“A fragrance of prayer” – review of Dom Columba Marmion’s ‘Words of Life on the Margins of the Missal’

“It is enough to arouse reflection, stir the heart, stimulate the will, and call forth zeal.”

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Continuing on from the reviews of The Cenacle Press editions of Marmion’s Christ in His Mysteries and Benson’s Christ in the Church, I’m excited to share pictures and details about another recently released book – Dom Columba Marmion’s Words of Life on the Margin of the Missal.

The Cenacle Press is a project of Silverstream Monastery in Ireland, launched in the last couple of years. There are many reviews online, but not many photos of the books themselves. Pictures like this are important in this day and age, when independent publishers, newly-typeset books and print-on-demand titles can be quite low quality.

It is very good news that The Cenacle Press are publishing this book. Hitherto, those who wish to read it have been limited to expensive second-hand copies of the original English translation.

The Cenacle Press’s publishes high-quality editions. This one is improved even from my last review of one of their hardbacks. As you can see, this newly-typeset book has a lovely smyth-sewn binding, a leather-style cover, crystal-clear fonts, great overall aesthetic, and illustrations from Daniel Mitsui.

The focus on aesthetics is deliberate, as it states at the back:

“The Cenacle Press can be summed up in four words: Quis ostendit nobis bona – who will show us good things (Psalm 4:6)?

“In an age of confusion, ugliness, and sin, our aim is to show something o the Highest Good to every reader who picks up our books.”

Let’s look at the book.

But what’s so special about the author and this book?

About Dom Columba Marmion

Marmion was born in Ireland in 1858. He became the Abbot of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium, and gave his conferences in French. His works were translated into English in the early twentieth century by “A Nun of Tyburn Convent” – and The Cenacle Press have reproduced these translations in this book, and their editions.

Marmion is well-known today for his particular focus on how our sanctification arises from the relationship between the Christian, Christ and the Church, which is Christ’s mystical body – outside of which there is no salvation. In this, we can also see similarities with writers such as Dom Eugene Boylan and some of the works of Mgr Robert Hugh Benson, albeit with different emphases. Dr Matthew K. Minerd recently delivered a lecture on Marmion’s theology (with specific reference to Christ in his Mysteries) on Mr Michael Lofton’s YouTube channel Reason & Theology.

Papal approval

Some editions of Marmion’s works normally contain a 1919 letter from Pope Benedict XV, in which he thanked the author for sending him his works, and praised them in the following terms:

“We readily appreciate their praiseworthiness as being singu­larly conducive to excite and maintain the flame of Divine love in the soul.

“For although these pages do not contain the whole of the discourses you have made to your spiritual sons concerning Jesus Christ, the Exemplar and Cause of all sanctity, nevertheless these commentaries, so to speak, on the matter of your teaching, show clearly how this doctrine is capable of fostering the desire to imitate Christ and to live by Him ‘Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption.’”

Although a reference is rarely given, Pope Pius XII is often quoted – included on The Cenacle Press website – as saying the following:

“[The works of Marmion] are outstanding in the accuracy of their doctrine, the clarity of their style, and the depth and richness of their thought.”

About the book

As we can see in the pictures above, Words of Life takes extracts from Marmion’s works, and presents them in short, manageable chunks for daily devotions and meditation. Most of the extracts are from the major works, but there are also some from less familiar texts – such as letters, articles and conferences.

The book contains devotions for each day of the year, whether they be related to the temporale (the fixed seasons from Advent to Pentecost) or the sanctorale (the calendar of saints). It is very comprehensive for such a small book, with only a one week of the year which might lack daily reflections, depending on the date of Septuagesima Sunday.

It was edited by Dom Ramund Thibaut in 1936, and in the preface he writes that his intention was to faithfully express the “Message” of Marmion. He writes:

“[I]t behoved us in the first place to choose the pages – and they are manifold – which reveal Christ Jesus: Christ the Son of God, Incarnate Word, the one Mediator between God and man, First-born of many brethren – to make that Divine life which He so fully possessed, abound in them that they might become the children of the Father – to establish in them, by the action of His Spirit and of His Church, the reign of perfection and holiness, in faith, confidence and love.

“Moreover, with Dom Marmion, the contemplation of the radiant figure of Christ Jesus ‘Who loved us and delivered Himself for us’ was normally achieved in prayer, under the influence of the Holy Ghost ‘poured forth in our hearts’, according to the doctrine of St Paul, which he held so dear. A penetrating fragrance of prayer – as has been often remarked – emanates from his works; it was important not to allow this fragrance to be dispelled in collecting these spontaneous effusions from the soul of a saint.” (ix)

The reflections are short but intense, giving us something on which to meditate in what time we have available, and to allow to radiate out through the day. Given the length of the extracts, this book is excellent for those struggling to find time amidst all the other daily duties. As Dom Thibaut writes:

“We have limited our extracts to one page for each day. [Ed: In reality, it is much less than that.] It is enough to arouse reflection, stir the heart, stimulate the will, and call forth zeal.” (xiii)

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Some extracts

Over the last few days, I have really appreciated some of the selections in Words of Life. Here is a thought-provoking passage for September 4th:

“We must keep our personality in our Supernatural life, as to what is good in it; that is a part of that ‘truth’, that ‘sincerity’, which the life of grace demands. Holiness is not a single mould where the natural qualities that characterize one’s personality have to disappear so that only a uniform type may be represented. Far from that.

