Venerable Bruno Lanteri: A Teacher of Biblical Prayer at Mass
Holy writings shed blessed light on the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice.
Recently, while combing through a box of keepsakes, I came upon the small white missal I received as a gift on the morning of my first Holy Communion at age 7. Lovely memories returned as I began to scan the gold-edged pages, illustrated with colorful pictures, and came to the words at the elevation of the Eucharist and the Precious Blood, “My Lord and my God” and “My Lord and my God. My Jesus, have mercy on us.” I paused. As if only yesterday, I recalled kneeling in my white dress and veil as I clutched my precious “tutorial” and read the words for the first time. Following the instructions, I adored and prayed in silence. My young heart leapt; I could hardly wait to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
When first offered in my childhood, all the prayers of the Mass captured my imagination and helped me to pray. My missal was a wonderful guide. Now, in my adult years, I feel I have been gifted with a new “tutorial” for ongoing inspiration at Mass through the method described by Father Timothy Gallagher of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, in his new book, A Biblical Way of Praying the Mass.
The Lanteri Method
Father Gallagher presents the method composed by the founder of his fraternity, Venerable Bruno Lanteri, who was born in 1759 in the Piedmont region of northern Italy and ministered there until his death in 1830. He composed his method in preparation for his ordination to the priesthood and chose biblical characters as models of devotion. As Father Gallagher explains, “Its entire focus is the heart.” In each part of the Mass “Venerable Bruno urges us to seek ‘the sentiments of the heart’ of some biblical figure.”
According to Father Gallagher, for Venerable Bruno, Daily Mass was “intentionally prepared and prolonged in prayer through the day, and daily time before the Blessed Sacrament.” He carefully inscribed an outline of how he would pray in concrete ways in preparation for Mass and afterward. But as carefully, he also included his method for prayer at Mass to help him focus his heart in a special way during the Divine Liturgy. The best way he found was by learning from the holy example of biblical figures or from other saints, such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents, St. Zélie and St. Louis Martin. As he related their sentiments to specific moments and to specific words in the prayers during Mass, he grew in his own spiritual life and experienced the fruit of grace in his heart.
“When I enter the church,” Bruno explains in his writing, seeking the eagerness of the prophet from the Gospel of St. Luke, “I will imagine that I see Simeon, who went in the Spirit to the Temple for the presentation and circumcision of Jesus, or some other saint.” As Mass begins, he continues, “I will seek the sentiments and the heart of the tax collector; at the Gloria, those of the Angels; at the Prayers, those of an ambassador sent by the Church; at the Reading and the Gospel, those of a disciple; at the Profession of Faith, those of the martyrs; at the Preparation of the Gifts, those of Melchizedek; at the Preface, those of the Heavenly Court; at the Consecration, those of Christ; at the Our Father, those of one who asks for what he needs; at the Lamb of God, those of one who is guilty and in need of forgiveness; at Communion, those of one in love; at the words ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended,’ that of an apostle; I will go forth from the altar as if breathing fire.’”
One and All
Inflamed with desire, Bruno fulfilled the desire of Jesus, who cried out, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He encouraged everyone to stay close to the Jesus in the Eucharist and continued to practice his method of prayer throughout his priesthood. But as time progressed, the future founder came to realize that his inspiration was meant not only for himself, but for others, as well. For this, in 1826, at the outset of the Oblates’ new mission to preach retreats, he shared his method of prayer with his fraternal brothers, who in turn taught it to retreatants at that time in particular need of catechesis and encouragement.
According to historical background at the Oblates’ website, during the early 19th century, Catholics in Europe were still suffering the ravages of Jansenism, a rigid sect that emphasized predestination over free will, and a strong anti-Catholic culture and political environment following the French Revolution. Homilies at Mass focused on sinfulness and human depravity, and congregants left without hope. Learning to pray according to Bruno’s method, then, provided many with a path to healing and renewal after the example of enlightened biblical figures.
The Mass Embodied
In my own life, Bruno’s method has provided me with new perspective on each part of the Mass. As I enter the church, I now seek the eagerness of Simeon as he entered the Temple, or another figure, such as the Psalmist, who wrote, “I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to God’s house.” At the Penitential Rite, I seek the sentiments of the tax collector, who begged, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” At the Gloria, I ask for the sentiments of the angel that brought “news of great joy” to frightened shepherds during the night, and, at the readings, the sentiments of a disciple, listening in wonder as Jesus promised eternal joy to the “poor in spirit,” to “those who mourn,” and to “those who suffer persecution” on account of his name.
As Mass continues, my baptismal responsibility has now come into sharper focus as I join in the prayers and seek the sentiments of an ambassador sent by the Church, like one of those that carried the paralytic to Jesus, who, upon “seeing their faith,” healed the man. At the Profession of Faith, I pray for the courage of the martyrs that gave public witness to Christ. At the Preparation of the Gifts, I seek the sentiments of Melchizedek who offered sacrificial gifts according to his priestly calling, and at the Preface, I seek the sentiments of the Heavenly Court that “stand before God’s throne and worship.”
At the Consecration, I seek the sentiments of Jesus, who, from the cross, prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” At the Our Father, I pray for all I need, and at the Lamb of God, I seek the sentiments of one who is guilty yet stands in hope before him “who takes away the sins of the world.” At Communion, I offer thanks to Jesus in an exchange of love, and at the words “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” I seek the sentiments of an apostle to be a light of charity to others.
A light in childhood, my First Communion missal was an inspiration as I prepared to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. Now, as an adult, I pray that the new light I am receiving from Venerable Bruno Lanteri’s biblical method of prayer at Mass will help me to keep Jesus first in my heart and the center of my life.
Jennifer Sokol writes from Shoreline, Washington.
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