Thursday, 21 April 2011

An old prayer book: “Garden of the Soul”

Many English-speaking Catholics of a certain age will remember two popular prayer books which formed the mainstay of the devotional life of thousands, if not millions, of our spiritual forbears. They were The Garden of the Soul and The Key of Heaven.

My Garden of the Soul was given to me by a neighbour when I was nine years old. It was published for adults, and I liked it better than the child’s prayer book I had received at the time of my first Holy Communion. The adult prayers were richer in their language and in their content. It is in no way a boast to say that these were perfectly within my capabilities.

To digress slightly: This gives me confidence in the intellectual capacity of the congregations who are about to experience the more dignified language, and the stronger doctrinal nourishment, of the corrected English translation of the Novus Ordo Mass. With varying degrees of effort, they will manage it very nicely indeed, and will, I am sure, find real spiritual benefit in it.

Since the implementation of Summorum Pontificum I have taken to expressing my actuosa participatio by accompanying the priest’s offering of the Holy Mass, whether in the Extraordinary Form or in the Novus Ordo, with my own silent reading of the Prayers for Mass in my old prayer book.

But how, you may ask, do I manage to cram my personal prayers into the spaces between one set of Novus Ordo congregational responses and the next? And surely my own silent reading must drown out, as it were, the priest’s own words, and thus the Mass that is taking place at that moment?

As to the first: I do my best, but I cannot usually manage to say them all. In any case, between the start of the Canon and the completion of the Consecration, I focus entirely on the priest. As to the second, the risk of drowning out the priest: I can’t say, in fact, that it feels like that. Those of us who pray the Rosary know what a challenge it is to keep our minds focused both on the words of the prayers and on the meditations. I speak from experience, as a person whose mind is inclined to drift off. When we get the balance right, all our mental activity seems to be filled with, and concentrated on, the Mysteries. It’s rather like that for me at Mass. My attention is filled, and very much in union with the priest’s own prayers.

This post is long enough for now, I think. In the next few days I hope to post a few extracts from the prayers, to give you a flavour of them.

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