The Liturgical Spirituality of the Sons of St. Benedict of Nursia
The human being that the post conciliar reformed liturgy (as it de facto generally takes shape) seems to produce is hardly one who contemplates and receives. Rather, the actively doing person, someone who thinks he is the active shaper of liturgy, seems to be promoted. To quote Cardinal Ratzinger's oft-expressed criticism, however, such a person underestimates grace-given contemplation in favor of an "active doing . . . the shallow product of the moment." In the life of St. Thomas, we encounter the light of an altogether different understanding of human nature. Almost all biographies present Thomas as homo magnae contemplationis et orationis ("a man wholly assigned to contemplation and prayer") .
Indeed, classical liturgy calls for and shapes such a person, devoted to contemplation, capable of receiving, humble, not pelagian, who can above all look wholly away from himself and open himself to one who is greater and other. Such a person recognizes that the liturgy, as Romano Guardini reminded us, has something in common with the stars: "with their eternally fixed and even course, their unchangeable order, their profound silence, and the infinite space in which they are poised. " St. Thomas seems to have been endowed with this contemplative spirit from very early on. He grew up amongst the Benedictines of Monte Cassino, where he was educated in the spirit of St. Benedict of Nursia, in whose order the liturgy holds pride of place both in its importance and in the time spent on it. The laus perennis of the sons of St. Benedict, the festive celebration of the liturgy, which he was permitted to attend daily as an oblate of the Benedictine abbey, were for him a first schooling through which he was introduced into theology's original mysteries, the principia (ST, I, q. I, a. 5, ad 2).
The influence of this schooling still reverberates at the close of Thomas's life. This can be seen in his prologue Postilla super Psalmos, where he explains the singular significance of the psalms by the fact that they contain the entire contents of theology ("generalem habet totius theologiae"). These are not spread over many different books, as in the rest of the Holy Scriptures, but are concentrated in this one book; not as a narration, report, letter, or instruction, but in the most dignified form, liturgical praise, thanksgiving, and prayer. According to Thomas, wherever theology reverts to the psalms, it shows its character of wisdom in a very special way.
The love of singing the psalms in the context of the divine office, founded in Monte Cassino, seems to have stayed alive within Thomas all his life. The best known of Aquinas's early biographers, William of Tocco, who had the privilege of knowing Thomas personally, reports that Thomas would rise at night before the actual time (or the canonical hour of Matins (cap. 34). A few chapters before (cap. 29) we read: "One also saw him often when he was singing the psalm verse during Compline in Lent: 'Do not reject us in old age, when my strength is failing,' enraptured and consumed by piety, tears streaming down his face that seemed to be bursting forth from the eyes of the pious soul."