The immobility of higher activities: Recollection and contemplation in the liturgy

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes,

“There is far more vitality in the steadfast contemplation of truth than in mere commotion.” [1]

And he wasn’t even talking about liturgy! Though it’s perfectly applicable to the argument between those who favor traditional versus modern liturgical styles: Does “active participation” by the laity at Mass, asks the traditionalist, necessarily connote physical activity: dancing, clapping, singing, responding?

Garrigou-Lagrange was actually talking about the first of Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. He goes on,

“The immobility of the first mover is not the immobility of the stone, but the immobility that characterizes the contemplation and love of the supreme good.”

What can we take away from this?

“[W]e must learn to distinguish in life between the immobility of inertia and the immobility of higher activities. The immobility of inertia or of death is inferior to motion. The immobility that characterizes the contemplation and love of God is superior to the movement it may produce by directing and vivifying it.”

Contemplation and love of God produce movement, i.e. the action of the Christian life. Contemplation is therefore superior to action since it is its vital principle. Both are necessary to salvation, but the one must come before the other, both logically and chronologically: It’s the love of God that leads to love of neighbor.

“Instead of dissipating our life in mere commotion, let us endeavor to recollect it so that our activity may be more profound, more consistent and lasting, and directed to eternity.”

Recollection, of course, is not mere remembering. It’s more like putting things in perspective: remembering who we are in relation to God:

“[R]ecollection … means an awakening to the essential, a recourse to the absolute which never ceases to be all-important and in whose light alone everything else discloses its true meaning. … It is not merely a formal integration of our mind …; rather, it means an integration of the entire person; a realization of its true self out of the depths of its being.” [2]

It seems to me that if liturgy is not conducive to contemplation and recollection then it largely fails in its purpose.


[1]  Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Providence (1932), Part I, Chapter 1.

[2]  Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, Manchester:Sophia Institute Press, 1990 (originally published 1948), Chapter 6.

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