Over the past three days, thanks to the generosity of a number of kind benefactors, our young men in formation have been able to participate in the annual Paris-Chartres Pilgrimage, culminating this afternoon with the Solemn Pontifical Mass of Monday in the Octave of Pentecost offered in Chartres Cathedral by His Eminence, Robert Cardinal Sarah.
Saint Benedict strongly insists that his monks have reading during their meals. Thus far this year in the monastery refectory we have read four very fine books (the titles are illustrated below).
Monks 'eat' books as it were - particularly young monks - and we are always in need of more. We are profoundly grateful to those who enable us to expand our library through their benefactions and their gifts. An up to date list of some of the books we need and hope to acquire can be found on the Monastery's Amazon wish list. God bless and reward you if you can help to nourish our hearts, minds and souls in this way. Our benefactors are prayed for daily.
During Lent, thanks to the assistance of friends and local craftsmen and women, a new altar just outside our Chapter Room was completed using a venerable altar stone entrusted to the Monastery.
Dedicated to Blessed Ildephonse Schuster OSB (a relic of whom, together with one of Saint Rosealine of Villeneuve, rest on the gradine) the altar facilitates the convenient and dignified celebration of private Masses when necessary. On Good Friday, following the Mass of the Presanctified, a relic of the True Cross was placed on the altar for the private veneration of the Community.
May God bless and reward all those who assisted in the realisation of this altar.
+ “Profíciat, quǽsumus, Dómine, plebs tibi dicáta piæ devotiónis afféctu: ut sacris actiónibus erudíta, quanto maiestáti tuæ fit grátior, tanto donis potióribus augeátur.”
Thus we shall pray in the Collect of the Mass of the Saturday of Passion Week tomorrow morning:
“May your people advance in the spirit of loving devotion, we ask you, Lord, that, being formed by these sacred observances, they may experience an increase of greater gifts and become more pleasing in the sight of your majesty.”
With all that lies before us in Holy Week, which is rightly claiming our attention and energies, this little collect could easily be left behind after Conventual Mass tomorrow morning as we get on with the necessary tasks of cutting olive branches and folding chasubles, etc. But that would be a pity, for I think it contains much which, if we ponder it carefully, can serve to ensure that our many activities in the coming week of grace are not simply displays of liturgical proficiency on our part, but in fact serve their God-given purpose – the purpose that this Collect so clearly articulates.
The “advance in the spirit of loving devotion” for which the Collect asks is, certainly, a worthy desire. But the Collect expresses more than a mere desire: it proposes the means by which this growth can come about. How? “Ut sacris actiónibus erudíta…” By “being formed by these sacred observances…”
My brothers we are about to enter wholeheartedly into what the East and West call “Great Week” because of the utterly cosmic magnitude and universal importance of the mysteries it celebrates: nothing less than the redemption of mankind by Christ’s saving sacrifice on the Cross and His glorious resurrection from the dead. And we are singularly privileged to be able to do so using the truly older forms of the Roman rite by means of a permission graciously granted to us by the Holy See through the good offices of our Bishop.
As we shall experience in the coming days, these rites are venerable for their antiquity and rich in their symbolism and meaning. Let these sacred actions form us! For if we celebrate these rites perfectly but have not grown in loving devotion, something is awry, something is wrong. If we do not “experience an increase of greater gifts and become more pleasing in the sight of [God’s] majesty” as a result of celebrating them, we will have somehow missed out on what Almighty God has in store for us in the coming days.
As an aside – though it is perhaps an important one – I ask that we do not fall into the trap of becoming liturgical dilettantes who swoon at the ‘rare sight’ of a broad stole or of a triple candle, etc. All the elements of the rites we shall celebrate have their purpose and meaning which has developed in tradition (and for which reason are themselves venerable): let us plumb these and allow them to serve the end of the rites, which tomorrow’s Collect articulates, in their due proportion. Certainly, we must celebrate them fully and with integrity and as well as we possibly can for the glory of Almighty God and for the literal edification (upbuilding) of His people. But in so doing we must not form ourselves or others into dilettantes or liturgical Luddites.
For what we do, we do not do for the sake of nostalgia or because we wish to retreat into a liturgical ghetto. Rather, we celebrate the ancient liturgical rites in all their richness and beauty because, as Pope Benedict XVI articulated so clearly, “It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place,” (Letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, 7 July 2007) and indeed because these very riches of our liturgical tradition form and sustain us in living the Christian life and our particular vocation today, in the twenty-first century, as so many young people and new vocations testify.
And so, in order not to miss this privileged opportunity to be formed by these sacred observances, to experience an increase of greater gifts and to become more pleasing in the sight of Almighty God, I ask – indeed, in so far as I am competent to do so, I insist – that no matter how busy we become with the necessary preparations for the liturgical rites and for our particular ministries within them, we do not fail to take at least one substantial period of time each day to prepare ourselves internally, in our hearts, minds and souls, for these rites by means of a silent lectio divina involving at least some of their content.
I am not asking that we seek to internalise everything in these rites or become experts in them overnight. That is impossible in but one Holy Week, and we have the remainder of our monastic lives, please God, in which to draw more deeply from these riches as we celebrate them with renewed fervour each year. But I am insisting that in this year of Our Lord 2018 we create the space, in silence, alone, in which these beautiful and ancient rites can begin their work of forming us into what Almighty God calls us to be.
