Tuesday, 22 November 2016

An Irreversable Turn - An Archbishop's exhortation for Ad orientem

Below is my unofficial translation of His Excellency Archbishop Pascal N’Koué's, Metropolitan Archbishop of Parakou, Benin, Pastoral Letter for Advent 2016, instructing his Priests to henceforth pray the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass 'ad orientem', to the east, facing the Lord in the Tabernacle. Statistics from 2014, stated that the Archdiocese of Parakou had 19 parishes, 4 missions, 68 priests (48 diocesan, 20 religious), 221 lay religious (70 brothers, 151 sisters), 14 seminarians (2014). As of 2016, the number of seminarians is 80, where the teaching and passing of Latin is compulsory, and since Summorum Pontificum, all seminarians learn the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and attend a Solemn High Mass, once a week. As His Excellency N’Koué states in his letter below, the Archdiocese is growing incredibly. When he was installed in 2011 the Catholic population of the territory was 3%, as of 2016 Catholics make up 20% of the population. Many have pointed to the traditional choices he has made to account for this growth; including in Pastoral letter for the Year of Consecrated Life, he instructed all his secular priests to follow the example of their brothers in consecrated life, and to where a cassock. In a talk he gave in 2013, he praised the Extraordinary Form as the true source of new evangelisation that his Archdiocese was experiencing. He has also invited a group of Benedictine nuns from the Abbaye Notre Dame de Fidélité, to form a community dedicated to the Extraordinary Form. In Benin, like many countries in the region including the largest, Nigeria, Communion is disturbed only on the tongue, with faithful kneeling to receive Our Blessed Lord.
His Excellency Pascal N’Koué, Metropolitan Archbishop of Parakou, Benin

Below is a translation of the latest Pastoral Letter by this exemplary Bishop, a true pastor of souls. May Bless God him, and the people of Parakou! [Emphasis are from the Archbishop]


    Blessed be the Lord for this beautiful and growing diocese. Schools oversubscribed, chapels being built, new presbyteries rising, seminarians increasing, and our Shrines being frequented. Everything moves, but everything can collapse if we forget the essential: our life of intimacy with the Lord. This year's pastoral theme will be "Inner Prayer and Commitment". Let us say at once that the first commitment for every Christian is prayer. It is to be distinguished from the unconscious recitation of formulas. Everything is learned. One learns to become a blacksmith by forging. We learn to pray by praying.

    Prayer is an experience of love. It is a gift from God who accepts Himself in faith. When one prays one says to himself: God is present, invisible. It is present outside me and within me. I make myself available to listen to him, talk to him and to act. But first listen to it. For it is the Word that saves. Each one prays as he lives, with his defects and his preoccupations, his miseries and his assets, according to his age, his failures and his hopes. Prayer, believe me, is the hardest job. The breviary, it is still called "office", of the Latin word "officium" which means compulsory service. It is a hard job, especially when you have to pray often and slowly. But this is the most necessary job. To pray is to love. And without love one lives unhappy. When one is with a friend, what joy, what happiness! Time no longer counts. Indeed, "free and unhurried time is dedicated only to the things and people we love, and here we have to love God who wanted to speak to us. The time necessary, with the attitude of the disciple: "Speak Lord, your servant listens," Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium No. 146.

