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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

JULY 24th FEAST OF SAINT CHARBEL OF LEBANON, A MONASTIC SAINT



On May 8, 1828 in a mountain village of Biqa-Kafra, Lebanon, Charbel was born to a poor Maronite Family. From childhood his life revealed a calling to "bear fruit as a noble Cedar of Lebanon."

Charbel "grew in age and wisdom before God and men." At 23 years old he entered the monastery of Our Lady of Lebanon (north of Byblos) where he became a novice. After two years of novitiate, in 1853, he was sent to St. Maron monastery where he pronounced the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Charbel was then transferred to the monastery of Kiffan where he studied philosophy and theology. His ordination to the priesthood took place in 1853, after which he was sent back to St. Maron monastery. His teacher provided him a good education and nurtured within him a deep love for monastic life.

During his 16 years at St. Maron monastery, Charbel performed his priestly ministry and his monastic duties in an edifying way. He totally dedicated himself to Christ with undivided heart and desired to live in silence before the Nameless One.

In 1875 Charbel was granted permission to live as a hermit on the hill nearby the monastery at St. Peter and Paul hermitage. His 23 years of solitary life were lived in a spirit of total abandonment to God.

Charbel's companies in hermitage were the Son of God, as encountered in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and the Blessed Mother. The Eucharist became the center of his life. He consumed the Bread of Life and was consumed by it. Though his hermit did not have a place in the world, the world had a great place in his heart. Through prayer and penance he offered himself as a sacrifice so that the world would return to God.

It is in this light that one sees the importance of the following Eucharistic prayer in his life:

"Father of Truth, behold Your Son a sacrificed
pleasing to You, accept the offering of Him who died for me…"

On December 16, 1898 while reciting the "Father of Truth" prayer at the Holy Liturgy Charbel suffered a stoke. He died on Christmas Eve at the age of 70. Through faith this hermit received the Word of God and through love he continued the Mystery of Incarnation.

To the Grave

Father Charbel spent the night before Christmas, 1898 in church, following his usual custom of twenty-three years, ever since he became a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul on the mountain of Annays. He did not waver from this praiseworthy custom. But that last night, he was lying down, neither awake, nor praying, nor meditating; he was asleep, sleeping the sleep of death. His soul, however, was with God, quite awake, in the eternal awakening. This was the last night Father Charbel would spend in the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Contrary to his custom and for the first time, Father Charbel was lying on the floor, over the mat of hair, with his face exposed.

Please note that people never saw his face when he was alive. He always kept his head down in church, at work or when walking, always looking to the ground. He would lift his eyes only to heaven. When in church, he always faced the altar with his eyes fixed on the tabernacle. However, when he died and was Lying face upward, his eyes were closed, still not looking at anyone, exactly as in his lifetime. Holding vigil at the body of the Servant of God in church, were his companions of the hermitage, Father Macarius Mishmshany, and Brother Francis of Artaba, along with a group of monks from the monastery of St. Maron. As soon as they learned of the passing of Father Charbel they rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body while bidding him farewell. Many spent most of the night kneeling near him, praying.

The snow was coming down heavily, accumulating on the hermitage and on the neighboring mountains and valleys. It was extremely cold and windy, to a degree that those keeping vigil around the saintly remains were trembling from the severity of the cold. And no wonder. The altitude of the hermitage is one thousand and four hundred meters above sea level, on a high summit exposed to the wind.

Those keeping vigil were asking one another, "If we are suffering so much for only one night in this severe winter, how was Father Charbel able to live twenty-three years here spending every night of his life, kneeling on bamboo, in pain from midnight until the time of his Mass at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, fasting and immobile as the stone statue erected on the floor before the altar. Truly, this hermit was a saint. He endured fatigue, hunger, poverty and cold with the courage of a martyr. Every minute of his life was martyrdom, without complaint. No doubt he is now finding the reward of his marvelous martyrdom, with God."

Who could dare venture out that night, from the hermitage, from the monastery, or from the neighboring villages? Heavy snow had blocked all roads with an accumulation of three to six feet in some places. The monks were wondering if tomorrow they would be able to transfer the body of Father Charbel to the cemetery of the monastery in the extremely severe weather and with so much snow. How could they notify the people of the death of the saint under these circumstances? The neighbors would be very disappointed and sorry, not only because of the death of Father Charbel but also because they would be unable to bid him a last farewell and be blessed by him before he was buried.

Thus were the monks thinking. But the news of his passing quickly reached all neighboring villages like lightning. In those days, there were no telephones and no automobiles.

The conversation of the villagers that night was about Father Charbel and his holiness. Each recalled what he knew of his outstanding virtue, his poverty, humility, angelic purity, his amazing obedience, his continuous prayer and hard work, his observance of the monastic rules, his meekness and especially his perpetual silence, that prudent and holy silence.

Also, people were remembering his continuous communication with God, his love of the Blessed Sacrament, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, his compassion to the poor and the sick and his miracles. The stories would end with these words: "We are happy for him. He is a saint who went straight to heaven."

It seemed as if the angels themselves, who had announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem the nativity of the Savior of the world, now proclaimed that heaven had gained a newborn, in the person of Father Charbel a ripe fruit of the nativity of our divine Savior, Who himself was born humbly in a manger in Bethlehem.

That night everyone who knew of the passing of Father Charbel was wondering, "Will the snow stop tomorrow so we can visit Father Charbel for the last time, participate in his funeral, and bid him goodbye?"

On the morning of Christmas, 1898, the monks at the monastery and the people of the villages nearby, awakened early and saw the sky cloudy and dark and the ground, from the mountains to the valleys, covered with bright white snow with the trees shimmering like crystal chandeliers. No voice could be heard, only the howling of the wind. The cold was extreme, the roads were blocked. There were indications that more snow was on the way. They didn't think they could make it to the hermitage for the transfer of the body of St. Charbel to St. Maroon’s monastery. They believed that those at the hermitage would have to bury Father Charbel in the church of the hermitage. Nevertheless, young men from Annaya and its neighborhood wore their winter clothes and their heavy boots. They wrapped some covering around their heads, so that only their eyes were visible. Each carried a shovel to clear the road from the snow and to lean on it as a support while making their way. With courage, they faced the mounds of snow, so they could see their "saint," and have the honor of carrying his body on their shoulders down to the monastery and then to the grave.

At 8:00 A.M., a small group of these young men had gathered and joined the monks who were kneeling near the body of Father Charbel in church. Sorrowfully, together they prayed, their eyes fixed on Father Charbel who radiated the image of God in the most perfect way possible to man through the grace of God and because of his own voluntary efforts. Each one respect fully said, "He is a saint! Lucky him! God took him today to give him rest from his labors and to grant him reward of his virtues."

At 9:00 A.M., they brought a casket made of three wooden boards nailed to a slab extending from both ends, so it could be carried on the shoulders ~ of the pallbearers. On it they put a mat of hair. Then the hermit, Father I' Marcarius Mishmshany, the monks, and the brothers who had come from the monastery when Father Charbel died, carried the body and placed it in the casket. Father Marcarius, with tears in his eyes, and the monks, the brothers, and the young men carried it on their shoulders and began the descent from the hermitage to the monastery. The road was rugged. The strong men had shoveled some of the snow but more was falling, threatening to block the road again. The pallbearers were afraid they would drop the casket and the body because it was very difficult to walk the path leading to the hermitage. However, Father Macarius, the hermit, said to them: "Rely on God, do not be afraid; Father Charbel will make it easy for us."

They had hardly left the door of the church when the rain, the snow and the wind stopped all at once. Little by little the clouds began to clear. The pallbearers had no trouble at all. In fact, carrying the body to the hermit age was easy. They exclaimed: "Miracle! This is one of Father Charbel miracles."

George Emmanuel Abi-Saseen of Mishmash, a resident of Annaya, and one of the bearers, testified in the 17th Session, which took place on Oct. 13, 1926. After swearing to tell the truth and kneeling in the church with his right hand on the Holy Gospel, he said: "Father Charbel died on the eve of Christmas; the snow was heavy. We transferred him to the monastery on Christmas day. Before we moved him, the snow was falling rapidly and the clouds were very dark. When we carried him, the clouds disappeared, and the weather cleared."

Brother Peter of Mishmash, of the Lebanese order, a servant at the hermitage during the life of Father Charbel, testified that he was present at the death and at the funeral (Page 38 of the Investigation). "On the day of the funeral, it was raining and snowing."

How great is the Lord and how great is His mercy and love for those who fear Him. He send His angel before everyone of these "lest they das their foot against a stone" (Ps. 91:12).

He is the One who calmed the rough area and walked upon it. He is the One who gave orders to the wind: "Be calm," and it became calm. He gave orders to the wind at the mountain of Annaya and commanded the tempest and the snow to "Stop!" and they did. The clouds disappeared the weather cleared. It seems that God provided that the angels cooperated and see the face of His servant, Job; His beloved Charbel has endured patiently the suffering and the weakness of the body and It ridicule of those who mock the deeds of Christian heroism and the monastic and hermetic life, those who laugh at abstinence and mortification.

The small procession continued slowly, quietly, from the summit Mount Annaya to the monastery of St. Maron, located at the foot of the mountain. There was none of the grandeur that usually accompanies the funeral of clergymen. Each one of the pallbearers was saying: "Father Charbel had died. The angels took his soul to Abraham's bosom, and here we are taking his body to the grave, to the dirt. The soul of Father Charbel is whiter than this snow which covers the earth and dazzles our eyes."

The sun appeared over those high mountains and over the valleys, and the rays created some of the most beautiful, incredible spectacles. It seemed as if the sun itself wanted to bid farewell to Father Charbel. This was the same sun that burned his body in the summer as he worked in the garden and the same sun, which he sought so that he could suffer its rays to mortify his body. The sun seemed to be blessing God, our Maker, for this precious treasure placed here on earth to be an ornament for the sons of Adam and Eve. God will be praised and glorified by it in reparation for the fall of our first parents and for the transgression of sinners.

The cortege continued to move humbly over the snow to the monastery of St. Maron Annaya. There the fathers and brothers met it as it carried the holy body to the monastery and placed it on a platform. All flushed to kiss Father Charnel’s hands, asking for his intercession with God, saying, "This man knew how to live his life, for the glory of God and for his own salvation, whether at the house of his parents, in the Order, or at the hermitage. He ascended the ladder of holiness to heaven with giant steps like the angels who, in Revelation, ascended the ladder of Jacob. And now, he has reached the destination. How fortunate for him!"

