On the Ember Saturday of Advent we had the great joy of celebrating the Tonsuring of one of our brethren by our Bishop, Msgr Dominique Rey.
+ Ausculta, o fili, praecepta magistri... “Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master…” Could the first Chapter of a new year of grace, the new year of 2018, commence with more appropriate words than these, the first words of the Prologue of the Holy Rule?
For each of us, for monks, for those for whom 2018 will bring the grace of a entry into the monastic life, for those for whom it will bring further clarity in discernment, these words call us to a new and deeper attentiveness to the realities of our God-given vocation.
And they are realistic words: St Benedict knows only too well that we can and do stray “by the sloth of disobedience,” that we can and do fail and fall “by our evil conduct.” Hence the importance – nay the urgency – of ‘inclining the ears of our heart’ now, today. For if we fail to do this, if we procrastinate further still, if we allow other sounds and words to fill our hearts and minds and to drown out the master’s voice, we risk disinheritance, indeed everlasting punishment.
And so, if we may borrow the secular custom of a making new year’s resolutions, let us resolve today to listen ever more attentively to the voice of the Lord, to follow the counsel and prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5), that in this year of 2018 we may “serve him with the gifts he has given us” and thereby “follow him to glory.”
Last evening after Vespers we rightly knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and sang the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the many graces received in the past year. This morning after Conventual Mass we shall kneel again and, by singing the Veni Creator Spiritus, implore God the Holy Ghost’s assistance and strength for the coming year. Let us open our hearts that He may fill them with heavenly grace, that our following of the Lord in this year may be ever more complete and ever more fruitful for the salvation of our own souls and for the good of the Church.
So too, following Mass, we shall have the privilege of venerating the relic of St Odilo of Cluny on this the 969th anniversary of his death. Let us ask the intercession of this truly great abbot for our own vocations, for those in discernment, and even – especially! – for those who at this time and for whatever reason do not hearken to the precepts of the master. Through the intercession of Saint Odilo may we and those for whom we pray readily come to “freely accept and faithfully fulfil the instructions of a loving father.” +
+ At Vespers this evening we sang: O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. “O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.”
As this antiphon implies, it is December 22nd. Indeed it is the Friday evening before a long Christmas weekend. By now most people shall be on holiday preparing for Christmas festivities, or will travelling to share in the joy of these with family or friends. For many “Christmas” will have begun, if not long since, then at least with the end of this working week.
And yet we still have some 48 hours before the solemn vigil of Christmas will be sung here in our Chapter room – 48 hours in which the Church intensifies her prayer for the coming of the Desired One, in which she continues to hope and long for the deliverance and peace that only He can bring.
The liturgy of these days is a stark reminder of the true nature of the Christmas feast, of precisely what it is that we celebrate. This evening’s O Rex gentium yearns for the deliverance of mankind, recalling the creation of man from the dust of the earth almost by way of reminding Almighty God of a duty He owes to us who, by our own misdeeds, became ‘undelivered’!
I doubt that many of our contemporaries, amidst the Christmas feasting that has long since begun, shall be concerned about their deliverance. They may, perhaps, join in the singing of the popularised version of O Rex gentium found in the hymn Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which sings “O come, Desire of nations, bind; In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease; And be Thyself our King of peace.” But amidst these pleasant wishes for unity of heart and the ending of divisions, and whilst welcoming the King of peace, the deliverance which is at the heart of our preparation for Christmas and which is a prerequisite for true and lasting peace, indeed which is the very reason for the Incarnation itself, can be somewhat sentimentally obscured.
For Advent and Christmas are about longing for and celebrating the reality of our deliverance from sin and from the everlasting death that our sins deserve by the reality of God becoming man as our Saviour. It is this which we prepare earnestly to celebrate. It is for this reason that in this Ember week we have prayed and fasted more, that we have purged ourselves of worldly distractions in order the better to prepare to welcome our Saviour.
Even monasteries are busy places before Christmas, and amidst our many duties in preparing for this feast let us not fail to recall our own need for deliverance from sin, from its attractions, from its effects. Let us remember our duty, also, to carry with us into choir and to the altar our many friends, kind benefactors and family members who do not have the privilege of the riches of our life of liturgical prayer, for whom these days may well be spent more so as Martha than as Mary (cf. Luke 10:38-42). Let us pray too for those for whom Christmas is a mere secular activity, that they may come to know its Truth and that, rising to its demands, they may enjoy the everlasting peace its deliverance brings.