Yet prayer is not self-evident. It's not automatic like a thunderbolt. It comes slowly like the ripening of a coconut. It is first of all a question of the need for man, then of the will and the relationship between father and son. God is our father. Without him, or away from him, we wither and die. Although generous, this Father hears us when he wants and as he wants. And it's always for our good. Christian prayer presupposes faith. Without it, it is impossible to pray and especially to persevere. Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does everything to turn man away from prayer (CCC 2725). We understand the counsel of St. Paul: "Pull your energy into The Lord ... Put on the fighting equipment that God gives you, in order to stand against the maneuvers of the devil, for we are not fighting against men, but against the invisible forces, the powers of darkness that dominate the world, Evil spirits that are above us "(Ephesians 6:14). This equipment is truth, justice, peace, faith and so on. It is demanding.
Yes, the Christian life is not a well padded armchair, of any rest, made for the spineless. It's actually a fight. Let's not be smart. The inner prayer can not be a sleeping pill, an opium, which puts us to sleep. A Christian shattered and trembling, that is to say cozy is a contradiction. No, inner prayer is a force; It is the secret of great men and dynamic Christian communities. It is the secret of the monks, the saints, the martyrs, the secret of the efficacy of every apostolate. It is the divine power that overcomes the visible and invisible evil forces. There are demons that expel themselves only force of prayer and fasting, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:29).
From the first hour of our day, let us turn, body and spirit, to the Lord. Thirty minutes of inner silence, of meditation, of prayer, of heart to heart with the One able to transform our soiled consciences, our hearts of stone into heart of flesh. Thirty minutes of praise and no complaints, thirty minutes of gratitude before formulating our requests. Then peace, unity, love will return to our homes. The first moments of silence destabilize us. We have to hold on. Why ? Because
- Prayer seems to be a waste of time. Now time is money. For the good management of time man excludes prayer. This is a big mistake. Deeds, paid work, commerce, the market: it produces something. But prayer? We're here and we're not doing anything else. Not true.
- As soon as one begins to pray one is assailed by multiple distractions: one scratches, one opens one book, one is dissatisfied, one takes his cell phone. We dream. We gesticulate. We can not be stable.
- The laziness of prayer can invade us. Praying at the same hour requires some discipline. And then we often feel nothing for God, and we say to ourselves: what is the good? One settles in the negligence of the heart: it is the dryness, the Acedia, the demon of noon.
- Discouragement is waiting for us because our prayers of requests are not answered. The Islamists kill the Christians, the poor plunge into misery. Worse, the miseries, the injustices, the problems of our families, our communities and this world are not solved. Why continue?
- Finally, the invisible God is silent. It is the height ! The great saints experience the terrible silence of God: the dark night. Even Jesus had grievous troubles at this level during his agony: "Let this chalice pass away from me." God is silent. Our human desire, uneasy and impatient, does not always coincide with the divine will. Hence this cry on the cross: "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?" The great temptation is to think that God is indifferent to our sufferings. Doubt can settle in us and even push us to seek quick solutions everywhere, except where God is present: our heart. Now it is impossible to meet the Lord outside silence, a true remedy for all our sounds.

To pray well one needs silence outside, but above all interiorly. This silence tells us to be attentive to God in a loving way. The discovery of the inner God is the treasure of treasures. God is not in the uniforms of festivals, in external decorations, in artificial flowers, garlands in fabrics, in fanciful voices, in the noise of tam-tams, in frenzied dances, but in the sanctuary of the soul. There is hidden the growth of our supernatural life. God is silent. Satan is a noise, a false noise, an empty barrel. The taste for prayer and silent prayer is not acquired by reasoning, but by learning to flow the inner movement of our soul into that of the Church. "But when you pray, withdraw into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is present in secret: your Father sees what you do in secret: he will reward you" (Mt 6: 6).

