Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Solution of a Large Place

It's a DEUCE of a business to have two calendars to track feast days with! Today, as "Feria V Post Festum Sanctissimae Trinitatis", is the Feast of the Most Holy Body of Christ, the famous "Corpus Christi" for which St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the office:
The Corpus Christi Office is like some old musical instrument, quaintly and carefully inlaid with many coloured stones and metals; the author has gathered remote texts about pasture and fruition like rare herbs; there is a notable lack of the loud and obvious in the harmony; and the whole is strung with two strong Latin lyrics.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:509]
Of course, in some parts of the world, this feast is transferred to Sunday, and thus we don't get the famous "Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi" - the feast day on which G. K. Chesterton died. Which is a shame, not only liturgically - since there are elegant and very deep foundation-type reasons for the arrangement of feast days... do you know why Christmas "floats" through every day of the week and Easter is tied to Sunday? Ah. Well, you can do that one for homework. But there is another loss, and this one even those who have no interest in liturgy or celebrations can commiserate with us about.

You see, the Introit for the "Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi" has a famous Chesterton pun, which was reprinted on his memorial card. Here it is:
Factus est Dominus protector meus, et eduxit me in latitudinem: salvum me fecit, quoniam voluit me. Diligam te, Domine, virtus mea: Dominus firmamentum meum, et refugium meum, et liberator meus. [Ps 17:19-20, 2-3]

The Lord became my protector and he brought me forth into a large place. He saved me because he was well pleased with me. I will love Thee O Lord my strength. The Lord is my firmament and my refuge and my deliverer.
A "LARGE" place.. .I should say! Well, it is quite consistent with what our Lord told us, isn't it? "My father's mansion has many dwelling places"... of course people like Aquinas and GKC no doubt get larger ones - but we are glad for that. (I've heard a rumor that Little St. Thérèse has the largest room of all... but then I really ought not spread these things around. Hee hee)

So - whether you consider Corpus Christi today, or Sunday, we'll talk about the mystery just a little now, and you can read it today or save it for Sunday, or both. There are one or two famous lines which I've quoted before - two which leap out in my own memory:

As to Transubstantiation, it is less easy to talk currently about that; but I would gently suggest that, to most ordinary outsiders with any common sense, there would be a considerable practical difference between Jehovah pervading the universe and Jesus Christ coming into the room.

We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting-points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle and even individual ... to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world. ... To exalt the Mass is to enter into a magnificent world of metaphysical ideas, illuminating all the relations of matter and mind, of flesh and spirit, of the most impersonal abstractions as well as the most personal affections.
[GKC The Thing CW2:180, 299-300]
There's a good bit more in that book, and some very nice things in his book on Aquinas - but if you want a handy research project, try collecting GKC's thoughts on the Sacraments. You will be impressed.

But the one quote which perhaps gives us more of GKC's inward views (outside of his poetry) is the very famous conclusion to "The Insoluble Problem" - which is NOT his commentary on the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem, hee hee. Here you go:
[Father Brown] raised his eyes and saw through the veil of incense smoke and of twinkling lights that Benediction was drawing to its end while the procession waited. The sense of accumulated riches of time and tradition pressed past him like a crowd moving in rank after rank, through unending centuries; and high above them all, like a garland of unfading flames, like the sun of our mortal midnight, the great monstrance blazed against the darkness of the vaulted shadows, as it blazes against the black enigma of the universe. For some are convinced that this enigma also is an Insoluble Problem. And others have equal certitude that it has but one solution.
[GKC "The Insoluble Problem" in The Scandal of Father Brown]
The only other one I shall give you today - since I must leave you rather abruptly, alas - is this other, which is quite relevant but sadly very poorly known, since it is from the uncollected collection in CW14:
Marjory was watching him keenly: she had just had a gleam of hope. His eyes were slowly filling with the pale blue fire she knew well: it was so he used to look when she read him a poem, or when the sunset grew red and gold over the wooded hill. At such moments he would say something which she couldn't understand. At length the words came, with a kind of timid radiance.
"May I have jam?"
"Certainly," she said, raising her eyebrows wearily.
He only smiled ravenously, but she felt sure that if any earthly chair had been high enough he would have kicked his legs. There was another silence.
"Some fellows like butter and jam," said the religious enthusiast of the morning's conversation. "I think that's beastly."
"The main benefit of existence," said Marjory bitterly, "seems to be eating."
"Hardly the main benefit surely," said Petersen calmly, "though I agree with you that it is a neglected branch of the poetry of daily life. The song of birds, the sight of stars, the scent of flowers, all these weak. admit are a divine revelation, why not the taste of jam?"
"Not very poetical to my fancy," said Marjory, scornfully.
"It is uncultivated," said Petersen, "but a time may come when it will be elaborated into an art as rich and varied as music or painting. People will say, 'There is an undercurrent of pathos in this gravy, despite its frivolity,' or 'Have you tasted that passionate rebellious pudding? Ethically I think it's dangerous.' After all, eating has a grander basis than the arts of the others senses, for it is absolutely necessary to existence: it is the bricks and mortar of the Temple of the Spirit."
And he took a large bite out of the bread and jam.
[GKC "The Man With Two Legs" in CW14:786-7]
Why the deuce (you ask) do I quote THAT?
The answer is very simple. GKC provided it elsewhere:
Mythology had many sins; but it had not been wrong in being as carnal as the Incarnation.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:308]
It all comes down to whether we're going to have a God Who "pervades the universe" or one Who can walk into the room: "I stand at the door and knock. If you open to Me, I shall come in and sit down and we shall eat together" [see Apo/Rev 3:20]Let us pray that He shall lead us, like GKC into a Large Place, as the priest calls, just before he administers the sacrament of Corpus Christi: "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb." [ibid 19:9]

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