Tomorrow we shall assist our bishop in solemnly celebrating Ember Saturday with Tonsure and the ordination of Acolytes, Exorcists and Subdeacons. It is fitting that the Church’s tradition is to confer orders in Embertide, when we have prayed and fasted more intensely than usual, so that the graces given in these beautiful rites shall be more fecund in the lives of those for whom they are celebrated for the salvation of their souls and for the good of the whole Church.
Three amongst us this evening shall be tonsured tomorrow morning. As the bishop tonsures you, you will pray with him the words of Psalm 15:5 Dominus pars hereditatis meae et calicis mei; tu es qui restitues hereditatem meam mihi. “O Lord, the portion of my inheritance and my chalice; You are He who will restore my inheritance.”
Tonsure is a formal and public beginning of your path, please God, to Sacred Orders. It marks you – literally by the fivefold cutting of your hair – as one who henceforth belongs to the Lord for sacred service at His Altar. For monks and other religious the profession of vows is already a setting apart for the Lord’s service. Nevertheless, for they, clerical tonsure intensifies their belonging to the Lord as one whom the Church shall, please God, call to serve Him not only in the choir and in the enclosure, but also most appositely at His altar.
My sons, tonsure opens the door to the staircase which leads to Sacred Orders. We pray that in the coming years you will progress step by step towards the Altar of Sacrifice. Tomorrow, and each year in the future, please allow the Church’s sacred rites to teach you the nature of your ministry and to form you into the sacred ministers she so earnestly desires and needs. Ensure that through the purification of Embertide your hearts and minds are ever more pure.
And tomorrow, as you pray Psalm 15:5 with the bishop, give yourself to the Lord, to the King of the gentiles who comes for our deliverance, who – if indeed you do so give yourself – shall truly be your portion and your inheritance, now and forever. +
+ Advent is a busy season. We have many things to organise, people travel to be with family or friends – or even to be in monasteries – for Christmas. We try and send greetings to those whom we shall not see in person for the feast, etc.
Amidst all this activity the Advent liturgy mounts steadily and with increasing intensity along the path towards the divine condescension of Christmas night. For food for contemplation in this beautiful season he monk need not look much further than to his Antiphonale Monasticum and breviary.
The third Sunday of Advent, “Gaudete” Sunday as it is known from the Introit of tomorrow’s Mass, provides proper antiphons for the different hours, as do the other Sundays of Advent. As we prepare to rejoice with the Church in rose vestments this Sunday, I wish to ponder these antiphons a little.
Veniet Dominus et non tardabit, et illuminabit abscondita tenebrarum et manifestabit se ad omnes gentes. (Habakuk 2:3) “The Lord will come and will not delay. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will manifest Himself to all nations.”
There are foreboding facts here. The Lord will come. He will expose hidden things of darkness. He will show Himself to all nations.
Very few of us wish our hidden, dark acts to be exposed. We are rightly ashamed of our sins, of our unconverted lives. And before the Lord this shame simply intensifies the more we come to understand that it is He who loves us so much that we have offend when we choose darkness as opposed to His light.
And yet, the second antiphon sings: Jerusalem gaude gaudio magno quia veniet tibi salvator. (Zachariah 9:9) “Rejoice, Jerusalem, with great joy, for thy saviour will come to thee.” It is our saviour who is coming. We are to rejoice. In spite of the hidden things of darkness that blacken our souls, the Lord is coming. He is coming precisely to save us. The foreboding our shame evokes should give rise to joy. He will do what is necessary for our salvation. Our hidden things of darkness are brought to light – they are brought into the light of Christ. It is in this sense that the Church adds “Alleluia” to the first four of these antiphons.
The third antiphon, Dabo in Sion salutem, et in Ierusalem gloriam meam. (Isaiah 46:13) “I will give salvation in Sion, and My glory in Jerusalem,” indicates where this salvation is to be found: in the Holy City of the People of God, in the One True Church founded by the Saviour Himself. We must enter into that covenental and ecclesial relationship with God in order to enjoy His gifts.
The fourth antiphon – and let us be careful not to miss its import given that it is sung only at Lauds – speaks of the effect of the coming of our Saviour: Montes et omnes colles humiliabuntur et erunt prava in directa et aspera in vias planas. Veni Domine et noli tardare. (Isaiah 40:4) “Mountains and hills shall be levelled; crooked paths shall be made straight and rough ways smooth.” And it prays “Come, Lord, and delay not.”
Of course this requires the levelling of the mountains we ourselves have erected, the straightening of the crooked paths we have walked or down which we have even led others, the smoothing of the surfaces our sins have made rough. Amidst the rightful rejoicing at the coming of our Saviour we have work to do: the examination of our consciences, the making of a good confession – the very welcoming of the person and the power of the Saviour into my heart and soul.
