Sunday, March 26, 2017

Discovering Guéranger's rare and insightful Biblical commentary

A very generous friend recently sent me the 15-volume set of Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year. I had run across that name and title numerous times in reading liturgical history, but never picked up a copy and read it. Till now. At first the books just looked sort of like a very traditional hardback version of the 'Magnificat' periodical with lectionary readings from (and commentary) on the traditional Latin rite liturgy.

But then I started to read the commentary on the readings for each day of Lent, and the commentary -- in my humble opinion -- is some of the most profound and most accessible Catholic Biblical commentary I have ever encountered. The magnitude of the project (15 volumes) is nothing short of breath-taking. You can use each volume as a substitute for a 1962 Missal because it has all the ordinary parts of the Mass as well as the Propers for each day of the season.

Any student of Aquinas and his Summa Theologiae knows there are more senses to the meaning of a Biblical text than the fundamental literal or historical sense. There's the allegorial, anagogical, as well as other spiritual senses of Scripture. This is where Gueranger's commentary is particularly rich. He draws parallels that wouldn't have occurred to me in my wildest dreams; and the thing is, they're usually utterly compelling. To read them is to have new horizons opened up before oneself that wouldn't have occurred to you previously.

It's always been a temptation of mine to assume that Protestant writers had a better handle on Scripture than Catholics -- and in the last 80 years, chances are, that could be be right. But even twenty years ago, my assumption began to erode as I read books about where we got our English translation of the Catholic Bible, for example; and as I read some of the commentaries by Jerome and Augustine and Thomas and others. But Gueranger is simply amazing. Just amazing. There is a gold mine here for any priest interested in material for homilies.

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