man in Jesus Christ) to take on death itself. At this lowest point of His descent He then plants the seed of resurrection. For He Himself rises from the dead. Death has died – so to speak – and life has been restored (at least in principle).

This resurrection to life is planted in human nature in a similar way that sin planted death there. This means that the resurrection to life is given to all that participate in human nature. St. Gregory uses the image of our body and its senses. Whatever happens at one end of it affects the whole system of our body (building on St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12). The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are truly and totally the undoing of death. The resurrection to life is as inevitable as is death. The resurrection is certain for all participants in human nature. The resurrection is not subject to free will the same way death is not. Let that sink in for a while.

More St. Gregory to come. Stay tuned.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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Ordo Lent II ~ 2017


II SUNDAY IN LENT

March 12.

At Matins: Inv & Hymn for Lent. Psalms & Antiphons as in the Psalter. Lessons from the Proper of the Season (C224-228). NO Te Deum. Nothing of St. Gregory. At Lauds: Psalms & Antiphons of Lauds 2. Chapter, Hymn, Antiphon on Benedictus from Proper of the Season. Commemoration St. Gregory (Antiphon, Versicle and Response, and Collect from p. E115). Preces are said. At Prime: include fourth Psalm, Preces are said. At the Little Hours: of the Season, Preces are said. At Vespers: of the Season, w/ commem. of St. Gregory (Table 8c, & proper Collect), Preces are said. At Compline: ferial, Preces are said.

Weekday Ordo will be posted soon.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

 

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Matins by Fr. Pius Parsch


Matins

It is night. The turmoil of day has died away and everything is still. The Church is at prayer. She remembers the night-time prayer of the Bridegroom; she thinks of the night vigils of the early Christians in the catacombs. Times have changed, but the Church continues to insist that night is not just for sleep; night is a time for prayer. From earliest ages Matins was the Church’s prayer for the Second Coming; she prayed and waited for the return of Christ as Judge of all the world. Night is also a symbol of life on earth. We are like the virgins in the parable, waiting for the Bridegroom with our lamps in hand. Here is how the Christians of 200 A.D. felt about their Matins (text from Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, c. 32, 19-27):

“About midnight, get out of your bed and wash and pray. Wash with clean water. If you have a wife, pray the psalms, alternating verses with her. If you have a wife but she is not yet a believer, go apart by yourself and pray alone, and come back to your place with her. Even if you are bound by the bond of marital obligation, do not omit the prayer: for you are not sullied…

“It is very important that we pray at least once every hour; for the ancients have handed this practice down to us and taught us that this is how we are to keep watch. For at that hour all creation is at rest, praising God. Stars, trees, and waters are as if standing still. The whole host of angels keep their service together with the souls of the just. They praise almighty God in that hour; and that is why the faithful on earth must pray at this same time.

“Our Lord in his parable put it this way: About midnight, he said, there came a call: Look! here comes the bridegroom! Go out to meet him! And he said more. Keep watch, then he told them , for ye know not either the day or the hour in which the Son of man cometh.”

Unfortunately, we have to admit that today Matins retains its proper theme only to a very slight degreeMatins is generally very loosely connected with the night hours and thus it can equally well be anticipated, that is, prayed on the day before, without any appreciable loss of devotion. In place of a theme proper to the time of day there is generally some theme from the feast being celebrated that day, a theme which is expressed in the readings (or lessons, as they are called) and the other variable parts. On feast days, Matins is a meditation on the feast, a drama of prayer.

In order to assimilate the full meaning of a feast, it is necessary to examine Matins. Many feast-day Matins are masterpieces of composition, for example, the Tenebræ services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week, the Office of the Dead, the consecration of a church, Corpus Christi. The psalms of week-day Matins are mostly a prayerful meditation on the kingdom of God, a preparation for fitting the coming day into its proper place in the divine plan of redemption.

Matins has a splendid introduction, the invitatory, and on feast days, Sundays outside the penitential seasons, and during Eastertide, a grand conclusion, the Te Deum. The invitatory, or introduction song, combined with the powerfully stirring Psalm 94, is a liturgical masterpiece. But in order to sense the full, dramatic dynamism of the invitatory, one must hear it in its final form of development, sung in choir during the nightwatch of early dawn.

On Christmas, for example, the joyous tidings Christus natus est nobis (Christ is born unto us), resound through the choir like a mighty proclamation, a veritable Gospel of good tidings in the still of night, and perfect overture to the solemnity of the day’s liturgy. The Te Deum is the paean of the whole Church to the triune God, and to Jesus Christ; it ends on a fervent plea for protection. It serves as a beautiful transition to Lauds.