People from the surrounding towns started to pour into the monastery, from Ehmej, from Mishmash, Toraza, Ouainey, Kfar Baal, Annaya, even Hojula, despite the fact that the inhabitants of the latter are Shiite Moslems. Nothing stopped them from coming, neither the distance nor the freezing cold, nor the high accumulation of snow. They said, "All fatigue and weariness are nothing to us who wish to bid farewell to Father Charbel and be blessed by kissing his hands before his burial. This is more valuable than the whole world, in our eyes."

As for the women in the neighborhood, they were sorry that they were unable to come to bid farewell to the saint. They wanted to be there very much. But women were forbidden to enter the monasteries of monks by virtue of the monastic law of cloister. Father Charbel himself, ever since he entered religious life, did not allow his eyes to see women, not even the face of his mother Brigita, nor his sister and his niece Rose (Wardeh).

At that time no one ever dreamed that in the future permission would be granted to the monastery of St. Maron Annaya to open the doors of its church and the cells of its monks to men and women and pilgrims coming from Lebanon and other countries of the world to see the body of Father Charbel, without its being subject to excommunication or other impediment. The miracle of April 22, 1950 was the incentive that caused the patriarch to remove the excommunication and allow all people, men and women, to temporarily enter the monastery for the benefit of the visiting sick and all the faithful.


The Burial

At 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon of that day, the customary funeral service for monks and hermits was held in the church of St. Maron Annaya. When the liturgical prayers of the funeral were completed, those participating believed that the life of Father Charbel and his memory on earth had ended, and that this was the last prayer Father Charbel would attend in the church of the monastery.

The funeral was very plain. No one person eulogized Father Charbel because each and everyone present was in conversation praising Charbel for his attitude, his piety and his sentiments. He lived quietly and wanted to die and be buried without notice. His attitude about living and dying was in conformity with his humble life. In this sense, the fact that it was snowing and was frigid cold helped to simplify the funeral ceremonies. Moreover, the superior of the monastery, Father Anthony Mishmshany, well known for his prudence, his sagacity and his appreciation of pious monks, was absent for several reasons, one of which was that the Maronite patriarch, John Peter Hage was ill, and had died. Therefore, the fathers at the monastery of St. Maron did not know what to do in the absence of the superior to honor Father Charbel at his death in a manner befitting his sublime virtues.

After the funeral, the monks were about to carry the body to the common grave of the monastery, when some of them came up with the idea of placing Father Charbel in a coffin for the purpose of keeping him separate from the bodies of the other deceased monks. However, the vicar responded: "We cannot go against the rules without consent. According to our by-laws, we cannot bury the monk in a coffin without the permission of our superior."

This is what the eye-witnesses, Brother Francis of Artaba, said in this respect (page 105 of Investigation): "On the glorious feast of Christmas, the funeral of Father Charbel took place. When the time came to bury him, some of the monks wanted him to be buried alone in a special place because the common grave was full of water. They felt he should not be buried there because he was a saint. Others, among them, the vicar to the superior, insisted that he be buried in the common grave. The vicar said 'If he is a saint, he will preserve himself.' And so Charbel was buried in the common grave."

Saba Bou-Moussey, another eye-witness, testified as to the flow of people who came to attend the rite of the funeral. "We went to the monastery to attend his funeral. We found crowds who had travelled from all areas around the monastery, Christians and Shiites-Moslems from Hojula and its neighboring villages, the expression of sadness and sorrow on their faces attesting to the greatness of this loss. Most of them had not been asked to come. They came of their own volition out of respect for and to receive a blessing from Father Charbel."

Brother Francis Artaba and Saba Bou-Moussey were not the only ones to testify. Many of those who were present at the death and burial also testified. We limited ourselves to two witnesses taken from the official investigation, for the simple reason of showing the source of our information (Father Mansour Awad wrote this account before Charbel was canonized in 1974).

After the funeral, the body of Father Charbel was carried on the shoulders of his brother monks to the common grave. All tongues were saying to him, "We congratulate you, O saint! Remember us before God. Pray us, so God may have mercy on us, and grand us a happy death."

The Burial of Saint Charbel In the Common Grave at St. Maron Annaya

The funeral ended and there was a complete silence, like an eloquent euIogy to the hermit who spent all his life in silence. The fathers of the monastery approached, carried the holy body and placed it at the entrance of the common grave of monks. The custom was that in the funeral of clerics, members of the clergy carry the priest's body first in procession and then to the grave. There, despite the freezing cold, a crowd of people gathered, among them women who had come to see the face of Father Charbel and to have a perfect view of the monk who had not allowed a full view of his face to ever be seen by women. It was the first and the last me they would see him, so they believed. None was able to foresee the future and know what would happen to this man of God and to his body. Who was capable of rolling away for these women, for their sons and daughters, the stone God used to seal the life of Father Charbel, the hermit, and place it at the door of death, the door of this grave, so they, the women, could see the face of Father Charbel before the day of Resurrection? The entrance of the grave was narrow and low to a degree where it was level with the ground, even below it. It was open!

Some clergy and lay people entered the grave to prepare a place for the body of Charbel. There they found no other body of the deceased monks preserved. They gathered the bones of the dead and placed them to one side.

What worried those who entered the grave to prepare a place for Charbel was the fact that the floor was full of mud and water leaking profusely from the ceiling and the eastern wall and especially through the door. The floor of the grave in the winter was like a little pond. When the condition of the grave was reported to the Vicar, in the absence of the Superior, he gave orders to have two planks placed on the floor of the grave over two large stones. When this was done, the body of Father Charbel was lowered into the grave and placed on two planks. His body was purposely positioned in such a way that it rested where the main altar was located.

In spirit he could join the monks in their prayers, meditations, Masses and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Since it was impossible for him to be buried in the church, he was buried as close to it as possible.

All the monks and lay people who had accompanied the body of Father Charbel into the grave knelt down in the mud and kissed his hands and his feet. All were crying. The water was dripping on them from the ceiling and their feet were immersed in mud and water up to their ankles. After they came out of the grave, they put the stone over the entrance and covered it with dirt and snow. Then the final prayer was said by one of the fathers. They all were saying, "He is a saint! Lucky him." Others said, "It is a shame that he is buried in the mud! If the Father Superior were here, he would not have allowed Father Charbel to be buried but in a proper coffin."

Our description of the funeral of Father Charbel is not our own; we obtain it from the description of the grave as reported by the official investigation of 1926 on the burial of Father Charbel on December 25, 1898.

[The author is repeating details about the grave: again stating that there were no preserved bodies there, only bones, and mud and water. As a lawyer, Fr. Awad wanted to ask witnesses and consult records just to prove his facts. The body found uncorrupt later in the grave was indeed that of Father Charbel.]

After the burial, everybody returned home, telling their families about the ceremony, about their feelings, about how miserable the grave was and describing the mud and water, which filled it. They told their relatives, "No doubt the body of Father Charbel will decompose quickly because it is buried in a pond of mud and water. Father Charbel humiliated his body in life and now he seems to want to have it mortified after death, so it will be totally annihilated before God. He wanted his bones to be mixed with those of his brother monks, so he wouldn't have any privileges over.

A Prophecy in the Recording Of Father Charbel's Death

A week after the death of Father Charbel, the Superior of the monastery, Father Anthony Mishmshany, returned. He was a prudent, scholarly, and very intelligent and pious monk. When he learned of the death of Father Charbel, he said:

> This is a monk who knew how to best utilize his years when a monk, or a novice, or a student, and whenever he was stationed, at the monastery of Kfeefan, at the monastery of St. Maron Annaya, or at the hermitage. To him we can easily apply the saying of Pope Sixtus V: "Give me a monk who observes his spirit and the letter of his monastic rules and I will beatify him in his life! "The hermit monk observed the monastic and hermitic rules in spirit and in behavior all his life. <

He sanctified the Monastery of St. Maron when he lived there; he sanctified the grounds of the monastery by the sweat of his brow for eighteen years, plowing the field day after day, except on Sundays and holy days. His work was continuous prayer. He sanctified the hermitage by the monastic life, which surpasses ordinary human capability. He sanctified the vineyard of the hermitage also, by his hard labor without his ever tasting of the grapes it produced. His entire life was a chain of fruitful work of soul and body. He detached himself from everything in order to dedicate himself totally to God. All his actions were performed by virtue of supernatural grace.

This hermit will sanctify the cemetery of the monastery. From his grave, he will watch over the monastery, the hermitage, the neighborhood, the Order, the Maronite Church and Lebanon. I have a deep feeling that Charbel will be of great importance in his death. People outside the hermitage never felt his presence when he was alive as we did, because he was secluded in the monastery and on top of the mountain, living as a hermit. He was absolutely forgotten. But, in the grave, even if he is concealed, even after his body goes to the earth from which it was taken, his ashes will be holy and God will use him to perform great things. I am very sorry he died while I was away. I wished I was present to receive his blessings, which, to me, would have been like the blessings of Abraham to Isaac, like the blessing of Isaac to Jacob, like the blessing of Jacob to his children. If I were here when he died, I would have placed him in a closed coffin. To preserve his bones as sacred relics.

Then this wise Superior went straight to the grave, knelt down in the mud nearby where Father Charbel was buried and prayed for half an hour. The monks, knowing that he was there, came and knelt down behind him. Most of them thought he was praying for the repose of the soul of Father Charbel. However, he was praying to Father Charbel, asking his intercession on behalf of the monastery where he had lived, for the hermitage where he had spent twenty-three years glorifying God, for his companions residing in these two places, for the Order and for the Maronite Church, because he believed Charbel was a saint.

When the Father Superior stood up, the monks noticed the tears pouring down his face and onto his beard. Then he addressed his community saying, "With the death of Father Charbel, we have lost the lightning rod which was protecting the Order, the Maronite Church and Lebanon with his saintly life. We pray God will have mercy on us and grant that the mission of his servant, Charbel, will remain with us here on earth, just as God promised the house of David that their lamp would be extinguished on earth for the glory of his servant, David." I the Father Superior lifted up his eyes and prayed, "Lord, for the monastery, for the Order and for Lebanon, preserve the lamp of water, which you lighted for your servant, Charbel, in a miraculous way. Preserve this lamp shinning in his body, so that it will illuminate our way in this darkened world. Deliver us from the dangers that surround us. Help us to walk in the path of poverty, chastity and obedience, which we promised to follow in this life when we made our solemn vows. May we reach Heaven, the Promised Land, from this lamp of exile? Amen!"

