The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

Silver bullets

Canisius | 03 March, 2009 09:29

In his entry for the First Sunday of Lent (sorry I don't have the page numbers available), Gueranger follows the Fathers of the Church in correlating the three temptations of Christ with the three temptations in the world: the concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life. He then points out that every temptation assailing a man falls under one of these three headings, and exhorts the reader to note how Jesus responds to each of them, namely by quoting Scripture and by repelling the temptation without delay.


He then goes on to dwell profitably on this latter point about the danger of delay with temptation. One must repel the temptation immediately and without listening further! But that prior point about Scripture is interesting.

If every temptation is one of these three kinds, and Jesus offers a Scripture in response to each of the three, then the Christian has in these three Old Testament quotations three silver bullets, so to speak, against every temptation. These would be very important lines to memorize and to repeat many times throughout the day!

The difficulty is that sometimes it is hard to see how a given temptation fits into the three categories. Sometimes a temptation that clearly fits is nonetheless difficult to categorize in the moment because one's thought is clouded by the temptation itself. Other temptations, such as the temptation to anger, are just difficult to fit in general. I have this vague recollection that St. Thomas Aquinas offers an account of how such sins fit into the three-fold division, but I can't recall how it goes.


Some thoughts on fasting

Canisius | 26 February, 2009 18:50

Gueranger's introduction to the Lenten volume (V, 1-19) stresses the importance of real, serious fasting, and how this practice had fallen by the wayside before the author's time. Of course, fasting even in Gueranger's time was much than now, because now we have a something lenient fast only two days out of the year. Gueranger is no doubt rolling in his grave.


In previous years, I have always found fasting extremely difficult. I wondered how men of bygone eras could function through forty days of fasting when I would grow weak, headachy, and sleepy in less than one day. How did they do that?

This year, a couple of months before Lent began I gave up snacks between meals. I gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted during meals, but I did not eat anything outside of the standard three meals per day. It was hard for a few days, but I got used to it and now it does not feel much like a penance.

Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, the fast was not really very hard. It was a little hard, of course, as one would hope, but I functioned just fine through an entire work day and even had energy in the evening. This makes me wonder: is fasting really hard for us today because, as a culture, we "graze" or eat frequently instead of only at meal times? In most times and in most places, people have not eaten between meals; the frequent snack is a relatively recent invention of an affluent people.


Now, I'm not saying that skipping snacks is healthier than grazing or that grazing is healthier than skipping snacks. I don't have any medical expertise. I'm just wondering whether there is a connection between our cultural habit of grazing and our amazement at the penances of long ago.


Reviving the Gueranger Blog

Canisius | 25 February, 2009 10:26

As Lent approaches, with my children older and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (EFRR?) once again available at least once or twice a week, I have decided to work through the pertinent section of Gueranger again. I invite you to read stunning insights, brilliant analysis, and rare information--and when you are done browsing those sites, stop on by the Gueranger Blog to see what's happening!


Today I read the introduction to Ash Wednesday [IV, 202] to my children, and once again I was struck by the fact that Ash Wednesday, in the old reckoning, falls within Septuagesima rather than within Lent proper; it's like a warm-up exercise. That seems to mean that the time between Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent is an appropriate time to form those Lenten resolutions I haven't gotten around to making yet.

Right?

I was also struck by Gueranger's account of the original ceremony of ashes, in which public penitents were driven from the church as our first parents were driven from the Garden of Eden. In this symbolism, the church building, the temple, is clearly the new Garden, which fits with so much else in Scripture and tradition that I can't begin to comment on it. The newer ceremony--the one that is only almost a thousand years old--retains the same symbolism, if less explicitly: there we stand and here the sentence of death quoted from Genesis 3, so where are we standing--symbolically speaking--if not in the Garden?


Preparing for the feast of St. Nicholas

Canisius | 20 November, 2008 09:04

To celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas properly, definitely visit the official website!