The fifth antiphon exhorts us in the words of St Paul: Iuste et pie vivamus, exspectantes beatam spem et adventum Domini. (Titus 2: 12,13) “Let us live justly and piously looking for the blessed hope and the coming of the Lord.” This sober exhortation – which enjoys no “Alleluia” - is surely the standard for every day of Christian life and is surely even more apposite in the busy days leading up to Christmas, particularly if we allow the content of the Sacred Liturgy of these days to penetrate our hearts and souls.
One further note: Just as we need to take time to lean the chant of these antiphons and their associated tones, so too it will take time for our minds and our hearts – indeed each small and large aspect of our lives - to accord with what we sing (cf. Rule ch. 19). One of the great and fecund joys of living the monastic liturgy is the annual revisiting of the liturgical rites, of singing them each year not only with the ease that increasing familiarity brings, but with that ever more profound contemplation of the truths that their words and melodies convey so that our monastic lives – our Christian lives – are as beautiful as the chant we sing.
To that challenge, with the help of the manifold graces given us in this beautiful season of Advent, let us lift up our heads and rise! +
Au début de l'Avent, nous publierons notre première lettre aux amis du monastère. Si vous souhaitez le recevoir, veuillez vous inscrire ci-dessous.
At the beginning of Advent we will publish our first letter to friends of the monastery. If you wish to receive it, please subscribe below.
From the Simple Profession of Dom Ildephonse on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: [more photos may be viewed here]
+ My Son, in the Introit of today’s Mass our holy mother the Church sings: “It behooves us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection: by whom we are saved and delivered.” There are many words written and spoken about the monastic life, but few are more apt, more poignant, than these words given us by the Church’s Sacred Liturgy today. For a monk is a man who, in dying to himself and to the ways of the world, truly embraces the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who finds in that embrace salvation, life and resurrection.
One year ago today, on this blessed feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross you were clothed in the habit of a novice. And now, today, after a year of testing, a year of bearing patiently with the limitations and exigencies of our small monastic foundation—and yet, also, a year of fidelity to the life of prayer and work which is to be found in any monastery, great or small, that is worthy of the name—you come to vow yourself to this life for three years. You are doing a foolish thing. There are so many other things you could be doing. And yet, as has become clear throughout your time of testing, you can do no other thing than this today, for it is to this monastic obedience that Almighty God calls you.
The Gradual of today’s Mass mediates on the reality that “Christ became obedient for us unto death: even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and hath given a Name which is above every name.” Once again the words of the Sacred Liturgy sing most eloquently of the monastic vocation: obedience unto death is the path to exaltation in heavenly glory! Our Lord himself suffered terribly. Your monastic life will certainly know times of difficulty and may even, as the twenty-first century unfolds, bring you suffering and persecution the likes of which we hope have been consigned to history. My Son, no matter how dark the shadows of the Cross that fall upon you may be, know that they are always cast by the light of Easter morning. Hold fast to our Lord’s teaching that “He who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
In the holy perseverance that is your vocation you are not alone. As the formula of your vows makes clear, you will live your monastic life in a monastery, with the fraternal love of your brethren. You will live it in the communion of the whole Church, in union with our Bishop and with the local Church of Fréjus-Toulon. You will call upon the saints—particularly those saints whose relics are kept here—to assist you. And you have the support of family and friends who are here with us today, of the good people of this beautiful village of La Garde-Freinet who are so kind and generous to us, and of many others besides who have sent pledges of Masses and prayers being offered for your intentions today.
Today the Church blesses you and solemnly prays for your faithful perseverance in the vows you are about to make. But today is not about you, my son. Today is about God: it is an eloquent testimony to what Almighty God can do with and for each and every one of us—whatever our particular vocation may be—if only we are prepared to deny ourselves, take up the burden of the Cross and follow Christ without reserve: to Calvary, certainly, but with the even greater certainty of unending life beyond.
To that end you—indeed, we all—can do no better than make the words of the Collect of this Mass our prayer:
“Grant, we beseech Thee, that we, who on earth, acknowledge the mystery of redemption wrought upon [the Holy Cross], may be found worthy to enjoy the rewards of that same redemption in heaven.”