Afterwards, the Superior entered the monastery and went to his room, closed the door and knelt down in prayer. He took the Record of the Dead, blessed himself with the sign of the cross, and recorded the death of Father Charbel in this way:

On the 24th day of the month of December 1898, Father Charbel, the hermit of Bkakafra, died after suffering a stroke and receiving the Sacraments of the dead. He was buried in the monastery's grave. He was sixty-eight years old. Father Anthony Mishmshany was the superior of the monastery. What God will perform after his death will be sufficient proof of his exemplary behavior in the observance of his vows, to a degree where we can say that his obedience was angelic, not human.

The Superior of the monastery, Fr. Anthony Mishmshany, knew Father Charbel very well. He knew the miracles God performed through Charbel during his life; he valued his monastic virtues and the sublimity of his monastic perfection in the hermitage. When this Father Superior recorded the death of Charbel, no doubt he was inspired to predict the future miracles we have since seen with our own eyes of which thousands of people throughout the world have heard. In fact, the phenomena taking place continuously around the tomb of Father Charbel, especially since April 22, 1960, is enough to tell us what this great Father Superior omitted to say regarding the life of Father Charbel. Blessed be God who uses His people to record what God has decreed for all eternity.

This prophecy of Father Anthony, which he had written in the Record of the Dead, was forgotten until the events of February 20, 1950 of which we will speak later. I was appointed Defender of the Faith by his Beatitude, the Maronite Patriarch, Anthony Peter Areeda, by a decree, dated March 19th, to open the tomb of Father Makhlouf and to inspect his body.


Light on the Body of Father Charbel in the Church and on the Tomb

The night following the death of Father Charbel, one of the monks went at midnight to the church to visit the Blessed Sacrament. The body of Father Charbel was in front of the altar. The monk saw a light bursting from the door of the tabernacle, circling the body of Father Charbel, easing up to the chandelier above the coffin and back to the tabernacle.

Since the first night following the burial of Charbel, the peasants who worked for the monastery and who lived across from it, also reported seeing a bright light emanating from the tomb, circling the monastery, sometimes shining on the windows of the cells, and sometimes on the windows of the church, then returning to the tomb. The rumor spread and many peasants, men and women, asserted that they saw the light every night for a month and a half. The news reached the superior of the monastery. He gave orders to the peasants to give him a signal when they saw the light, so he could go to their homes and see for himself.

This is exactly what took place. When some of the peasants saw the light around the tomb, they fired a hunting gun, so as to signal the superior that they saw the light. The superior then awakened and with the monks, went to the tomb where they indeed saw the light. Other times, he went with some of the fathers to one of the peasant's houses and from there, they would view the brilliance. The news spread in the neighboring villages and people from all over world come at night near the monastery to see the light. They saw it and told the monks and others that they had. Among those who came to the tomb were some Moslems (Shiits); they saw the phenomenon and were astounded! They also spread the news of this wonder to people of their faith and to others whom they knew.

One very dark night, Sheik Mahmoud Hamade, the administrator of the region, was searching for a criminal in that area. Some soldiers were with him. He and the soldiers saw also a light in the shape of a star shining above the east wall of the monastery.

They followed the light, as if guided by it, until they reached the monastery. Then the light disappeared. They knocked at the door and the administrator related to the superior what he and his companions had seen. They told him, "We thought the light was coming from the monastery." The superior was not surprised, since he and many others had seen the light. His belief in the holiness of Father Charbel increased, and he was certain that God would perform a miracle in the body of the hermit.

All of this is recorded in the official report on the notoriety of the holiness of Father Charbel Makhlouf and the miracles attributed to him, and from another report promoting the cause of beatification in 1926 - 1927. Eyewitnesses, among them monks, priests, brothers, lay people and many others whose honesty and integrity cannot be doubted confirmed these miracles. We compared the testimony of the witnesses and determined that they all agree on the truth of the apparition of the light above the tomb of the monks at St. Maron Annaya, from the time of the death of Father Charbel until the time he was removed from the tomb. We found a little disagreement in relating some secondary circumstances but not in substance. This is an indication that there was no collusion, nor personal gain among the witnesses, especially since they are not related to Father Charbel and they are all pious monks, or devout people of deep faith. More credibility is given to their depositions because they were canonically sworn to tell the truth as required by law in the Causes of Beatification. As we mentioned several times in this book, truth is vital to Catholic belief, with severe punishment inflicted in this world and in the next on those who perjure themselves.

Here we begin with the deposition by Father Francis Sibrini, a monk of the Lebanese Order, given after oath on May 12 and May 14, 1926. He had known Father Charbel in the hermitage for thirteen years; he also was present in the monastery of St. Maron Annaya when Father Charbel died; he had helped to carry the body from the hermitage to the monastery at his death and at the time of his burial. The news about the apparition of the light on the tomb had spread when he was in the monastery. In answer to a question, he said,

> The night before the burial, and after the transfer of the body from the hermitage to the church, Brother Elias Bmehrini visited the Blessed Sacrament, as was his habit, at midnight. After he had completed 15 decades of the rosary and the prayers of the visitation, he came running to me, trembling, saying: "I saw something extraordinary. I have never seen it before in my life. Come and see. It is a light flowing from the Tabernacle and circling the body of Father Charbel. Then it goes up to the chandelier above the coffin and from there back to the Tabernacle." I hurried with him to the church but I saw nothing. I began to argue with him, but he kept assuring me, indicating with his finger, the light, exactly like someone seeing a reality before his eyes. Still, I saw nothing. I thought he was hallucinating. <

Despite all of this, the same Father Sibrini said in his testimony:

> Since the first night after the burial of Father Charbel, the peasants who work for the monastery and who live in Annaya, which faces the tomb, came and told us that they had seen a brilliant light rising from the tomb and floating around the monastery, sometimes at the windows of the cells, sometimes around the windows of the church, and then back to the tomb. <

One night, the administrator of the area, a Moslem, was coming with some of his soldiers to capture a fugitive. One of the soldiers was a Christian, and secretary to the administrator; his name was Abdallah Mouawad. They came down from Qwayneh to capture the criminal, and, as they approached, they saw the flow of light from the tomb. They followed it until they neared the monastery. Then the light disappeared. They knocked at the door, and told the superior that they had seen from a distance a bright light shining like a star, moving ahead of them gradually, until it disappeared at the door of the monastery. Abdallah Mouawad said, "I believe it was coming from the town of Father Charbel, the hermit, who died recently." The conversation continued and the Moslem administrator said, "I will contact the Patriarch and publish our account in the newspaper." I have known bishops and patriarchs who have died and I have gone past the tombs of many, yet I've never seen anything like this spectacle which has dazzled our eyes!

One night, before retiring to bed, Father Anthony Mishmshany asked Brother Peter Mishmshany to get up and bring him some water from the fountain outside the monastery, near the tomb. He took a small pitcher and an oil lantern and went. He tarried for more than twenty minutes. The errand should not have taken more than five minutes. When he delayed further, Father Anthony Mishmshany and some of his companions opened the door and called to him. He answered from the vicinity of the tomb; "Father Charbel appeared to me in the form of a star. I couldn't go back because the lantern I had with me went out." They then took a lamp and went to fetch him. They found Brother Mishmshany sitting at the door of the tomb; his clothes dirty with mud and the pitcher still in his hand. He was shivering. He told them that while he was descending with the pitcher of water from the fountain, a blaze of fire in the shape of a multi-colored star, jumped out at him from the door of the tomb. He was stunned and fell to the ground (Report, page 25, 26).

Meelade, the widow of Tannous Shahadi, a Maronite and a peasant, who lived at Annaya, gave a short but precious testimony in this report. She said, "The apparition of the light at night over his tomb became frequent; I saw it three times. We reported this to the monks, but they did not believe us. When the Superior, Father Anthony Mishmshany came to our house, which faces the monastery from the south side, he saw the light for himself. Soon after, the corpse of Father Charbel was removed from the tomb."

Peter Sleiman Daher, a farmer at Annaya, on the property of the monastery, testified on page 28 of the report, as to why the monks took the body of Father Charbel out of the tomb, "Because they saw a light over his tomb which I myself, had seen twice. The body was removed from the tomb four months after the burial, as I recall."

The testimony of Brother Peter Mifouki, (Mifouki is the name of his town), is of special value, despite its brevity. "The body of Fr. Charbel was taken from the tomb, after a light had appeared over it. Many saw it, peasants and others. One dark and rainy night, when a Moslem administrator came with his soldiers, they saw a light over the tomb, enabling them to walk and see their way clearly. When they reached the monastery, the light disappeared. They called on the monks to open the door for them. I answered them, 'The door is locked. It is late and the monks are asleep. This is no time for hospitality.' They urged, 'Open. When you know who we are you will not argue with us.' We opened for them. They told us about the wondrous glow. As time went on, the lights became more frequent."

An inhabitant of Annaya, George Emmanuel Abi-Sasseen, originally from Mishmash, a Maronite, deeply religious and pious, said concerning Father Charbel,

> After his burial and since the first night, we used to see shining over the tomb from our homes, a distance of ten minutes from the south, a brilliant light, different from ordinary lights, resembling an electric light, appearing and disappearing. No matter how long we looked at it, it remained constant. Because of the light, we could now see the dome of the monastery and the east wall of the church, opposite the tomb, better than we could see it during the day. We would come to the monastery and tell the monks but they wouldn't believe us. We kept seeing this amazing spectacle every time we spent the evening in the house of our neighbor, which faced the tomb. All those who were spending the evening there saw it, too. Things remained that way until the tomb was opened and the body of Father Charbel removed. Then the light stopped appearing. From that time on, Father Charbel became famous and people started to visit his tomb to ask for his intercession.

No less important is the testimony of Joseph Elias Bo Sleiman, of Ehmej, a peasant at Annaya. He said,

> I knew Father Charbel for a long time; when he was a monk in the monastery, and when he lived in the hermitage, until the time of his death. I am not knowledgeable in these delicate matters about which you ask me. However, I will tell you simply and briefly what I know about him.

I was present at his burial in the common grave of the monastery. All those who attended his funeral said, "Lucky him! He is a saint, he went to heaven in his clothes." This is a common expression [in his clothes].

