Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Initiative of Greeting

Those making the transition to Traditional Catholicism soon perceive its richness and learn that nothing is meaningless or escapes integration into the Catholic worldview. Every gesture and movement of the traditional Latin Mass is so replete with symbolism that its study must be inexhaustible, and the same applies to the liturgical year. Awareness of the constant presence of Heaven and the Communion of Saints challenges and enlarges one's perspective. Even the petty annoyances of daily existence are given meaning as opportunities to unite oneself to the sufferings of Christ and to grow in virtue. A blessed child it is who is reared with the fullness of the true Faith.

One small facet of the wealth of Catholicism can be found in a section on greeting in Dr. Marian Horvat's book, The Catholic Manual of Civility.

First, Dr. Horvat explains:
"Crossing the path of a person of authority or higher dignity, it is the younger or less important person who should offer the first greeting."
Then she goes on to say:
"When Our Lady learned that Elizabeth was with child, she did not delay to make plans to travel from Nazareth to Hebron to congratulate her cousin for this high favor from God. At the meeting, the one who initiated the greeting was the Blessed Virgin, who was younger in age even though she was superior to Elizabeth in dignity: And Mary entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. (Lk 1:40-41)

"Her words were accompanied by a prodigy of grace: the sanctification of John the Baptist, who leaped with joy in his mother's womb. It is to commemorate and imitate the humility of Mary in this greeting that the laws of certain religious congregations impose on the superiors the initiative of greeting."
That is, because of her Immaculate Conception and Divine Maternity, the Blessed Virgin was superior in dignity to St. Elizabeth. Nevertheless, virtuous woman that she was, she humbly initiated the greeting of her older relative, Elizabeth.

The practice of superiors initiating the greeting as described by Dr. Horvat is depicted in the film The Nun's Story. More than once in the film, the mother superior greets Sr. Luke with "Benedicite", to which Sr. Luke responds, "Dominus".

I have read that the benedicite-dominus greeting originated with the Benedictines.  That is, the younger religious would say to the older religious or to the superior, "Benedicite" (Bless me) and the latter would reply "Dominus te benedicat" (May the Lord bless you).   But in The Nun's Story the greeting is shortened and it is the superior who initiates the greeting, asking to be blessed.

With this traditional practice in mind, every "Good morning" or "Good evening" can become a reminder to reflect in passing on the virtue of humility.

Horvat, Marian Therese, Catholic Manual of Civility (Tradition in Action, Los Angeles, 2008), p. 100.

Rembrant's "Visitation", from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

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