Disclaimer: The series of letters entitled “Correspondence on the Monastic Vocation”, while based on the real questions of a number of men in various places and states of life, is entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, institutions, or places is purely coincidental.
Letter 5: Anthony
It may be very cheeky of me to write this, but I don’t understand how you at Silverstream, as traditional Benedictines, justify the practice of daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Even more, you make it a distinctive feature of your monastery. I intend no disrespect, Father, but I know of no other monastery of Benedictine monks in the world where this is done. Isn’t this rather a blot on your Benedictine credentials? I checked with my friend, Father Oswin, at Uppington Abbey. He said (and I quote) that you at Silverstream were “a bit eccentric” and that perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has never been “the done thing” among monks of the Order. When I told Father Oswin that I was interested in visiting Silverstream, he advised me to “look into something more mainstream”.
Frankly, Father, I’m confused. Father Oswin is a highly respected Benedictine; he taught in Rome for a number of years. Uppington Abbey is a solid reference and, I was told that, if I discussed my vocation with an Uppington monk, I would be properly directed. At this point, I don’t know what to think. Forgive me for writing to you so bluntly, but I am sincerely seeking a better understanding of the question.
Well done! It’s perfectly alright to be a bit cheeky if one’s cheekiness contributes to “doing the truth in charity” (Ephesians 4:15). I understand your question about the place of adoration in our life at Silverstream Priory. It is an excellent question and merits a thoughtful response.
First of all, one must admit that, down through the ages, there have been diverse currents and a great variety of accents in what, for want of a better term, we might just as well call Benedictine spirituality. The 12th century, marked by the influence of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), and the 13th century affected by the preaching of the mendicants, focused the attention of Benedictines on the Sacred Humanity of Christ, on His Sacred Heart, and His Virgin Mother. In the 14th century and 15th centuries, the “Devotio Moderna” had a huge impact on Benedictine life . The Benedictine Abbot Blosius (Louis de Blois, 1506 – 1566) is the principal representative of this school.
The period of the Catholic Reformation (1545–1563) introduced Benedictines to the Ignatian approach to meditation and examinations of conscience. The English Benedictine Congregation has its own mystical tradition epitomised in the teachings of Father Augustine Baker (1575–1641) who was, himself, influenced by the mystical doctrine of the Capuchin Benet of Canfield ((1562–1610). In the 17th century, the Maurist Benedictines caught sparks from the mystical conflagration ignited by the likes of Pierre de Berulle (1575 – 1629), Charles de Condren (1588–1641), Jean–Jacques Olier (1608–1657), and Jean Eudes (1601–1680).
When the 19th century Benedictine revival began to take shape, Solesmes placed the emphasis on the restoration of the sacred liturgy in all its splendour to its rightful primacy, drawing inspiration from the liturgical glories of Cluny. It is this particular emphasis that Solesmes communicated to Beuron, and Beuron to Maredsous and to a host of other monasteries that fell under its beneficent influence. Were there devotions at Solesmes? One might think not, but Dom Guéranger (1805–1875) was as much a man of the heart, attuned to the Church of Blessed Pope Pius IX, as he was a liturgical purist. Solesmes inherited from Dom Guéranger a strong devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and even to the Holy Face, represented in the image distributed by Monsieur Dupont, the Holy Man of Tours (1797-1876). Père Emmanuel–André (1826–1903), the founder of the Olivetan Benedictines at Le–Mesnil–Saint–Loup in France, made devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Holy Hope, central to his monastic work. Père Muard (1809- 1854), the founder of La–Pierre–Qui–Vire, declared Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (a Visitation Nun) secondary patroness of his abbey, the titular patron being the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Even today there are Benedictines of different stripes. There is, for example, a “World Community for Christian Meditation” under the direction of an Olivetan Benedictine monk in England; there are Benedictines engaged in ecumenical dialogue (the strong ecumenical commitment of the monks of Rostrevor in Northern Ireland comes to mind); there are the Benedictines of Flavigny who preach the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius; there are Italian Benedictines deeply immersed in the movement of Comunione e Liberazione; there are Benedictines steeped in Eastern monasticism at Chevetogne in Belgium.