After burial, other peasants and I saw from our homes facing the monastery, a brilliant light over the tomb in the dark night. We saw it many times. But I, personally, saw it three times. However, when the body of Father Charbel was taken out of his tomb, the light stopped appearing. <

May we be allowed to relate the testimony of Father Peter Mishmshany? He lived at the monastery of St. Maron five years before the death of Father Charbel. He had visited Father Charbel during his last illness and participated in his funeral and burial. He said, "When a light was seen rising over the tomb, witnessed by many people, then the tomb was opened and the body was found to be sound, perfect, incorrupt."

We conclude these testimonies with the valuable, eye-witness testimony of Saba Bou-Moussey Quwayny:

> I don't recall exactly how long after the burial of Father Charbel, but it was well known that the peasants, whose homes were facing the tomb from the south, many times saw a brilliant light coming out of the tomb where Father Charbel was buried. From them, the news reached Ehmej and Hojoula (a Moslem town), and Artba. The inhabitants flocked to visit the tomb. They said that the light would appear ordinary at first, but would become larger and wider the higher it rose. It happened that the administrator of the region, Moslem Sheiek Mahmoud Hamade, came one night with some of his soldiers to look for some fugitives from the government. He thought they were hiding in the neighboring woods close to the monastery. They tied their horses in the vicinity of my house (at Mount Quwayney) and walked toward the monastery. When they arrived they saw a light, at first dim, but becoming brighter as they approached the door of the monastery, east of the church. At first they thought that the criminals were hiding there. They hurried to where the light shone but found no one. They knocked at the door of the monastery and when it was opened they searched but found no one other than the inhabitants there. They then told the Superior and the monks what they had seen. The Superior, Fr. Anthony Mishmshany, answered them. "For a long time, we have been hearing that people see a light where you say you saw it, at the tomb of the monastery where the body of Father Charbel is buried." Sheik Mahmoud answered him, "By God, the first chance I have, I shall tell His Beatitude, the Patriarch, of this matter." A few days later, the Superior received orders from His Beatitude to open the tomb, to inspect the body and to report on its condition".

We shall abstain from mentioning the testimony of those witnesses, who only heard of the appearance of the light, as we have related at length the testimony of eyewitnesses. These are enough, especially if we bear in mind that there is no reason for any doubt or illusion. We listened to a variety of witnesses; among them women, and the common and pious peasants. Moreover, electricity had yet reached that area and the inhabitants had not even heard of electricity. In those days, kerosene was the primary source of all light in the cells of the monastery, and the fancy lamp of kerosene used was thought to be an adornment, an extravagance in the monastery and the hermitage, in the peasants' homes and in the entire region.

Despite the fact that the light appeared as described, the monks at first would not believe any story by anyone until they first checked it very '. Closely or verified it by personal experience.

What is consoling in this regard is the fact that the light at first appeared to simple people, even to women who were poor and illiterate. At the end, it appeared to the Moslem administrator and his soldiers. This way, no one can have any doubt that it was an exclusive experience. The monks at the monastery themselves were the most doubting, and the least believing of all. Most of them remained non-believers until they saw the body of Father Charbel preserved. The strength of the faith of the people and the miracles concerning this body overwhelmed them. They remind me of St. Thomas who doubted the Resurrection of Christ "without probing the nail prints in His hands, without putting his finger and placing his hand into His side" (John 20:25).

God allowed all this to take place, and we marvel at it. Nobody can say that the monks invented this story for their own benefit by seducing the public. This in itself is a sign from God to honor His servant, Charbel, the hermit. God, in His divine plan, has dealt with us before in a simple way. The Angels of God announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds of Bethlehem. The light of God appeared to the Magi in the remote east. He sent a shining beam to precede them, lighting their path and showing them the way to the manger of Bethlehem, where they would see the Messiah, worship Him and offer Him their gifts of gold, frankencense ant myrth (Mt. 2:11).

Here again, God directs us to the condition of his faithful servant, Charbel, by means of light pouring from the darkness of the lowly tomb, marvelous brilliance seen by simple Christian people and Moslem men not by scientists, nor monks, nor hermits.

From the preceding testimonies, it seems that the appearance of the light on the tomb of Father Charbel was a primary reason for the opening of the tomb, to inspect the condition of the body and take the necessary steps to preserve it in a special place or in a proper coffin, regardless of whether or not it was intact. There was another immediate reason for the opening of the tomb and that was to determine what caused the light.

Another reason that prompted the monks was that rumors said the faithful from the neighborhood were determined to open the tomb by force in secret to see the condition of the body of the "saint and to be blesses by him. They believed that the light, which appeared around the tomb many times, was sent from God to honor Charbel. They wanted to divide Charbel's body and bones among them, as saintly relics, which they intended to wear on their person and place in their homes to protect them selves from adversities and to assure them health of body, peace if mind and abundance of earthly goods.

The investigations show that some people had opened the tomb when the superior was absent from the monastery and that they saw the "saint' floating on the water, as if he were still alive, sleeping, oblivious to the cold, the dampness, and the water from the rain pipe of the church. For four months, it had been dripping over Charbel causing a perforation in hi eye and deforming the tip of his nose.

These people upon seeing the body of the "saint" were extremely afraid and filled with awe. They took as a blessing relics and a few hairs from his beard.

In addition, the superior of the monastery and the monks had opened the tomb to ascertain the condition of Father Charbel's corpse. They were to report on it, to the Patriarch and ask for his permission to remove the body. According to the testimony of an eyewitness, Father Francis Sibrini a monk of the Lebanese Order:

More than three months after death and burial, when the news on the light coming from the tomb became more frequent, visitors started to journey from many villages, bringing along their sick. Some would rush to the entrance of the tomb to take a relic from the body of the saint. The monks asked the superior to allow the opening of the tomb. He agreed and when the tomb was opened, they found the body almost completely immersed in water. They returned to the superior insisting that he allow them to take it out of the water and bury it near the church in a dry place to protect it from dampness and corruption. He agreed, but first sent an emissary to the Patriarch to explain the situation, asking him what should be done. He also explained the story of the lights saying that no one could stop the visitors and turn them away from the tomb. His Beatitude gave orders to keep the body where it was, to remove the water from around it, to elevate it from the floor, and to take the necessary steps to prevent the water from seeping into the tomb. And so, the tomb was again opened. The monks went inside, removed the water, elevated the body on two planks over two blocks of wood, added soil to the roof of the tomb and flattened it, so the water would not seep inside. The first time that I, myself, saw the body with my own eyes, it had not decayed. I am positive that it was the body of Father Charbel because nobody was buried there after him. He had not changed. The body remained that way in the same place inside the tomb for about five months, until the Patriarch issued an order to remove it and place it in a hidden area, unavailable to visitors. The reason for this was because visitors were flocking from everywhere and had opened the tomb by force they saw the body and took hair from his beard. They removed pieces of his fingernails or his clothing and carried away dirt from the tomb. They took anything as a relic.

Why should we be amazed at what these pilgrims did out of their faith and devotion in order to take a blessing to the sick in their families, when the monks, themselves, who were in charge of caring for the tomb and guarding the body of Father Charbel, had initially opened the tomb without the authorization of the Patriarch.

Their successors in the monastery did the same thing, fifty years later, when the perspiration from the body of Father Charbel overflowed, gushing from the floor of the chapel near the tomb. The monks secretly opened the tomb in the darkness of night on February 25, 1950, without asking permission of the proper authority. When they saw the body of Father Charbel immersed in a blood-like perspiration, they inspected his clothing, then closed the coffin and sealed the tomb.

Afterwards, they had recourse to the Patriarchal authority to absolve them from excommunication, in case they had incurred it by their actions. At the same time, they requested that the tomb be opened, and the body examined of facially by knowledgeable people. The Patriarch acquiesced by issuing a decree on March 10, 1950.

The intensity of piety of the people of the East overcame their proper behavior, when experiencing extraordinary spiritual events, to a point where they sometimes disregarded the law. However, their good intentions, their love for the things of God, and their respect for the saints after death, all can be taken as a justification of their actions.

This enthusiasm dates back in early Christian history. We recall the pious women who followed Jesus and served him "very early," just after sunrise, on the first day of the week when they came to the tomb. They said to one another, "Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" (Mark 16:2,3). They were women and yet had the courage to come to the tomb, its door sealed by a large stone placed by the authority of the Roman Empire, guarded by the soldiers day and night. These women didn't heed the fact that Jewish leaders, out of their fear of Jesus, were always alert and hostile.

Therefore, we cannot blame the people of the neighboring villages of the monastery of St. Maron, who had the audacity to open the tomb of Father Charbel by force and remove the small stone from its door in order to see Father Charbel and pray to him. It is enough to say that they only did what the monks and their superior had also done.

Their motives lie in their faith, hope and love and the belief that God would cure their sickness through the intercession of his servant, Charbel, especially if they could obtain a relic from his body. We even praise them for their actions, which motivated the superior of the monastery to present Charbel's case to the Patriarch.

The star that was shining on the tomb of Charbel for three months was only the beginning of what God would perform through his servant, as is written in the prophecy in the Deaths Record of the monastery.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

FRANCIS'S SECRET FRIEND IN CASERTA & LUNCH WITH THE POPE by a representative of the Evangelical Alliance

He is not Catholic, but Pentecostal, a part of those Christian communities which are in breathtaking expansion all over the world. Little by little the pope is meeting with their leaders. From rivals he wants to become friends, to the point of asking their forgiveness 

by Sandro Magister





ROME, July 23, 2014 – When the news got out, and was confirmed by Fr. Federico Lombardi, that Pope Francis intended to make a private visit to Caserta to meet with a friend, the pastor of a local Evangelical community, the city's bishop, Giovanni D'Alise, was thunderstruck. He hadn't been told a thing.

Moreover, the pope had planned his visit to Caserta for the same day as the feast of Saint Anne, the city's patron. Seeing themselves snubbed, some of the faithful threatened an uprising. It took a good week to convince the pope to change his schedule and divide the trip into two phases: the first a public one with the faithful of Caserta on Saturday, July 26, and the second in private with his Evangelical friend on the following Monday.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio had made arrangements to meet with this person months in advance. He mentioned this to a group of faithful from Caserta on January 15, after a general audience in Saint Peter's Square. And he spoke of it again on June 19, during a meeting in Rome with some Evangelical pastors, including the very same friend from Caserta, Giovanni Traettino, whom he had met in Buenos Aires in 2006 for a debate when he was the archbishop of the Argentine capital. 

