With profound gratitude to Almighty God and to all our benefactors and friends who have helped us reach this point we are due to take possession of our new home, the medieval Commandery of Saint-Christophe in Brignoles, on August 11th.
The medieval chapel of Saint Christopher will be blessed in the afternoon of the Vigil of the Assumption (August 14th at 17h00) and the first Mass to be celebrated within the chapel since the French Revolution will be sung on the morning of the Assumption (15th August, 10h00), after which the chapel, even if not fully refurbished, shall be once again in daily liturgical use.
But we need help with many, many things from August 11th onward – from cleaning and preparing the chapel to once again resound with the praises of Almighty God, to erecting chicken coops, moving furniture and assisting our team of professional workers with the restoration of the buildings. Any possible help, a few hours, a day or two, or longer would be a blessing.
Accommodation is limited (because those parts of the buildings require work) but there is plenty of land and forest, with a river, on the property for those who wish to camp outdoors. We shall do what we can to facilitate people staying, even if the arrangements are not what we would hope our future guest accommodation would offer.
Please contact us if you can help. It will be a blessing.
Par la grâce de Dieu et la générosité de nos bienfaiteurs et amis, grâce à qui nous avons pu arriver jusqu'ici, nous prendrons possession de notre nouvelle demeure, la commanderie médiévale Saint-Christophe de Brignoles, le 11 août.
La chapelle de Saint-Christophe sera bénie l'après-midi de la Vigile de l'Assomption (le 14 août à 17h) et la première messe depuis la Révolution y sera chantée au matin de l'Assomption, le 15 août à 10h. Après cela, la chapelle, même si elle n'est pas rénovée, sera utilisée quotidiennement pour la sainte liturgie.
Mais nous avons beaucoup de choses à faire d'ici au 11 août : il faut désencombrer et préparer la chapelle à accueillir de nouveau la louange divine, établir un poulailler, meubler, et aider les ouvriers à restaurer les bâtiments. Toute aide, même si elle dure quelques heures ou seulement un ou deux jours, sera une bénédiction.
Il sera difficilement possible de loger dans les bâtiments, qui seront en travaux, mais le terrain est vaste et comprend une rivière, et assez de place pour camper. Nous ferons notre possible pour faciliter le logement de ceux qui viendront, même si nous ne pouvons offrir qu'un standing bien inférieur à celui de notre future hôtellerie !
Veuillez nous contacter si vous pouvez aider. Ce sera une bénédiction.
+ We are very “gospel-centered” in our liturgical life, and rightly so. The gospel of Sundays and greater feasts is sung both at matins and at Mass and is the subject of specific Patristic commentary in matins’ third nocturn. One needs little more for lectio divina than this. Our recollection is furthered still by the succinct recapitulation of the gospel by the Sunday Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons. Sundays and feast days can be busy for the monk (as they can for observant Catholic families) – busy about the right things, of course – but in the midst of this the Sacred Liturgy meditates upon and mediates the gospel to and for us, as it should.
Nevertheless, there are three nocturns at Sunday and festal matins. The first is where, eccleisially, we read Sacred Scripture in a more extended manner. The second has us listen to Patristic commentary upon that which has been read in the first. The riches of both these nocturns are almost too much to digest even in a whole monastic lifetime and, if we are (howsoever justly) ‘gospel-centric’, it is easy enough to pass them by as we hasten toward higher things.
There is no sin here. We are dealing with a surfeit of riches, of choosing between one good and another good, and in that we are surely free according to our circumstances. It may be wise, though, over a lifetime, to ensure that for a given period each of the nocturns receives due attention, or is revisited: their riches are placed before us by the Church in Her Tradition for our nourishment, not to be ignored.
And of course, Saturday vespers flags the content of the first two nocturns of Sunday in its own Magnificat antiphon. It is always an interesting ‘taster’ which serves well to prepare one to attend to the riches to be laid before us during the night which follows.
