14 October 2021

Dom Prosper Gueranger

Some years ago, a kind benefactor passed on to me a full set of the volumes of the English version of Dom Gueranger's wonderful  L'Annee Liturgique; a series which I had first met years ago as an Anglican.

I was preaching a Priests' Retreat in the Devon house of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary at Posbury St Francis. The sitting room set aside for my use had, around its walls, most of the library - including Gueranger - of Prebendary John Hooper, the charismatic priest who decades before had fostered my own vocation to the Sacred Priesthood. He was part of that admirable phenomenon (its survivors are now mostly in the Ordinariate): the Exeter Mafia, Anglican Catholic clergy who spent most of their priesthood in that diocese. He was a drinking companion of Bishop Robert Mortimer, the scholar-bishop and moral theologian (They haven't had many of those in the C of E - perhaps that is the root of some of their current tragedies). Fr John had been the Posbury community's Warden; and, indeed, he was buried under the trees in their quiet and still graveyard. 

But I had come under his influence much earlier when he was Vicar of S Mary Mags, in this city, then its great Anglican Catholic centre. I first saw him on the feast of our blessed Lady's Immaculate Conception in 1959, when I was in Oxford as a hopeful schoolboy sitting the Scholarship examinations. Purely by chance, if there is, in God's providence, any such thing, I happened to wander into Mags that evening when the High Mass - according to what we now call the Extraordinary Form and in the language of the English Missal - was being celebrated. What an exquisite ... quite apart from everything else ... aesthetic experience! How marvellous that there is now something very like that liturgy available in the Ordinariate!


Opening Gueranger at random, I hit upon these words about the beginning of the Mass. "But see, Christians! the Sacrifice begins! The Priest is at the foot of the Altar; God is attentive, the Angels are in adoration, the whole Church is united with the Priest, whose priesthood and action are those of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Let us make the sign of the Cross with him."

Plummy, you think? I suppose so. "God is attentive": goodness gracious, that's a bit much isn't it? But isn't it a great wonder of this most Adorable Sacrifice? - as Newman put it: "It is not a mere form of words - it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal."

Dare we? Audeamus dicere.

4 comments:

Jesse said...

As a gloss on Guéranger's daring statement, "God is attentive," permit me to share a favourite passage of mine from the Expositio Regulae S. Benedicti of Hildemar of Corbie, a text based on notes taken by his students at the monastery of San Calocero, Civate, in the 840s. The Rule of St. Benedict presents an apparent problem when it says:

"Ubique credimus divinam esse praeentiam et oculos Domini in omni loco speculari bonos et malos, maxime tamen hoc sine aliqua dubitatione credamus cum ad opus divinum assistimus."

(My translation: "We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked [Prov. 15:3]. But let us especially believe this, without any doubt, when we are present at the Work of God [i.e., the Divine Office].")

Hildemar comments as follows:

"Nunc videndum est, quare S. Benedictus dicit: maxime cum ad opus divinum assistimus, cum Deus totus ubique est nec hic plus est quam illic, sed sicut dixi, totus ubique est. Cum vero dicit: maxime cum ad opus divinum assistimus, istud maxime ad nos referri potest, non ad Deum, quia nos maxime tempore orationis videmus nos a Deo videri. Nam propterea dedit Dominus verba orandi et ipsa etiam pauca verba, ut nos, cum ad orandum Deum assistimus, intendendo vim verborum, tranquilletur et serenetur nostra mens ad perfruendam illam lucem invisibilem, quantum humana natura permittit eo quod nos non possumus Deum semper videre propter diversas praeoccupationes terrenas, quibus implicamur. Duplicatur enim nostra mens, et noster obtutus non est simplex ad Deum intuendam."

My translation:

"Now we must see why St. Benedict says: especially when we are present at the Work of God, when the whole of God is everywhere. There is not more of him in one place than another; rather, as I said [in an earlier quotation from Gregory the Great], the whole of him is everywhere. But when he says: especially when we are present at the Work of God, this especially can refer, not to God, but to us, for it is especially during the time of prayer that we see that we are seen by God. It is for this reason that the Lord has given us the words with which to pray, and the words themselves are short, so that when we are present to make prayer to God, by paying attention to the power of the words, our mind may be made tranquil and serene unto the full enjoyment of that invisible light, as far as human nature allows. This is because we are not able to see God all the time, because of the various earthly preoccupations in which we are entangled. Our mind is divided, and our eye is not simple, as is needed for seeing God [cf. Matt. 5:8; 6:22–24]."

Jesse said...

A follow-up to my previous comment (with the Hildemar quotation).

That daring statement of Guéranger's, "God is attentive", prompted me to look up adtendo in the following handy reference work:

Albert Blaise, Le vocabulaire latin des principaux thèmes liturgiques (Turnhout: Brepols, 1966); reissued (2013) in Brepols's "Corpus Christianorum Scholars Version" reprints.

In chapter 4, "Différents aspects de la prière," in a section headed "Les expressions anthropomorphiques," Blaise remarks:

Écoute, entends, regarde, étends les bras, souviens-toi, oublie, arrête ta colère, lève-toi, etc.

Un grand nombre de formules anthropomorphiques du psalmiste, implorant le Seigneur, sont devenues, avec beaucoup d'autres, les expressions figurées et symboliques dont notre langage terrestre a besoin pour supplier le Tout-Puissant, invisible et pur Esprit. ...

Intendere signifie: tendre, tourner, diriger (son attention, ses yeux, ses oreilles vers) avec in ou ad chez les classiques, plus souvent avec le datif chez les auteurs chrétiens. Sans les mots aurem, aures ou similaires, ce verbe en est venu à signifiers (trans.): regarder avec bienveillance, prêter une oreille bienveillante à, écouter, entendre, avec benignus ou épithètes similaires. ...

Attendere, moins fréquent, peut avoir le même sense:

ex. attendit voci deprecationis meae (Ps. 65, 19), il a entendu la voix de ma prière;

ad humilitatis meae preces placatus attende (Leon. 964), écoutez avec bienveillance mes humbles prières; cf. attende, Domine, ad me (Jer. 18, 19); Domine, ... faciem sanctorum tuorum attende (Judith 6, 15), tourne un visage favorable vers tes saints; cet impératif est employé aussi d'un façon absolue dans la Vulgate; cf. le chant pour le temps du Carême: attende, Domine et miserere.

In other words, to speak of God as capable of being especially "attentive" at a particular moment is thoroughly consistent with the idioms of scripture and the liturgy. These idioms reflect, not the attributes of God, but the limitations of human apprehension of those attributes, bounded as we are within time and space.

Blaise (1894-?) was a prodigious student of patristic and medieval Latin. His Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs chrétiens (1954) and Lexicon Latinitatis medii aevi, praesertim ad res ecclesiasticas investigandas pertinens (1975) are indispensable. And although I acknowledge that, at least on this blog, "Christine Mohrmann Rules OK", Blaise's Manuel du latin chrétien (1955) is awfully handy, especially in the translation by Grant C. Roti: A Handbook of Christian Latin: Style, Morphology, and Syntax (1993).

OreamnosAmericanus said...

Oldster that I am, I remember how we were told by the Aggiornamentos that we had to translate arcane terms like Vespers or Compline into plain English so the plebs in the pews could "understand". (Somehow aggiornamento was exempt from this dumbing down purge...) So we got Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Oh, and my favorite: Ordinary Time.

But now the same crew are expecting us to make "catechesis" and "synodality" part of our plebs vocabulary.

Unknown said...

God job, Jesse, great job in fact...

Thanks...