“It is as if they have nothing more to say or ask…” Reflections on Titus Brandsma’s description of the Benediction to Mary

Comment (English) on ‘Zaterdagavond in de kerk der Carmelieten’

by Ad de Keyzer

 



“It is as if they have nothing more to say or ask…” Reflections on Titus Brandsma’s description of the Benediction to Mary

Ad de Keyzer[1]


In his article Saturday evening in the church of the Carmelites in Carmelrozen[2], Titus Brandsma describes in great detail the liturgical celebration of the Benediction, as celebrated on every Saturday evening in the Carmel in Oss. In the liturgical tradition, Saturday is the day which is dedicated to Mary, coming into being at the end of the eighth century in Carolingian cloisters and after this quickly becoming popular in Europe as a whole, also in the religious orders of evangelical and apostolic life which flourished at the start of the thirteenth century. The special place which the Carmelites have in this is down to their origin as hermits who lived in the twelfth century on Mount Carmel in Israel. They entrusted their Order to the protection of Mary, more specifically Mary of Mount Carmel.

We grope around in the dark to find the precise reasons which led to Saturday being chosen as the day of the Blessed Mary. You could think of it as a spiritual preparation for the Sunday, the weekly remembrance of the Lord’s resurrection. We remember Mary who, as the only one of all the followers on the ‘great sabbath’ of Christ’s rest in the grave, kept watch in faith and hopeful expectation to his resurrection – and we keep watch with her.

Titus’ words from a century ago cause us to think about what exactly he is describing and about the participants in the ritual of the Benediction. He also allows us a glimpse into his soul when he describes how, as a Carmelite, he is touched through the enactment of the rites.


The structure and flow of the Benediction ritual

Brandsma gives a very precise report of the structure and flow of the ritual of the Benediction, as it is done by the Carmelites. He describes a liturgical event with which, aside from the Carmelite details, his readers are familiar. After all, in every Dutch parish up to the start of the 1960s, the Benediction was, next to the often-multiple daily celebrations of the Mass, a part of the commonplace liturgical activities on Saturday and Sunday evenings. However, in those days the Benediction did not belong to the official liturgical rituals of the Roman Catholic church. It was part of the pia exercitia, the ‘devout practices’ which were thought of as supplementary, next to the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours. The Benediction was regarded as ‘folk piety’ and considered an inferior liturgy. It is, therefore, all the more amazing that Titus Brandsma used so many words to so conscientiously describe this devout practice. How does it look schematically?


The order of service for the Benediction does not exist. After all, we are concerned here with an ‘unofficial’ devout practice about which, from a juridical perspective, very little is prescribed regarding the rubrical instructions. From the liturgical tradition we recognise a synonym for ‘Benediction’, namely ‘exposition’: meaning to expose, ‘display‘ to the assembled people of God the Blessed Sacrament, the ‘Holy of Holies’, consecrated during a previous Eucharist and placed in a visible to everyone ‘container, usually a rather splendid, forged in gold and set with jewels, monstrance. The Latin monstrare means ‘to show’. All attention is focused on this monstrance and displaying it can then also be regarded as the heart of what the Benediction ritual is about. Ritually, this attention is formed by surrounding the monstrance with burning incense, accompanied by means of the singing and prayer of the faithful and their officiant, and with a blessing of the Holy of Holies. The singing and the prayer of the faithful show a great possible variety. Actually, there were no prescribed texts; people sang and prayed texts from the national and/or local devout traditions in the vernacular, and chose the Latin texts which sung the praises of the Blessed Sacrament. In the Benediction, when special attention was given to the veneration of Mary, they could draw lavishly on prayers and songs, which praised her in all languages.


As with each liturgical ritual, the Benediction ritual consists of a number of separate rites which follow on from each other. In his article Titus describes this ritual flow. In order to get an idea of the order of service of the Benediction which the Carmelites celebrated on Saturday evening, we attempt here to distil this from Titus’ description.


1. Bells peal.

2. Procession of the Carmelites[3] to the high altar in the choir, the younger ones in front, the prior behind.

3. Salutation to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle.

4. Kissing of the scapular.

5. All go to sit in the choir stalls.


6. Sounding of the Chancel bell.

7. Procession from the sacristy to the choir of a friar with the thurible, two friars with burning candles and the priest in liturgical clothing, accompanied by organ music.

8. Exposure of the Holy of Holies and the burning of incense.

9. The adorotedevote; two cantors sing the verses, all sing the refrain.[4] The priest closes with the oration in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.


10. The lights are lit in the Lady Chapel.

11. Incense is burned, candles are carried on high, all stand and arrange themselves behind the processional cross.

12. Meanwhile, the priest begins to sing the salveregina, the cantors take it over. During the procession to the chapel the cantors and the Fathers alternately sing the verses of the salveregina. The procession is strictly ordered and at the rear is the priest with the Holy of Holies, preceded by the friar with the thurible.