Yesterday evening at Vespers we sang “Exaudisti Domine, orationem servi tui, ut aedificarem templum nomini tuo.” (You have heard the prayers of your servant, Lord, that I might build a temple to your name.)
I confess that it distracted me severely. It did not recall the Scripture readings or Patristic commentary of this morning’s first two nocturns at all. It was as if I had never seen that antiphon before; that it had been composed anew.
This antiphon does, of course, encapsulate King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (cf. I Kings 8:16ff.), the Lord’s response to which we heard in the first nocturn this morning. And it is instructive: fidelity to the Lord’s Covenant shall bring security and blessings upon Solomon and his descendants. Infidelity shall make of his people a byword, the Lord’s blessing shall be withdrawn from the Temple, passers-by shall be astonished at the devastation, etc.
But this was not the source of my distraction at Vespers last evening. Rather, after intoning “Exaudisti Domine,” and continuing “orationem servi tui, ut aedificarem templum nomini tuo,” it struck me with force that, given the news we received late on Friday afternoon that our purchase of our new home, the medieval commandery in Brignoles, has now been approved by the civil authorities, and that we shall be able to move there shortly before the coming feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady, this antiphon was placed there by God’s Providence for us, in 2020, as we prepare in the coming weeks and days to restore to Christian worship the Temple of the Lord, the heart of which was so brutally ripped out at the French Revolution.
For we have spent months, eighteen or so of them now, some of them not easy, begging the Lord for this grace. And now, indeed, we can thank Him with heart and soul for hearing our prayers and answering them favourably. The Lord has heard our prayers and has established us as the singularly privileged custodians of this ancient House of God.
So too, the Lord’s response to King Solomon pertains. For this sacred place is entrusted to us for a purpose – the worship of Almighty God in the monastic tradition – and, as for the King of Israel, so too for the sons of Saint Benedict: fidelity shall bring security and blessing; infidelity will make of us a byword.
The days leading up to our move and to the blessing of our old yet new chapel on the Vigil of the Assumption shall be very busy ones, and necessarily so. But this activity is a means, not an end, and it is the latter we must be careful to which to attend: that we might establish, through the gracious and generous help of our friends and benefactors, a place of true beauty and right worship that shall serve to glorify Almighty God and thereby bring God to man and man to God, in generous and joyful fidelity to the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict.
For, as with Solomon, God’s gracious blessing on our work requires ever greater fidelity on our part. Indeed, as with the steward of today’s Gospel (Lk 16:1-9), we too shall be called to account for our stewardship. For the graces necessary to be faithful and blameless stewards, throughout this week let us pray this Sunday’s collect with even greater fervour:
Grant to us we ask Thee the spirit always to think and do what is right, so that we who cannot exist without Thee may be able to live according to Thy will.+
By God’s grace and through the generosity of many kind benefactors throughout the world we are due to be moving to our new (well, in fact medieval) home during the summer. By way of preparation we need to reduce our stock of Benedictiones Mensæ—our 2019 publication of the traditional prayers (grace) before and after meals for each day, including the proper prayers for the greater feasts and their octaves, in Latin and newly typeset with their proper Gregorian chant.
Accordingly, we are reducing its price from €4,95 per copy by approximately 50% to €2,50 per copy (hitherto the wholesale amount for purchases of 100 or more copies). This offer lasts up to and including the feast of Saint Benedict, 11th July 2020.
For your convenience you may use the PayPal button below to order. It has been set up to allow for ordering the maximum number of booklets in the relevant postage band. The postage price is the same for all countries outside of France. To order in France, or to order different quantities, please contact us with the number of booklets you require and we will send a PayPal invoice including the relevant postage charge. The booklets will be despatched as quickly as possible.