+ Mon Fils, dans l'Introït de la messe d'aujourd'hui, notre sainte Mère l'Église chante : « Il nous faut nous glorifier dans la Croix de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ : en qui est notre salut, notre vie et notre résurrection, par qui nous sommes sauvés et livrés. » Il y a beaucoup de mots que on a écrit et dit sur la vie monastique, mais peu sont plus aptes, plus poignants, que ces mots qui nous ont été donnés aujourd'hui par la sainte liturgie de l'Église. Car un moine est un homme qui, en mourant à lui-même et aux voies du monde, embrasse vraiment la Croix de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, et qui trouve dans ce qui embrasse le salut, la vie et la résurrection.
Il y a un an aujourd'hui, sur cette fête bénie de l'Exaltation de la Sainte Croix, que vous étiez vêtu de l'habit d'un novice. Et maintenant, aujourd'hui, après une année de prouve, une année de patience avec les limites et les exigences de notre petite fondation monastique - et pourtant, aussi une année de fidélité à la vie de la prière et du travail qui se trouve dans n'importe quel Monastère, grand ou petit, qui est digne du nom, vous faite vœux à cette vie pendant trois ans. Vous faites une chose stupide. Il y a tellement d'autres choses que vous pourriez faire. Et pourtant, comme cela a été clair tout au long de votre temps de preuve, vous ne pouvez rien faire autre chose aujourd'hui, car c'est à cette obéissance monastique que Dieu Tout-Puissant vous appelle.
Le Graduel de la messe d'aujourd'hui s’agit sur la réalité que « le Christ est devenu obéissant pour nous jusqu'à la mort : même la mort de la croix. C'est pourquoi Dieu l'a exalté et a donné un Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom. » Encore une fois, les paroles de la Liturgie sainte chantent assez éloquemment de la vocation monastique : l'obéissance à la mort est le chemin de l'exaltation dans la gloire céleste ! Notre Seigneur lui-même a souffert terriblement. Votre vie monastique connaîtra certainement des moments de difficulté et même le déroulement de XXIe siècle vous apportera des souffrances et des persécutions dont nous espérons avoir été consignés dans l'histoire. Mon Fils, quelle que soit l'obscurité des ombres de la Croix qui tombent sur vous, sachez qu'elles sont toujours projetées par la lumière du matin de Pâques. Attendez l'enseignement de notre Seigneur : « Celui qui persévère jusqu'à la fin sera sauvé » (Matthieu 24,13).
Dans la persévérance qui est votre vocation, vous n'êtes pas seul. Comme la formule de vos vœux dit clairement, vous vivrez votre vie monastique dans un monastère, avec l'amour fraternel de vos frères. Vous le vivrez dans la communion de toute l'Église, en union avec notre évêque et avec l'église locale de Fréjus-Toulon. Vous invoquerez les saints - en particulier les saints dont les reliques sont conservées ici - pour vous aider. Et vous avez le soutien de la famille et des amis qui sont ici avec nous aujourd'hui, des bons gens de ce magnifique village de La Garde-Freinet qui sont si gentils et généreux avec nous, et de nombreux autres à part qui ont envoyé des promesses à offrir de messes et des prières pour vos intentions aujourd'hui.
Aujourd'hui, l'Église vous bénit et prie solennellement pour votre fidèle persévérance dans les vœux que vous allez professer. Mais aujourd'hui, ce n'est pas vous qui on célèbre, mon fils. Aujourd'hui, il s'agit de Dieu : c'est un témoignage éloquent de ce que le Dieu tout-puissant peut faire avec et pour chacun de nous, quelle que soit notre vocation particulière, si seulement nous sommes prêts à nous nier, à prendre le fardeau de la Croix et suivre le Christ sans réserve : jusqu’à Calvaire, certainement, mais avec la certitude encore plus grande de la vie sans fin au-delà.
À cette fin, vous - en effet, nous tous - ne pouvons pas faire mieux qu’approprier comme la notre les paroles de la Collecte de cette messe :
"Donnes, nous vous prions, que nous, qui, sommes sur terre, reconnaissons le mystère de la rédemption opéré sur [la Sainte Croix], et être trouvé digne d'apprécier les récompenses de cette même rédemption au ciel".
For the past week it has been our great joy to welcome on a fraternal visit the Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory, Co Meath, Ireland, and one of his monks. One highlight of the week was a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene at St Maximin and to her cave at La Sainte-Baume, where we were joined by our Bishop, Monseigneur Dominique Rey.
In the course of the Fourth International Sacra Liturgia Summer School (August 5-17) it was our joy and privilege to welcome His Eminence, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke for first and second vespers and Holy Mass for the Feast of the Assumption.
Our Bishop, Msgr Dominique Rey, was present with us for first vespers. A full photo album from the summer school can be found here: