Allocutio at November 2017 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor OP
The Liturgy and the Ultimate Question
It is difficult to think of a more radical and urgent question than this one: where will I spend eternity? The liturgy during November has a focus on the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell. We celebrate the feast of All Saints and we commemorate all the faithful departed because they too are certain of enjoying heaven when their time in purgatory has been completed. We visit cemeteries and seek plenary indulgences for the Holy Souls and we cannot but give some thought to our own death and our final judgement by God. Then although through the theological virtue of hope we seek and strive for heaven as our primary focus, we do not neglect the thought of the reality and the possibility of Hell for us. Reflection on the four last things is not only very healthy for ourselves no matter how advanced one might be in the spiritual life but it can also be very sobering and fruitful for those we meet in the course of our apostolates.
As we know, Frank Duff started going to daily Mass in 1914 at the age of 25 and started praying the whole Divine Office three years later at the age of 28. In other words he would be steeped in the Liturgy of the Church for the rest of his life and it would become the source and shape of his whole interior life. He also earnestly desired that the Legion would have a fundamental liturgical spirituality as is clear from his strong recommendation of daily Mass and some form of prayer of the Church. He recognised that not every legionary might be able to meet this desired commitment but he made it a requirement for Praetorian and Adjutorian membership of the Legion. Why this emphasis on the Liturgy in the Legion? Well in the first place in the Liturgy we come into intimate contact with the real presence of the Risen Christ in all the Sacraments, but especially the Eucharist. That is a magnificent privilege and source of grace. In the Divine Office it is the Risen Christ who prays in and through and with his Mystical Body the Church. Also there is the old saying: lex orandi lex credenda, or freely translated ‘the inseparability of prayer and faith.’ In other words, liturgical prayer is a most effective way of entering into and appropriating the truths of revelation and deepening our faith.
The Liturgy introduces us to the great seasons of the Church: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, Lent Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. Also all the great feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady and numerous Saints are also celebrated. The Liturgy feeds the Church and therefore the Legion in the deepest possible way. The Liturgy is the greatest gift that the Church gives to the world and the Legion seeks to engage in the liturgical apostolate of bringing people to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments and the prayer of the Church.
Let us now return to our reflection on the question of where we will spend our eternity and the revealed truths we call the four last things. In the month of November and the season of Advent the readings at Mass and in the Divine Office frequently concern the question of our readiness for our death and the meeting with Our Lord in our personal judgement. We are very familiar with these Gospel readings but it can happen that we do not really personalise them and ask are we really ready here and now to face our death and judgement. Be prepared, stay awake, be ready for you know not the day nor the hour when the Lord calls us is the incessant theme of November and Advent. It is a grace to think seriously about these questions and consider what might need to be done.
Next we say a brief word about Heaven. I would like to recommend the article by Frank Duff simply entitled Heaven in his book Mary Shall Reign. He points out the idea of Heaven is often caricatured and ridiculed in secular literature and we must try to present a picture to those we meet in our apostolate that is worth working for, that is appealing and desirable. It has been said that the only thing we know for certain about Heaven is that we will be infinitely and ecstatically surprised by an eternal joy. Our founder paints a very convincing picture of what we can know about Heaven while accepting the words of Our Lord that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard nor has it entered the heart of any man what God has prepared for those who love him.’
Now we must mention the unmentionable in our world today: the subject of Hell. Even some Catholic theologians seem to say that even if Hell exists as a possibility because of human freedom that in fact ultimately everyone will be saved without exception so that Hell will be empty. Let me recommend the article by Frank Duff simply called Hell in his book Victory Through Mary. Let me quote some lines from it. ‘The idea of Hell is: That without possibility of shelving the issue it has to do with the hardened offender in the spiritual order, one who has managed to turn his life into the ultimate sin of rejecting God in a manner that can be called deliberate. Every conceivable influence has been brought to bear on his towards inducing him to soften. I do not say reform, for God is indulgent to weakness to the extent of continually forgiving, provided that the slightest element of repentance enters in. It is not that sort of offender who is in question here but the one who is a formal candidate for Hell. He may not be a worldly criminal at all but one who has been acclaimed as admirable and famous. But in him is a vital lack. He will not give what God requires for an inhabitant in Heaven. I repeat that there is no possibility of postponing the issue. Everything has been offered and failed. Everything has reduced itself to a final issue: yes or no and the candidate firmly answers ‘no’.
Finally, I regret I do not have time to talk about Purgatory as part of the last things but strongly recommend chapter 17 of the Handbook on the souls of our departed legionaries that is brief but encapsulates the whole Legion position on praying for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Amen.