1 copy: €5,50 including postage worldwide
4 copies: €17,50 including postage worldwide
8 copies: €31,95 including postage worldwide
18 copies: €65,00 including postage worldwide
+ We celebrate Pentecost in the year of Our Lord 2020 with somewhat mixed feelings. For the past few months have seen much grief and suffering, above all in the untimely and anguished deaths of so many, often separated from their loved ones and too often without the consolation of the sacraments. We have also seen the locking of our churches in the cessation of the Church’s public worship — something which, although thankfully restored here, is still forbidden to many of our brethren in other parts of the world. Many feel astonished at the hierarchy, if not bereft and abandoned by their shepherds, in circumstances in which their paternal authority might well have been exercised with greater vigilance and care for the good of the life of the Church and of souls in danger of despair and death.
In a year in which Lent saw penances imposed the likes of which no one could foretell, and in which Holy Week and Easter were at best a virtual event, Pentecost may seem something of an anti-climax. We have not really celebrated the antecedent feasts this year. How then can we truly celebrate Pentecost without their foundation?
Amidst our grief and in our seemingly abandoned state, in the gospel of the Vigil of Pentecost Our Lord speaks to us clearly: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn 14:18)
Whether our grief be for loved ones lost, for sins and vices not fought and arrested with the help of the grace of the sacraments – or even grown worse – be it for due worship not having been rendered to God by His Church, or for whatever of these past months, in the midst of our grief, amidst these very circumstances, Almighty God will not leave us orphans. He will come to us with His consolation and His assistance.
This is precisely what we celebrate in the feast of Pentecost. We have done so many times, year in, year out, but perhaps this year we do so more poignantly, with much greater need than hitherto.
Thus, in our particular need at this time, in our circumstances howsoever less than ideal, as we sing in the Sequence of the Mass of Pentecost imploring the gift of the Holy Spirit today, let us open our hearts, minds and souls to the “Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium” – to the greatest consoler, to the soul’s sweetest guest and refreshment. (If Mass is not available, then let us pray this sequence with even greater fervour.)
What is this consolation, this refreshment? In his homily at matins this morning St Gregory the Great teaches us that “the Holy Spirit is love” – the love of God, that is: the love that is God (cf. 1 Jn 4:8).
Indeed, the love that is God dwells within us by the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation – howsoever we may have impeded it through our sins and lack of full cooperation with these singular graces. Pentecost, then, is the day to implore the renewal of those graces, the day on which, with God’s own help, to push aside all that blocks the action of God’s love in us, and to begin anew. We may not have access to the Sacrament of Confession as we would wish or need. (In this case a sincere act of contrition is necessary, including the resolve to go to individual confession as soon as is possible.) But even this difficulty is no reason for delay. God’s love, His consolation and refreshment are at hand. We simply need to welcome them, indeed Him.
Our Pentecostal renewal is not simply for ourselves. God the Holy Spirit was sent to the Church for a purpose – to both “vos docebit omnia” (to teach you all things) as St John’s Gospel teaches “et renovabis faciem terrae” (and to renew the face of the earth) as Psalm 103, sung in the Alleluia of today’s Mass, makes clear.
The suffering and grief endured these past months have done much damage at many levels, including to the life and practice of the Catholic Faith in many places and for many people. There have even been great sacrileges in respect of the sacraments, betraying an incredible and appalling lack of formation and understanding of their nature on the part of their ministers which is itself a scandal, the roots of which go very deep. We have very great need indeed for profound renewal and rebuilding.
In the light of our recent experiences we have much to learn and to relearn. To that end, today, on this Solemn Feast of Pentecost God the Father sends us nothing other than His Love personified in the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Let not today pass without our doing all that we can and must to welcome Him efficaciously, that we might ourselves be renewed in our monastic vocation and thereby become instruments of His renewal on the face of the earth. And let us not cease in our prayer that our brothers and sisters throughout the world, our oblates, associates, benefactors, family and friends shall themselves be similarly renewed and receive the strengths and gifts they so need to be ever faithful and bear good fruit in their own particular vocations. +
Following his keynote address to the Church Music Association conference last Summer ("'Obedience of faith and religious respect for the mystery of the Sacred Liturgy' - Reflections on authority in liturgy today") Father Prior was interviewed by Square Notes - The Sacred Music Podcast on his address and related topics. The interview has recently been published (available below). The series is well worth following with interviewees of the likes of no less than His Eminence, Cardinal Sarah, amongst others.