The meeting with Pastor Traettino in Caserta is not, in fact, an isolated episode, but part of a broader effort that Pope Francis is making to win the favor of the worldwide leaders of those "Evangelical" and Pentecostal movements which especially in Latin America are the most fearsome competitor of the Catholic Church, from which they are snatching enormous masses of faithful.

"Evangelical" and Pentecostal Christians, who emerged a century ago from Protestant circles, have seen spectacular expansion. It is estimated that today they are almost one third of the approximately two billion Christians present in the world, and three fourths of Protestants. But they are also found in the Catholic Church. Last June 1 Pope Francis met in the Olympic stadium of Rome with 50,000 members of Renewal in the Spirit, the most important Catholic Charismatic group in Italy.

Three days later, on June 4, the pope had a long meeting at his residence of Santa Marta with some “Evangelical” leaders of the United States, including the famous televangelist Joel Osteen, California pastor Tim Timmons, and the president of the Evangelical Westmont College, Gayle D. Beebe.

On June 24, another meeting. This time with Texas televangelists James Robinson and Kenneth Copeland, with Bishop Anthony Palmer of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, with John and Carol Arnott of Toronto, and with other prominent leaders. There were also Geoff Tunnicliffe and Brian C. Stiller, respectively the secretary general and "ambassador" of the World Evangelical Alliance. The meeting lasted for three hours and continued through lunch, in the refectory of Santa Marta, where the pope, amid loud laughter, gave Pastor Robinson a high five (see photo).

Copeland and Osteen are proponents of "prosperity theology," according to which the more faith grows the more wealth grows. They themselves are very wealthy and live an extravagant lifestyle. But Francis spared them the sermon on poverty.

Instead - according to what “ambassador” Stiller reported - the pope assured them: "I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”

But he also told them that he had learned from his friendship with Pastor Traettino that the Catholic Church, with its imposing presence, acts too much as an obstacle to the growth and witness of these communities. And for this reason as well he thought of visiting the Pentecostal community in Caserta: "to offer an apology for the difficulty brought to their congregation."

During the pontificates of John Paul II and even more with Benedict XVI, the American “Evangelicals,” generally rather conservative, attenuated their traditional anti-papism and found points of encounter with the Catholic Church in the shared battle for the defense of religious freedom, life, and the family.

Pope Francis did not dwell on these issues in his conversations in recent weeks.

But last March the pope also met briefly, in the Rome, with the highly religious and “Evangelical” Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, with whom the United States Supreme Court sided in a landmark decision handed down at the end of June in the lawsuit they filed against the law backed by Barack Obama that required businesses to include coverage for contraception and abortion in their employee health care plans.

LUNCH WITH THE POPE

Posted by brianstiller on July 9, 2014




The inevitable question I’m asked when one knows I’ve been with the pope is, “And what is he like?” Here are some personal observations from a recent visit.
Impressions in the first moments so frame how we see an individual. This, my second meeting with Pope Francis, an almost three-hour conversation and lunch, allowed me to more carefully form impressions.
From the outset his charm set us all at ease. As we moved from the greeting hall to the conversation room, he stood by the door to turn out the lights. I noticed that gone were the papal slippers and instead shoes with dangling laces. At lunch, eaten in the cafeteria, it wasn’t the waiters who served us drinks; Pope Francis served Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA and me. His presence undermines pomp or circumstance. One has to remind themself that sitting across the lunch table, smiling through moments of joy is one of the most influential persons in the world. His celebrity is muted by his kindly ordinariness. His influence is corralled by his loving affection for people. His power leans towards the poor, those trampled underfoot.
Two dominant gifts showed. First his pastoral instincts and gifts are so evident. I asked, “When you were presented on the balcony in St Peter’s Square after your election, did you plan to ask those in the square to pray for you and then bow in silence?” He laughed. “No,” he said, “in that moment I sensed the Spirit leading me to do that.” So I asked, “When you did so, how did you feel?” He looked at me and smiled, “I was so at peace.”
We talked about Christians marginalized, pressed under the weight of government power or the majority presence of other faiths. He listened and then told a remarkable story. In his years in and out of Rome, he became friends with an Italian pastor. In time he came to learn that the church and pastor felt the power and presence of the Catholic Church, with its weighty presence, obstructing their desire to grow and be a witness. So he decided to visit the church and offer an apology for the difficulty brought to their congregation.
Offsetting his loving and endearing pastoral gift is the prophetic: not in foretelling the future but speaking forth the word of God.
Our lunch was just days after he had announced a shocking judgment in Calabria, south Italy, condemning the mafia for their “adoration of evil,” declaring all mobsters effectively excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Of earthquake proportion, this declaration will surely rattle communities where the Catholic Church and mobsters have for centuries lived along side each other. They are finding that Francis is more than just a cordial, pastoral priest from South America.
In the coming days we will hear of his determination to bring the administration of the Vatican under control, replacing leadership, cleaning up the Vatican Bank and speaking to the unspeakable matter of sexual abuse. His prophetic vision sees through haze and hears past chants, cutting open hypocrisy of religious self-interest.
I know some will wonder if we lack discernment, dining as we did with the head of a church many see as heretical. As an Evangelical, I’m clear in the importance of the Reformation and the role our community plays in announcing the Good News. I celebrate our understanding of the Scriptures as our only and final authority, the priesthood of every believer, the life-giving moment of rebirth and freedom for churches and ministries to spring up under the inspiration of the Spirit. No one is interested in rewinding the clock. Also to construct a united church isn’t doable and neither is it in our interest. Such plans do not lead us to fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we be one in Christ.
My counter argument to those who might dismiss friendship with the pope is this. For Evangelicals and Protestants, of all shapes and sizes, the state and condition of the Roman Catholic Church matters. Of the over 2 billion Christians, one-half are linked to the Vatican. About 600 million are Evangelicals and another 550 million members of the World Council of Churches, (which includes the Orthodox Churches). As a world body, it is our calling to have contact with other major Christian communities and faiths. Conferencing with Rome no more compromises our doctrinal commitments than it would by meeting with the heads of other religions. We do that as a natural and important role of our calling. In places where Evangelicals are marginalized, having this official connection allows us to raise issues and ask for responses we would never otherwise get.
In a worldwide community of faith, the work and role of each Christian community matters. Given that 50 percent of those who call themselves Christian affiliate with Rome, when its spiritual and ethical authority is diminished it affects the entire world. When Rome loses her way, when corruption characterizes her financial dealings, when sexual scandals rob her of moral influence, when she fades from view in strongly declaring the nature of faith we all lose.
It’s fair to ask what kind of Catholic Church we as Evangelicals want to see. At lunch I asked Pope Francis what his heart was for evangelism. He smiled, knowing what was behind my question and comment was, “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community.  There are so many doctrines we will never agree on. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.” (Of course Evangelicals do evangelize Catholics and Catholics do the same to us. However, that discussion we will raise another day.)
We spoke about how in our diversity we might find unity and strength. Borrowing from Swiss Protestant theologian Oscar Cullman, we reflected how “reconciled diversity” allows us to stand within our own understandings of how Christ effects salvation. And then we press on to deal with global issues like religious freedom and justice and other matters, which affect our wellbeing.
We are in the middle of a major religious shakeup worldwide. The Middle East is on the edge of what we know not. Islam is on the rise. The Gospel witness permeates much of the global south. So what of the future?
A vibrant pope, spiritually vital, tough in ethical leadership and competent in overseeing his world communion is critical. What he says and does has a profound affect on us all.
Evangelicals need not hide behind fear of engagement.  Working on human suffering and matters of injustice with Christians who have a different tradition and read the biblical text differently does not violate who we are or what we believe
Working on the world stage, it is evident there is respect for our distinctive evangelical message and regard for our responsibility and calling to represent our Christian community. International cooperation among Christians is built on that respect.

Brian C Stiller
Global Ambassador
World Evangelical Alliance
July 2014


Monday, 21 July 2014

DOM ODO CASEL and DOM ILDEFONS HERWEGEN: TWO GLORIES OF THE BENEDICTINE ORDER



Odo Casel: prophet and mystagogue
by Hugh Gilbert OSB 



Who was Odo Casel?

Odo Casel's is hardly a household name, nor is it ever likely to be. He was, after all, a monk and spent the greater part of his monastic life as chaplain to a community of Benedictine nuns - not usually a high-road to celebrity. And yet from this obscure monk issued what Cardinal Ratzinger called "perhaps the most fruitful theological idea of our century" (ie the 20th), while for the eminent French Dominican liturgist, Pierre-Marie Gy, it was Casel who gave the strongest impulse of anyone to the sacramental theology of the 20th century, and in the view of the English Dominican, Aidan Nichols, Casel should be accounted "a giant among theologians of the Liturgy and a figure raised up by Providence to salvage from perils the worship of the Church…one of the great fathers, I would say the great father of the 20th century liturgical movement". The following article is a small attempt to salvage Dom Odo Casel from his (relative) obscurity. Three questions naturally present themselves: Who was he? What did he say? Is it true?

Johannes Casel was born at Koblenz, in the German Rhineland, on the 27 September 1886. His father was a train-driver. His religion - this was the Catholic Rhineland - was Catholic through and through. After a local primary and secondary education, he went up to Bonn in 1905 to read classics. Among the students there was a young Benedictine, Ildefons Herwegen, who persuaded Johannes to put aside his studies and enter his own Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, St Mary of the Lake. This was originally an 11th century Benedictine monastery, suppressed in 1802 and restored by Benedictines of the Beuronese Congregation as recently as 1892.

A Benedictine vocation

In 1913 the same Ildefons Herwegen was to become abbot of Laach, to remain such until his death in 1946, and to make of the abbey one of the intellectual and liturgical centers of German Catholicism between the two world wars. Entering the monastery in the autumn of 1905, Casel himself went through the usual stages of monastic initiation, receiving the name Odo, making profession in 1907 and being ordained in 1911. A little less usually (but this is Germany!) he gained, first, a theological doctorate from the Benedictine Athenaeum of Sant' Anselmo in Rome (with a thesis on the eucharistic theology of Justin Martyr, an early sign of his passion for the Fathers of the Church) and then, returning to Bonn, a second philosophical doctorate (with a thesis that revealed his parallel interest in Classical Antiquity, and especially its Mystery Religions).