From: The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin, The Liturgical Press, 1963.

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Observing Lent with the Anglican Breviary


Ash Wednesday is already behind us and so is the first Sunday of Lent. Anciently Ash Wednesday began right before Matins with the observance of the Gradual Psalms. Sadly these are not given as a devotion in the Anglican Breviary. Be that as it may these Gradual Psalms can easily be found as a The Gradual Psalms and used in combination with the Anglican Breviary.

In the Missal and Breviary Lent is intertwined with death and the departed. In fact in previous times each Sunday Vespers would be immediately followed by the Vespers of the Dead and Monday Lauds would be followed by the Matins and Lauds of the Dead as well. Lent, de facto, began wit a devotion for the departed. The Gradual psalms begin with a recitation of Psalms as they would be recited for the Office of the Dead. The doxology, “Glory be to the Father” is not used. It is replaced with the “Rest eternal” familiar to us from the Office of the Dead.

So as we observe our Lenten Fast these coming weeks we might try to add the Office o the Dead and the Gradual Psalms to our Daily Office. Wednesday Mornings we could recite the Gradual Psalms immediately before Matins, and we could add the Office of the Dead starting after Sunday Vespers. Perhaps adding a three nocturn Matins for Monday is too much and in this case perhaps only one nocturn could be used.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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Concerning the Canonical Hours


Introduction

From: The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin, The Liturgical Press, 1963. p. 3-4, by Fr. Pius Parsch. 

THE CHURCH lives in time and with time. This truth is brought out beautifully in the canonical hours. They provide a perfect way to consecrate the whole day to God and make it holy. The admonition of our Lord, that we are to pray and not grow weary, is thus perfectly fulfilled. For every part of the day the Church has drawn up a special prayer-form, an hour, as it is called, that corresponds to the particular need of that time of the day. The day is like a journey through an arid desert, but every three hours we come upon an oasis that offers us the waters of grace and the cool refreshing shade of heavenly assistance. Spiritually we may revive ourselves at the canonical hours of prayer.

In order to understand what these divisions of the day are supposed to mean, it would be well to take a brief but thorough look into the history of their development. In the early centuries of the Church, in addition to the celebration of Mass, it was customary to hold a so-called vigil, which was a prayer service in three parts, on the night before a feast day. From this vigil service developed three of our canonical hours: Vespers, Matins, Lauds, inasmuch as the first was prayed the preceding evening, and the last was held in the early hours of the morning. This was the arrangement already in the days of Hippolytus (†236) and these were the first “hours.” In the Roman office the threefold division of Matins was re-introduced even after the vigil service had split into Vespers, Matins, and Lauds, and the divisions came to be known as nightwatches or nocturns.

Corresponding to the three nocturns of Matins there are three daytime hours, Terce, Sext, and None. This makes three nocturns or nightwatches, three day hours, morning prayer (Lauds) and evening prayer (Vespers). The whole day is thereby sanctified in its principal divisions. There are and always have been Christians who actually pray these “hours” at their corresponding times.

The two remaining hours were added later, under the influence of monasticism. The monks prayed Matins during the night and said Lauds (morning prayer) in the early dawn, then went back to bed. When they rose later to begin the day’s work, they felt the need for some common service to consecrate their labours to the Lord. Thus they developed Prime, a sort of second morning prayer. Vespers (evening prayer) were said in late afternoon, and then at bedtime there were devotions in the sleeping quarters (lessons, chapter of faults, abbot’s blessing), which developed into Compline, a sort of second night prayer. With the addition of Compline, the development of the canonical hours came to an end.

Today, then, we have three night hours, three day hours, two morning prayers, and two evening prayers—ten hours. Eight of them sanctify successive three-hour intervals of the day, and in the Roman breviary each of the hours has something of a threefold division, so that actually there is a special prayer aligned to each individual hour of the day. Vespers and Lauds are based upon fivefold divisions; as morning and evening prayers, they are to introduce and conclude and be a crown upon the day’s activity in the pursuit of holiness.

The next point is how to make these canonical hours practical for personal, spiritual progress. The breviary ought to be a principal guide for my spiritual outlook and a means to sanctify my entire day’s activity. This calls for the fullest possible application of the scheme of the hours of Divine Office. The hours can best be appreciated by exploring them one by one, in an effort to determine what is the characteristic sentiment and theme of each, and as far as possible, how certain ones of them reflect various mysteries of the story of salvation.

The theme of a canonical hour is that special thought or motivation to prayer that arises from the needs of that time of day: it is the hour’s prayer intention. The background from the story of salvation is the mystery or event which bears upon the hour and should enter into the prayer intention while the hour is being prayed; it should be an illustration for the text of the prayer, to channel and intensify the spirit of devotion (eg., Tercedescent of the Holy Ghost).

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Work Schedule


Due to an increased and irregular work schedule I have not had time to write and double check Ordo’s. I hope to be able to produce one for next week. I will switch to the Simple Kalendar as it is less time consuming to write and double check.

~ Gregory +

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Benedict’s Vision


In his Dialogues Pope St. Gregory the Great relates the story of St. Benedict seeing a remarkable vision. It follows upon his “forced” all-night meeting with his sister St. Scholastica. Benedict had been unwilling to grant Scholastica’s request to stay with her to “discourse about the joys of Heaven.” As he is about to leave God is willing to grant Scholastica’s request and He sends a rain o heavy Benedict can not return to his monastery but is forced to stay with his sister. The story closes with the following, important, words:

“Therefore, as is right, she who loved more, did more.”

Benedict, in spite of the strict adherence to his “rule” has not (yet) achieved the spiritual maturity of his sister. The end-goal of praktike is love, and love (as Evagrius says) enables spiritual knowledge (reserved for the mature). Scholastica loved more so that the point is not that Benedict did not love, but rather his sister loved more and is therefore in closer union with the God who is “charity” – or love. The implication is that God hears Scholastica because she enjoys a closer union with Him. This makes sense if we consider that spiritual life according to a “rule” commonly follows the pattern where one starts adhering to the rule out of fear to receive its punishments, but as one continues one’s heart becomes wider (Prologue 49) and following the rule becomes easier. Ultimately following visionofbenedictthe rule (praktike) leads to sweetness of love which is where Scholastica was already at.

At another time – the story of the vision begins – Benedict is (initially) alone in a tower and sees a vision. He is flooded with light. A light brighter than that of the sun. It is the deifying light of Prologue 9. Benedict has here reached the union with God his sister had already achieved before him. Benedict’s heart has been widened so it has become large enough to have God dwelling in it. This is what a rule is for. And this is why obeying the Rule is worth it. By it (the Rule) we are given a means to return to God from whom we had fallen away by disobedience. The author of the Rule is not Benedict himself. In the Rule Benedict never claims to be its author. Rather, reading the Prologue and the Epilogue together we can see that the “Father” demanding we listen to him is related the “holy and catholic Fathers” and that it is their teaching Benedict is trying to convey rather than his own.

Yet the holy and catholic Fathers also do not teach what they have themselves invented. It is not an accident that “father” is one of the titles of Jesus Christ. The Father speaking in Benedict’s Rule is Jesus Christ the True King (Prologue, 3). This would place the origins of the Rule with Him insofar as it conveys the teaching Jesus gave the holy and catholic Fathers. This is even more evident when we read the Prologue of a treatise called Admonition to a Spiritual Son which Benedict is paraphrasing in the first few verses of his Rule. The author of this treatise, which Benedict would have attributed to St. Basil the Great, unambiguously states that:

“These words are not from me, but proceed from divine origins; nor am I instructing you in a new doctrine but those things which I learned from my fathers.”

How can Benedict be so sure that his Rule is in fact Christ’s Rule? Because, as Benedict sees it, the Rule of Benedict is simply taken from Scripture: the Word of God. He is perfectly aware that his Rule is not a citation from Scripure, but he is forcefully claiming that the Rule is correct interpretation and application of Scripture. The Rule is not itself Scripture, but scriptural. Which is why Prologue 8-13 call the reader/listener to “hear” the divine voice which is Scripture! Hearing this divine voice and seeing the divine/deifying light go together. The light is needed to understand Scripture and the Scripture is needed to see the light.

From the study and application of Scripture – living the rule – our hearts are widened, we learn to love, and as loving persons we are united to God and see the world from His perspective (in his light). For the light engulfing Benedict is none other but the divine light of Scripture. The orthodox and catholic approach to Scripture brings the Scripture to life for us. It is not a dead letter for those who spiritually understand (and apply) it. In this scriptural light the creation also opens up and becomes – as it were, and as St. Anthony the Great said – a book testifying to God. Seeing the world gathered together under one beam of the sun, as in Benedict’s vision, is spiritual knowledge (physike as Evagrius would say) and the union with God (loving intimacy with Him) is “essential knowledge” (or to use another Evagrian term: theologike).

May the Rule of St. Benedict widen all of our hearts.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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