The Language of Gesture

Your author dedicates this essay to his mentor and beloved friend, the valiant Baron Arnaud de Lassus, renowned leader of traditional Catholics in France, organizer of the Chartres Pilgrimage, editor of the magazine Action Familiale et Scolaire and author of Unholy Craft: Freemasonry and the Roots of Christophobia. Born on May 9, 1921, he was called to his eternal reward on January 26, at the age of 95.

In July of 1974, shortly after I had met him for the first time, Professor Josef Pieper and I memorably attended together a reverently offered Mass in the mountains of Spain. It was at a Benedictine Monastery up in the Valle de los Caída (Valley of the Fallen) in the Guadarrama Mountains some six miles distant from the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which is itself located almost thirty miles to the northwest of Madrid.

Neither Professor Pieper nor I was adequately prepared for that vividly presented and reverently conducted Sacred Action of the Mass which we were then so soon and uniquely to witness together — and then so promptly to partake of while we were there kneeling beside one another — both of us with thankfulness, then and thereafter.

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  • Dear Robert,

    I was profoundly moved and strengthened by your magnificent essay, one of your best. From the first pages of epigraphs to the last sentence, I was continually affected. How fortunate you were to have a mentor like Dr. Pieper! And your gratitude is so filial. He was indeed God’s instrument in elevating you at such a young age. Likewise, for me, with Brother Francis. I wish I had come to SBC sooner and not had to go through such a corrupt youth. But, even so, I had to receive even more powerful graces to rise again later in life, after many trials defeated me for too many years.

    How to see with a pure eye! And the “prayer af attention” that follows for one who attunes himself, as Dr. Pieper says, to the active “artistic creation producing shapes and forms for the eye to see.” Perfect example, too, of the Cure d’Ars whose “useless efforts to learn Latin” bore fruit in “seeing souls” even in a man’s “silence.” I think, too, of the simple man praying without speaking for so long in his church of Ars, whom the Curé asked about his prayer and he must have smiled when he replied, “I look at Him and He looks at me.”

    I do not remember your telling me about the Mass you attended with Dr. Piper in the Valle de los Caida and his beautiful words after the Mass. How blessed you are with such a “memory” as this to savor! My most cherished memory was in attending daily Mass in grade school (also my altar boy years) for about a year (maybe sixth grade). My friend, whose father usually came with us) showed me how to use the missal, where to find the prayers and place the ribbons. He was a bit younger than me, but so smart. Sadly, he fell away and is no longer practicing; I have lost touch with him in recent years. My point being that not only is this a memory but every once in a while when I use my missal I “smell” inwardly that experience. It lasts only a second.

    Most inspiring were the words of Romano Guardini. I am glad that you provided so much to relish from his book on Sacred Signs, “visible signs of invisible grace.”

    Your summation is certainly insightful: “If one only briefly considers the titles of his sequential little chapters, one will at least incipiently grasp Guardini’s refreshing conception and his desire to understand more fully (“fides quaerens iintellectum”): the sign of the cross; the hand; kneeling; standing [cf. the “Orante”]; walking; striking the breast [the “planctus”]; the steps; the door; the candle; holy water; the flame; ashes; incense; light and heat; bread and wine; the altar; linen; the chalice; the paten; blessing; sacred space; the bells; sacred hours — morning; sacred hours — noon; sacred hours — evening; and the Name of God.”

    The best part was Guardini’s reflections and admonitions on the “making” or “the doing” of the Sign of the Cross, and the mother’s own extension of the Trinitarian worship in teaching the child to make the Sign of the Cross reverently with “attention.”

    The body is not a “house”, he notes, for the soul. The soul is one with the body, of which it is the principle of life, and “the form.” The soul “informs” the body, with all that that most salient word means. The “form” of the liturgy itself in the action of the Mass, and its manifold sacred signs. How beautiful this all is, profound. And how inspiring are the thoughts and experiences of “the combative Belloc” and his contemplative (so modestly related) experience at the Great Feast of the Holy Ghost in the cathedral in Narbonne.

    I especially appreciated your reflections (and Fr. Guardini’s) on “gestures.” And I am not even Italian! Tremendous thoughts on such a simple thing as the use of the hands, not only the eyes.
    And, when we bend the knee (something I miss being able to do) to “give it a soul.” And the meaning of “standing” as a sign of respect. Being “at attention”, “ready for action.” Truly evocative. I remember reading St. Peter Julian Eymard’s retreat sermons to a convent of sisters (his reflections in 8 volumes on the Holy Eucharist were written for just this one convent) in which he insisted that they kneel up straight in church before their God. Yes, the ascent of “the steps,” too, — to the church and again to the altar “ad montem sanctum tuum.”

    This book of Romani Guardini has so many interesting chapters to it. Even “On Candles.” I just wrote an article for our website (and the Mancipia) on candles. I will attach it for you if Brother Joseph gets our website working.

    Finally, as always, Belloc is delightful. Just the use of three words regarding a faithdul one at Mass: “He is fed,” gives me pause. The last sentence of your essay, from this “plucky” (your own good word) man of Catholic “hilaritas” is a perfect ending and so vintage Belloc: “True purity means the red cheeks of a joyful life and the firm grasp of a brave warrior.” Amen.

    Abbe de Nantes (may he and Arnaud de Lassus RIP) had a worthy and virile epigram for his Contre Reform Catholique. I do not see it anymore, having looked up their newsletter website I don’t find it. It read something like this: And when He comes we will see Him with His poor man’s smile and His pierced carpenter’s hands. Imagine that! In heaven we shall see that smile carrying the five wounds glorified forever.

    Thanks you so much for this masterpiece.