Dom Gueranger describes in relation to the Mass propers of the 8th Sunday after Pentecost the beauty and role of the Temple in Jerusalem, concluding that the Christian soul is far more beautiful and important to God and thus deserves more care in preserving and fostering the life of grace.
(Sunday, July 14, 2013)
Some excerpts from Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year
“We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple…” Introit for 8th Sunday after Pentecost
…We have already noticed the variable character of this last portion of the liturgical cycle, which is the result of Easter being kept on a different day each year; and that in consequence of this variation this week may be the second in which the Sapiential Books are read, or, what is of more frequent occurrence, the Books of Kings may still be providing the lessons for the Divine Office. In this latter case it is the ancient temple raised by Solomon, the king of peace, to the glory of Jehovah, that engages the Church's attention today. We shall find that the portions of the Mass which are chanted on this Sunday are closely connected with the lessons read in last night's Office.
Let us, then, turn our reverential thoughts once more to this splendid monument of the ancient Covenant. The Church is now going through that month which immediately preceded the events so momentous to Jerusalem; she would do honor today to the glorious and divine past which prepared her own present.
Let us, like her, enter into the feelings of the first Christians, who were Judah's own children; they had been told of the impending destruction foretold by the prophets, and an order from God bade them depart from Jerusalem. What a solemn moment that was, when the little flock of the elect—the only ones in whom was kept up the faith of Abraham and the knowledge of the destinies of the Hebrew people—had just begun their emigration, and looked back on the city of their fathers, to take a last farewell!
They took the road to the east; it led towards the Jordan, beyond which God had provided a refuge for the remnant of Israel. They halted on the incline of Mount Olivet, whence they had a full view of Jerusalem; in a few moments that hill would be between them and the city. Not quite forty years before the Man-God had sat down on that same spot, taking His own last look at the city and her temple. Jerusalem was seen in all her magnificence from this portion of the mount, which afterwards would be visited and venerated by our Christian pilgrims. The city had long since recovered from its ruins, and had, at the time we are speaking of, been enlarged by the princes of the Herodian family, so favorably looked on by the Romans. Never in any previous period of her history had Jerusalem been so perfect and so beautiful as she then was, when our fugitives were gazing upon her. There was not, as yet, the slightest outward indication that she was the city accursed of God.
There, as a queen in her strength and power, she was enthroned amidst the mountains of which the psalmist had sung; her towers and palaces seemed as though they were her crown. Within the triple enclosure of the walls built by her latest kings, she embraced those three hills, the grandest, not only of Judea, but of the whole world: first, there was Sion, with its unparalleled memories; then, Golgotha, which had not yet been honored on account of the Holy Sepulcher, and which, nevertheless, was even then attracting to itself the Roman Legions, who were to wreak vengeance on this guilty land; and, lastly, Moriah, the sacred mount of the old world, on whose summit was raised that unrivalled temple, which gave Jerusalem to be the queen of all the cities of the east, for as such even the Gentiles acknowledged her.
...[As accounted by the Jewish historian, Josephus]:
At sunrise, when in the distance there appeared the sanctuary, towering upwards of a hundred cubits above the two rows of porticoes which formed its double enclosure; when the sun east his morning rays on that facade of gold and white marble; when there glittered the thousand gilded spires which mounted from its roof, it seemed that it was a hill capped with snow, which gradually shone, and reddened, with the morning beams. The eye was dazzled, the soul was amazed, religion was roused within the beholder, and even the pagans fell down prostrate."
Yes, when the pagan came hither either for conquest or for curiosity, if he ever returned, it was as a pilgrim.
Full of holy sentiments, he ascended the hill; and, having reached the summit, he entered by the golden gate into the gorgeous galleries which formed the outward enclosure of the temple. In the court of the Gentiles he met with men from every country. His soul was struck by the holiness of a place where he felt that there were preserved in all purity the ancient religious traditions of the human race; and he, being profane, stood afar off, assisting at the celebrations of the Hebrew worship, such as God had commanded it to be, that is, with all the magnificence of a divine ritual.
The white column of smoke from the burning victims rose up before him as earth's homage to God, its Creator and Savior; from the inner courts there fell on his ear the harmony of the sacred chants, carrying as they did to heaven both the ardent prayer of those ages of expectation and the inspired expression of the world's hope; and when, from the midst of the Levite choirs and the countless priests who were busy in their ministry of sacrifice and praise, the high priest, with his golden crown on his head, came forth holding the censer in his hand, and entering himself alone within the mysterious veil which curtained off the Holy of Holies, the stranger, though he had but a glimpse of all those splendid symbols of religion, yet confessed himself overpowered, and acknowledged the incomparable greatness of that invisible Deity, whose majesty made all the vain idols of the Gentiles seem to him paltry and foolish pretenses.
The princes of Asia and the greatest kings considered it an honor to be permitted to contribute, both by personal gifts of their own making and by sums taken from the national treasuries, towards defraying the expenses of the holy place. The Roman generals and the Caesars themselves kept up the traditions of Cyrus and Alexander in this respect. Augustus ordered that every day a bull and two lambs should be presented in his name to the Jewish priests, and be immolated on Jehovah’s altar for the well-being of the empire; his successors insisted on the practice being continued; and Josephus tells us that the beginning of the war was attributable to the sacrificers refusing any longer to accept the imperial offerings.
