COMMENTARY

Monks and the New Missal

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Last year I had a memorable conversation with someone who doesn’t talk very much. Father Patrice Mahieu is a Benedictine monk.

He has been a professed choir monk of the great monastery of Solesmes in France for over thirty years. In the chapel every morning by 4:30 a.m., his day is punctuated with many hours of prayer, most often chanting the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the church.

While some may have been tempted to ask the good monk about the secret to the spiritual life or what sense of heaven his contemplation has given him, I asked him something far more mundane. I asked him if he ever gets bored.

Do all the prayers, all the chanting, all the liturgy ever get boring, repetitive, the same-old routine? With great humility, he responded, “No, actually never. The liturgy is unique every day, the seasons; the saints’ feast days…some new word is spoken by the Lord each day.”

What Father Patrice understood—and what he invited me to understand—is that the liturgy is where we meet God. There is literally nothing more important in the world.

As the English-speaking world is settling in to the new translation of the Roman Missal, as every parish from Greenville to Glasgow and San Francisco to Sydney is praying in language more faithful, solemn, and transcendent, it is worth asking how we understand the liturgy in the first place.

The Mass celebrated every Sunday—and indeed everyday—is the single most important thing in the world. It is not simply a chance to gather together but rather makes present the most significant event in the history of the world—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary. At Mass, we offer fitting worship to God. We proclaim His Word and are fed with the Bread of Life.

Since the Mass is so important, we want to get the details just right. In fact, while at Mass our participation is primarily about the interior prayer we offer, our external actions and our fidelity to doing them properly, demonstrate our love for the reality we celebrate. Just as the rules of baseball do not restrict play but instead make the game possible, the rubrics of the liturgy make our worship fitting, dignified, and solemn.

What most impressed me about Father. Patrice is that when I asked if he ever finds the monastery boring, his mind went first to the liturgy. He truly lives the liturgy; he exists to worship God. His life—his whole life—is dedicated to providing fitting, beautiful, solemn worship of God.

The work the monks do, the hospitality they provide to those on retreat, the books they write to edify our souls, are all secondary to the primary work—the opus dei—the one thing necessary which is the worship of God. As St. Benedict explains, “Nothing is to be preferred to the worship of God.”

It is worth asking if that is how we live as well. How much time do we spend in prayer preparing for the sacred liturgy? Do we consciously bring our needs and prayers to the liturgy, letting it become the central reality of our lives? Do we strive to be faithful to the liturgical rhythms in our daily lives, seeing the liturgy not as an obligation but a joy?

The new translation of the Roman Missal might be awkward at first; change is never easy. But when we try to celebrate the liturgy more faithfully, more solemnly, and more worthily, could there be anything more worthwhile in the world?

Living the liturgy, letting it shape us might not be easy, but, from what I hear, it will never get boring either. The new translation is a chance to focus more intently on the dignity of what we celebrate. Not bad. In fact, you might say, it is a mystery out of this world.

Deacon Ryan Connors is studying at the North American College in Rome. He is a member of St. Brendan Parish, East Providence.