How God’s providence is sung in the liturgy and reappears in our daily lives
November 10, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Spiritual masters have spoken of “the liturgical providence of God” — namely, the way in which, in the great rites of Christendom, we find that the texts of the Mass or the Divine Office prayed for centuries contain the remarkable quality of being precisely relevant for the particular moments at which they are recited again in our churches or homes. This providence can often be experienced by the individual Christian in his own prayer, and it also frequently applies on a larger scale, with regard to what is happening in the Church or in the world.
Ponder these excerpts from the antiphons, prayers, and readings of this past Sunday’s traditional Latin Mass, for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, and ask: Could we have received a more opportune “message” from Our Lord at this moment in our national and ecclesial life? (The full texts may be read here; I am quoting the verses that leaped out at me the most.)
INTROIT (Jeremiah 29:11, 12, 14): The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you; and I will bring back your captivity from all places. V. Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. Glory be to the Father...
COLLECT: Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the sins of Thy people; that we may be delivered by Thy goodness from the bonds of sins, which by our frailty we have committed. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son...
EPISTLE (Philippians 3:17–21, 4:1–3): Brethren, be followers of me, and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ... Therefore, my brethren, dearly beloved, and most desired, my joy and my crown: stand fast in the Lord.
GRADUAL (Psalm 43:8–9): Thou hast delivered us, O Lord, from them that afflict us: and hast put them to shame that hate us. V. In God we will glory all the day: and in Thy name we will give praise for ever.
GOSPEL (Matthew 9:18–26): …when Jesus was come into the house of the ruler, and saw the minstrels and the multitude making a tumult, He said: Give place; for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn. And when the multitude was put forth, He went in, and took her by the hand. And the maid arose.
OFFERTORY (Psalm 129:1–2): From the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my prayer: from the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord.
SECRET: We offer to Thee, O Lord, this sacrifice of praise to increase our zeal in Thy service: that what Thou hast begun in us Thy unworthy servants, Thou wouldst mercifully bring to completion. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son…
COMMUNION (Mark 11:24): Amen I say to you, whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and it shall be done to you.
POSTCOMMUNION: We beseech Thee, almighty God, that Thou wouldst not permit us to be subject to human dangers, to whom Thou givest to rejoice in the participation of divine mysteries. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son…
The Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion make a perfect unit: the first begs the Lord to unshackle us from the bonds of our sins; the second admits our unworthiness to serve Him but asks Him nonetheless for an increase of zeal in His service; and the third, rejoicing that we have been united with Him, begs for deliverance from evils inflicted by others.
There is also a reverse progress from the Communion back to the Introit. In the Communion, Jesus tells us that whatever we ask will be given us. In the Offertory, the faithful soul, emboldened by this promise, cries out to the Lord. In the Gradual we hear the result: the Lord has delivered us and put to shame our enemies, and as a consequence we praise Him. In the Introit, we learn what exactly we will have been delivered from: our captivity (to modernism, to progressivism...), as well as the good in which we are established, the Lord’s peace. In short: from pleading to praising to peace. That is a miniature portrait of the life of prayer.
I like to think of Jairus’s daughter in the Gospel as a symbol of the Church and of the Nation. In either case, a resurrection seems impossible, and people laugh Jesus to scorn. He shuts out the faithless and performs a miracle for those who trust in Him.
In St. Mark’s account of the same miracle, Jesus tenderly addresses the daughter of the ruler as “little girl.” The painting I’ve included here brings out the gentleness of His power as He bends over to wake her up from death: “Taking her by the hand he said to her, Talitha cumi; which means, Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41).
We are like that little girl: to all appearances, traditional Catholicism is a tiny remnant, already written off as dead. Then I got to thinking about how often the Lord singles out “the little” in Sacred Scripture:
At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. (Mt. 11:25-26)
Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
The law of the Lord is unspotted, converting souls: the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones. (Ps. 18:8)
The Lord is the keeper of little ones: I was little and he delivered me. (Ps. 114:6)
O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires, And I will make thy bulwarks of jasper: and thy gates of graven stones, and all thy borders of desirable stones. (Is. 54:11-12)
The least shall become a thousand, and a little one a most strong nation: I, the Lord, will suddenly do this thing in its time. (Is. 60:22 )
Let us remember that the greatness of God is most gloriously revealed in the wonders He works in, among, and through the little ones. The life of Israel — tiny among the nations, yet never extinguished in spite of their efforts — demonstrates this truth; the life of Christ, born in Bethlehem and (seemingly) crushed on Calvary, demonstrates it even more; and the lives of the saints, from Paul, “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9) to Thérèse, “the Little Flower,” repeat it again and again — a refrain that God’s Providence never tires of singing. The ways of God are unfathomable, and our role in His plan requires faith as we walk in the darkness; but He has told us clearly — in the Bible, in the liturgy, in the saints — that He, as our Father, has foreseen all, and will bring forth good out of evil.