But, if the majesty of the temple thus impressed the very pagans right up to its last days, there were reasons for an intensity of veneration and love on the part of a faithful Jew, which he alone could realize. He was the inheritor of the submissive faith of the patriarchs; as such, he was well aware that the prophetic privileges of his fatherland were but an announcement to the whole world, that it was one day to be blessed with the more real and lasting benefits of which he, the Jew, possessed but a figure; he quite understood that the hour had come when the children of God would not confine their worship within the narrow limits of one mountain or one city; he knew that God’s true temple was then actually being built up on every hill of the Gentile world; and that, in its immensity, it took in all those countries of the earth into which the Blood that flowed first from Calvary had won its way.
And yet, we can easily understand what a sharp pang of anguish thrilled through his patriot heart, now that God was about to consummate, before the astonished universe, the terrible consumption of the ungrateful people, whom He had chosen for His portion, His inheritance. Who is there that would not share in the grief of these holy ones of Jacob, few in number as the ears of corn gathered by the gleaner, and now bidding an eternal farewell to that holy, but now accursed, city? These true Israelites might well weep; they were leaving for ever, leaving to devastation and ruin, their homes, their country, and, dearest of all, that temple, which, for ages, had sanctified the glory of Israel, and given Judah the right and title to be the noblest of the nations of the earth.
There was something even beyond all this: it was that their dear Jerusalem had been the scene of the grandest mysteries of the law of grace. Was it not in yonder temple that, as the prophets expressed it, God had manifested the Angel of the Testament, and given peace?
The honor of that temple is no longer the exclusive right of an isolated people; for the Desired of all nations, by His going into it, has brought it a grander glory than all the ages of expectation and prophecy have imparted, It was under the shadow of those walls that Mary prepared within her soul and body a more august sanctuary for the Divine Word than was that whose cedar and golden wainscoting made it so exquisite a shelter for the infant maiden. Yes, it was there that, when but three years old, Mary joyously mounted up the fifteen steps which separated the court of women from the eastern gate, offering to God the pure homage of her immaculate heart. Here, then, on the summit of Moriah, began, in the person of their Queen, the long line of consecrated virgins, who, to the end of time, will come offering, after her, their love to the King.
There, also, the new priesthood found its type and model in the blessed Mother, presenting in that holy temple the world's victim, Jesus, the newborn Child of her chaste womb. In that same dwelling, made by the hands of men; in those halls where sat the doctors, eternal Wisdom, too, seated Himself under the form of a child of twelve, instructing the very teachers of the Law by His sublime questions and divine answers. Every one of those courts had seen the Word Incarnate giving forth treasures of goodness, power, and heavenly doctrine. One of those porticoes was the favorite one where Jesus used to walk and the infant Church made it the place of its early assemblies.
Truly, then, this temple is holy with a holiness possessed by no other spot on earth; it is holy for the Jew of Sinai; it is holy for the Christian, be he Jew or Gentile, for here he finds that the Law ends, because here are verified all its figures. With good reason did our mother the Church, in her Office for this night, repeat the words which were spoken by God to Solomon: “I have sanctified this house which thou hast built, to put my name there forever; and mine eyes and my heart shall be always there.”
How, then, is it that dark forebodings are come terrifying the watchmen of the holy mount? Strange apparitions, fearful noises, have deprived the sacred edifice of that calm and peace which become the house of the Lord. At the Feast of Pentecost the priests, who were fulfilling their ministry, have heard in the holy place a commotion like that of a mighty multitude, and many voices crying out together: “Let us go hence!” On another occasion, at midnight, the heavy brazen gate which closed the sanctuary on the eastern side, and which took twenty men to move it, has opened of itself. “O temple, O temple,” let us say it, with them that witnessed these threatening prodigies, “why art thou troubled? why workest thou thine own destruction?” Alas! we know what awaits thee! The prophet Zacharias foretold it when he said: “Open thy gates, O Libanus, and let fire devour thy cedars!”
Has God forgotten His promises of infinite goodness? No: but let us think upon the terrible and just warning, which He added to the promise He made to Solomon, when he had finished building the temple:
But if ye and your children, revolting, shall turn away from following Me, and will not keep My commandments and My ceremonies which I have set before you, I will take away Israel from the face of the land, which I have given them; and the temple which I have sanctified to My name, I will cast out of My sight; and Israel shall be a proverb, and a byword among all people. And this house shall be made an example of; every one that shall pass by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss, and say: 'Why hath the Lord done thus to this land, and to this house? ' "
O Christian soul! thou that, by the grace of God, art become a temple more magnificent, more beloved in His eyes, than that of Jerusalem, take a lesson from these divine chastisements; and reflect on the words of the Most High, as recorded by Ezechiel:
The justice of the just shall not deliver him, in what day so ever he shall sin…
Yea, if I shall say to the just, that he shall surely live, and he, trusting in his justice, commit iniquity—all his justices shall be forgotten, and, in his iniquity, which he hath committed, in the same shall he die."
"…Thy right hand is full of justice. Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised, in the city of God, in his holy mountain."” Conclusion from the Introit of the Sunday Mass