Denis Desert on the theology of Jean Pierre de Cassaude


The French priest Jean Pierre de Cassaude [1675-1751] is known for the dictum that each moment of our lives is a sacrament. Yes, in the hurly burly and the ups and downs of life or with the sheer hum-drum of the everyday each moment has a sacramental nature. That needs some thinking about. Every moment of every day is a sacrament and becomes a moment of grace.

I turn to a very everyday event from my own life sometime in the nineteen seventies. Dressed in my cassock for pastoral visiting, I took a short cut through some allotments. As I walked along one of the narrow dividing strips, I came across a man busy sowing seed. His back was turned from me so he had no idea it was the vicar. As I came alongside he swung a handful of black onion seeds under my nose and said in very hushed and almost reverent tones, “It’s a marvel, a marvel, you puts these little fellas in and ups they comes, it’s a marvel!”  And so saying he went on sowing the seed. For that man, unknown to himself, sowing seed was in fact a sacrament of the present moment in which he was opened to the very mystery of life.

It has seemed to me for some years that the world and our environment is not only a sacrament but also a parable. The word, ‘parable’, comes to us directly from the Greek meaning something thrown alongside us, not at us. Life is for us to pick up, think about it and react appropriately. In this sense a parable is down to earth and everyday and certainly not as used to be taught, ‘An earthly story with a heavenly meaning’. I would suggest that for those who have eyes to see and minds to perceive our environment speaks, it has something to tell us. This understanding was brought home to that ancient Greek philosopher Sophocles when he wrote circa 496BC, “Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.” So we human beings are surrounded by wonder and we humans are at the very pinnacle!

In this ‘post modern’ age of ours where old values seem to have disintegrated and traditions have faded away, we need to underline the element of wonder that surrounds us. Yes, there is the wonder of high mass with its ceremonial, with bells tinkling, clouds of incense and the moment of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament, but as Cassaude might have suggested, the wonder of the mass needs to be reflected in the daily life of the faithful. So how might this be expressed? I suggest that the faithful need to be encouraged to open their eyes and minds to see the wonder that surrounds them. To look into the garden where a blackbird feeding its young; up there in that magnificent copper beech tree a squirrel enjoys a nut; the next door neighbour waves and you enjoy a chat; indoors you switch on the T.V. and view a feature of an Ethiopian group celebrating; then the children come home from school full of vim and vigour. So we could go on. We are all surrounded with the sacrament of wonder embracing us with grace.

As traditionalists we are in a unique position to assist the faithful to take the faith from the sanctuary into their daily lives. The heart of our Blessed Lord’s teaching lay in how the hearers lived their daily lives. Reflect on the parable of the Prodigal Son in Rembrandt’s perceptive painting. Without a doubt our faith and the gospel is rooted in our everyday lives. This, I consider, is the message that needs to be conveyed in the Church today.