Praying in Rhythm with the Feasts and Seasons: The Rural Life Prayerbook
There were two Catholic publications printed in 1946 that were ahead of their time. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) published a small booklet entitled With the Blessing of the Church, translated by Most Rev. J. H. Schlarman and Father Philip T. Weller published a Latin and English translation of Rituale Romanum, or The Roman Ritual which contained all the prayers, blessings and ceremonies for the sacred liturgy outside of Mass. The former contained thirty-two blessings from the Roman Ritual particular to rural life, the latter published the entire Ritual. Both provided blessings in the vernacular, enabling the laity to understand and utilize some of these blessings within their domestic church.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference expanded the collection of prayers and devotions geared to rural Catholics and included devotions not exclusive for rural life in The Rural Life Prayerbook, but it would take a decade for Father Alban J. Dachaeuer, S.J. to complete the project.
Of particular note was how these prayers, especially certain blessings from the Roman Ritual, could now be read and used by the laity:
In case there be no priest available to pronounce the blessing, let the father (or another member of the family) read the respective blessing, for, by virtue of the indelible mark bestowed on him through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, he shares to a certain degree in the eternal Highpriesthood of Christ, so that, by reason of his union with the divine Highpriest, the power-laden blessing of the Church, uttered by him, will surely bestow on the early thing a heavenly significance (Foreword by M. Hellriegel, With the Blessing of the Church).
This was part of the vision of the Liturgical Movement, and realized later in 1963 in Vatican II in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or Sacrosanctum Concilium:
79. The sacramentals are to be revised, account being taken of the primary principle of enabling the faithful to participate intelligently, actively, and easily. The circumstances of our times must also be considered.... Provision should be made for the administration of some sacramentals, at least in special circumstances and at the discretion of the ordinary, by qualified lay persons.
This later was implemented in the current Canon Law:
Can. 1168 The minister of the sacramentals is a cleric who has the requisite power. In accordance with the liturgical books and subject to the judgement of the local Ordinary, certain sacramentals can also be administered by lay people who possess the appropriate qualities.
And reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1677 Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life....
1678 Among the sacramentals blessings occupy an important place. They include both praise of God for his works and gifts, and the Church's intercession for men that they may be able to use God's gifts according to the spirit of the Gospel.
1669 Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a "blessing," and to bless. Hence lay people may preside at certain blessings; the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).
A Prayerbook for All
When the Rural Life Prayerbook, written and compiled by Father Alban J. Dachaeuer, S.J., was published in 1956, it was to fill the prayer needs of the rural faithful (outside of a missal). The NCRLC recognized the special balance of spiritual and physical needs of man, particularly those who lived following the natural seasons.
Liturgy and agricultural life made for a natural connection, with the farmer situation so close to what the church utilized in her worship--the fruits of the earth and vine, the work of human hands. There was too the obvious connection between the annual cycles of nature and the liturgical year (Michael J. Woods, Cultivating Soil and Soul, p. xxi).
The prayerbook has withstood the test of time. TAN Books has undertaken a third reprint of the little book, recognizing its universal appeal, for both urban and rural Catholic alike. The Church's Liturgy and Calendar is not separate from the natural rhythm of the seasons and harvests, but tied very closely to them. Perhaps one living in a more agrarian life would recognize more readily the daily gifts given by God, but all are called to be thankful for God's bounty.
Several popes have spoken on the sacredness of rural life, including Pope St. John XXIII in the encyclical Mater et Magistra. Not all are called to live the rural life and be a farmer, but it is important to keep a balance within His creation. There needs to be a reversal of what Jacques Philippe describes:
Contemporary man is often cut off from nature; he lives in a world that is reduced to a universe of tarmac, concrete, and all kinds of screens. He is the prisoner of a fabricated world, a virtual world, the projection of his own fantasies, instead of being in contact with creation. As a result, he is sometimes cut off from God--and from himself (Thirsting for Prayer, pp. 74-75).
There is also a call not to pit the urban and rural life against each other, but to pray as one united to the True Vine and praying for the health of all the branches, because the Divine Sap flows through us all, and what one does affects all the other branches. Although so many of the prayers and blessings of the Ritual and within the prayerbook deal with physical needs especially related to weather and rural life,
[o]ne must point out that the public prayer of the church as contained in the missal, breviary and ritual is not for the exclusive welfare of the farmer, but for all the members of Christ's Body. The man or woman in the city cathedral praying the Mass or using the sacramentals is praying for the good of the farmer; and likewise the farmer in the little rural church at Mass or any public service of the liturgy as well as in the use of the sacramentals and ritual is mindful of his brother's needs before the throne of almighty God and in union with the eternal Priest, the Redeemer, our Lord Himself (Morrison, "Using Sacramentals", Orate Fratres, Volume XXIV, February 1950, No. 3, pp. 128-132).
A Gift for the Easter and Spring Seasons
Bringing the prayerbook back in print is one step in working that balance between man, liturgy and God's gifts of nature. It is not too late to purchase this little prayerbook as an Easter basket gift, or in celebration of the upcoming Easter and spring seasons. The 4" by 6" book is an almost exact reproduction to the original, the only difference being it is all in black print, and not red and black. It is black hardcover, with red outside pages, and includes two ribbons, all the original illustrations and even the endpapers having the same original design. The book has six sections:
- Ordinary of the Mass and Prayers for the Country Family
- Occasional Prayers for Various Times, Feasts and Seasons of the Year
Prayer for the Woodlot
A Prayer for Lent
A Prayer at Easter
Prayer for May First
Prayers for Rain
- Blessings from the Roman Ritual
Blessing for Bread and Cakes
Blessing of Lard of Bacon
Blessing of Eggs
Blessing of Sprouting Seeds
Blessing for Any Object
- Prayers and Devotions
These include traditional prayers for a Catholic, and additional such as
Evening Prayer for a Rural Family
Prayer for Elected Officials
- Liturgical Devotions for Country Living
This section covers several particular devotions for rural Catholics, including Masses for certain feasts like St. Isidore and the Assumption, and a ceremony for Rogation Days
- Selected Psalms
The prayers are delightful, and even though I live in the suburbs, I find myself returning often to the prayerbook, especially for the rural prayers. In my kitchen I employ the blessings of bacon and bread. When I visit a cemetery, I want to pull out the "Prayer at a Country Cemetery."
The prayerbook is unique and such a treasure, especially the blessings section. Perhaps The Rural Life Prayerbook can be a stepping stone in returning to a more dedicated sacred living, as described by Monsignor Hellriegel:
The early Christians used nothing, drank not even a glass of water nor ate a morsel of bread without signing it with the sign of the cross, the sign of redemption and sanctification, so as not to be contaminated, even in a small measure, by that curse which burdens all creation since the arch-sin of Adam.
Building on the sacred practice of those men and women who sat at the very foundations of her life, the Church began to open her treasure-trove to "instaurare OMNIA in Christo, to incorporate ALL things in Christ"; to bless and hallow all things that are for the use of man: home and fields, barns and shops, animals and tools, things on the waters, on the earth and in the sky. By doing so, the Church establishes a divine contact between the holy Eucharist and these objects, transforming them, making them fit instruments for the daily living, working, toiling and suffering of her children, thereby aiding and sanctifying the redeemed "branches" with the eternal splendor and sweet fragrance of Christ, the "Vine," and giving them a ray and foretaste of the joy and peace of that true home where God Himself is their Food and Drink (Foreword, With the Blessing of the Church, 3).