13. Having arrived in the Lady Chapel the procession is lined up in two rows, between which the priest walks with the Holy of Holies to the altar of Mary. The repository is there, on which the Holy of Holies is placed under the statue of Mary. When the salveregina has ended, the procession comes to an end with a ritual dialogue by cantors and all, followed by the antiphon and the concluding prayer by the priest.

14. Then the Marian litany of Loreto follows, with the cantors singing the titles – of note are the typical Carmelite titles with which the Carmelites hail Mary – after which all repeat the supplications. The litany is concluded subsequently with the agnusdei being sung three times, a dialogue between the cantors and all, and the prescribed prayer by the priest.

15. All greet Jesus and pray for his blessing.


16. Then the tantumergo is sung, incense burned, and the blessing of the Holy of Holies given by the priest.

17. All stand up, bow before Jesus, kiss the scapular and go in silent procession as an accompaniment to the Holy of Holies towards the tabernacle in the high altar.

18. In silence, everyone goes his own way.


Titus describes the Benediction as being a ritual flow, which means: formed entirely of consecutive ritual moments which follow each other as a matter of course, without the need for explanation, commentary or a connecting text. When it concerns liturgy, we are not (any longer) in our present time acquainted with this manner of description. We know the printed editions of the extensive Rituale Romanum and the Missale Romanum in which general introductions are included which are not so much a description of what takes place there, but rather present theological background information, supplemented with juridical tinted references about the how, what, when and by whom the rites are to be performed. The juridical character is strengthened by the Roman documents, in which is discussed the risk that you run in the liturgy of committing graviora delicta, ‘graver offenses’ if you do not pay attention.[5] This is not the case with Titus. Let us try to discover how he, in his description of the Benediction enables us to share in his spirituality. What has moved Titus and what does his passion say to us in the present time?


The manner of description

In what Titus describes, nowhere do we read something of doubt or uncertainty about what is being performed or about what the participants do during the ritual. Titus seems to be saying: ‘This is how we Carmelites do it’. It seems that he does not need to defend himself over what he does and what he writes about. He does not need to account for it and much less to apologise. Out of the whole speaks a great sense of clarity. A religious certainty ascends out of that which is not reasoned out, or needs to be reasoned out, but is self-evident. As an example of how Titus articulates his thoughts, let us think for a moment about what he writes about the scapular.


The scapular

In his article Titus writes several times about the scapular of the Carmelites. At the start of his article he mentions it together with Mary: ‘Our Lady of the Scapular’.[6] In the Lady Chapel the statue of Mary carries the scapular in her hands. Titus calls the scapular ‘the garment of Carmel’ and it is one of the ‘special means of venerating Mary’. At the beginning and the end of the Benediction the scapular is kissed. The word ‘scapular’ comes from the Latin scapula, ‘shoulder’.[7] It is a piece of cloth with an opening for the head in the middle, which is worn over the habit. Carmelites carry the scapular because it was gifted by Mary ‘as a sign of her protection for body and soul’ and as a symbol of ‘a deep connection with Mary’.[8] The value which was attached to the devotion of the scapular is shown by the regular attention which Carmelrozen[9] gave to this.[10]

Titus writes with great respect about this religious garment that is very precious to him. This is shown by the ornate language which he uses for the rite in which the scapular is kissed at the beginning of the Benediction:

‘Because of their stately robe, the long white mantle, people see almost nothing of their brown habit and Scapular. It is only when they kneel before the Holy of Holies, bow down and reverently kiss the garment which was given to them by Heaven itself as a pledge of Mary’s protection, that people see the dark colours beneath all that white’.

So why does Titus actually give it his all in his description of the scapular? It can only be because in this he has seen a ritualization of, and in this has also actually experienced, his relationship to God whose name he writes out only once in his text as ‘hidden God’. From out of that experience I read how Titus with his Carmelite friars stands coram Deo, ‘before God’s countenance’:

‘On such an evening, it is as if they carefully expose that monastic garment to their Redeemer, reverently kissing it as a sign of gratitude and then, so that it remains spotless, covering it with the symbol of purity [the white mantle-adk], and in this way following the Lamb, wherever it goes’.

Titus and his Carmelite friars ‘expose themselves to their Redeemer’, in the ‘careful’ display of their scapular: so precious is that to them. When, then, the litany of Mary is prayed, Titus writes that the Carmelites ‘know that whoever wears the garment of Carmel on earth, accepting the Scapular of the Carmelites like a child of Mary, will be guided into eternity by the Queen of Heaven. She is their hope, which will never be betrayed’. A little earlier, Titus writes about the same sort of ‘knowing’ during the praying of the litany of Mary:

‘Simply by thinking of Mary’s help we feel ourselves strengthened in our weakness, but the Carmelite knows that although all Christians can count on Mary’s help, she has promised special help to all those who wear the garment of Carmel […]’.