A translation for meditation

Canisius | 24 December, 2007 14:20

Dom Shepherd takes a minor but excellent liberty in the meditation for the afternoon of Christmas Eve (II,112). Where the French text refers to the conversion of "the anglo-saxon race," Dom Shepherd renders it "our own dear country," thus sparing his English readers a moment of alienation from the French author of their devotional text.

This is one difference between academic translation and translation for devotional texts. An academic translation must capture as closely as possible the thought and phrasing of the original author, but a translation for devotional use must take into account the effect on the reader. As we read the English version of The Liturgical Year, our author is not only the French founder of the abbey of Solesmes, but also his English translator.


Solesmes and chant

Canisius | 23 December, 2007 14:53

A new article over at CatholicCulture.org explains in clear terms the importance of the abbey of Solesmes for our understanding of Gregorian chant. Read the article here(More)

O Antiphons

Canisius | 21 December, 2007 09:09

As last year, I am singing the O Antiphons to my kids each night and then reading Dom Guéranger's commentary out loud. This morning, I discovered that wikipedia has a really neat article on the O Antiphons. It points out that if you take the first letters of all the antiphons in reverse order you get, "Ero cras"--"I will be tomorrow", the theme of all the antiphons.

Gotta love it!

Dom Gueranger and the Immaculate Conception

Canisius | 08 December, 2007 20:30

Dom Louis Soltner reports in his biography of Dom Gueranger, Solesmes and Dom Gueranger (80-81), that the good abbot was asked by Pius IX to write something about the Immaculate Conception. It was a secret document, never went beyond draft form, and remained unpublished, but its influence was widely felt: the Pope followed the order of Gueranger's document and borrowed its liturgical argument in his proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.

Dom Gueranger's entry in The Liturgical Year on the Immaculate Conception is available in English at the Catholic Culture website.


St. Nicholas' "manna"

Canisius | 06 December, 2007 14:11

Dom Guéranger's entry for St. Nicholas mentions a miracle of holy "oil" that comes from the bones of the saint, and the various liturgical texts he gives mention it time and again. This substance, called St. Nicholas's "manna", is still collected today, and is described in fascinating detail on this blog site.

Applying the Psalms

Canisius | 06 December, 2007 09:13

The last prayer of the entry for St. Nicholas day is taken from the Mozarabic breviary (I,355). I do not have time at the moment to offer a fresh translation, but I did want to note that the prayer adapts the words of Psalm 54 (in the Vulgate numbering) to an Advent setting.

Here are the first few verses of Psalm 54, with the parallel phrases italicized:

Hear, O God, my prayer, and despise not my supplication: be attentive to me and hear me. I am grieved in my exercise; and am troubled, at the voice of the enemy, and at the tribulation of the sinner. For they have cast iniquities upon me: and in wrath they were troublesome to me. My heart is troubled within me: and the fear of death is fallen upon me. Fear and trembling are come upon me: and darkness hath covered me. And I said: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest? Lo, I have separated far off flying away; and I abode in the wilderness.

And here is the prayer from the Mozarabic breviary:

Despise not our prayers, O Lord: look down upon us and mercifully hear us: that we who are in trouble and cast down at the voice of our enemy, may be comforted by the most sacred coming of thine only begotten Son. And, given wings by faith, like a dove, may we take our flight to the things that are above. Separate us, O Lord, from the wicked world, and keep us from the snare of the enemy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


A special saint for children

Canisius | 06 December, 2007 09:11

Amidst the lengthy entry for the feast of St. Nicholas, one finds almost nothing about St. Nicholas as bringer of gifts—which is the only thing most people know about St. Nicholas, if they know anything at all about him. But at one place, Dom Guéranger offers what seems to me a beautiful interpretation of this role Nicholas has taken on. Pointing out that St. Nicholas was among those who voted in favor of orthodoxy at the council of Nicaea, and that he was not scandalized by the humiliation and lowliness of the Word, nor even by the poverty of the crib, Guéranger says (I,340):

...and for this reason, God has glorified this His servant, and given him the power to obtain, each year, for the children of the Church, the grace of receiving this same Jesus, the Word, with simple faith and fervent love.

