Sunday, June 22, 2008

Angelic Life

Yesterday was of course the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, who has unfortunately acquired a bad image because of countless overpious - indeed saccharine-sweet - images of him as a pale half-dead creature rolling his eyes heavenwards while pawing a skull. (This is of course why bad art is bad: it so misrepresents the truth of sanctity as to make it a mockery in the eyes of worldings.)

But rather consider God, Who loads whomsoever He chooses with heavenly gifts and graces, and thus blessed the young Aloysius in a manner entirely supernatural, raised above every merely human possibility:

Cœléstium donórum distribútor, Deus, qui in angélico júvene Aloísio miram vitae innocéntiam pari cum pœniténtia sociásti: ejus méritis et précibus concéede; ut, innocéntem non secúti, pœniténtem imitémur. Per...

(O God, the dispenser of heavenly gifts, Who in the angelic youth Aloysius didst combine wonderful innocence of life with penance, grant by his merits and prayers that we, who have not followed him in innocence, may imitate his penance. Through..)

The real Aloysius did indeed unite innocence and penitence, as this his collect states, and very aptly the prayer goes on to beg God grant us sinners penitence, since we have not a like innocence. His life is called angelic, or as the Easterners say isangelic, equal to the angels [a monk being called isangelos], alluding to St Luke xx, 36 (itself parallel to the Gospel of the Mass):

Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

For of course the saints, whether still running the race or having already finished their course, are called and shall truly be the children of God, delivered by Him from the terror of that death which is eternal, by reason of being children of the Resurrection, co-heirs of the Risen Victor, Christ.

However, the texts of his Mass say much more of interest about him and about why Mother Church proposes him for our peculiar veneration and model on his day.

The Introit therefore appointed for St Aloysius' Mass is taken from Psalms 8 and 148; of course, the former is principally applied not merely to the grandeur of man, as the pinnacle of material creation, being ensouled, and made in the divine image and likeness, little lower than the pure spirits called angels, but above all to the glory of the Incarnate Son of God, our Jesus and Christ, Who (as Hebrews relates) took not to Himself angelic nature, but descent from Abraham, and thus superabundantly graced mankind; for the first Adam, a man of the earth, earthy, was in God's most secret plan made in the image and likeness of the last Adam, God enfleshed, come down from heaven, heavenly. By reason of the saving action of Christ, Aloysius, and indeed all faithful Christians, can be called little less than angels, crowned - here in promise, one day in heaven in reality - with glory and honour immarcescible, invited to sit with Our Lord on His Father's throne. There in our heavenly homeland with the angelic hosts, therefore in a manner equal to them, we shall sing the praise of the Trinity evermore:

Thou hast made him a little less than the angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8: 6)
Ps. Praise ye the Lord, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts. (Ps. 148, 2)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

This is the saint who, as his Matins Lessons have told, was baptized almost before he was born such was the concern that he might die, and who might fairly be claimed a citizen of heaven (in potentia) before he was a citizen of earth. Therefore was chosen for him this Gradual (Psalm 70: 5, 6):

My hope, O Lord, from my youth: by Thee have I been confirmed from the womb; from my mother’s womb Thou art my protector.

He ever kept intact his baptismal innocence, and in the midst of the vanities of noble and imperial courts he remained steadfast in righteousness; so the verse (Ps 40: 13) of the same Gradual:

V/. But Thou hast upheld me by reason of my innocence, and hast established me in Thy sight forever.

By interior inspiration, at but nine years old he vowed his virginity at the altar of the Most Blessed Virgin. He abandoned his title and rich inheritance to enter the Jesuits, which was a most astonishing thing then, and needs to be further reflected on now: it is no little thing to give up what family and the world promises, all to enter upon a strict life, a life in which one is under obedience, an obedience of the strictest type, the Jesuit, only bearable and grace-filled because introduced by St Ignatius Loyola, else it were a very hell!

Hence the passage appointed for his Epistle from the "Book of Wisdom" as the Liturgy rightly names it, Ecclesiasticus xxxi, 8-11:

Blessed is the man found without blemish, and that hath not gone after gold, nor put his trust in money nor in treasures. Who is he, and we will praise him? For he hath done wonderful things in his life. Who hath been tried thereby, and made perfect, he shall have glory everlasting: he that could have transgressed and hath not transgressed, and could do evil things, and hath not done them: therefore are his goods established in the Lord.