+ An enquiry this past week from a monastic superior about the observance of the Rogation days focussed my thoughts somewhat on the coming three days. As we know, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the feast of the Ascension of the Lord are, traditionally, the days of the Lesser Litanies or of “the Rogations;” days of particular prayer and intercession for the Church and the world.
Their observance is now similar in format to the Greater Litanies of April 25th, but these three days have a different origin, having been instituted in Gaul in the fifth century as days of fasting, abstinence and abstention from servile work in which all took part in an extensive penitential procession, often barefoot. The procession and litanies only found a place in the Roman liturgy much later (around the beginning of the ninth century) and even then purely as days of rogation – of intercession – rather than as ones of fasting and penance; the latter being deemed incompatible with the nature of Eastertide.
Today, in the liturgical books in force for the usus antiquior of the Roman rite the Greater and Lesser Litanies are obligatory for all clergy and religious bound to Choir or to the Divine Office on all four of these days whether or not the associated procession is held (which, of course, is highly desirable where at all possible). The older liturgical books maintain this duty of supererogatory intercession on the part of the clergy and religious – something rather lacking in the more recent ones.
Indeed, this ancient tradition itself is now widely lost in the West. How many Catholics understand what is meant by the greater or lesser litanies, or by the expression “the Rogations” – clergy included? This loss is, unfortunately, something quite intentional in the new liturgical books. Possibly four litanies and processions in Eastertide were seen as “useless repetitions” or perhaps as having too ‘negative’ a theology.
Whatever the motivation of recent reformers, the importance and potency of the Rogations has been underlined by great men. Dom Guéranger relates that after his arrival in Milan Saint Charles Borromeo “spared neither word nor example to reanimate this salutary devotion among his people. He ordered fasting to be observed during these three days; he himself fasted on bread and water. The procession, in which all the clergy of the city were obliged to join, and which began after the sprinkling of ashes, started from the cathedral at an early hour in the morning, and was not over till three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Thirteen churches were visited on Monday; nine on Tuesday; and eleven on Wednesday. The saintly Archbishop celebrated Mass and preached in one of these churches.” (The Liturgical Year, Paschal Time, III 133)
Dom Guéranger himself lamented the lack of appreciation of the Rogations in his own day: “If we compare the indifference shown by the Catholics of the present age for the Rogation days, with the devotion wherewith our ancestors kept them, we cannot but acknowledge that there has been a great falling off in faith and piety. Knowing, as we do, the great importance attached to these processions by the Church, we cannot help wondering how it is that there are so few among the faithful who assist at them. Our surprise increases when we find persons preferring their own private devotions to these public prayers of the Church, which, to say nothing of the result of good example, merit far greater graces than any exercises of our own choosing.” (Ibid.)
The revival of the Rogations in our own times by the increasing number of communities who celebrate the usus antiquior, however, may be seen as one of the substantial fruits of the new liturgical movement—an uncontroversial one, I hope, that simply enriches the life of prayer of the Church for the good of the Church and the world.
Indeed, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves in this year of our Lord 2020, here once again we may see how utterly pastoral (in the true sense of that word), how alive and relevant the usus antiquior in fact is. We need the help of Almighty God urgently, and what better way to implore it in the coming days that by the devout praying of these liturgical litanies—with their attendant procession where possible?
Poignantly, Blessed Ildefonso Schuster informs us that “the stational church of St Mary Major” assigned for the celebration of Mass at the conclusion of the litanies on the Monday before Ascension “recalls the ancient litania septiformis or penitential procession instituted by St Gregory the Great in order to pray for the cessation of the plague.” (The Sacramentary, II, 371)
A mere quaint historical detail? No. This is how great saints confronted maladies beyond their control—with faith, with all the resources that the liturgy of the Church put at their disposal, and with fasting. The very formulae of the litanies resound with the battles they waged and eventually won through prayer. We would do well to imitate them. Have we the courage and conviction so to so? Dare we not?!
