Our new CD recording opens with today’s Entrance Chant, Laetetur cor. This Chant is very ancient. It’s rather brief; largely made up from stock formulae; unadventurous in range and development, and with a simple structure. It’s also a work of musical genius, perfect in every detail, able to be repeated countless times without weariness; and it most wonderfully sums up the heart of our Christian and monastic life.
Laetetur cor quaerentium Dominum - Let the heart of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Through the Chant we don’t merely recite these words, or meditate on them, or proclaim them: we sing them. The most ancient manuscripts show how the accents of the words “Laetétur” and “quaeréntium” are brought out, so that we sing these words boldly, in all simplicity, and with heartfelt assurance. In this way, as we sing we affirm that seeking God is a good thing to do, and wholesome, and a cause of joy, and worth the best efforts of our whole life.
Our text is taken from Psalm 104 (105). This Psalm is a hymn of praise to God, especially for his goodness in the history of Israel. It begins with the word Alleluia! According to Jewish tradition it was sung every morning before the Ark of the Covenant, after that had been brought to Jerusalem by King David, until Solomon built his Temple over the site. Our Introit text comes from verses 3 and 4 of this Psalm. Its first verse follows: Confitemini Domino et invocate nomen eius; annuntiate inter gentes opera eius - O praise the Lord and call upon his name; proclaim his works among the nations. Part of seeking God, then, is praising him, and also asking him for things, and also preaching him to those who do not know him.
Three times our Introit Chant uses the word “seek”: encouraging, inspiring, re-motivating us to do so. This summons must apply especially to us monks, whom St. Benedict defines as those who truly seek God (HR 58:7). So we seek, we yearn, we desire, we ask. We seek what all men most radically need and want; and we are not on a fool’s errand. We seek God because to do so is wisdom, and life; because God is goodness, and truth; because he’s the source of our being, and our last end. We seek God also because we know that to do so is pleasing to him. And we seek God knowing that the end of the search will be a very great reward. Our lives are full of all sorts of other interests and concerns and activities, but this seeking of God is the steady undercurrent that binds all these things together, the connecting thread that runs through them all. It’s the single dominating obsession of our life; and we naturally return to it at any unoccupied moment.
The first seeking of our Introit is to be with joy. So we know that if sadness or doubt or boredom or discouragement enter into our search, these cannot be from God. The second seeking is to be with strength. Quaerite Dominum, et confirmamini - seek the Lord, and be strengthened. The new Vulgate text we use in Choir here follows the standard Hebrew reading: Seek the Lord and his strength - quaerite Dominum et potentiam eius. A very slight change to one Hebrew letter though gives us our text. And seeking the strength of the Lord must mean to be strengthened. Be strengthened then, we sing, in hope, in trust, in determination. Be strengthened in the practice of all the virtues. Be strengthened in your vocation. And know whence comes this strength: it is the infinite, omni-present power of the Lord, which is all one with his goodness, and his love, and his predestinating plan for your salvation. Be strengthened in confidence, even if God sometimes seems remote, or unknowable. For in truth he is never far from us. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “You are more intimately present to me than my own inmost being, and also higher than the highest peak of my soul - intimius intimo meo, et superior summo meo”. Seek, said Jesus, and you will find (Mt 7:7).
The third seeking of our text is to be with perseverance: semper - always! And it has an object: seek the Lord’s face: quaerite faciem eius. This we know is a Hebraism, meaning the Lord’s presence. Still, it’s very bold. God is invisible. He refused to show his face to Moses. Yet still we want to see him. Lord, that I may see! cried blind Bartimaeus, on behalf of all of us. And Jesus gave us a promise. Blessed are the pure in heart, he said, for they shall see God (Mt 5:8). And in Jesus Christ our Lord, God does indeed shows us his face. Whoever sees me, says Jesus, sees the Father (Jn 14:9).
So with Bartimaeus we take courage, we leap to our feet, we cast aside every encumbrance, and we come now to Jesus. With the blind beggar we cry out Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! We come to him in our prayer, in the Holy Eucharist, in our reception of the Sacraments, in our reading of holy Scripture, in our relationships with others, in the obedient performance of all our duties. We come to him filled with ever more yearning desire, knowing that if now we see only darkly, at last we shall see him face to face (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).
St. Augustine’s 15 books on the Trinity are a sustained search for God. At the beginning of this work, Augustine cites our Psalm verse. He asks all his readers to join with him in his search for God, for, he says, “in no other project is a mistake more dangerous; nor is any search more laborious, but also there is nothing that can be found with so much fruit” - nec periculosius alicubi erratur, nec laboriosius aliquid quaeritur, nec fructuosius aliquid invenitur (de Trin Bk I, ch 1, n. v).
At the end of the whole work, Augustine again cites our verse, as he turns to God in prayer: “Let me seek your face always” he says, “and with ardour. Give me the strength to seek, you who have caused yourself to be found, and have given me the hope of finding you more and more. Before you lies my strength and my weakness. Preserve the one; heal the other. Before you lies my knowledge and my ignorance. Where you have opened to me, receive me as I come in. Where you have shut to me, open to me as I knock. Let me remember you, let me understand you, let me love you. Increase these things in me, until you refashion me entirely”.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux asks if our seeking of God will ever come to an end. His answer is negative. Commenting on the text On my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves (Song 3:1), Bernard says: “I think that there will be no end of seeking him, even when he is found. For God is not sought with steps of the feet, but with the heart’s desire. And that happy finding does not crush (“extundit”) holy desire, but increases (“extendit”) it. Does the consummation (“consummatio”) of joy bring about the consumption (“consumptio”) of desire? No. Rather it is oil poured upon the flames.”
The preached version was somewhat abbreviated