top of page


Join me on a journey into the past. As we step back through time the centuries roll away. We pass the Reformation and eventually find ourselves in the 13th century. The Great Schism, which was the break of communion between what are now the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches had taken place in 1054. The Second Council of Lyons, held in 1274 and presided over by Pope Gregory X, was an attempt to reunite the Eastern Church with the West. One bishop who accompanied Pope Gregory to this Council was Guilluame Durandus, Bishop of Mende, (1230-1296) and he helped draw up the resulting constitutions. It is around this time that we stop in our journey.

   A century earlier, a shift with respect to living the Christian spiritual life was already being observed, in that there was growing understanding that the practices of the Way were not necessarily confined to those who lived the monastic life but could be practiced by all. This was eagerly embraced by the laity who demonstrated a hunger for immersion into the spiritual experience and to live in imitation of Christ and His disciples. One way in which this found expression was that many felt that the spiritual realm was so close they could almost reach out and touch it. Unfortunately it also led to some heretical groups springing up.

   Perhaps it was this which led Durandus to pen his esteemed work, the RATIONALE DIVINORUM OFFICIORUM (Rationale for the Divine Offices). Indeed, as he points out in his preface to this work:

Now the priests and prelates of the Church,[1] to whom ‘it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God,[2] and who are the distributors and dispensers of the sacraments, must have the integrity of the sacraments and shine with the virtues they represent, so that by their brilliance others may be enlightened and illuminated. Without this they are ‘blind leaders of the blind,[3] and, according to the words of the prophet, ‘their eyes be darkened, that they see not.[4] Nonetheless, sadly, there are many today who have little understanding of things of daily use which relate to the practices of the Church and serve in the Offices, yet do not know what they mean, or why they were instituted.

     He was already a highly regarded canonist, having published a number of works previously. The Rationale soon became recognized as one of the most important religious writings of the Middle Ages and, indeed, the most important in the field of the liturgy dating from that time.

   Durandus did not invent the inordinate number of symbolic meanings he presents. He drew from the writings of the Doctors of the Church who preceded him, from the Fathers of the early Church and not least of all from the Bible. Indeed he demonstrates that many liturgical symbols are based on, and have the same significance, of things found in the Old Testament.

   Undoubtedly a considerable proportion of the population of that time could not read but here was a work through which they could be taught another language; the language of spirituality. The language of spirituality consists of symbols which are not confined merely to the letters of the alphabet or words. Symbols are also found in art, objects, in the spoken word and in actions. Durandus knew this, he writes:

The paintings and ornaments which are in the churches are the readings and writings of the laity; which led St Gregory to say, ‘It is one thing to adore paintings, another thing is to learn, through the history that this painting represents, what we must adore.’ For what writing shows to those who read it, paintings teach the unlearned who look at them, because, without instruction, they see in them what they must follow and read it in these paintings, although they do not know the letters.

  So here we stand in a Church in the 13th century and we gaze at the altar. We see the Holy Table on which offering is to be made and still far beyond. We recall that the altar signifies the mortification of our senses, or our heart, in which the movements of the flesh are consumed by the ardour of the Holy Spirit. It also signifies the spiritual church; and its four corners, the four parts of the world over which the Church extends its empire. Again, it is the image of Christ, without whom no gift can be offered in a pleasing manner to the Father. Each of these offers much food for reflection and so helps us to lift our hearts and minds away from the mundane and upwards into the spiritual.

  So much is contained in these few words and the Rationale consists of many hundreds of pages of such spiritual nourishment. It has quite aptly been called a liturgical encyclopedia.

  If we now return to our current time the significance of the altar has not changed, nor have most of the other things pertaining to the Offices which Durandus explains. Today the Rationale is regarded as the primary liturgical authority but only now after seven hundred years is the complete work available in English.

  Today we again live in a time when many are spiritually hungry and not finding the nourishment they seek in the Church are turning to unsound alternatives. Hopefully both they and lay members of the Church will be able to be fed with the rich nourishment the Rationale provides, so that they also find a way through which they can live in greater imitation of Christ and His disciples. So many more could come to feel that the spiritual realm is so close they can almost reach out with their hands and touch it.



[1] Spiritually this means those who have made considerable progress on the spiritual journey

[2] Luke 8:1

[3] Matthew 15:14

[4] Psalm 69:23








bottom of page