For ourselves, then, in the particular and urgent circumstances in which we find ourselves this year, I ask that in addition to the litanies and processions that are customary in the coming days, we observe them here as days of fasting and abstinence and of particular prayer: for the liberty of the Church in these peculiar times, most especially for her freedom to worship publicly; for the health, safety and eternal welfare of all those affected by the current pandemic – be they suffering themselves or caring for those who are; for the particular intentions of our oblates, associates, benefactors, friends and relations; and that Our Lord shall, in His Providence, provide our monastery with the means necessary to make our new home in the medieval Commandery of Brignoles once again a true house of prayer and hospitality in the Benedictine tradition.
To derogate thus from the joys of Eastertide in the coming three days is, I believe, proportionate in the grave circumstances in which we presently find ourselves. We are not Jansenists – we shall celebrate the Ascension and Pentecost fittingly! – but we are monks, and if we cannot take on extra prayer and penance, who can? Certainly, I shall invite our oblates and associates and other friends to join us in this in so far as their circumstances permit – and would that many more shall also – but it is for us to take the lead in this.
“Exurge Domine, adjuva nos et libera nos propter nomen tuum” (Arise, O Lord, help us and free us for the sake of your name), “Deus auribus nostris audivimus, patres nostri annuntiaverunt nobis” (We have heard, O God, with our ears; our fathers have declared unto us) the Antiphon which opens the litanies pleads. Let the coming days see these words rise from our hearts, through our lips, to Almighty God in profound supplication, as they have on faithful lips from the fifth century onwards. Thereby may we come to know the victory in which, through their perseverance in the Catholic faith even in the most terrible of circumstances in this world, our forebears now share. +
As we move forward in our appeal to purchase the medieval Commandery in Brignoles established by the Knights Templar around a chapel built by the monks of St Victor of Marseille in 1025, later taken over by the Knights of Malta, some might be tempted to say ‘brick by brick’. With our prospective new home it is surely more appropriate to say ‘stone by stone’. Bricks are usually one size. Stones vary: some are big, some medium, some are very small, but all pay their unique part in a holding up a building. Will you contribute yours?
If all of our friends and supporters can contribute ‘their stone’ in the coming weeks through a donation of whatever size is possible ($ £ or € 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500, 1000 or whatever is possible) we will make great progress in our appeal. If all our friends can each find two others to donate similarly we will achieve our goal to have sufficient funds successfully to complete the purchase of the property in the coming months.
God bless you for accepting our ‘stone by stone’ challenge if you can. God reward you for passing this challenge on to others. All donors are recorded and their intentions are prayed for – and shall be placed into the altar when the 995 year old chapel of our new home returns to Christian use, hopefully in just some weeks from now.
+ Earlier in the week one of the young men who hopes to test his vocation with our community (when he is finally able to travel to visit) wrote of his consolation at being able at least to pray the eight hours of the monastic office during the current shut-down. He highlighted as most pertinent the penultimate stanza of the matins, lauds and vespers hymns for Eastertide (which also occurs in the common of Apostles and Evangelists in Eastertide):
Quaesumus, Auctor omnium,
In hoc Paschali gaudio,
Ab omni mortis impetu,
Tuum defende populum.
(“We pray you, Author of all things, in this joyful Easter time, from every threat of death, defend your people.”)
Since he commented on this stanza, I confess that I have pondered little else. We have sung these words every Easter for many years of course. But Easter 2020 gives them a singular importance. Is it not a simple yet utterly apposite plea for a monk, and on his lips for the Church, to sing to Almighty God each night, each morning, each evening, at this time of worldwide trial and crisis? Ought not we to sing it at this time with ever greater fervour and supplication?
This stanza pertains originally to the hymn Rex sempiterne Domine which is our Eastertide matins hymn, itself originating from a much longer hymn from perhaps as early as the fifth or sixth century and used mainly by monks. In the history of the Divine Office we monastics are, after, all the ‘decadent’ adders of hymns to the Office. Our secular Roman rite friends who use the breviary of 1961 (or 1861, or whenever) are spared our decadences during the Octave of Easter: the Eastertide hymns make their appearance in the Roman rite only today, from Low Sunday onward.
In the Church’s tradition, certainly by the time of the breviary revision of the Council of Trent, the stanza our young friend underlined came to be added to the other Eastertide hymns also – including those in the Roman Office – hence in this season we currently sing it thrice a day.
Unfortunately, however, its poignant Latin petition was mutilated by the Jesuits commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to revise the breviary hymns in the seventeenth century. Anyone praying a Roman rite breviary dated after 1661 (or thereabouts) is lumbered with what Adrian Fortescue famously called the “ghastly mistake” of Urban VIII, which renders this stanza:
Ut sis perenne mentibus
Paschale, Iesu, gaudium,
A morte dira criminum
Vitae renatos libera.
(“That you, O Jesus, may always be the paschal joy of our minds, from a terrible death of sin, free us, reborn, to life.”)
Now as a prayer in itself this is fine in so far as it goes. But as we have seen so often in the reform of liturgical texts and rites, what was left behind was perfectly adequate (in this case, 1,000 years of liturgical tradition had managed quite well with it as it was), and what is put in place reflects more the preoccupations of the reformers than any genuine need in the life of the Church at the time. In passing one might note that the 1971 Liturgia Horarum of St Paul VI, which corrects some of the errors of Urban VIII, included neither of the stanzas as given above, but inserted something even more ‘positive’ in its redaction of the Latin Paschaltide hymns. How these texts have been rendered in the vernacular translations is another question still.
Knowledge of the riches of our liturgical tradition and of the vicissitudes of liturgical history are all well and good, but our first responsibility is the duty of prayer inherent to our vocation. And thankfully the monastic office (and that of some of the older religious orders) retains the simple, traditional text – the very words with which, as Dom Guéranger reports, St Pius V ended his life on earth.
It seems to me that this is a most singular grace in these times. The Holy See recently had to scramble rapidly to put together a “Mass in time of Pandemic” because those responsible for the post-conciliar missal had not thought it necessary to include one for the ‘modern world’. But Almighty God has taught us otherwise. It suffices that we open the liturgical books given to us in tradition. Their pastoral experience and wisdom is not so shallow.
As we sing Quaesumus, Auctor omnium… we pray in union with our forebears who have known and combatted, and who themselves have died, in pestilences and plagues throughout the centuries, and who have known and faced – even in the radiant light of of Easter day – the impetu, the various menaces and threats that death includes, above all the risk of eternal death.
Let us, with the help of their intercession, cry out ever more fervently to the Lord for the protection we need today, particularly for those who shall suffer and die without the comfort of the presence of their loved ones or the consolation of the sacraments and rites of Holy Church, and who may thereby face the terrible risk of final impenitence or despair. This menace, above all, we must beg by our prayers, that the Lord avert.
To that end I ask, for the good of those who shall suffer and die this Paschaltide, and perhaps even beyond, that in choir we kneel for the singing of this stance and that the choir sing it solemnly, in unison, as we do for the pertinent verses of the hymns Vexilla regis and the Ave, maris stella.
Let our prostration intensify our supplication in this time of urgent and great need. Let this falling to our knees to pray ever more intently for a world itself brought to its knees by this pandemic – an act which is certainly an extraordinary liturgical gesture in Paschaltide, but seemingly one that is more than justified this year – underline our unity in prayer with our brothers and sisters who are themselves directly suffering from the pandemic, with those who are caring tirelessly for those who are ill, and with all who are at risk and who are working according to their God-given gifts and responsibilities for its end and, indeed, for those for whom confinement to their homes is a severe trial.
May Almighty God, the author of all that is, defend His people from the threat of eternal death. May He bring us all, whenever this life is over, into that life of unending Paschal joy which this great season celebrates. And may He save each of us from the threats of death we face this day. +
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