    To withdraw to the bottom of your house is nothing but to seek God with the heart. We address our Father or more exactly we feel in the arms of our Father from heaven. He looks at us tenderly. He waits to be opened to our hearts. Individual prayer is complemented by liturgical prayer, or communal prayer. A well-celebrated liturgy brings us closer to God: "Our songs do not add anything to what You are, but they bring us closer to You" (Preface of thanksgiving). "All this lyricism in the liturgy, all these prayers, all these ceremonies, all these songs and hymns with so varied melodies, the Church chose them and put them in place to raise us to the divine level, to suggest to us the greatness Of God, to give us as a foretaste of the joy of heaven."
This year, we will actively participate in liturgical or communal prayer to irrigate and enrich personal prayer: celebration of the word, Eucharistic adoration, rosary, novena, breviary, pilgrimage, etc. We will avoid making it opportunities for collective wasted opportunity.
-We will learn to pray with the Bible. There are many examples of men of prayer. Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Ester, Judith, Jesus, the apostles, the saints, etc. One can distinguish in the Bible prayer of praise, of action, of grace, of supplication, prayer in trials. These are models for us.
- We will pray slowly and quietly. We will pronounce words by fixing our attention to the meaning of the sentence. When you read it, you taste what you read. God enters you.
- We will try to promote African art and certain African gestures to enrich piety or popular religiosity. The sacred dance must always be majestic. It is translated into attitudes, contained acclamations and slight swings of the body. One thing is the joy of the hearts, another thing is the vociferation, the frenzy and the discharge. The rhythm of the tam-tam must not be wild. Liturgical joy never bursts forth. Nowhere does the Holy Bible present us with an agitated and excited Jesus. Christ's passion is neither theater nor comedy. Let us give ourselves examples of the dignity of Christ when we celebrate. He is the universal mediator between divinity and humanity. Let us not be victims of sects that evacuate silence to bathe in worldliness, spectacles, superficialities, continuous improvisations. The holy sacrifice of Christ is not a diverse fact. It is unique in the world. It leads us to the real Presence that drives us to evangelization. The year of inner prayer will help us to discover the God who has only one concern: the happiness of man through perfection: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

    According to St. Francis de Sales, there are some who place perfection in austerities (hard sacrifices), others in prayer, others in the frequent reception of the sacraments, and finally in alms ... "They are wrong. Perfection consists in a great love for God." But this can not be achieved without renunciation and without detachment. See the tax-collector Matthew. He made a farewell dinner inviting all his friends to discover the Messiah, his new guide. He will forever abandon his financial security, his juicy job and the powerful network of tax collectors to follow a poor man from the village of Nazareth who did not even have a place to rest his head. Jesus was like a "homeless". Love is crazy.

    What will we give up this year for Christ? Among other things, the Masses said face to face, better to taste God in silence. The choirs will gradually eliminate the batteries that make too much noise, "for singing well is praying twice". The monasteries will be visited. Some gestures will be made: the Confiteor [striking the breast], the Angelus [genuflection], the Credo [profound bow], the Gloria [bowing the head]. A curtsey will be made when passing before a holy place, a calvary, a statue of the Virgin or Saint Joseph. We will make a genuflection before receiving Communion, except those who are sick. The priests will learn to celebrate Mass using the Roman Canon. We will continue to say prayer for vocations after Mass. But the great sign that will accompany us all the year will be "mass oriented" ad orientem, a true break for a new spiritual beginning, and this from the first Sunday of Advent, in all communities. Card. R. SARAH (Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). His appeal is addressed to all but especially to priests
    "I want to appeal to all priests. Maybe you read my article in L'Osservatore Romano a year ago (June 12, 2015), or my interview with Famille chrétienne in May of this year. Each time I said that it is of prime importance to return as quickly as possible to a common orientation of the priests and the faithful, turned together in the same direction - towards the east or at least towards the apse - To the Lord who comes, in all the parts of the Rite where the Lord is addressed. This practice is permitted by the present liturgical rules. This is perfectly legitimate in the new rite (of Paul VI). Indeed, I believe that a crucial step is to ensure that the Lord is at the centre of our celebrations.
    Therefore, dear brothers in the priesthood, I ask you humbly and fraternally to implement this practice wherever possible, with the necessary prudence and pedagogy, but also with the assurance, as priests, that it is A good thing for the Church and the faithful. Your pastoral appreciation will determine how and when it will be possible, but why not begin on the first Sunday of Advent this year when we await the "Lord who will come without delay" (London, July 5, 2016) . This is the irreversible turning point. This is the "crucial step". 

Let us turn to Christ, the rising sun, and we shall be saved. The Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Komiguea, will help us.
Blessed Advent for all!

+Pascal N’KOUE

Omnium Servus

The Holy Door of the Cathédrale Saints Pierre et Paul, Parakou

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