The Liturgical Year

 Solesmes Abbey, Sablé-sur-Sarthe, France

The Liturgical Year
L'Année liturgique, (publ. 1841), Abbot Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B, tr. Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., Vol. 1, Advent (Newman Pr., Westminster, Md, 1952)


[1] OF all the seasons of the liturgical year Eastertide is by far the  richest in mystery. We might even say that Easter is the summit of  the Mystery of the sacred Liturgy. The Christian who is happy  enough to enter, with his whole mind and heart, into the knowledge  and love of the Paschal Mystery, has reached the very centre of  the supernatural life. Hence it is that the Church uses every  effort in order to effect this: what she has hitherto done was all  intended as a preparation for Easter. The holy longings of Advent,  the sweet joys of Christmas, the severe truths of Septuagesima,  the contrition and penance of Lent, the heartrending sight of the  Passion-all were given us as preliminaries, as paths, to the  sublime and glorious Pasch, which is now ours.

[2] AND that we might be convinced of the supreme importance of this  solemnity, God willed that the Christian Easter and Pentecost  should be prepared by those of the Jewish Law-a thousand five  hundred years of typical beauty prefigured the reality: and that  reality is ours!

[3] DURING these days, then, we have brought before us the two great  manifestations of God’s goodness towards mankind-the Pasch of  Israel, and the Christian Pasch, the Pentecost of Sinai, and the  Pentecost of the Church. We shall have occasion to show how the  ancient figures were fulfilled in the realities of the new Easter  and Pentecost, and how the twilight of the Mosaic Law made way for  the full daylight of the Gospel; but we cannot resist the feeling  of holy reverence, at the bare thought that the solemnities we  have now to celebrate are more than three thousand years old, and  that they are to be renewed every year from this till the voice of  the angel shall be heard proclaiming: ‘Time shall be no more!’(Rev.10:6)  The gates of eternity will then be thrown open.

[4] ETERNITY in heaven is the true Pasch: hence, our Pasch here on  earth is the feast of feasts, the solemnity of solemnities. The  human race was dead; it was the victim of that sentence, whereby  it was condemned to lie mere dust in the tomb; the gates of life  were shut against it. But see! the Son of God rises from his grave  and takes possession of eternal life. Nor is he the only one that  is to die no more, for, as the Apostle teaches us, ‘He is the  first-born from the dead.’(Col. 1:18) The Church would, therefore, have us  consider ourselves as having already risen with our Jesus, and as  having already taken possession of eternal life. The holy Fathers  bid us look on these fifty days of Easter as the image of our  eternal happiness. They are days devoted exclusively to joy; every  sort of sadness is forbidden; and the Church cannot speak to her  divine Spouse without joining to her words that glorious cry of  heaven, the Alleluia, wherewith, as the holy Liturgy says, (Pontif.Rom. In Dedicat. Eccles.) the  streets and squares of the heavenly Jerusalem resound without  ceasing. We have been forbidden the use of this joyous word during  the past nine weeks; it behoved us to die with Christ-but now that  we have risen together with him from the tomb, and that we are  resolved to die no more that death which kills the soul and caused  our Redeemer to die on the cross, we have a right to our Alleluia.

[5] THE providence of God, who has established harmony between the  visible world and the supernatural work of grace, willed that the  Resurrection of our Lord should take place at that particular  season of the year when even Nature herself seems to rise from the  grave. The meadows give forth their verdure, the trees resume  their foliage, the birds fill the air with their songs, and the  sun, the type of our triumphant Jesus, pours out his floods of  light on our earth made new by lovely spring. At Christmas the sun  had little power, and his stay with us was short; it harmonized  with the humble birth of our Emmanuel, who came among us in the  midst of night, and shrouded in swaddling clothes, but now he is  ‘as a giant that runs his way, and there is no one that can hide  himself from his heat.’(Ps. 18:6, 7) Speaking, in the Canticle, to the  faithful soul, and inviting her to take her part in this new life  which he is now imparting to every creature, our Lord himself  says: ‘Arise, my dove, and come! Winter is now past, the rain is  over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land. The voice of  the turtle is heard. The fig-tree hath put forth her green figs.  The vines, in flower, yield their sweet smell. Arise thou, and  come!’(Song 10:13)

[6] IN the preceding chapter we explained why our Saviour chose the  Sunday for his Resurrection, whereby he conquered death and  proclaimed life to the world. It was on this favoured day of the  week that he had, four thousand years previously, created the  light, by selecting it now for the commencement of the new life  which he graciously imparts to man, he would show us that Easter  is the renewal of the entire creation. Not only is the anniversary  of his glorious Resurrection to be, henceforward, the greatest of  days, but every Sunday throughout the year is to be a sort of  Easter, a holy and sacred day. The Synagogue, by God’s command,  kept holy the Saturday or the Sabbath in honour of God’s resting  after the six days of the creation; but the Church, the Spouse, is  commanded to honour the work of her Lord. She allows the Saturday  to pass-it is the day on which her Jesus rested in the sepulchre:  but, now-that she is illumined with the brightness of the  Resurrection, she devotes to the contemplation of his work the  first day of the week; it is the day of light, for on it he called  forth material light (which was the first manifestation of life  upon chaos), and on the same, he that is the ‘Brightness of the  Father,’(Heb. 1:3) and ‘the Light of the world,’(Jn 7:12) rose from the darkness of  the tomb.