“God, in creating us, endowed each of us with gifts, talents, privileges; each soul has its special natural beauty: one shines by depth of intelligence, another is distinguished by strength of will, a third attracts by breadth of charity. Grace respects this beauty as it respects the nature on which it is based; it will but add a supernatural splendour to the natural beauty, enhancing and transfiguring it in His sanctifying operation.

“God respects His work of creation for He has willed this diversity: each soul, in translating one of the Divine thoughts, has a special place in the Heart of God.”

Christ the Life of the Soul, Part II, Chapter V, Section I

The following day, September 5th, is similarly inspiring:

“Every grace, whatsoever it be, flows for us from the Cross: there is not one but is bought with the love and blood of Jesus. The Priesthood of Christ makes Him our one Mediator Who is ever heard. This is why the Apostle exclaims in ardent conviction:

“‘He that spared not even His own Son… how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things?’ Quomodo non etiam cum illo omnia nobis donavit? We are made so rich, says St. Paul again, that henceforward no grace is wanting to us: Ita ut nihil nobis desit in ulla gratia!

“So great is our Pontiff, so far-reaching His Priesthood, that even now Christ fulfils this office of Mediator and continues His Sacrifice for our sanctification.

“What absolute and unshaken confidence this revelation ought to give us! In Christ Jesus we find all, we possess all, and, if we will, in Him nothing is wanting to us: He is our Salvation, the source of all our perfection and of all our sanctification.”

Christ in His Mysteries, Part 1, Chapter V, Section IV

Finally, September 9th:

“Seek in all things to give pleasure to Our Lord; do all with a great purity of intention. Before each action, say to Our Lord: ‘My Jesus, I wish to do this solely for love of You; and if this action did not please You I would not do it.’ If we do everything solely for love of Christ it is impossible for Him to fail to unite Himself to us. He said in speaking of His Father: Pater non reliquit Me solum, quia quae placita sunt ei facio semper. ‘The Father hath not left Me alone, for I do always the things that please Him.’ It is the same for us: Our Lord will keep us ever united to Himself if we do all things with the sole intention of pleasing Him.

“In the course of the Christian life there are deserts to be traversed, days of darkness and obscurity when we feel powerless and forsaken. Without that, your love would never be deep nor strong. But if you are faithful and abandoned to Him, Jesus will always hold you by the hand. ‘Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me.'”

Union with God, Chapter I, Section I; Chapter III, Section II.


One of the key themes of Marmion’s work is the primacy of Christ in our spiritual lives, and how necessary it is for us to enter into him and be formed by him in his grace. As Marmion writes elsewhere:

“By His almighty virtue, Christ Jesus, ever-living, produces the inward and supernatural perfection of His states in those who are moved by the desire of imitating Him and placing themselves in contact with Him by faith and love.”

As the world around us grows darker and darker, and as each possible worldly solution fails before us, it becomes clearer that there is no solution but Our Lord Jesus Christ. The only hope for the world – and for ourselves – is God’s grace. Our Lord himself warns us of the danger of falling away, and tells us what we must do if we want to avoid this fate:

“Abide in me: and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.

“If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch and shall wither: and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire: and he burneth. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will: and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15.4-7)

To this end, works such as Marmion’s are of great encouragement and help in our day – and Words of Life delivers it to us in manageable chunks.

But Marmion himself points out that we should not just aim to survive trials and persecutions. On the contrary, we should seek to conquer – and he tells us how:

“To raise this fallen world, St. Paul brings only one means: Christ, and Christ crucified. It is true that this mystery is a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness for the Grecian sages, but it contains the virtue of the Divine Spirit, Who alone can renew the face of the earth.

“In Christ alone can be found all the ‘wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption’ of which souls have need in all ages. And this is why St. Paul makes the whole formation of the inward man consist in the practical knowledge of the mystery of Jesus.” (Christ in His Mysteries, 4)

All in all, we can be very grateful that The Cenacle Press has made this text available in such a nice edition. I urge readers to take a look, and I hope that – as Dom Thibaut writes in the preface – “[we] may draw forth daily, in a simple form, confident peace and inward gladness, inseparable from all true union with God.” (x)

Further Reading

Dom Columba Marmion – Words of Life

Marmion – Christ in His Mysteries

Book Review: “Christ in His Mysteries” by Dom Columba Marmion

Marmion – Christ the Life of the Soul

Marmion – Union with God

Marmion – Christ the Ideal of the Monk

Marmion – Christ the Ideal of the Priest.

Dom Eugene Boylan – This Tremendous Lover

Book Review: “Christ in the Church” by Mgr Robert Hugh Benson

The Cenacle Press


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