I am asking that above all in this Great Week we live the liturgy as internally as we celebrate it externally; that we give the Sacred Liturgy the chance to do its work of formation for which we shall pray at Mass in the morning. I am asking that we advance in the spirit of loving devotion by being formed by the sacred rites we are about to celebrate, and that we shall thereby experience an increase of God’s gifts and become more pleasing in His sight. +
+ As the rubric found in the breviary after None tomorrow reminds us, Lent ends tomorrow afternoon. And then Passiontide begins.
Throughout this past week the Sacred Liturgy has already begun to taste the cup of the Lord’s Passion in Gospel readings that make no secret of the fact that the Christ is to suffer and to die, that the Temple of His Body would destroyed, and that it would be raised up in three days (cf. Gospel of Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Jn 2:13-25).
In the coming week, Passion week, the liturgical texts will immerse us further in the mystery of Christ’s suffering and death. Let us take care to renew our ascetical disciplines so as to facilitate an ever greater and more fruitful attention to that which we sing and to that which we hear in choir and at the altar in these days: the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons, the poignant Gospel passages, the Epistles and the Patristic homilies at Matins are more than enough to sustain our contemplation each day. Indeed, we would do well not to attempt to digest too much. Please God we shall be given other Passiontides in which further to plumb these depths. Let us simply ensure that this year, each day, we do so a little more fully.
In these days the Church frequently places the laments of the psalmist on our lips, particularly in the proper chants of the Mass. On Tuesday the familiar words of psalm 42 “Discerne causam meam, Dominie: ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me” (Judge my cause, O Lord: deliver me from the evil and treacherous foe) sung in the Gradual will become all that more poignant as we hear of the plotting of the Jews against Jesus chanted in the Gospel that follows.
Our Lord’s suffering was the suffering of an innocent man: he is the lamb without blemish sacrificed for our sins (cf. 1 Peter 1:19); it is easy to pray these words of Psalm 42 in respect of He.
But the psalmist who, as the instrument of God the Holy Ghost gave voice to this plea and first prayed thus in anguish, was not without blemish. Nor are we. And that is precisely why our Holy Mother the Church has us sing them (even though in Passiontide we do not pray them at the priest’s private preparation to ascend the altar).
For our suffering is often caught up in, or is a consequence of, our own weakness, foolishness, sin or evil. And sometimes it is not: there are evil people in the world who will do anything they can to destroy the good and to prevent people from living the conversion of their life and from making progress in virtue. There are people who betray our trust. There are others who hurt us deeply through their busy ignorance of our true needs. There is the suffering of underserved illness which arrives at moments and in ways that can weigh us down terribly. Whether we merit it or not, our life on this earth is lived under the shadow of the cross: it involves suffering: sometimes very great suffering.
Since its inception our monastery has adopted as its avatar the word “Pax” surrounded by the crown of thorns. The “pax inter spinas” is a thoroughly Benedictine motif: our vocation is aptly described as the seeking of peace amidst thorns – the thorns pressed down upon us by our moral lives, by others, by our world and even by the state in which Holy Mother Church finds herself in in any given age.
Our vocation is not, therefore, to live some facile form of peace subtly proffered by worldly pleasures, or to become sufficiently drugged by them, as it were, so as to pretend that suffering does not exist. No, our vocation it is to embrace suffering, to accept the thorns of persecution (from without or, more painfully, from within), to bear ridicule, to endure our own physical or moral frailty and that of others.
And our vocation is, amidst our suffering, no matter how painful the thorns surround us and pierce us are, to keep our eyes on He who is Peace. It is indeed to sing “Discerne causam meam, Dominie: ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me” with the faith and sure knowledge that even if a worldly judge may find me utterly culpable, the tribunal of Christ’s mercy and sacrificial love in which the Lamb is victorious (cf. Rev. 5) will rescue me if I persevere faithfully in His Way.
On Wednesday the Solemn celebration of the feast of St Benedict will ‘interrupt’ Passion Week as it were. As is our custom, for this great feast we will place the numerous relics of Benedictine Saints and Beati of which our monastery is the privileged custodian on the altar for solemn Lauds, Mass and Vespers, including relics of our Holy Father St Benedict.
As we venerate these precious treasures let us remember these saints suffered. Sometimes very greatly indeed. There was a time before their own conversion. And even afterwards there were sometimes periods when their monastic hearts, rather than expanding, felt like lead. They struggled with their own infirmities of mind and character. Those of others sometimes cruelly beat them down. Their bodies knew great—indeed mortal—sickness. And yet amidst these thorns – indeed precisely by persevering even when they seemed only to increase and press more deeply– these, our elder brothers and sisters in the monastic vocation, found peace. On Wednesday – indeed every day, most particularly when we are oppressed – let us not fail to seek their fraternal intercession for our own perseverance.
As we live the Passion of Our Blessed Lord more intensely in Sacred Liturgy of these days, as we share in His sufferings more intensely at different moments in our own lives, let us never lose sight of the reality of that Peace who is Himeself the prize of those who persevere faithfully unto the end. For we must never forget that the even the blackest, the very darkest shadows of the cross are, of course, cast by nothing other than the light of Easter morn. +
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