The Third Week after Easter: Thursday ~ Dom Prosper Guéranger

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This Church—founded and maintained by Christ—is it nothing more than a society of minds that know, and of hearts that love, the truths revealed to it by heaven? Have we adequately defined it, when we call it “a spiritual society?” No, most assuredly; for we are told that it was to spread, and actually has been spread, throughout the whole world. Now, how could such progress and conquest have taken place, if the spiritual society, founded by our Redeemer, had not also been exterior and visible? On earth, souls cannot hold inter-communication without the bodies. Faith cometh by hearing, says the Apostleand how shall they hear without a preacher? When, therefore, our Risen Jesus says to his ApostlesGo, teach all nations! he distinctly implies that the word of God will be heard, that it will resound throughout the world, and that its sound will be heard both by them that obey, and by them that reject, the teaching of his Ministers. Has this word a right to circulate thus freely, independently of any permission from earthly powers? Yes; for the Son of God has said: Go, teach all nations! He must be obeyed; the word of God cannot be fettered.

The word, then, the exterior word is free; and being free, it obtains numerous disciples. Will these disciples live isolatedly? Will they not rather group around their apostle, the better to profit by his teaching? Will they not look on one another as brethren, and members of the same family? And if so, they must hold their assemblies. Thus, the new people is brought before the notice of the world. It was necessary that this should be; for if this people, which is to attract all others to itself, be not visible, how can it do its work?

But the people thus assembled must have their buildings, their temples. Therefore do they erect houses of preaching and prayer. The stranger—that is, he who is not a Christian—seeing these new places of worship, asks: “What means all this? Whence come these people who pray aloof from their fellow citizens? would not one be inclined to say that we have a nation within the nation?” The stranger is right: there is a nation within the nation, and it will continue to be so until the whole nation itself have passed into the ranks of this new people.

Every society stands in need of laws; the Church therefore will not be long without giving outward proof of her internal government. There are her festivals, her solemnities, which denote a great people; her ritual rules, forming a visible bond of union between the members of her society, and this not merely during the hours of divine service; there are commandments and orders made by the various degrees of the hierarchy, which are promulgated and claim obedience; there are institutions and corporations existing within the great society itself, and they add to her strength and beauty; in a word, there is everything that is needed, even penal laws against offending and refractory members.

But it does not suffice to the Church that she have places where her children can assemble together; provision must also be made for the support of her clergy, for the expenses attendant on the divine worship, for the necessities of her indigent members. Aided by the generosity of her children, she enters into possession of certain landed properties, which become sacred by reason of their use, as also because of the superhuman dignity of her who owns them. Nay more; when the princes of this earth, tired of their vain efforts to stay the Church’s progress, shall ask to be admitted as her children—a new necessity will arise from this: the supreme Pontiff can be no longer the subject of any temporal sovereign, and he himself must become King. The Christian world hails with joy this crowning of the work of Christ, to whom all power has been given in heaven and in earth, and who was one day to reign, with temporal power, in the person of his Vicar.

Such is the Church: a spiritual but, at the same time, an exterior and visible, Society; ;just in the same way as man is spiritual because of his soul, and yet is material because of his body, which is an essential part of his being. The Christian, therefore, should love the Church such as God has made her: he should detest that false and hypocritical spiritualism which, with a view to subvert the work of Christ, would confine religion within the exclusively spiritual domain. We never can admit such a limitation. The Divine Word has assumed our flesh; he permitted his creature man to hear and see and handle him; and when he organized his Church on earth, he made is speaking, visible, and so to say, palpable. We are a vast State; we have our King, our magistrates, our fellow citizens; and we should be willing to lay down our lives for this supernatural Country, whose excellence is as far superior to that of our earthly country as heaven is better than the whole earth. Satan has an instinctive hatred for this Country, which is to bring us to the Paradise whence he has been driven; he has used every means in his power to ruin it. He began by attacking the liberty of the word, which is preached to men, and leads them to the Church. Did not his first agents forbid the Apostles to speak at all in the name of Jesus, to any man? The strategy was shrewd enough; and although it failed to arrest the progress of the gospel, it has ever been resorted to by the enemy, even to this very day.

The powers of the world have always been jealous of the Christians assembling together; the jealousy began early, and has periodically manifested its fury during these eighteen centuries. Frequently during a fit of persecution, we have been obliged to flee to caves and forests, and seek the hours of night for our celebrations of the mysteries of light, and for our singing the praises of the Divine Sun of Justice. Our dearest Churches, which had been erected by the piety of our ancestors, and were sacred by innumerable memories—how many times have they not been made ruins! Satan’s ambition is to efface every vestige of Christ’s kingdom on earth, for that kingdom is his defeat.

The Laws promulgated by the Church, and the communications of the Pastors with one another and with the Sovereign Pontiff—these, also, have excited the most tyrannical jealousy. The right of self-government has been denied to the Church; servile men have aided Emperors and Kings to fetter the Spouse of Christ. Her temporal possessions, too, have tempted the avarice of sovereigns. These possessions procured her independence; it was, therefore, considered necessary to rob her of them, that she might become the creature of the State. Wicked as the attempt was, and one which has brought the most terrible chastisements upon the countries where it was perpetrated, yet there is one more wicked still, which is even now being plotted, and aims at depriving of his Throne, venerable by its thousand years’ duration, the Pontiff who holds in his sacred hands the keys of the Kingdom of God.

Meanwhile, the most detestable errors are being propagated. Among these, we would mention one, which in spite of its impious absurdity, find favor with thousands: we mean the doctrine that the Church should be purely spiritual, or, if it is to be a visible Church, that it should be an instrument in the hands of government, for political purposes. Let us hold such doctrine in execration; let us think of those countless Martyrs who have shed their blood in order to the maintaining and securing to the Church of Christ her position as a Society, visible, external, independent of every human power, in a word, complete in herself. It may be that we are the last inheritors of the promise; and if so, it would be an additional reason for our proclaiming the rights of the Spouse of Christ, upon whom he has conferred the empire of the world, which only exists because of her, and will be destroyed as soon as it refuses her a resting place.

Let us close these reflections with a hymn of praise to our Divine Head. The ancient Missals of Saint Gall’s give us this other Sequence in honor of our Paschal Mystery.

Eia harmoniis,
Socii, laudum resonis
Hujus splendide vernantis
Celebremus gaudia
Simul temporis,
Come, Brethren! let us, in sweetest hymns of praise,
Together celebrate the joys of this bright Spring time,
In quo patriæ cœlestis
Per Christum patet
Reserata spes nobis.
When, through Christ, our hopes of heaven revive.
Nunc gemit Pharao
Sibi raptos,
Plaga mortis
Quos afflixit vernaculos.
Now Pharaoh pines with grief to see himself deprived of the slaves he tortured with the scourge of death.
Nos autem referamus
Grates regi,
Quo nos redemit
But let us give thanks to the divine King, who delivered us from the abyss.
Et qui per Christum
More Judæorum,
Solvimur pœno,
Mentes pariter
Typicam ut immolemus
And being, as the Jews of old, delivered by Christ from Egyptian tyranny—let us prepare ourselves to offer up the mystic Lamb.
Cujus cruore sacrosancto
Insigniti mentis domo,
non pavemus Angeli ensem
Plectentis reos vindicem.
His Blood most holy shall mark the dwelling of our souls, and we not fear the avenging sword of the destroying Angel.
Et digne
mysticis ut ejus
Epulemur carnibus,
Fermenta criminum
Sinceriter vivamus.
And that we may worthily partake of his sacred Flesh, let us put away the leaven of sin, and make our lives the unleavened bread of sincerity.
Sic eripi in hujus
Eremo vitæ quimus
Per cœleste lumen
De tetris hostibus;
Thus, by the aid of heavenly light, we shall be delivered from the wicked enemies that fill this world’s desert.
Per lavacrumque Christi
Inimicis elapsi,
Digne ipsum laudare
Hymno Moysi,
Qui suos maligno pressos
Pharaone alumnos
Atris abyssis inimico.
The waters, prepared for us by Christ, shall save us from our enemies, and we will praise him in the Canticle, which Moses sang when he rescued his Israelites from Pharaoh’s cruelty, and saw the dark waves close upon the pursuant foe.
Certante nunc voto,
Tantæ potestatis Domino,
Wherefore, let us strive to outdo each other in the praise we sing to this Almighty Lord;
Et suæ januam
Præclesæ pietatis
Prescibus devotis,
Moriendo ut qui mortis
Legem rupit atrocis,Hic redemptos custodiat,
Ne post tergum decidant,
Sed ut regnum scandant
Promissum. Amen.
And, knocking at the door of his infinite mercy, let us devoutly beseech him, that having, by his own dying, broken the yoke of Death, he may watch over the people he has redeemed, preserve them from lagging behind, and aid them to reach the Promised Land above. Amen.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)

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