In 1921, Abbot Herwegen asked Casel to become the editor of the projected Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewissenschaft (Yearbook for Liturgical Science), which task he acquitted through 15 imposing volumes until wartime shortage of paper precluded further publication in 1941. The editorship was an immense labour in itself. The Jahrbuch is, in fact, one of the great monuments to the intellectual revival of German Catholicism between the two world wars, and it was principally in its pages that Casel - through articles and reviews - was able to articulate, defend and consolidate his own vision of Christian worship. Casel was himself a quiet man, happiest working in his cell or singing in the monastic choir. His output was to be prodigious: one bibliography counts 309 major and minor works.

The obscure life of a convent chaplain

And it is doubtful if this would have been possible had not Abbot Herwegen, again discerningly, sent Dom Odo in 1922 as chaplain to what was then a small convent of nuns devoted to Perpetual Adoration at Herstelle, Westphalia. There he had the leisure to study and write. There, too, he had the spiritual and intellectual stimulus of a receptive community of women, which by the time of his death was a flourishing Benedictine house of the Beuronese Congregation, living a full liturgical life, as still today.

Here Casel was to remain, praying, celebrating, preaching, editing, writing, never going to conferences, even those devoted to his own thought. And here, in an astonishingly appropriate way, he was to die. On Holy Saturday 1948, he suffered a stroke after singing the Lumen Christi. He died in the early hours of Easter Sunday, 28 March. He was 61. It is a custom among monasteries to exchange notices of brethren who have died, including usually brief biographical details. That devoted to the passing of Odo Casel was a lyrical classic of the genre:

"Having just greeted the light of Christ in a clear voice and while preparing to celebrate the paschal praeconium, our beloved Father in Christ, liturgist of the sacred mystery and mystagogue, Odo Casel, monk of Maria Laach, having accomplished his holocaust and passing over with the Lord during the holy night, entered upon the beatific vision, being himself consummated in perfection by the mysteries of Easter which he had given to initiates. Thanks be to God."

Turbulent times for the pen and the sword

Casel's claim on our attention lies in his thoughts and writings, and above all in his vision of the "Christian thing" and, more specifically, of Christian worship. But before we turn to this, a word must be said about the wider context of his life and thought. This - to repeat - was Germany, the Germany that had lost a world war, an emperor and an empire, was passing through the humiliations of the Weimar Republic and then was to be swept up into the ultimately destructive fantasy-world of National Socialism.

In one sense, Casel lived apart from all this. He was certainly not a political animal; he kept "the even tenor" of his scholarly, monastic ways. Yet he was profoundly aware of the contemporary problematic. He was also aware of so much that was deficient in contemporary Catholicism: the inadequacies of neo-scholasticism, the excessively juridical view of Church and liturgy, and the individualism of so much piety. And his own work may be regarded as parallel to many of the attempts of the time to find a way forward in the world and in the Church.

One thinks of phenomenology and its "turn to the object", of the dialectical theology of Karl Barth reaffirming divine transcendence, of the desire for community and communion with nature in the Youth Movement, and more particularly of the tenderly bourgeoning patristic and liturgical movements within Catholicism and the concomitantly growing sense of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ. In 1922, Romano Guardini wrote his famous words: "A religious process of incalculable importance has begun - the Church is coming to life in souls."

Casel - like his own monastery of Maria Laach - has a distinctive place within this spectrum, one founded on Scripture, the Fathers and the Liturgy, on a deep appreciation for the ancient world and man's natural religiosity, for the objective and traditional and transcendent. For him, as he outlined in the arresting first chapter of his Das Christliche Kultmysterium [The Mystery of Christian Worship, 1st ed. 1932], it was the "Mystery" that needed to come to life in souls. Now was the providential moment, after the collapse of rationalist individualism, for a "turning to the Mystery". We can now turn ourselves to explore what he meant by this.

What did he say?

Mystery theology or the "doctrine/teaching of the Mystery" (Mysterientheologie, Mysterienlehre) are the names given to Casel's thought in German circles. "My first insight into the doctrine of the Mystery came to me in the course of a conventual Mass", Casel himself wrote. In sources and style, it may be categorized as "neo-patristic", a Catholic cousin to much of the theologizing of Orthodox émigrés of the same period, not to mention some equally adventurous Catholic contemporaries engaged in a similar ressourcement. Casel was decidedly not in the Scholastic tradition.

Rather he was a Benedictine monk, steeped body, mind and soul, in the Roman-Benedictine liturgy. It was out of this that his vision came. The "kernel" or content of this "theology" or "doctrine" was "the new appreciation (or restoration of the traditional appreciation) of the liturgical celebration as the concrete reality in which Christ's saving action in death and resurrection becomes present to us" (B. Neunheuser). More simply, one might call it a liturgy-centered vision of Christianity. ‘Ganzheitschau’ was one of Casel's favorite words: a view of the whole. And this is certainly what he bequeathed. What follows attempts to outline his thought under seven headings

Mystery: the core idea of Christianity

What is Christianity? What is its essence? This is the first question. Dom Odo, who was ever a philologist, began by turning to the word mystery (mysterion in Greek, mysterium in Latin). Hidden here, he saw, was the heart of Christianity. For the 18th century, Christianity might appear to be no more than a system of beliefs and a code of conduct; for the 19th century (as for many at the beginning of the 21st!) it might appear above all as a spirituality, as a way of relating to the Beyond.

For St Paul, however, and for the whole New Testament as well as for the authentic tradition of the Church, Christianity is the revelation of the Mystery. And the Mystery, in the predominantly Pauline sense, "means, first of all, a deed of God's, the working-out of an eternal divine plan through an act which proceeds from His eternity, is realized in time and the world, and returns once more to Him, its goal in eternity."

This Mystery can be expressed by the one word "Christ", meaning by it the Savior's person, together with His mystical body, "the Church". It is - initially - the Incarnation; it is - centrally - the sacred Pasch, the death and resurrection of the Lord; it is - consequently - the entry of the Church, the community of the redeemed, in the wake of the sacrificed and glorified Christ and by the power of His Spirit, into the presence of the Father.

"For Paul, Peter and John, the heart of faith is not the teachings of Christ, not the deeds of his ministry, but the acts by which he saves us". And our salvation, our liberation from sin and union with God, is brought about by participation in the saving acts of Christ. This, then, is Christianity "in its full and original meaning", the "gospel of God". Not a world-view with a religious backdrop, not a theological system or a moral law, "but the mysterium in the Pauline sense, that is God's revelation to mankind through theandric acts, full of life and power" and our saving participation in these.

Three-fold nature of Mystery

More amply, he explained, "mystery" denotes three things at once. It has a theological, a Christological and a sacramental-liturgical meaning, and these three can hardly be separated. First of all, the Mystery is God Himself, the thrice-holy, dwelling in inaccessible light and simultaneously mysteriously revealing Himself to the pure and humble. We can see ancient man's sense of this primal Mystery in his temples and pyramids, in his wisdom and worship, in the natural longing for union with the divine. To Israel, of course, God revealed Himself more fully, but this proved to be by way of preparation. And so we come to the second sense of Mystery, the Pauline and Christological. "Christ is the mysterium in person. He reveals the invisible God in the flesh". And His deeds are "mysteries" too.

"The deeds of His self-abasement, and above all His sacrificial death on the cross, are mysteries, because in them God reveals Himself in a way that goes beyond all human standards of measurement. Above all, though, His resurrection and exaltation are mysteries, because in them divine glory was revealed in the man Jesus, and this in a form that is hidden from the world and only open to believers".

This last is a point Casel insists on: mystery is by definition hidden as well as revealed; only faith can "see" it and only gnosis, Spirit-given knowledge, penetrate it; it is beyond the grasp of the "world"; it is given to the Church.

"The Apostles proclaimed the mysterium Christi to the Church, and the Church in turn hands it on to all generations. But just as the plan of salvation does not involve simply teaching but, above all, the salvific deed of Christ, so the Church leads mankind to salvation not merely through the word but also through holy actions or deeds".

And so we arrive at the third sense of mysterium, closely connected with the first two. "We find the person of Christ, His saving deeds and the working of His grace in the mysteries of worship". Mystery in this sense denotes "a sacred ritual action, in which a past redemptive deed is made present in the form of a specific rite; the worshipping community, by accomplishing this sacred rite, participates in the redemptive act and thus obtains salvation".

The Mystery and the mysteries

Two patristic quotations enter here. The first is from a sermon of St Leo's on the Ascension (Sermon 74:2): "what was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the mysteries"; the second from St Ambrose (Apology for the Prophet David 58): "I find You in Your mysteries". In both cases, Casel understands "mysteries" not simply as those of the faith publicly proclaimed (though that too, of course, can be a liturgical event) but as the sacramental celebrations of the Church.

It is in these above all that the mystery of God in Christ is present. Therefore the liturgy itself deserves the appellation mystery, the mystery of worship (Kultmysterium) as Casel calls it. It is a mystery because in it "the divine saving act is present under the veil of symbols". It is the mystery of Christ present in a sacramental form, as Christ is the mystery of God present in the form of "flesh".

The essence of liturgy

Here we approach the heart of Casel's vision, his understanding of liturgy, his sense of its essence, his view of its place in the scheme of things. Liturgy is not ritual or pageantry nor, as some of Casel's contemporaries believed, merely a collection of rubrics governing the public worship of the Church. Nor, he might have said today, is it something we construct to express our group-psychology or something in the service of the "feel-good factor". It is the place and presence and power of the mystery of Christ. It is "the carrying out and realization of the new covenant's mystery of Christ in the whole Church through all the centuries, for her sanctification and glorification".

"God who revealed himself in the humanity of Jesus, continues to act after His glorification. Indeed, it is above all after this glorification that He acts through Christ the High Priest", and He acts "through the ordinary way of the economy of salvation", that is, the sacraments of the Church, thereby endowing liturgy with the force of the Mystery. This "mystery of worship" is "nothing other than the God-man continuing to act on earth. Hence this mystery, like that of Christ Himself, bears a twofold character: that of the divine majesty which is at work, and that of the veil of material and earthly symbols which simultaneously hide and disclose… The presence of the Lord in the divine mysteries occupies an intermediate position - a middle stage - between the earthly, historical life of Christ and his glorious life in heaven", between the Ascension and the Parousia.

The Church, the spouse and helpmate of Christ

None of this touches us simply as separate individuals. It is all for the Church and with the Church. The Church is at once the beneficiary of Christ's sacramental presence, and His helpmate. The presence of Christ in the sacramental mysteries is a "bridal gift" for the Church, and the sacraments, in turn, are a means for her to express her love for her Husband. Liturgy is nuptial. In the liturgy, the Church becomes the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. She receives from Him, is conformed to her crucified, glorified, Spirit-filled Lord, and at the same time is enabled to collaborate with Him in the furtherance of man's salvation, con-celebrating the mystery of worship with Him.

Without the mystery of Christ's liturgical presence, especially in the Eucharist, "the Church would be a priest without a sacrifice, an altar without an offering, a wife separated from her husband, unconsecrated, unable to come to the Father". She would not be the Church, in other words. But at the same time, it is through the same mystery of worship that Christ is fully Christ, the One who saves and glorifies His people. No wonder, then, that Casel - who never reduced the life of the Church to liturgy - should call it, nonetheless, "the central and essentially necessary activity of the Christian religion".

The real presence of Christ

At this point, it becomes vital to look more deeply at what it is that gives liturgy its salvific authority and its place in the history of salvation. It is, said Casel, the presence in the liturgical celebration, in the sacramental form, of the saving deed of Christ. This might seem unexceptional, even platitudinous. It is nothing of the sort, and in the theological context of his times it was revolutionary. Here we touch on Casel's dearest and deepest insight. In liturgy, he believed, the saving deed of Christ was objectively re-presented as an efficacious reality, thus enabling believers to enter into salvific contact with it. For him, as the German theologian Theodore Filthaut explained over 50 years ago:

"The saving acts which belong to the historical past are objectively and really re-presented in the liturgical mysteries. It is not a question of a merely "intentional" re-actualization being produced by a celebration; the saving acts are truly posited anew in the present. And these saving acts - the incarnation, death and resurrection, to restrict ourselves to the most important - are the proper content and object of the sacraments; they form the interior reality of the mysteries of worship".

In the Mass, for example, it is not simply the Christ who once suffered and is now in glory (Christus passus) who is sacramentally present, but the actual passion of Christ (passio Christi). It was precisely with such "ontology", such "realism", Casel believed, that the Church had always celebrated the liturgy. Wholly inadequate, therefore, and spiritually impoverishing, was the then current theory of a merely "effective re-presentation". Christ's "mysteries", in this view, belong to the historical past. It is metaphysically impossible for them to be present in liturgical celebrations. What is brought us by the liturgy is their effects.

Here St Thomas' well known Collect for Corpus Christi comes to mind: "May we so venerate the mysteries of your Body and Blood, that we may constantly experience in us the fruit of your redemption". It is this - the fruit, the grace(s), and the saving effects of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice - that, in a variety of ways, the sacraments bring us. Casel, naturally, did not deny what was being positively asserted here. The sacraments do indeed bring us grace! What he denied was the negation, the refusal to allow the presence, not just of the graces, but also of the source of those graces. "By liturgical worship", wrote his disciple Dom Jean Hild, "and especially by the sacraments, Christ becomes present with his saving acts, and not simply by means of the graces that He once merited for us on Calvary", or in Aidan Nichol's words, "the sacramental sign…is the ritual face of the redemptive act of Christ in its plenary reality, and not simply a communication of grace", and therefore, as Sr Theresa F. Koernke has expressed it, "the Christian ... really encounters Christ in his saving activity in and through the liturgical activity of the Church".

The sacramental economy

In Casel's own words, the "main intention" of the Mystery-teaching was "to set out clearly once again the Church's mysteries, above all the Eucharist, but the other sacraments as well, each according to its measure and place, as the "sacrament of the redemption"; that is to say, to show them as the presence of the economy (oikonomia) in the Church; not to reduce the sacraments to mere "means of grace". As a witness to what he regarded as the deeper and more ancient view, Casel invoked the then Prayer over the Gifts of the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:

"Grant us, we beg You Lord, that we may frequent these mysteries in a worthy way, for every time we celebrate the commemoration of this sacrifice, the work of our redemption is accomplished (opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur)".

What this prayer calls "the work of our redemption", Casel called "the saving Act (or Deed)", and the wave of controversy that this view aroused only led him to repeat and refine his conviction, never to renounce it. At the base of it lay an argument not unlike that by which the Fathers had defended the divinity of the Son and the Spirit: if we are deified by these Persons, these Persons must be divine.

So wrote Casel, "this real representation of the saving deed cannot not be, because the saving acts of Christ are so necessary to the Christian that he cannot be a true Christian if he doesn't live them after Him and with Him. It is not the teaching of Christ which makes the Christian. It is not even the simple application of his grace. It is total identification with the person of Christ obtained by re-living His life".

And it is precisely this "total identification", this communion with the life, death and resurrection of the Lord that the liturgy makes possible.

Presence-in-Mystery

At this point many, like Mary at the Annunciation, were inclined to ask, "how can this be?" or more brutally, "this sounds lovely, but what does it mean?" There was a fear that Casel was maintaining a literal reproduction in the liturgy of historical events, such as the birth and epiphany, baptism and transfiguration, death and resurrection, which, however much they might be an enduring part of the glorified Christ, did belong, as events, to the irretrievable past. Casel and his disciples, however, insisted they were not proposing any such reproduction or repetition of past events. Nor, on the other hand, did they think adequate the view that in the liturgy the heavenly Christ merely distributes the graces of his past meritorious acts. Rather, there is in every one of the saving deeds of the Lord a substantial element transcending time and space and capable of commemoration and re-presentation in a sacramental way (in sacramento, in mysterio). It is a question of a presence in mystery (Mysterien-gegenwart).

What happened in the past under the veil of historical events happens now under the veil of sacramental signs. Celebrations are indeed time-and-space bound, but they bring into time and space something that essentially transcends them. Once again Casel would have asked, if this is not the case, how can we have that necessary contact with the deeds of Christ, how can we - the Church - contact the "mysteries of his flesh", "be brought by his passion and death to the glory of his resurrection"?

The unity in Liturgy

Granting all this - the what and the how - we are brought back to the practical question of where? Or, in other words, does all liturgy involve this sacramental presence of the saving deeds? Are there not distinctions to be drawn between the Eucharist and the other sacraments, between sacraments and sacramentals? Here too Casel, without cavalierly ignoring the necessary differentiations, saw things as a whole.

The mystery of worship is found in the Eucharist supremely, in the other six sacraments, and also in such sacramentals as Christian burial, monastic profession and the consecration of churches, the Divine Office, the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, especially Easter, and liturgies of the word. All of these, in their different ways, bring us the presence of the Mystery and enable us to enter into it. Casel did some lastingly valuable soundings in several specific liturgical areas.

Here we can only summarize his teaching on the sacraments of initiation. As regards baptism, we have the clear statement of St Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united to the likeness of his death, we shall be also to that of his resurrection" (Rom 6:3-5).

Baptism is the bridal bath in which the Church is washed and there, for the first time, "the Christian meets the mystery of worship". As he enters the water, he meets the dynamic presence of the Paschal Mystery in its sacramental "likeness" and is transformed by it. It is not enough to talk here of the forgiveness of sins and filial adoption; these effects arise from a prior assimilation to Christ.

In confirmation the Bride receives her anointing, and participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord is perfected. Just as the Lord became a life-giving Spirit through his Pasch, so believers are conformed, through the chrism, to the Spirit-filled Christ. "Peter, Paul and John regard the possession of the Spirit as the sign of the Christian".

The one baptized and confirmed, then, "is no longer a mere man, but is transformed into a deified man, newly generated by God into a child of God…Because he is a member of Christ, the High Priest, he is himself a Christ, that is an anointed man and a priest, who is allowed to offer God the Father a sacrifice which is uniquely acceptable and accepted through Christ".

The mystical meaning of ‘participation’

The sacrifice of Christ is made sacramentally present in the Mass, through the ministry of the ordained, and so it is possible for the "initiated" to offer this one true sacrifice and themselves with it. The Church "shares Christ's sacrifice, in a feminine, receptive way, though not less actively for that. She stands under the cross, offers her Bridegroom and herself with Him", and in Holy Communion becomes, ever more, what she receives, is ever more identified with the Lord. "These three mysteries, Casel says, are therefore the most important and the most necessary for the life of the Church and for each individual Christian".

Always it is a matter of participation in the mystery of Christ made sacramentally present for the life of the world. When contemporary liturgists speak, for example, of the Liturgy of the Hours as the Church's participation in the salvific praise and intercession of Christ, or of the liturgical year as a mystagogical induction into the one mystery of Christ annually unfolded, they are, wittingly or not, echoing Odo Casel.

The goal of liturgy

Finally, then, we are reminded again and again of the goal of liturgy. Through the liturgical "whole", through the celebration of its sacraments and sacramentals, the Church becomes what she is, the Body and Bride of Christ, and the individual Christian is conformed, by the Holy Spirit, to the crucified and risen One whom he meets in the liturgy. Out of this objective conformation flows a most demanding subjective imperative. "If the soul wishes to assimilate the content of worship, she must, by her subjective action, co-operate as closely as possible with the objective grace of the liturgy" (A. Gozier), conscious all the time that it is God's sanctifying action which is paramount. Dom Odo understood "participation" as a summons to holiness. In his homilies and conferences, he repeatedly presents the high ideal of a simultaneously crucified, risen and pneumatic life - something he saw the monk and nun called to in an ex professo way.

The Mystery naturally tends to mysticism. The mystery of Christian worship is the surest source and location of life lived in the mystery. By means of it, the mysteries of Christ's humanity become the mysteries of our own. By means of it, the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the true gnosis, an experiential knowledge of the mystery of Christ, taking them beyond the merely rational and into a life of God-like agape. The "end" of Casel's Mystery Theology points in the same direction as the end of the Rule of St Benedict by which he lived: to "the heights of wisdom [ie. gnosis] and virtue [ie. agape]".

How right was Casel?

And so to the final questions, how right was Casel? How have theologians and the Church responded to him? From as early as 1926, in fact, Casel's writings provoked controversy. In November 1947, a few months before his death, Pius XII's great liturgical encyclical Mediator Dei was published. Casel saw in it essentially a corroboration of his life's work. He was, at the deepest level, surely right. Others were quick to point out that one passage at least (n.176, on the Church's year) seemed to be an explicit critique of his and Maria Laach's approach. What did become clear was that clarifications were needed.

