LITURGY AND PRAYER THERE IS NO SPLIT
BY FR. JOHN DALRYMPLE
• It is not by turning aside to the peace and quiet of the side chapel, or by deliberately avoiding the crush of the public masses that you .will grow and develop in your life of prayer. ANYONE who keeps his eyes and ears open in the Church today must be aware of two main developments in the realm of spirituality
In the first place there is the growing interest in the liturgy. This has now grown to considerable proportions and has become a strong, not to say strident, voice in the journals of today.
In the second place there is the increasing interest in contemplative prayer. This development is by its very nature more hidden and silent, but it too is a noticeable voice in Catholic publishing since the war.
These are twin developments and both are in the regions of the spiritual life. Now, the trouble with two developments which are close together is that sooner or later people are bound to start contrasting them, and then comes the terrible moment when we not only contrast butt oppose.
It only needs a few books and articles on prayer before some snob liturgist gets up and says that contemplative prayer is not needed nowadays, has been superseded by the liturgy, and belongs to a past age when individualism was rife. And then he is answered by a snob contemplative who says condescendingly that liturgy is all right for beginners who need the "aids" of community prayer and ceremonial, whereas advanced souls can dispense with such former props and must pray silently and by themselves if they are to be true to their vocation,
I am writing this article because I think that this sort of mental lining up of liturgy and prayer one against the other is a tendency In U s all and potentially very dangerous. It would be disastrous if such an impression ever became widespread -disastrous for both liturgy and prayer. Let us begin by straightaway admitting that there is a surface tension between Liturgy and Contempletion. Liturgy is the public prayer of the Church, the public prayer of the parish.
But take a look at the public prayer of any parish you know. What an drena for prayer! Babies yelling, pass-keepers bustling, latecomers arriving, everybody coeghing and dropping missals and rosaries noisily — thie is the inevi• table setting for the liturgy of the parish.
It makes no difference whether the parish mass be a "liturgical" one or not, the fact of the matter is that psychologically it is the worst possible place for prayer and the spirit of quiet absorption in God. Our "contemplative" is right. There is a tension and seeming contradiction between the parish liturgy and contemplation.
The short term solution to this opposition is, I think, easy to arrive at. It is the answer that priests give inside and outside the confessional to people who are genuinely worried at the noise and distraction of the parish mass (as
opposed to, say. a private mass in midweek). It goes like this, God does not want us necessarily to experience peace and quiet at the weekly gathering of the parish round the altar, Much better that we should suffer and be distracted than retire into a side chapel for a private liturgy of our own apart from the parish to which we belong. Communal life is meant to be noisy and full of distractions. Calvary, too, was trying and distracting. If you experience difficulty in "praying" at mass do not worry or be surprised. Just join in and suffer and be purified by it and let that be your prayer. Like it and lump it, in fact, for the sake of the Mystical Body.
But, of course, that is only a short term answer and does not really get to the bottom of the matter. It is no answer to the problem of tension between Liturgy and Contemplation to tell people just to put up with it. They will quite naturally want to know why there should be tension there at all since both liturgy and contemplative prayer arc ways to God for all.
I think this can only be answered by shifting the argument away from the plane of psychological conditions on to the plane of fact and reality. It is true that psychologically liturgy and contemplation are poles apart. One is public and communal and very human. The other is private and solitary and near to divine.
But on the plane of reality they are very similar, for both of them are contact with a Presence.
There is no need surely to stress the fact that contemplation is contact with the presence of God. Kneeling there in the silent absorption of prayer one contacts God dimly and shapelessly and beyond
the possibility of definition, by faith not by sight, it is true.
Nevertheless, if our prayer is anything it is living contact with Christ the Saviour. He is the Reality we face in prayer. All else drops away.
But if private prayer is contact with Christ, so even more is the liturgy. There at mass (and in the sacraments too) we encounter the presence of Christ, of Christ saving, We are absorbed into the saving process of God in Christ. The mysteries bring us to the person and action of the Risen Christ. We meet him here and now saving, here and now acting for us, present before us, our Saviour. What could be more contemplative than that?
Of course it doesn't look like that. Looking around its at Mass we see only our rather unattractive neighbours, only a priest far away at the end of the church reciting prayers in Latin. The liturgical movement is designed to make the liturgy look more like what it is. and thank God for it, because we have been content with a shabby and second best worship for too long. But even when, please God, the liturgy has become more visibly what it really is, we must not expect to see or experience this reality of the saving presence of Christ.
Always here below the liturgy will he an exercise of faith. And that is precisely why it is one and the same operation as contenaplation. In both we stand before God in faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
MEETING GROUND And that brings me to my last point. The meeting ground between liturgy and contemplation, the only link between them that makes sense, is Jesus Christ. If you leave out the person of Christ from yonr considerations on liturgy and prayer you arc pretty certain to go astray as so many non Christian writers have gone astray in talking about Christian prayer. They have failed to see that prayer is not the psychological state that accompanies our encounter with God in Christ but the encounter itself.
If you stick to the fact that prayer is meeting with God you cannot go wrong. You will see then that in the liturgy Christians find themselves at the very Sources of the spiritual life for they are contacting God at the centre point of his dealings with us, the redemption of the human race by Christ.
So far from turning away from the noise and bustle of the parish mass in the interests of spirituality we should run to it thirsting, for there in the middle of the noisy throng, babies. passkeepers, missaldroppers and all, is Jesus Christ saving.
It is not by turning aside to the peace and quiet of the side chapel, or by deliberately avoiding the crush of the public masses that you will grow and develop in your life of prayer. There is more likelihood that if you do that you develop an arid spirit of egoism and grow gradUally away from Christ. Much better to push into the heart of the crowd and take your place in the parish pews. There in the middle of it all on Sundays you find Christ.
Wasn't it the Pope of the liturgy whose motto was insiourare amnia in Chri.kto? And isn't he also a twentieth century model of a man of prayer.