OM PIUS DE HEMPTIENNE, a little-known monk of the early twentieth century and yet a worthy disciple of Blessed Columba Marmion, left us precious reflections about the spiritual life and the liturgy of the Church. In the proper Benedictine spirit, he conscientiously oriented his thoughts and desires to the liturgy, finding in it the summit of his prayer and the height of his aspirations. Since it is by no means easy to come by the writings of Dom Pius, I would like to share with the readers of Views from the Choir Loft a magnificent meditation on our participation in the sublime sacrifice of Calvary through the Mass. As you read this passage, consider its implications for the music, architecture, furnishings, vessels, and vestments that are appropriate for Mass, and the external and internal attitude that this august and fearful Mystery of Faith should call forth from us.
THE DEATH OF A GOD, dying for the salvation of men, is the central point in the history of mankind. All ages bear witness to and converge towards it: the preceding centuries point to its coming, the others are destined to harvest its fruits.
The death of Christ is the centre of history, and also the centre of the life of each man in particular. In the eyes of God every man will be great in proportion as he takes part in that deed; for the only true and eternal dignity is that belonging to the divine Priest. The degree of each one’s holiness will be in exact proportion as he participates in that bloody immolation. For the Lamb of God alone is holy.
But although Jesus Christ the divine High Priest appeared only once on earth, to offer up His great sacrifice on Calvary; yet, every day He appears in the person of each one of His ministers, to renew His sacrifice on the altar. In every altar, then, Calvary is seen: every altar becomes an august place, the Holy of holies, the source of all holiness. Thither all must go to seek Life, and thither all must continually return, as to the source of God’s mercies. Those who are the Master’s privileged ones, never leave this holy place, but there they “find a dwelling,” near to the altar, so that they never need go far from it; such are monks, whose first care it is to raise temples worthy to contain altars. Making their home by the Sanctuary, they consecrate their life to the divine worship, and every day sees them grouped around the altar for the holy sacrifice. This is the event of the day, the centre to which the Hours, like the centuries, all converge: some as Hours of preparation and awaiting in the recollection of the divine praise―these begin with Lauds and Prime continued by Terce, the third Hour of the day; the others, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, flow on in the joys of thanksgiving until sunset when the monks chant the closing in of night.
Thus the days of life pass, at the foot of the altar; thus the life of man finds its greatness and its holiness in flowing out, so to say, upon the altar, there to mingle with that Precious Blood which is daily shed in that hallowed place: for, if the life of man is as a valueless drop of water, when lost in the Blood of Christ it acquires an infinite value and can merit the divine mercy for us. He who knows what the altar is, from it learns to live; to live by the altar is to be holy, pleasing to God,―and to go up to the altar to perform the sacred Mysteries is to be clothed upon with the most sublime of all dignities after that of the Son of God and His holy Mother. (A Disciple of Dom Marmion, Dom Pius de Hemptienne: Letters and Spiritual Writings, trans. Benedictines of Teignmouth [London: Sands & Co., 1935], 145–47.)
Along the same lines, I read this remarkable quotation from Dr. William J. Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin (courtesy of the judicious Fr. Hunwicke):
If all the prayers of loving hearts from the beginning of the world, and all the seraphic worship of the thrones and principalities of heaven, and the burning devotion and love of the Virgin Mother of God, and the million voices of the universe of all creatures of heaven and earth and sea were offered up in one universal and harmonious act of praise and adoration, they would not equal or even approach in value and efficacy the infinite worth of a SINGLE MASS.
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