Consider furthermore St Matthew xxii, 29-40, the Gospel passage chosen:

At that time, Jesus answering, said to the Sadducees: "You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married: but shall be as angels of God in heaven. And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God, saying to you: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." And the multitudes hearing it were in admiration of His doctrine. But the Pharisees, hearing that He had silenced the Sadducees, came together: and one of them, a doctor of the law, asked Him, tempting Him: Master, which is the great commandment of the law? Jesus said to him:"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Of these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets."

He loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul and might - as exemplified in the first place by his wonderful love of meditation and contemplation, in his entire commitment to ridding himself of all distractions therein so as to focus on the cynosure of his mind's eye, God alone. He is said to have once passed eight successive hours in such wrapt prayer: and at their end, begged of his superior the favour of another quarter hour!

But he was not a spiritual glutton, neglecting neighbour out of a pretended love of God: he died, after all, of the plague while indefatigably ministering to its victims.

No, he observed the two great commandments with entire devotion.

Having embraced religious life as a foretaste of heaven, where all shall be as angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but serving and worshipping the Lord alone, he thereby definitively abandoned the lawful goods he could have had - earthly wedlock, possessions, his own will - as a Christian, so as to commit himself to God to the greatest degree possible in this life, making of himself, his soul and body, a living sacrifice acceptable to the Lord, not conformed to this passing world, but recreated in the newness of Christ (cf. Rom. xii, 1-2), a whole burnt-offering, a holocaust to the Lord (cf. Aquinas).

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God. (St Paul to the Romans xii, 1- 2)

Having died of the plague at such a young age, in the eyes of a fallen world his life might appear to have been wasted; but as the ancients said, He whom the gods love, dies young. Aloysius was accepted by God not merely to dwell in His courts on earth, in holy religion, but to abide in the royal court of Christ in heaven forever:

Alleluia, Alleluia. V/. Blessed is he whom Thou hast chosen, and taken to Thee: he shall dwell in Thy courts. (Ps. 64, 5) Alleluia.

And again, his gracefilled life was rewarded by God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift:

Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart. (Ps 23: 3-4)

This is the text of the Offertory anthem, connecting the fore-Mass with the Mass of the Faithful; it is polyvalent in signification, being interpreted not only of our saint's religious life and triumphant death (whereby he passed to heaven, the mountain of the Lord - and note, Aloysius had considered joining the Discalced Carmelites, devoted as they are to ascending spiritually the Mount of God), but of our access to the Most Holy Mysteries.

As is fitting, after the dispositive and didactic portion of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Catechumens, next comes the consummation of the Mysteries, their oblation and communication to men: and the secret, communion and postcommunion all very appropriately relate these unspeakable graces to St Aloysius, who was so rightly devoted to disposing his heart to the Holy Eucharist by avid preparation, and strove to fitly honour such a blessing by heartfelt thanksgiving:

Cœlésti convívio fac nos, Dómine, nuptiáli veste indutos accúmbere: quam beáti Aloísii pia praeparátio, et juges lácrymae inaestimabílibus ornábant margarítis. Per...

(Make us, O Lord, to come to the heavenly banquet clothed in the wedding-garment which the pious preparation and constant tears of blessed Aloysius adorned with priceless pearls. Through...)

Now, if as the Communion (Psalm 77: 24, 25) states -

He gave them the bread of Heaven: man ate the bread of angels.

- then it is most appropriate to state that we are called to the angelic or isangelic life, for the right property of the "bread of angels" is to nourish angels or those called to live as such; and for this alway to give thanks:

Angelórum esca nutrítos, angélicis étiam. Dómine, da móribus vívere: et ejus, quem hódie cólimus, exémplo, in gratiárum semper actióne manére. Per...

(Grant, Lord, those fed with the food of angels, to live in angelic manner: and by his example, whom today we celebrate, to remain always in thanksgiving. Through...)

It was good to serve Mass yesterday, at 9 am on Saturday morning, and to attend the priest, to attend to the Divine Sacrifice, and to attend to the instruction and exhortation provided in the Sacred Liturgy.

A happy (belated) feast day to the parishioners of St Aloysius, Caulfield, over in the great Archdiocese of Melbourne, most populous see of Oceania! I now see how propitious it was that my friend Justin left for Melbourne yesterday for reasons of work, seeing as he will be joining the congregation there, and, I hear, the choir.

No comments: