Over at The Josias we have published a new translation of Pope St. Gelasius I’s famous letter to the Emperor Anastasius I, with an introduction by me.
All the classes of society, if they studiously and seriously examine the life, teaching and glorious achievements of St. Benedict, cannot but fall under the influence of his gentle but powerful inspiration; indeed they will spontaneously recognize that even our age troubled and anxious for the vast material and moral ruins, perils and losses that have been heaped up, can borrow from him the needed remedies. But before all, let them remember and consider that the sacred principles of religion and its norms of conduct are the safest and soundest foundations of human society; if they are disregarded and compromised, everything that promotes order, peace and prosperity among men and nations, as an almost necessary consequence, gradually collapses.Fulgens radiatur, §25.
As a teenager I was much taken by Casel’s theory the presence of the events of Christ’s life in the liturgy, which I heard at second hand, not knowing that it was Casel’s. But later, as a young monk in theological formation, I got into a lot of arguments with a Casel-enthusiast, who drew the most absurd consequences from the theory. At that point I rejected the theory, but wasn’t able to give a full account of why it was wrong.
I recently read Roger W. Nutt’ Excellent General Principles of Sacramental Theology, and I think he puts his finger on the problem:
An important variation of moral theory of sacramental causality is the influential “mystery-presence” (mysteriengegenwart) theory of twentieth-century Benedictine Dom Odo Casel. Casel was a monk of the famed Monastery of Maria Laach, which was an influential center of the liturgical movement. His most original contribution is his presentation of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments in light of his careful study of the ancient notion of “mystery” in biblical, patristic, and pagan sources. “The mystery,” according to Casel, “is a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, take part in the saving act, and thereby win salvation.” The name “mystery-presence” is derived from Casel’s unification of the rite or “ritual action” with the presence of the “saving deed” in the mystery.
Casel’s work contains many insights, but his theory of the efficacious presence of Christ’s saving deeds in the sacraments creates, perhaps, even more ambiguities about the nature of the sacraments and their mode of causation than the insights that it contains. In particular, Casel never clarifies how a completed historical event, a saving action, is made present to a recipient who is separated from the event in time and space. For Casel, it is not the power of Christ’s saving acts, or a mediation or participation in them through the signification of the signs, but the presence of the events themselves that constitutes the mystery of the sacraments.
Furthermore, as Edward Schillebeeckx points out, Casel’s view of Christ’s saving deeds in history fails to account for their “perennial character.” Given that “time itself is irreversible,” Schillebeeckx observes, “a contradiction is inherent” in Casel’s thesis. “As the realization in human form of the redeeming Trinity,” Schillebeeckx argues against Casel, “the historical mysteries of Christ’s life, which were the personal acts of the God-man, are a permanent, enduring reality in the mode of the Lord’s existence in glory. The mystery of saving worship, or Christ’s act of redemption is, in the mode of glory, an eternally actual reality, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly stresses.”
Leeming points out that Casel’s presentation constitutes, fundamentally, a redefinition of mystery as an event. “What is present is not some mysterious efficacy in the symbols, nor the life of God, nor the person of Christ, nor the effect produced,” Leeming notes, “but there is present the saving act itself as it existed in Christ’s human life and it is present to produce conformity to the ‘mystery’ of Christ in us.” This means, Leeming continues, that “it is not Christus passus who is present, but ipsa passio, as advocates of the opinion so often assert and insist. The presence is said to transcend space and time, and sometimes the ‘saving acts’ are said to be present per modum substantiae …”
Furthermore, the subject of Casel’s mystery-presence theory is the experience that the worshipping community has of the salvific deed. “Some scholars,” Reginald Lynch explains, “see the emphasis on mystery that appears during the modern period as an extension of the nominalist emphasis on the radical omnipotence and freedom of God and its accompanying reticence regarding causal connections.” As a result of this trend, “the rhetoric of mystery can appear as a supplement for metaphysical explanation.” Lynch observes that under the influence of Casel’s “methodological choices,” therefore, “there was a decided shift [in the twentieth century] toward liturgy-as-event using the category of symbol or sign.”
It is the sacraments, precisely as causes in the order of instrumental efficiency, which make the power of Christ’s saving action and his risen life present throughout time by their signification. There is no need to conflate sacrament and historical event—or to insinuate that the sacrament becomes the historical event in mystery. Christ instituted the signs precisely for the sake of actively using their signification as the causal (instrumental) means of applying the power of his Passion and risen life.pp. 132-134
“His whole activity is said to have been either prayer or reading. Sometimes also, as a case or reason required it, he turned to writing.” — Dionysius Exiguus on Pope St. Gelasius I
In the past few days, I have taken to walking to a hill just outside of Gaaden to pray for the parish at a Mount of Olives scene made by Giovanni Giuliani, the Venetian sculptor and oblate of Heiligenkreuz.
Each evening, in all Cistercian monasteries in the world, we enter the night by singing the Salve Regina. We must do this also with a thought toward the darkness that often shrouds mankind, filling it with the fear of being lost in it. In the Salve Regina we ask that, over the whole “valley of tears” of the world, and over all the “exiled children of Eve,” there shine the sweet and consoling light of the “merciful eyes” of the Queen and Mother of Mercy, so that, in every circumstance, in every night and peril, the gaze of Mary show us Jesus, show us that Jesus is present, that he comforts us, that he heals us and saves us. Our whole vocation and mission is described in this prayer. (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)
The current Situation reminds us and all Christians a little bit of what St. Benedict says of the time of Lent (cf. RB 49:1-3): we should always live like this, with this sensitivity to the drama of life, with this sense of our structural frailty, with this capacity to renounce what is superfluous to safeguard what is more profound and true in us and among us, with this faith that our life is not in our hands but in the hands of God. We should even always live with the awareness that we are all responsible for each other, mutually joined in the good and the ill of our choices, of our behaviours, even the most hidden and apparently insignificant. (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)
For a while now my monastery, Stift Heiligenkreuz, has been live streaming the divine office, so that elderly and sick monks can pray along with the community from their cells. Until now the livestream was only available to members of the community. But now the stream has been made publicly available, so that people who are stuck at home on account of the corona virus can pray the office with us. The link to the stream from our winter chapel is here.
Here’s the horarium (Austrian Time):
5.15 Vigils (Latin)
6.00 Laudes (Latin)
6.25 Conventual Mass (Latin on most days, but twice a week in German)
On Sundays the Conventual Mass is at 9.30 (Latin)
11.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)
12.00 Terce and Sext (Latin)
12.55 None (Latin)
17.00 Special Mass added on account of the Corona pandemic (German)
18.00 Vespers (Latin)
19.50 Reading from the Rule of St Benedict (German) and Compline (Latin)
20.10 Rosary (German)