Liturgical Character of Ignatian Lifestyle

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Ignatians aspire to be in the front ranks of the fighting lines for the salvation of souls. A highly active lifestyle in the midst of society will characterize their mission. But precisely because they aim to be in the front ranks of spiritual warfare and precisely because they will be surrounded by the clash and din of the world, they will seal their daily lifestyle with a vigorous thrust to holiness.

Holiness is life lived to extraordinary heights of virtue due to the transforming power of the supernatural life of sanctifying race pulsating in the foundations of the Christian’s soul, purifying, enlightening, invigorating him in thought and action.

Sanctifying grace enters the soul through the sacred liturgy, i. e., the entirety of the sacraments and the sacramentals of the Mystical Body of Christ with its dual and inextricably bonded purposes of the public official adoration of God by the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and the sanctification of the soul.

It is crucial for understanding the importance of the liturgy to be aware that it is not merely a set of external ceremonies but the reality of supernatural life and energy being applied to the soul for the sake of eternal salvation!

Hence, at the heart of the Ignatian’s day is his participation in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, mystical re-enactment of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary, and zenith of the sacred liturgy.

But accompanying him 24/7 is the pilgrim’s staff that enables him to climb the mountain of Calvary in order to stand enduringly beside his Crucified Lord: the Divinum Officium (the “divine duty” or literally the “divine office”, often referred to nowadays simply as the “breviary”, but more insightfully called traditionally the opus Dei or “work of God”.

The divinum officium, par excellence, since the first Christian centuries, has been the prayer of those Catholics who have committed themselves in body and soul to prolong Christ’s salvific mission.

Ignatians pray the version of the divinum officium which, although revised by Pope St. Pius X and afterwards touched up in minor details by Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, contains the essential structure of Catholic Tradition going back over 1,500 years to St. Benedict, with countless hymns and prayers of exquisite beauty dating from as early as the fourth century and with a structure that is intimately bonded with the liturgical cycle of the traditional Mass.

This was the liturgy that formed two thousand years of saints!

The Ignatian wants his spirit to move within the spirit of the sacred liturgy because this is the highway par excellence to union with the Most Holy Trinity, giving honor to God and working for the salvation of souls. What one author said of Blessed John Henry Newman, the Ignatian wishes to be able to apply to himself:

“The spirit of Newman moved within the spirit of the liturgy, the liturgy thought of in its most significant sense as the very rhythm of Christian existence, stirred and centred by the life of Christ. Newman absorbed the liturgical character of existence. He lived by the liturgy.” (Frank O’Malley, “The Thinker in the Church: The Spirit of Newman”, The Review of Politics, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1959): p. 6. )

By the liturgical character of Christian existence the Ignatian understands that all of his life as a Christian is intended for the adoration of God by his participation in the salvific events of Christ’s life (the sacred mysteries) within the Mystical Body of Christ. This participation occurs through his living out the divine life (sanctifying grace) present in his soul. This life grows in intensity and perfection through the sacraments but also through prayer. And most especially through the prayer of Christ’s Mystical Body as a living organism – Christ the Head with the living members of His Body who are joined to Him using the prayers that are the Mystical Body’s prayer as Mystical Body – the prayers used by Christ Himself and the prayers that the Church has sealed as her own. These are the prayers present preeminently in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Divine Office.

Since the liturgy, both in the Mass and in the Divine Office, is the memory of the salvific events of Christ’s life not merely as a human exercise in recalling past events but as a becoming contemporary of Christ – an entering into union with Him – it is transforming. Every event commemorated touches the soul with the graces specific to that event. Just as the seasons result from the yearly orbit of Earth around the Sun and the tilt of the planet’s rotational axis, so the liturgical seasons result from their orbit around Christ’s existence as Incarnate God. Occurring at set times annually, like the seasons they mark the rhythm of life in the soul.

But not only annually but also daily. As the Sun is to the Earth, so Christ is to the soul. As the Earth completes its daily rotation with respect to the Sun, so the Christian soul praying the Divinum Officium rhythms his daily existence mystically by participating in the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Thus his entire life is “stirred and centred by the life of Christ” (Newman).

And since the life of Christ spans time and eternity, the liturgy marks the Ignatian with a Christ-centred sense of both. He lives like a man relentlessly heading forward towards the Eternal; his mind is anchored to the ultimate truths that make him live at the deepest level of time. Thus, his heart is steadfast amid the storms of life and he is capable of anchoring the hearts of his spiritual sons and daughters.

To pray the Mass and the breviary is truly to make the prayer par excellence. For it is the prayer not of the individual as an individual but of the individual praying in, with, and through the Mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Church.

The purpose of this prayer is to do the “work of God” revealed to man in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ: to strive to bring about in self and in mankind honor for God and the salvation of souls. But because the prayers of the Mass and the divinum officium have been sealed as the prayers that the Mystical Body of Christ makes its own, they have an unsurpassable power.

This power initiates the praying individual into the inner realms of the sanctuary of the divine because praying it is not merely an action of man but the action of God. “It shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11).  It achieves this firstly because it reveals to us God’s purposes and plans for our existence: “Surely the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret [mystery] to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Liturgical prayer is the action of the divine not merely because it has been stamped as the official prayer of the Church but because in it one prays with the words of God Himself. For the bulk of the prayers therein are the Psalms, the very prayers that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself prayed during his life on earth.

The more one plunges into the depths of the “work of God”, day by day, the more it transforms heart and mind. New light dawns for the mind, new strength for the heart, new energies for the will because gradually, almost imperceptibly but ceaselessly, one’s heart is ignited to love by the heroic Savior with whose thoughts, sentiments, and ideals one bonds intimately through the liturgical words, symbols and rituals.

Thus, the Ignatian begins to be capable of saying “With Christ I hang upon the cross, and yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me. True, I am living, here and now, this mortal life; but my real life is the faith I have in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)