Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

The Great Feast of Vocation

St DominicCall and Response
Not a week goes by when I do not meet or correspond with young men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory. Today I find myself thinking of all of them, because the Annunciation is the great feast of vocation. Every vocation is a mystery of call and response. With the call comes the grace to respond. The greeting of the Angel Gabriel communicates what it signifies: Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη!  One could exhaust oneself in attempting to express all that the angelic salutation contains: Grace upon thee whom God hath filled full of grace! Joy upon thee who art become the joy of Him who has filled thee with joy! Loveliness upon thee who art lovely in the eyes of Him who has made thee so lovely!

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’ s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

The Monk’s Starting Point
To open one’s ear to the greeting of an Angel, to one who comes bearing the Word of God, is to open oneself to a life–changing grace. In Psalm 44 the royal prophet addresses the Daughter of Sion, the Virgin of Nazareth: ” Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’ s house” (Psalm 44:11). Our Lady of the Annunciation is the Virgo audiens (the listening Virgin) whose portrait, I have always thought, shines through the text of the Prologue of the Holy Rule: “Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart” (Prologue 1). Every monastic vocation begins with listening to the Word of God. A certain silence and separation from the world are required of a man even before he crosses the threshold of the cloister. Saint John Paul II calls the Word of God the monk’s starting point.

The starting point for the monk is the Word of God, a Word who calls, who invites, who personally summons, as happened to the Apostles. When a person is touched by the Word obedience is born, that is, the listening which changes life. Every day the monk is nourished by the bread of the Word. Deprived of it, he is as though dead and has nothing left to communicate to his brothers and sisters because the Word is Christ, to whom the monk is called to be conformed. (Orientale Lumen, art. 10)

The Risk
Our Lady listened, and her life was forever changed. She listened, and the life of her people was forever changed. She listened, and all creation was forever changed.  The Virgin listened and, in the word addressed to her, she was offered all that would be necessary to respond to that word. In every vocation and, in particular, in every monastic vocation, there is an element of risk. A monastic vocation engages a man not only in a life marked by conversion of manners and obedience, but also in a life defined by stability and circumscribed by a real enclosure. One who enters a monastery risks living until death in one specific place and in the company of men who have already committed themselves to that one specific place. The risk is daunting, but the rewards of monastic life are well worth the risk.

Notre–Dame–du–RisqueThere is, over the portal of the abbey of Boquen in Brittany, a charming old statue of the Virgin Mary called Notre–Dame–du–Risque, Our Lady of the Risk. This title of the Mother of God has always fascinated me. The man who desires to risk his life listening to the Word of God must do so close to the Virgin Mary. One who lives with Mary will quickly come to understand the immense import of prophecy entrusted to Isaias:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. (Isaias 55:8–11)

In praying for the men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory, I can only ask that they hearken to the Word of God and, with Our Lady of the Risk, incline the ear of their hearts to the call that is addressed to them. By the prayers of the Virgin Mary, the Word of God shall not return to Him void; it shall prosper in the things for which God sent it forth.

Into the Mystery of the Annunciation

Annunciation,_Rome_-_Fra_Lippi

The Finger of God
By a wonderful and mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, Mother Catherine–Mectilde de Bar received permission for the first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament of her Institute on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1653. This was no mere coincidence; the Finger of God was in it. This is more than a mere historical happening; it belongs, rather, to those mysterious events that contain within themselves the seed and the grace of every future development. The first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament could have happened on another day. There is no shortage of feasts in the liturgical year that would have been suitable but, of all of them, God chose this one: the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Word.

Virgo Audiens
In sacred art, the Virgin of the Annunciation, the Virgo Audiens, is depicted either seated, with the book of the prophets or of the psalms lying open in her lap, or holding a spindle and engaged in weaving a scarlet cloth of great beauty. Both representations are symbolic. 

In the first we see Our Lady reading the Word of God.  She listens to the Word of God; she repeats it and, by repetition, takes it into herself; she allows the Word addressed to her to become in the sanctuary of her heart the Word she addresses to God; and, then, by the action of the Holy Ghost, she so gives herself to the Word, that the heart of the Word begins its eternal rhythm beneath her heart, pulsating within her virginal womb as the heart of the Host pulsates on the pure white linen of the corporal in the Holy Sacrifice.

Vesture for the High Priest
In the second image we see Our Lady weaving; in her immaculate hands, all the threads of Israel’s history, and of her own, enter into the fulfillment of God’s perfect design. Mary of Nazareth is not weaving a veil of wool and silk and linen for use in the temple in Jerusalem; she is weaving the most sacred liturgical vesture of all — a human body — for the Eternal High Priest who is about to offer Himself as the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim in the sanctuary of her womb.

Into the Holy of Holies
It is precisely at this moment — however we may choose to understand it — that the Archangel makes his entrance. He enters, he speaks, he receives the long–awaited answer from the lips of the Virgin only to make possible another entrance: the solemn entrance of Christ into space and time; the arrival of the High Priest, the Lamb of Sacrifice, the Victim prepared from the beginning of the world (Apocalypse 13:8).

Mary of Nazareth was, in spite of her youth, in perfect readiness for this moment. She felt a trembling in her womb, the blazing up of a fire, the movement, as it were, of priestly steps hastening to ascend the altar. Overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, she understood in an instant of incandescent light that her body had become a temple more spacious than the temple in Jerusalem, that her womb had become an altar, and her heart the Holy of Holies.

She remembered David’s mystic utterance in Psalm 39 and, was astonished to hear it repeated within herself by a voice that, without being hers, was perfectly attuned to her own.

No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; enough that thou hast given me an ear ready to listen. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God, is all my desire, to carry out that law of thine which is written in my heart. (Psalm 39:7–9)

My body, she whispered, has become a temple; my womb has become an altar. My fiat has opened heaven. The Holy Ghost has seized flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood so that, at last God may find on earth the one priest and one victim worthy of Himself.

Thou Hast Endowed Me with a Body
Saint Luke, of course, relates none of this explicitly in his account of the Annunciation. He writes of the Angel Gabriel sent from God, of the Virgin named Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, and of the dialogue on which hung the salvation of the world. He writes of the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, of the sign of old Elizabeth found with child and already in her sixth month, and of a sign greater and more wonderful still, for to God nothing is impossible.

Saint Luke gives us the Virgin’s response,” Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), and then, telling us of the Angel’s quick return to heaven, he covers all the rest in a veil of silence. To understand the mystery in its fulness, we are obliged to go to the Letter to the Hebrews.

As Christ comes into the world, he says, No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; thou hast endowed me, instead, with a body. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God. (Hebrews 10:5–7)

The Beginning of the Solemn Entrance Procession
The Annunciation is the great and solemn festival of the Victimhood of the Son of God. It is the beginning of the solemn entrance procession of the Eternal High Priest.  It sets in motion the immense movement of return to the Father by which the Word, having espoused our humanity, prepares to ascend to the altar where He will be immolated. 

Today Mary receives into the sanctuary of her womb, and upon the altar of her heart, the one Victim necessary, the only Victim worthy of God, the Victim whose coming the world desired, the prophets announced, the psalmists sang, and the children of Israel awaited in hope.

First he says, Thou didst not demand victim or offering, the burnt-sacrifice, the sacrifice for sin, nor hast thou found any pleasure in them; in anything, that is, which the law has to offer, and then:—I said, See, my God, I am coming to do thy will. He must clear the ground first, so as to build up afterwards. In accordance with this divine will we have been sanctified by an offering made once for all, the body of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:8–10)

A Charism Comes to Light
This is the mystery of the Annunciation in all its mystic fulfilment. The Annunciation cannot be celebrated, nor can it be meditated, nor can it be understood, apart from this, the Great Entrance of Christ the Victim, the beginning of the one Holy Sacrifice shown forth in the Cenacle, consummated on Calvary, ceaselessly offered in the sanctuary of heaven, and perpetuated until the end of time of earth in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. This is why the Providence of God ordained that Benedictines dedicated to perpetual adoration should first emerge from the shadows and become radiant in the light of the Sacred Host on the feast of the Annunciation, a day falling within the Octave of the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

Let Him Find You Ready
Receive today the Divine Victim into yourselves, even as the Virgin of Nazareth received Him into herself. Let Him find within you a sanctuary for the offering of His Sacrifice, an altar for His immolation, and an adoring silence worthy of His divine liturgy. Even more, let Him find you ready for His immolation, not as spectators looking on in awe, but as souls wholly abandoned to the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost.

Lord Jesus Christ, 
Divine Victim hid in the sanctuary of Mary’s womb
and immolated upon the altar of her heart,
unite us to Thyself:
our bodies to Thy Body,
our blood to Thy Blood,
our souls to Thy Soul,
our hearts to Thy Heart,
so as to make us with Thyself
one Priest and one Victim 
offered to the glory of the Father,
out of love for Thy Spouse, the Church,
and in reparation for the sins by which
Thy Sacrifice is scorned,
Thy presence dishonoured,
and the brightness of Thy glory dimmed
in the sight of men 
who, even without knowing it,
yearn to gaze upon the beauty of Thy Face.
Amen.

Of the Observance of Lent (3)

CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
31 Mar. 31 July. 30 Nov.

Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence.

1 Licet omni tempore vita monachi quadragesimae debet observationem habere, 2 tamen, quia paucorum est ista virtus, ideo suademus istis diebus quadragesimae omni puritate vitam suam custodire omnes pariter, 3 et neglegentias aliorum temporum his diebus sanctis diluere.

Saint Benedict describes Lent as a time during which a monk can “wash away (diluere) the negligences of other times”. The very fact that one can wash away past negligences gives rise to hope and confidence. It is possible to start afresh. The man who can weep over his past sins — and this is itself a grace — can go forward in joy.

The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness. (Psalm 29:11–12)

I recall with gratitude the wisdom and solicitude of my Master of Novices, Père R.C. (to whom I owe so much), who saw fit in 1972 to introduce me Father Irenée Hausherr’s classic work, Penthos, The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East. The man who never weeps is not fully human. In the Gospels, the tears of Our Lord are the authentic tokens of His Humanity. It is recorded that Our Lord wept three times: first, over the faithless city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); then, at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:35); and, finally, in the bitter agony of Gethsemani (Hebrews 5:7). The shortest sentence in the New Testament is, if I am not mistaken, John 11:35: “And Jesus wept”, Et lacrimatus est Jesus. This little sentence is a an inexhaustible spring of consolation for all of us, poor sinners, who go “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”.

The tears of the Mother of God, no less than those of her Son, fall upon the hearts of poor sinners with a gentle efficacy. The devotion to the tears of Our Lady is not a product of baroque piety; there is evidence of it even among the Desert Fathers:

Abba Isaac said: Once I was sitting with Abba Poemen, and I saw that he was in an ecstasy; and since I used to speak very openly with him, I made a prostration before him and asked him, “Tell me, where were you?” And he did not want to tell me. But when I pressed him, he replied: “My thoughts were with St. Mary the Mother of God, as she stood and wept at the Cross of the Savior; and I wish that I could always weep as much as she wept then”.

If  a man has no tears, he should ask God for them with all his strength and with all his soul. There is no other way by which  he can remain sinless and pure in heart. So precious is the gift of tears that the Church makes it the object of her prayer in the Roman Missal. Blessed Abbot Marmion, among others, had a special devotion to the liturgical prayers for the gift of tears.

Almighty and most gentle God, who when Thy people thirsted drew living water out of a rock, do Thou draw tears of compunction from our stony hearts, giving us grace to lament our sins and fitting us to receive Thy merciful forgiveness.

It seems to me that there are seven fruits of tears. At least, this is my own experience. One desires these seven fruits must pray earnestly for the gift of tears. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 125:5). Here, then, are the seven fruits of tears.

  1. Humility
  2. Purity of heart
  3. Receptivity to the Word of God
  4. Softening of the heart to Divine Things
  5. Compassion for others in their weakness
  6. Closeness to the Mother of God
  7. Joy

 

Bernadette

BernadetteBest.jpgHer Feast
Today, February 18th, is the feast of Saint Bernadette.  I have long cherished the Collect for her feast:

O God, protector and friend of the humble, Who filled Thy servant, Mary Bernard, with joy by the apparition and conversation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary: grant, we pray, that by the simple way of faith we may be counted worthy to see Thee face to face in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who, with Thee, liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

 

2017: A Marian Year

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Woman clothed with the sun, thou who didst visit Fatima one hundred years ago to make known to all men thy maternal Heart, receive in the first hour of this new year our act of total consecration to thee. Welcome us into the safe refuge of thy Immaculate Heart as into the ark of salvation prepared by the Holy Ghost for us and for all the children of the Catholic Church in East and West.
Let each one of us find in thy Immaculate Heart this year a sanctuary of ceaseless prayer, a tabernacle of intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity, a hospital for the healing of every infirmity, a harbour of peace in the midst of the confusion that threatens even the bravest and most faithful souls.
Inspire us to take up the rosary that thou so lovest, and to make it during this year the ceaseless prayer of our hearts and the expression of our desire to live and to die consecrated to thy Immaculate Heart.
Turn our hearts to the Lamb who, once immolated upon the altar of the Cross, offers Himself still for our sakes from the altars of the Church and from the tabernacles where He abides hidden, silent, and so often forsaken.
Let this year be for us a great and powerful manifestation of thy compassion for poor sinners and the beginning of the triumph of thy Immaculate Heart in the Church from the rising of the sun to its setting, and indeed in the whole world. Overcoming every resistance, be it of demons or of men, reveal to all souls the flame of love that burns in thy maternal Heart and the glory of the Father that shines on the face of His Christ, Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb. O clement! O loving! O sweet Virgin Mary!

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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