The doctrine of the “three comings” of Christ is the key to Advent, of course, and in particular the teaching that Christ comes invisibily, spiritually, at Christmastide. But to make St. Nicholas the special saint of obtaining this grace for children—this seems to me an exquisite touch.


Asking for the past

Canisius | 03 December, 2007 19:58

Several times in close succession (I,34; I,35; I36) Dom Guéranger says that all humanity, both before and after Christ's coming, owe a debt to God of asking for the savior. Hence when we pray for the coming of the Messiah, and use biblical passages that speak of Christ's coming, Guéranger says that we really unite our intentions with those of Israel before the time of Christ:

For, notwithstanding His having saved the work of His hands, He still wishes us to beseech Him to save us. (I,36)

I have a hard time understanding this. If I know that something has taken place, I can be appreciative of its having taken place, but I do not see how I can actually ask that it take place, any more than I could ask that it not have taken place. Even if I pray that what has taken place may have taken place, it seems to me that what I am doing is not rightly described as asking.

Now, lots of people received grace because Jesus offered himself for them later in time. Clearly, one can merit that something take place after it has already taken place. But in our case, we cannot really merit that Christ come, because Christ coming is the principle of all our merit!

So what does Guéranger have in mind?

I think there is something to what he says. What we do when we join in the prayers of ancient Israel is not quite rightly described as "asking", and it is not quite rightly described as "meriting", but by these longings and prayers we do render ourselves fit recipients of Christ's coming. The original recipients were rendered fit for that great event, and in that sense "merited" it, by longing for it and praying for it; we do well to join our hearts with theirs, in longing as though Christ had not come, and in praying as though all depended on it, so that we too may be fit to receive him.

The fact that we have already received the savior only makes it all the more urgent that we be fit to receive him.


Thoughts on the General Preface, Part III

Canisius | 03 December, 2007 08:32

A quick digression on the Psalms.

I mentioned last time that the Psalms were brought together to form a book which would speak with the voice of Israel. But at the same time, they came to be understood as part of Scripture and therefore spoken by God.

Of course, all of the Old Testament was written by Israel under the inspiration of God, but the Psalms are different. A priest sometimes faces the people and speaks to them in the name of God, and sometimes he face God and speaks to him in the name of the people, while at all times he is acting as God’s ordained intermediary. Similarly, the inspired writers sometimes wrote to the people to deliver God’s word, and sometimes spoke to God to deliver Israel’s prayers, while at all times they were inspired by the Spirit. Most of Scripture is written to the people and as God’s word to them; the psalms are unique in that they are written to God and as Israel’s word to him.

So in the Psalms we find God himself speaking, but he speaks in the voice of Israel. Nowhere is the analogy of the incarnation more appropriate. We find Christ in the Psalms in a unique way.


Thoughts on the General Preface, Part II

Canisius | 02 December, 2007 08:31

I would like to extend my reflections on this passage from Guéranger’s general preface (I,6):

The spirit of prayer, and even prayer itself, has been sought for in methods and prayer-books, which contain, it is true, laudable, yea, pious thoughts, but after all only human thoughts. Such nourishman cannot satisfy the soul, for it does not initiate her into the prayer of the Church. Instead of uniting her with the prayer of the Church, it isolates her.

For Israel, the book of public liturgy, the book which spoke with the voice of the people rather than merely the voice of the private individual, was the Psalms. Even if certain psalms were composed by an individual for an individual circumstance, they were included in the public liturgy as the people’s prayer.

Already Israel was aware that the nature and identity of the chosen people was a great mystery: the two great questions that govern the Old Testament are “Who is God?” and “Who is Israel?” In due time, God revealed that Israel, as “son of God” (Exod 4:22), was an anticipation of Jesus Christ. As Paul teaches, Jesus carries the identity of Israel, the one to whom the promises were made, and we become members of Israel by incorporation into Christ (Gal 3:26-29).