[7] LET, then, the week with its Sabbath pass by; what we Christians  want is the eighth day, the day that is beyond the measure of  time, the day of eternity, the day whose light is not intermittent  or partial, but endless and unlimited. Thus speak the holy  Fathers, when explaining the substitution of the Sunday for the  Saturday. It was, indeed, right that man should keep, as the day  of his weekly and spiritual repose, that on which the Creator of  the visible world had taken his divine rest; but it was a  commemoration of the material creation only. The Eternal Word  comes down in the world that he has created; he comes with the  rays of his divinity clouded beneath the humble veil of our flesh;  he comes to fulfil the figures of the first Covenant. Before  abrogating the Sabbath, he would observe it as he did every tittle  of the Law; he would spend it as the day of rest, after the work  of his Passion, in the silence of the sepulchre: but, early on the  eighth day, he rises to life, and the life is one of glory. ‘Let  us,’ says the learned and pious Abbot Rupert, ‘leave the Jews to  enjoy the ancient Sabbath, which is a memorial of the visible  creation. They know not how to love or desire or merit aught but  earthly things.... They would not recognize this world’s creator  as their king, because he said: “Blessed are the poor!” and “Woe  to the rich!” But our Sabbath has been transferred from the  seventh to the eighth day, and the eighth is the first. And  rightly was the seventh changed into the eighth, because we  Christians put our joy in a better work than the creation of the  world.... Let the lovers of the world keep a Sabbath for its  creation: but our joy is in the salvation of the world, for our  life, yea and our rest, is hidden with Christ in God.’(De Div.Off., bk.7 c.19)

[8] THE mystery of the seventh followed by an eighth day, as the holy  one, is again brought before us by the number of weeks which form  Eastertide. These weeks are seven; they form a week of weeks, and  their morrow is again a Sunday, the glorious feast of Pentecost.  These mysterious numbers-which God himself fixed when he  instituted the first Pentecost after the first Pasch-were adopted  by the Apostles when they regulated the Christian Easter, as we  learn from St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Isidore, Amalarius, Rabanus  Maurus and from all the ancient interpreters of the mysteries of  the holy Liturgy. ‘If we multiply seven by seven’ says St. Hilary,  ‘we shall find that this holy season is truly the Sabbath of  sabbaths, but what completes it and raises it to the plenitude of  the Gospel, is the eighth day which follows, eighth and first both  together in itself. The Apostles have given so sacred an  institution to these seven weeks that, during them, no one should  kneel, or mar by fasting the spiritual joy of this long feast. The  same institution has been extended to each Sunday; for this day  which follows the Saturday has become, by the application of the  progress of the Gospel the completion of the Saturday, and the day  of feast and joy.’(Prologus in Psalmos)

[9] THUS, then, the whole season of Easter is marked with the mystery  expressed by each Sunday of the year. Sunday is to us the great  day of our week, because beautified with the splendour of our  Lord’s Resurrection of which the creation of material light was  but a type. We have already said that this institution was  prefigured in the Old Law, although the Jewish people were not in  any way aware of it. Their Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day  after the Pasch; it was the morrow of the seven weeks. Another  figure of our Eastertide was the year of Jubilee, which God bade  Moses prescribe to his people. Each fiftieth year the houses and  lands that had been alienated during the preceding -forty-nine  returned to their original owners; and those Israelites who had  been compelled by poverty to sell themselves as slaves recovered  their liberty. This year, which was properly called the sabbatical  year, was the sequel of the preceding seven weeks of years, and  was thus the image of our eighth day, whereon the Son of Mary, by  his Resurrection, redeemed us from the slavery of the tomb, and  restored us to the inheritance of our immortality.

[10] THE rites peculiar to Eastertide, in the present discipline of the  Church, are two: the unceasing repetition of the Alleluia, of  which we have already spoken, and the colour of the vestments used  for its two great solemnities, white for the first and red for the  second. White is appropriate to the Resurrection: it is the  mystery of eternal light, which knows neither spot nor shadow; it  is the mystery that produces in a faithful soul the sentiment of  purity and joy. Pentecost, which gives us the Holy Spirit, the  ‘consuming Fire,’(Heb. xii 29) is symbolized by the red vestments, which  express the mystery of the divine Paraclete coming down in the  form of fiery tongues upon them that were assembled in the  Cenacle. With regard to the ancient usage of not kneeling during  Paschal Time, we have already said that there is a mere vestige of  it now left in the Latin Liturgy.

[11] THE feasts of the saints, which were interrupted during Holy Week,  are likewise excluded from the first eight days of Eastertide; but  when these are ended, we shall have them in rich abundance, as a  bright constellation of stars round the divine Sun of Justice, our  Jesus. They will accompany us in our celebration of his admirable  Ascension; but such is the grandeur of the mystery of Pentecost,  that from the eve of that day they will be again interrupted until  the expiration of Paschal Time.

[12] THE rites of the primitive Church with reference to the Neophytes,  who were regenerated by baptism on the night of Easter, are  extremely interesting and instructive. But as they are peculiar to  the two octaves of Easter and Pentecost, we will explain them when  they are brought before us by the Liturgy of those days.

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