Christ's Faithful People
|THAT this unpretentious little book, written so long
ago as the first world war, should still be thought worth retranslating and republishing
is a tribute to its value as an introduction to the liturgical life. But that so
elementary an introduction should be as much needed now as then, at least in America, is a
tribute also to the slow advance of the liturgical movement, if that is to be the name
given to the new life now quickening in the church. Never movement moved so slowly to
remain a movement. Over forty years ago St. Pius X reopened the world of the liturgy, and
with all his authority as Pope and man of God urged clergy and people to enter into their
inheritance. The Pope has been canonized, but has he been obeyed?
In some places, magnificently. One may say that he has been obeyed wherever the liturgy was well understood. It was from the great Benedictine Monasteries, Solesmes, Beuron, Maria Laach, that the influence spread which has worked such wonders in France, Germany and Austria. We in America hardly yet know what the Pope desired. A priest, pressed by a friend, answered that it was hard enough on the people to have to worship in an unfamiliar language without forcing on them in addition an unfamiliar music. But the people, given a little encouragement, will sing the church music with all their heart. Last Easter the Baltimore Cathedral was filled with the massive voice of the congregation pouring out Creed and Gloria, and responding to the single voice of the priest; and while the mass went silently forward at the altar, the music of the seminary choir, freed from the double load of choir and congregation, reached the worshipping heart in all its intricate beauty. In this fulfilment of the Pope's so long deferred hope the joy and satisfaction (and relief) of clergy and people alike proved how right he was.
But the new life, with its source and centre in the liturgy, goes out from there in every direction. It springs up in the work of an artist like Roualt, in the pastoral work of men like Parsch, and of those French priests who are carrying the word to every soul in their geographical parishes, or laboring side by side with the workers in factory and mine, in the strong impact on Protestantism of Guardini and Karl Adam, in the confident Biblical scholarship of the French Dominicans. All are parts, as a reviewer in the "Literary Supplement" of the "London Times" put it, of "a coherent system that has gone back to the fountain head." The book under review called it a Catholic Renaissance, and the reviewer added that it was a second Reformation, which may have "among its effects the healing of the breaches caused by the earlier and less radical one of four centuries ago."
If, so far as we in America have failed to catch fire, our failure is owing rather to inability than to a defect of will. Behind the liturgy is the Bible; and Catholic education here, whatever its merits, has not been such as to make the Bible a congenial book. It is a slander to say that Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible; it is no slander to say that by and large they do not read it. Our religious education addresses itself to the intellect and the will,--our "spiritual faculties." It has resulted (no mean achievement) in moral firmness and mental precision. But the formulas of the Catechism do not enable us to read the two great works provided by God for our education,--created nature and the Written Word. In these are addressed not only our intelligences and our wills, but the entire human creature, body and soul, with his imagination, passions, appetites, secular experiences, the whole complex in which intellect and will are inextricably mingled. Cultivated apart, and as it were out of context, our noblest faculties may grow dry and superficial. Man being of a piece, if his appetite for beauty, joy, freedom, love, is left unnourished, his so called spiritual nature contracts and hardens.
The Bible is literature, not science, and as literature it engages man's full nature. And external nature, as the Bible presupposes it, is not a system of forces intended primarily (if at all) for man's scientific and economic mastery. The Bible takes the ancient poetic view which rests upon direct insight. Nature is a "macrocosm," and it is epitomized in man, the "microcosm." Nature is human nature written large. It is a miraculous appearance drawn from a primordial chaos back into which it would sink were it not sustained in fleeting being by the substantial hand of God. Man and nature are inseparable parts of one creation, and our being, like our justice, is God's momentary gift.
Guardini's "Sacred Signs" was designed to begin our reeducation. It assumes that correspondence between man and nature, matter and meaning, which is the basis of the Sacramental System and made possible the Incarnation. Man, body and soul together, is made in the image and likeness of God. His hand, like God's, is an instrument of power. In the Bible "hand" means power. Man's feet stand for something also he shares with God, as does his every limb, feature and organ. The writers of the Bible had an inward awareness of what the body means. As the head and the heart denote wisdom and love, so do the 'bones,' 'reins,' and 'flesh' signify some aspect of God written into our human body. The contemplation of the body of Christ should teach us what this deeper meaning is.
The next step in our reeducation after the symbolism of the body, which once pointed out we instinctively perceive, is for modern man something of a leap. He will have to abandon or leave to one side the notions instilled into him by modern science. Symbolically, if not physically, nature is composed of only four elements: earth, air, water and fire. Earth, humble, helpless earth, stands for man, and water, air, and fire for the gifts from the sky that make him live and fructify. Combined in sun, moon, and stars, they represent Christ, the Church and the Saints, though perhaps rather by allegory than symbolism. The sea signifies untamed and lawless nature, the primordial chaos; the mountains signify the faithfulness of God.
Objects, things, are not the only symbols. Their use and function, again stretching the term, is a sort of immaterial symbol. The positions and movements of human hands and feet may symbolize God's action. Direction, dimension, are also symbolic, and so are those two philosophical puzzles, time and space, which provide the conditions of human action and progress. The course of the sun is a sign to us of time; by prayer we eternalize time; and the church breaks up the sun's daily course into three or seven canonical hours of prayer. Its yearly course, which governs the seasons and their agricultural operations, signifies to us, as it has to religious man from the beginning, life, death and resurrection, and in revealed history God has accommodated the great works of our redemption to the appropriate seasons.
The last field of symbolism the sacred signs indicate to us is one that causes us no surprise. Art from the beginning has been symbolic. The Temple of Solomon like the "heathen" temples was built to symbolize the earth, and Christian Churches are (or were) built upon the model of the Temple in Jerusalem and of its exemplar the Temple in Heaven from which the earth was modeled. The axis of a Christian Church, its geometric shape and numerical proportions, the objects used in its worship, the disposition of its windows, its ornamentation to the last petal or arc, all carry our minds to the divine meaning behind the visible form.
For the modern American Catholic, as for the modern American non- Catholic, these vast symbolic regions of nature, man and art are lapsed worlds, unknown, unbelieved-in. "Sacred Signs" furnishes us with a clue. If we pick it up and follow it we shall come, as it were naturally, to reexercise over them and in them the kingship and priesthood conferred on us by God, which also, largely, has lapsed. We shall carry, as the saying is, our religion into our daily lives, and build our houses, like our churches, about a central hearth of God's charity, remember in our entrances the double nature of him who called himself the door, and in our windows who is signified by light. Every act of daily living would again take on meaning, temporal and eternal, and we should again become the doer, which man naturally is, instead of the passive receptionist he threatens to become.