What, then, of your question with regard to Silverstream’s dedication to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar? Again, a little historical excursus may be helpful. The first monks under the Rule of Saint Benedict to adopt the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament as an identifying characteristic belonged to the Umbrian Congregation of Corpus Christi, founded by the Blessed Andrea di Paolo in 1328. The Monks of Corpus Christi, or “Corpocristiani” were aggregated to the Benedictine Congregation of Monte Oliveto by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The last Corpus Christi Benedictine, Tommaso di Bastiano di Sterpete, of Foligno, died in 1640.
Nearly three–hundred years passed. The grain of wheat sown by the Monks of Corpus Christi in the fertile soil of Monte Oliveto was not dead; on the contrary, it began to sprout in a most unexpected way. In 1899 a young Olivetan Benedictine monk, Dom Celestino Maria Colombo (1874-1935), providentially encountered the Venerable Maria Caterina Lavizzari, a Benedictine Nun of Perpetual Adoration in Seregno, Italy. A single compelling phrase in the course of their conversation pierced the heart of the young monk with a mysterious love for Jesus. Mother Lavizzari invited Dom Celestino to preach the spiritual exercises to her community: the experience electrified the young monk. The Holy Ghost drew him irresistibly into the spirit of Eucharistic adoration and reparation that animated the little community of Seregno, later moved to Ronco di Ghiffa. On 15 December 1920, by motu proprio of Pope Benedict XV, Dom Celestino Maria Colombo was appointed abbot of the Sanctuary of La Madonna del Pilastrello at Lendinara (Rovigo). Consumed with a burning love for the Sacred Host, Abbot Celestino spent himself as a devoted and tireless spiritual father to the Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Monastery of Ghiffa. Later, he exercised the same role toward the monasteries aggregated to Ghiffa in central and southern Italy, including that of Piedimonte Matese, which monastery I have known for forty years.
The Annals of the Monastery of Ghiffa relate:
After having studied in depth the Constitutions and books of the Institute, after having practiced the spirit of them to an heroic degree, after having grounded the community in this same spirit, with a patient, enlightened, and prudent zeal, he asked for the grace of possessing our holy habit, of practicing our holy Constitutions, of being a true member of the Institute, a true victim of the Most Holy Sacrament.
The nuns, in a unanimous joy, received the Eucharistic vow of the Reverend Father. Since that day uninterrupted requests and prayers have been raised to heaven so that the Institute will have, at last, its complement to the glory of the Eucharist and so that the last breath of our great father Benedict will generate sons of the Host to the Host, Benedictine Adorers, the priestly victims to sustain and save the Church in the difficult last times. And so may it be.
The existence of a little sanctuary dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity near the monastery of Ronco di Ghiffa, revived in Dom Celestino a desire that had never gone away: the birth of a Benedictine community of men dedicated to adoration and reparation of the Eucharist. One reads in the same Annals, that coming down, one day from the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity to the monastery, he expressed “the wish that Eucharistic Benedictine Fathers would come one day to the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity.”
This lively aspiration was never erased from the heart of Dom Celestino, enamoured as he was of the Eucharistic ideal proposed by Mother Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, and lived so well by the Benedictines of the monastery of Ghiffa. Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo absorbed and appropriated for himself the spirit of the Benedictine Institute of Perpetual Adoration, to the point of living it faithfully and fostering its growth in every possible way until his saintly death on 24 September 1935.
Benedictine life at Silverstream Priory is mysteriously linked to a series of deaths and resurrections, of disappearances and of re–emergences. The grain of wheat is the Eucharistic Benedictine life of Blessed Andrea di Paolo in the 14th century; it is the Eucharistic Benedictine life of Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, of Venerable Caterina Lavizzari, and of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo in the 20th century. “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24–25). This letter has become very long, dear Anthony, but I couldn’t answer your question without giving you some of the historical context of it. Give my fraternal greetings to dear Father Oswin when next you chat with him.