Because of this, the Psalms are rightly understood as speaking in the voice of Christ—the whole Christ, which includes his members in the Church. By their very nature, then, the Psalms speak with the voice of the Church and are inevitably part of the Church’s liturgy.


Saints of the Old Testament

Canisius | 01 December, 2007 09:29

The brief entry for December 1 (I,297-299) urges us to meditate on the may Old Testament saints who lived and died in hope of the savior, along the lines of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.

In book III of On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine picks up what Paul says in Galatians 3 about how the Old Testament led to slavery while the New Testament leads to freedom. In chapters six through nine, Augustine says that to use a sign without realizing it is a sign is a kind of slavery to the sign, and so many of the Israelites were in slavery under the law. However, he notes that even this slavish condition was better than the condition of the Gentiles, who worshipped false gods and practiced immorality. He distinguishes the saints of the Old Testament from both groups:

Now he is in bondage to a sign who uses, or pays homage to, any significant object without knowing what it signifies: he, on the other hand, who either uses or honors a useful sign divinely appointed, whose force and significance he understands, does not honor the sign which is seen and temporal, but that to which all such signs refer. Now such a man is spiritual and free even at the time of his bondage, when it is not yet expedient to reveal to carnal minds those signs by subjection to which their carnality is to be overcome. To this class of spiritual persons belonged the patriarchs and the prophets, and all those among the people of Israel through whose instrumentality the Holy Spirit ministered unto us the aids and consolations of the Scriptures.

Now, I am not comfortable attributing to, say, Abraham as crystal-clear a knowledge of Christ, as Augustine seems to do. He seems to think of all the great saints and sacred writers as being exempt from the slow progress of the divine pedagogy: while the rest of Israel had to wait thousands of years to learn these things from Christ, certain individuals were walking about as though they had read John's Gospel.

But Augustine's distinction between the slave and the free in the Old Testament does make sense, and it seems necessary when you put together Gal 3 and Heb 11. Let me try to rephrase it, and see what you think.

There were three possible responses to God's gifts in the Old Testament.

First, one could reject the gifts and worship idols instead; this was a rejection of God, and simply bad.

Second, one could accept the gifts and rejoice in them, and in fact place one's love and trust in those gifts rather than in the Giver. This would be to reify or absolutize the gifts, as though they were the point of it all. This was, I think, the reaction of those we see the prophets warning against vain hope in the temple or in the sacred davidic monarchy.

Third, one could accept the gifts and rejoice in them gratefully, but place one's love and trust in the Giver of the gifts. This is the reaction of faith: just as faith today is not directed at propositions but at God, so faith then was not directed at buildings or rituals but at Yahweh. Even if one had faith early on in the economy of revelation, as Abraham or Isaac did, so that one had little light concerning the savior, nonetheless this divine faith was already a disposition that viewed the rituals and gifts merely as means or vehicles in service of God; it was a disposition towards the revelation that these things were partial and temporary, destined to give way to the fullness of blessing.

So those celebrated in Heb 11 were free with regard to the gifts, and really did walk, however dimly, in the hope of Christ. Those whose faith and love terminated in the gifts rather than in the Giver were at least constrained to worship the one who was in fact the true creator, and to give up at least that gross immorality that deforms humanity. For them, as St. Paul puts it, the law was a pedagogue, like a servant who leads a child by the hand towards his destination.

So the saints of the Old Testament offer us a model of how we should live in this world with our hearts set on the next. We should accept the goods of this life and rejoice in them, but our trust and our love, our treasure, should be in heaven.

And I should point out that spiritual slavery is still possible today. There are those who, despite our freedom as Christians, seem to live in slavery to signs--to certain rituals and customs not essential to the Church's identity as the body of Christ. The saints of the Old Testament offer us a model in this regard, too.


 
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