UNDERSTANDING THE RATIONALE
AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
The RATIONALE DIVINORUM is a very large and important work which can be approached in several different ways. It is therefore useful to consider the nature of this work, its structure and its importance for Christians today.
A Liturgical Encyclopedia
The Rationale has well been called a ‘liturgical encyclopaedia’ and in this sense it is very useful for looking up particular topics. We are accustomed, whether with an encyclopaedia or the index for a book, it look up a particular word in alphabetical order but it would be almost impossible to provide such a list in this case. There are so many words one might seek, many of which are very frequently mentioned, that an ordinary index would probably be longer than the text itself, and very confusing to use. The short indices provided at the end of each volume are therefore only nominal. A better approach would be to consult the paragraph summaries provided in VOLUME VII. Many topics are discussed in a particular chapter or over the space of a few paragraphs. If further discussion is to be found elsewhere the reference to this is often given by the author.
Another approach would be to use the extensive scripture references provided at the end of each volume as an aid to Bible study. Durandus makes a valuable contribution to explaining thousands of different Bible passages.
Reading from Cover to Cover
Each Book does follow a natural sequence and can be read from cover to cover. This will not only give the reader an overview of the entire work but much will be learned about the Divine Offices. However at the end of each Book the reader will almost certainly be left with the feeling that they have missed a great deal. Durandus packs so much into each paragraph that much more can be gained from further, more detailed, study.
In the Author’s Preface (VOLUME 1) Durandus explains that he will be writing at for different spiritual levels. These are the literal or historical, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical methods of exegesis or interpretation, which he explains. These methods have been used throughout Christian history but are not well known to those who have had little encounter with spiritual theology. Not least of all they are to be found throughout the Bible and also in the writings of the Church Fathers.
To understand why this is so it is necessary to appreciate that the path of spiritual growth or development is fundamental to Christianity. It always has been. It begins with a basic understanding, moves on to ordinary theology, then spiritual theology and finally to mystical theology. These roughly equate with the four above-mentioned method of exegesis. In more practical terms they relate to simple belief, the way of purgation, the way of illumination and the contemplative way. It is also important to recognize that progress is not just a matter of intellectual capacity but comes through a gradually process through which the heart is progressively opened and the mind receives increasing degrees of spiritual illumination, which enables it to perceive and understand more profound concepts.
The Rationale contains both some very simple and some very profound teaching, as well as everything in between. As a result there will be very few who can fully grasp and understand everything it says at first reading. This makes it an ideal companion for those who seek to make progress along the Way.
Some may also be interested in Durandus seeing these four levels as also equating with the eras of human history, which was commonly understood in his time, and which St Augustine also speaks of. These are the eras before the law, under the law, the time of grace and the furture life.
The Importance of the Rationale
Aside from this work being regarded as the primary authority on liturgy it is very important in another regard. We can understand the Christian life as consisting of both personal devotion and corporate worship. When it comes to spiritual and mystical theology there are a multitude of books which have been written over many centuries which describe the path of spiritual growth from the perspective of personal development. They speak, among other things, of the disciplines necessary and the experiences which may be encountered along the way. On the other hand there is hardly anything available which speaks of how liturgical worship encourages and nurtures spiritual development. The RATIONALE DIVINORUM OFFICIORUM more than fills the gap.
The Foundations of Liturgical Worship
There are many today who hold the opinion that liturgical worship has no Biblical foundation. Durandus shows that the opposite is actually the case. Everything liturgical rests on a biblical foundation. There is a spiritual truth, a spiritual reality and a very ancient wisdom on which the Bible rests. Christian life and worship must also rest on this truth, reality and wisdom. It is a truth, reality and wisdom which rises far beyond simple belief.
Spiritual truths are immutable, they do not change with our changing times and customs and there is very little in this work that can be confined to the ages of history. Every Christian denomination which centres on the liturgical Tradition will find much in the Rationale that is of great relevance, although in nearly every case there will be some differences. The one exception to this is that in the Roman Catholic Church there is a comparatively small but growing number who are returning to the form of worship almost identical to that which Durandus knew and describes.
This is an extraordinary work and one that can of great spiritual assistance to every member, clergy of lay, of the Ecclesiastical Tradition.