Casel was neither a philosopher nor a systematic thinker. His biblical and patristic exegesis was far from commanding universal assent, nor his appeal to the Mystery Religions. And yet the quotations with which this article began (Ratzinger, Gy, Nichols) are statements of sober fact, and the truth is that his central insights, after much sifting by theologians and liturgists throughout the 1950s and 1960s, have prevailed, even mightily - even when his authorship of them has been forgotten. Among theologians, for example, Edward Schillebeeckx in his classic Christ the Sacrament (1963) convincingly incorporated into sacramental theology Casel's understanding of the mysterious presence of the redemptive act (ch.2, s2), while the growing understanding of liturgy as the sacramental celebration of the Paschal Mystery has become the common teaching. Here I can only briefly point to the judgment of the Magisterium.

The legacy of Casel and Vatican II

In 1964, shortly after the promulgation of Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Louis Bouyer could write that "the heart of the teaching on the liturgy in the conciliar Constitution is also the heart of Dom Casel's teaching". This would hold particularly for articles 5 to 13, for the focus on the Paschal Mystery (art 5 and frequently elsewhere), the understanding of the apostolic mission in art.6, the teaching on the various modes of Christ's presence in the liturgy in art.7, the resounding affirmation in art.10 that the "liturgy is simultaneously the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the source from which all her power flows".

Most symbolic perhaps is the five-fold use by the Council of the Prayer over the Gifts mentioned above and its vital phrase, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur. Significantly, too, this prayer now features twice in the post-conciliar Missal. Thus has the teaching authority of the Church, without descending to controversies, incorporated the inner truth of Casel's vision.

The legacy of Casel and the new Catechism

A further step, in this writer's view, has been taken by the theology of the liturgy opening Part II of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Even the titles suggest this: "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery", "The Sacramental Economy", "The Paschal Mystery in the Age of the Church", or a sentence such as:

"the gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the 'dispensation of the mystery' - the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, until he comes” (n.1076).

Or, most remarkably, the profound and beautiful reflections of n.1085: "In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present…His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything towards life". Such a vision is owed to no one so much as Odo Casel.

A vision for the future

As has been well said, Casel's essential bequest is an ontology of the liturgy. In many ways, his death in 1948 marked a turning-point in the history of the 20th century liturgical movement. Practical 'pastoral' concerns came to dominate: questions of language, of active participation, of the re-drafting of rites, and though Casel's prophetic (and patristic) vision of liturgy has found a place in theology and doctrine, its full potential as mystagogy, as guide to celebration, surely remains to be realized.

As the American Benedictine Aidan Kavanagh has well expressed it, "In true celebration of the Mystery there is nothing that is anthropocentric, rationalistic, subjective, or sentimental; rather, it finds expression in a rigorous theocentrism, objective contemplation, and a splendid transcendentalism".


For all that, now, may sound a little dated in his writings, for all the imperfections, for a certain "impracticality" even, a "turning" or returning to Odo Casel can aid in the ever-necessary and certainly liturgically necessary "turn" to the Mystery. No doubt, he never will be a household name, but he was one of the humble glories of 20th century Catholicism and remains a prophet and mystagogue as the new millennium begins, novo milliennio ineunt.

DOM ILDEFONS HERWEGEN

my source: Dom Oldefons, An I Introduction:
In a previous post I argued that Abbot Ildefons Herwegen’s introduction to Guardini’s famous book on the liturgy is an example of the pre-WWII Liturgical Movement reacting to liberal individualism. I argued that it–unlike the book that it introduces–goes too far in the opposite direction. I have now made a translation of Herwegen’s introduction:

Introduction to Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy (1918)

In the Acts of the Apostles the praying Church stands at the threshold. She begs for the sending of the Holy Spirit; she strengthens herself in charismatic prayer for martyrdom; she watches praying at the prison of St. Peter; she surrounds the mysterious breaking of the bread with unceasing prayers, and thus forms her liturgy. At the dawn of of Christianity the Church appears as orans. In her the petition of the disciples is answered: Lord, teach us to pray. Like a little seed the Our Father grows into a mighty tree. The prayer of Christ has blossomed into the eternal prayer of the Church. Her liturgy is the breath of the praying Christ, the glorified high priest. This prayer of Christ – holy in its divinity, noble in its humanity— continues on earth a solis ortu usque ad occasum in the unceasing prayer of the Church.

The Church is the society of the true worshipers of God. Her prayer is never a mere cry for help forced by necessity. Even her petitions and lamentations are ennobled and restrained: trembling with loving adoration, illumined with faith in Christ’s victory, with selfless, childlike joy in the greatness and beatitude of the Father. The Church stands tranquil and confident in the midst of the turbulent world. What gives her the confidence to stand? Her prayer.

It is not assemblies, speeches, demonstrations, nor the favor of states and peoples, nor protective laws and subsidies that make the Church so strong. And while there can never be enough done in preaching, in the confessionals, in parish missions, in catechesis, and in works of mercy; yet all such things are merely the external achievements that flow from an internal power. It would be perverse indeed to be concerned principally for such achievements whilst neglecting the concern for the purity, intensity, and growth of the internal source. Wherever the Church truly, vitally prays there supernatural holiness springs up on all sides, there active peace, human understanding, and true love of neighbor blossom.

Our prayer decides the struggle of our life. He who prays well begins to comprehend the whole of life in its breadth and depth; he finds the balance between the infinite and the finite. To pray is to anchor our created wills in the will of God. The prayer of Christians finds already in the activity of prayer itself an infinite fulfillment through being united to the omnipotent will of God.

Prayer is the word of the searching human soul.

Here human ways end, and the human will is touched by the will of God, and is filled with awe and terror along with redeeming, quieting consolation and liberating strength.

Only in adoration do we find healing and salvation.

The prayer of the Church establishes a firm connection to the eternal. Eternal truth seizes us here, makes us real, makes us worthy for eternal being and life, worthy to see the eternal good and delight in it.

Participation in the adoring love of the Church, the bride of Christ, gives purity and strength.

We live in a time which has left rationalism behind, a time which is striving toward mysticism; today, more than in the recent past, people are inspired by the longing to approach God. Even the feverish obsession with work, which also marks our time, and which offers itself as a substitute for religion, is not able to strangle the mystical longings of the soul. This cry is too powerful, too universal: to God! But where is the path to Him?

The individual raised by the Renaissance and by liberalism has exhausted itself. It recognizes that it needs a connection to an entirely objective institution in order to mature into personality. It demands community [Gemeinschaft].

The age of socialism does have communities, but only such as form a collection of atoms, of individuals. But our desire is for organic, for vital community.

The Church is such an organic community in the highest sense. She unites persons more intimately than any other community; she gives them one spirit, indeed in a sense one body—corpus Christi mysticum. In this body every part is connected to every other and to the head by an intimate, life giving relation. The Church is the “communion of saints;” the saints struggling toward God amidst the trials and tribulations of this valley of tears, and those transfigured, sanctified members of Christ, who triumph in His glory.

An organic community that is is ordered to God must have public worship. The liturgy of the Church is public, but not only in the ancient sense of belonging; the liturgy does not only regard the whole, it also elevates the prayer of each individual. Thus the prayer of each individual soul becomes itself a liturgical. Christ relates to the Church in a way parallel to the way in which He relates to the soul. But the liturgy places the prayer of the individual on an objective foundation, it orders it to a greater, super-personal telos, transcending the narrowness of the individual and its random circumstances. The whole of creation praises the creator in liturgy, and the individual soul mirrors the whole universe.

The reforms of Pope Pius X concentrated our attention with on the liturgy with a new urgency. The Sacrifice, blessing, and prayer of the Church as expressed in her liturgy has won ever more importance in the devotional life of German Catholics in recent years. In theory and in practice, in research and in life, we are trying to learn and foster the authentic liturgy.

The liturgy has been called “the great catechism of the laity.” (J. Brögger) That is what it was in previous centuries. If it is to become such a catechism of the laity again then “we must put much more emphasis in formation within the family, the schools, and in sermons, on teaching the true values and sentiments of the Catholic liturgy, unfolding their educative power, and showing how well they harmonize with what is most noble in the German spirit.” (L. Baur)

Our series Ecclesia Orans is attempting to support such attempts by explaining liturgical terms, actions, and texts, and thus fostering deeper liturgical understanding among the clergy, the teachers, and the educated laity. A series will not follow a strict plan, but will be a loosely connected group of monographs that treat historical, dogmatic, ascetical-mystical, philosophical, pedagogical, and aesthetic questions on the liturgy with a rigorous scholarly foundation, but in a style accessible to the general reading public.

The prayer of the Church is an expression of what is objective and communal, and thus it has developed for itself an external form. Our task is to describe and explain this form; to trace its origins and development. But since the external form is the expression of the internal spirit, we will pay particular attention to the spirit of the liturgy. Thus the scope of our series is very wide. It will treat not only liturgical topics in the strict sense, but also everything which contributes to a better understanding of its spirit—as for example the prayer and ascetic discipline of the patristic Church, the theology of the Church Fathers, the and the influence of monasticism on the development of the liturgy.

We will be pleased if out series can contribute something to liturgical scholarship, but our goal is to open up the treasures of the liturgy and make them fruitful for the Christian life.

In this, the first little volume of our series, Guardini shows how the liturgy, properly understood contains a deep psychological wisdom—even from a natural point of view it fosters a healthy life of the soul. He examines the difficulties that modern man has with the liturgy, and shows how these difficulties arise both in a faulty understanding of the liturgy and in modernity’s unbalanced and exaggerated emphasis on certain aspects of life to the detriment of others. He shows how intimately that which the liturgy is and that which it gives are connected with true harmony in the soul. Without intending it the ancient rituals provide heal precisely the wounds that mark the modern psyche and untie precisely the knots in which contemporary man has tied himself. The liturgy lifts us out of the present moment, above the arbitrariness of individual circumstance. The liturgy trains us to be reverent worshipers of God, pure adorers of the Father.

In this work the author concentrates not so much on the scholarly explanation of the liturgy as on the personal conditions for fruitful participation in the liturgy. He tries to prepare the ground, to dispose the soul to receive what the liturgy offers.

Guardini’s essays are a fitting introduction to our series, since he is able to understand those who come to the liturgy from without, for the first time. He describes the collision of two spiritual worlds, and how their dissonance can be overcome. He unearths connections between the liturgy and the interior life that had become forgotten and buried. Thus he prepares the natural conditions for the liturgical experience. His work is thus admirably suited to lay the broad foundation upon which we mean to build.


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