Here it is about an understanding, a ‘knowing’ which is gifted to them through the celebration of the liturgy. This ‘knowing’ makes us think. Titus shows that those who participate in the litany of Mary, gain awareness, insight. You do gain this consciousness through studying, but through participating in a rite, through praying. It is striking how sure Titus is. Liturgy gives him, but also us, not only material for meditation, it is also a way of getting to the bottom of things where you otherwise would not, so easily, be able to. In the final chapter of the Wisdom of Sirach, it is written how the author through his praying acquired wisdom. Titus finds himself in good company.

For the Titus Brandsma Institute’s annual report, we would classify the article which Fr. Dr. Titus Brandsma writes in Carmelrozen, ‘illustrated monthly journal dedicated to the veneration of Mary’, under the category of public contributions, that is to say articles written for the specific audience of ‘ordinary’ readers who are not directly interested in scholarly research. That Titus writes these sort of articles and will write yet more later on, shows that in all the insight which he acquired through research, he also attached value to the insight which he gained in the experience of celebrating liturgy. For Titus this experience was not just restricted to ‘official’ church worship, but also concerned the Benediction, one of the ‘devout practices’. Titus cites this word three times; at the beginning he says: ‘It is a practice in honour of Mary, but the salutation to Jesus […] must go hand-in-hand with all the veneration of Mary.’ It is notable that after this, Titus points to the role of Jesus: ‘[by which] during the whole practice, from the repository Jesus assists as the Supreme High Priest, the devout prayers and hymns to the glory of his Beloved Mother.’ Titus experiences Jesus as an assistant, as help during the devout practice. He is not the one which it revolves around, he is the one through whom it happens, and without whom it does not happen.


Conclusion

For Titus liturgy was no juridical area of research, no historical or anthropological object of study. He was concerned with spirituality. Both sides of that, the practice and the reflection, found a balance in him. In this way precedes us right up to this very day, when we reflect on liturgical spirituality and try to give a new form to rituals, which are offered to us by the tradition. But perhaps even more interesting, is that Titus’ description of the Benediction affords us a clear glimpse into the mind of the professor Brandsma who at the beginning of his inaugural speech asks himself: ‘Among the many questions which I ask myself, none occupies me more than the riddle, that the developed human being, so proud and spirited in his progress, is turning his back on God to such a great degree’, For Titus it is a riddle ‘how the concept of God [is] so darkened, that so many are no longer drawn to it’.

That Titus calls the turning away from God in his time a ‘riddle’, is consistent with the obviousness which he takes for granted in his description of the Benediction. Titus knows how to catch hold of that great sense of clarity in the words with which he concludes his description of the Benediction:

‘It is as if they have nothing more to say or ask, now they have so poured out their heart before the image of the tenderly cherished and deeply adoring Protective Lady, whose Brothers can call themselves the Friars of the Blessed Virgin.’.



  1. Translation of: Ad de Keyzer, “’t Is of zij niets meer te zeggen of te vragen hebben...”. Overwegingen bij Titus Brandsma’s beschrijving van het Marialof, in: Anne-Marie Bos (red), Titus Brandsma. Spiritualiteit dichtbij in veertien teksten, Baarn 2018.
  2. Brandsma, T., ‘Zaterdagavond in de kerk der Carmelieten’, in: Carmelrozen. Geïllustreerd maandschrift gewijd aan de vereering van Maria, 4(1915) 93-96.
  3. Titus writes ‘the Carmelite Fathers’, but later on he notes the presence of ‘the lay brothers, then the friars, after them the Priests, first the younger ones, then the older, and at the end of both rows the Superior and Prior’.
  4. This way of singing the adorotedevote in antiphonal singing is not common; more usual is the performance in which all the verses are sung by everyone, without a refrain.
  5. For example, in the document Redemptionis sacramentum, chapter 8, article 1: ‘The grave sins’ and article 3: ‘Other abuses’.
  6. ‘Onze Lieve Vrouw van het Scapulier’, Our Beloved Lady of the Holy Scapular.
  7. Jacobs, A., Kroniek van de Karmel in Nederland 1840-1970, 469-480.
  8. Jacobs, Kroniek, 470.
  9. Carmelrozen was a chronicle of the Carmelites which was devoted to Mary.
  10. Jacobs, Kroniek, 473.


Translated from the Dutch by Susan Verkerk-Wheatley and Anne-Marie Bos (2018)

© Titus Brandsma Instituut 2018