Category Archives: Saints

The Festivals of Saints (XIV)

CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to be said on Saints’ Days
17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.
On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.

Saint Benedict distinguishes between the festivals of the saints and what he calls “all other solemnities”. This last expression refers to the various Christological  and Marian festivals that were already being celebrated in his time. The Rule is, it would seem, designedly vague, because it was to be observed not only at Monte Cassino, but also in other places, each having its own local kalendar.

For the festivals of the saints, Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to follow the pattern of the Sunday Office, apart from those parts of the Office that pertain to the festival itself. Blessed Schuster argues in favour of a full proper Office including psalms, lessons and collects. He refers to the homilies of Saint Augustine and Saint Cesarius that allude to proper liturgical texts for the feasts of saints, and concludes that the beginning of the Proper of the Saints can be traced to a time before Saint Benedict. Some authors, among them certain learned Maurists of the 17th century, interpret differently the phrase ad ipsum die pertinentes dicantur, and hold to the recitation of the ferial psalms even on the festivals of saints, albeit with proper antiphons. Blessed Schuster suggests that the Proper Offices of certain saints were later extended and adapted to other saints of the same category, giving rise to the Common of Martyrs, the Common of Confessors, the Common of Virgins, and the other Commons.

Historical considerations aside, what emerges from Chapter XIV of the Holy Rule is that the saints, through the liturgy, were present in the life of our father Saint Benedict, as they have been present, through the liturgy, in the lives of his sons down through the ages. The feasts of the saints, and the related veneration of their holy relics, are opportunities given us by the liturgical providence of God to intensify our communion with the Church triumphant. The saints are more present to us than we to them; they are ever ready to help us, guide us, and intercede for us. We are not always aware of their presence nor of their intense activity on our behalf, but being in the light of glory, they “neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 120:4).

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Our Lord gives specialised tasks to His saints. The Church recognises this by attributing to certain saints a patronage over places, groups, and particular needs. Our Lord engages the saints in the ministrations of His merciful love to souls. The life of the saints in heaven is one of cooperation with Our Lord in His two-fold mediation as Eternal High Priest. Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, they glorify and praise the Father in the ceaseless liturgy of heaven. At the same time, through Him, and with Him, and in Him, as His almoners, they dispense graces to souls and intervene with a perfect love in the lives of those who journey as pilgrims on the earth.

Our Lord has charged His saints to walk with us, to attend to our needs, to obtain for us the graces of repentance, and illumination, and union with Him that He so desires to give us. Some of these saints, though not all of them, are known to us. The saints adopt us, so to speak, some as brothers, others as spiritual sons. The interest of the saints in all that we do, and say, and suffer is continuous. The saints are, at every moment, attentive to us.

The first and indispensable expression of devotion to the saints is the celebration of their feasts. Each feast brings with it a grace that is proper to it. Through the antiphons, and responsories, and hymns, and collects of the saints, we effectively call upon them, we ask for their help and, thus, we begin to benefit from their example, to live according to their doctrine, and to walk in their company.

We can hope, one day, to be united with the saints in the glory of heaven where the radiance of the Face of Christ, the brightness of the Lamb, will fill our souls with an ineffable joy. Invoke the saints whom Our Lord has already brought into your life and remain open, for there are others whom He will present to you, and to whom He will entrust you in the years to come. The repetition of the Sanctoral cycle of the Divine Office is a yearly opportunity to renew our friendship with the saints and to receive the particular alms of grace that it pleases Our Lord to distribute by their hand.

Frumentum Christi Sum

Frumentum Christi sum,
dentibus bestiarum molar,
ut panis mundus inveniar.

At Silverstream we keep the feast of Saint Ignatius today because the traditional date of his feast, 1 February, is occupied by none other than Saint Brigid of Kildare, one of the three principal patron saints of Ireland.

Today’s incomparable Communion Antiphon, Frumentum Christi sum, almost “grinds” the word molar, and then soars over the word panis. The chant melody is a mystical exegesis of the text. It is what I have been arguing for years: sung theology! The image I chose to illustrate this entry, an 18th century Latin American retable, does not depict Saint Ignatius of Antioch, but it does suggest something of his longing to become “purest bread” for Christ’s Holy Oblation.

The Eucharistified Martyr
Today is the feast of a martyr of fire, a wholly eucharistified martyr: Saint Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle Saint John and the successor of the Apostle Saint Peter as bishop of Antioch. In the year 107 Ignatius was condemned to death by the Emperor Trajan and transferred as a captive from Antioch to Rome.

Journey to Life
During this final journey Ignatius wrote seven epistles to the churches, exhorting them to preserve their unity in God around their bishops, and begging his fellow Christians to put nothing in the way of the accomplishment of his martyrdom. Ignatius was wholly animated by the Spirit of Jesus who said: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50). For Ignatius, the journey from Antioch to Rome was not a journey to death, but rather to life. “I want no more of what men call life,” he said; “I am yearning for death with all the passion of a lover.”

Ablaze With the Love of Christ
The Beloved Disciple must have shared with Ignatius the mysteries communicated to him while, at the Last Supper, he rested his head upon the Heart of Christ. One who prays over the epistles of Saint Ignatius comes away with one impression: “Here is a man ablaze with the love of Christ.” Ignatius is well named, for the meaning of his name is fire. His feast, occurring the day after the feast of Saint Margaret Mary who lived seventeen hundred years after him, demonstrates that, from the earliest days and down the through the ages, the fire of the Heart of Christ has enkindled the love of the saints. The Apostle John drew his Gospel from the Heart of Jesus, and Ignatius drew his love for Christ from the Gospel of John.

All That I Seek: My Whole Desire
Ignatius also called himself Theophoros, that is, “God–bearer.” Like the Apostle Paul, he was conscious of Christ living within him. “With Christ I am nailed to the cross, and I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19–20). Ignatius is conscious of his own mysterious participation in the passion, death, and resurrection. “He who died for us,” he says. “is all that I seek; he who rose again for us is my whole desire.”

Beginning to Be Christ’s Disciple
I find it moving that at the end of his life, even as the pangs of martyrdom are upon him, Ignatius says that he is just “beginning to be Christ’s disciple.” Think of that! It should humble us to the dust. How often we are tempted to review our lives or, even worse, compare ourselves to others and think, “I have done this for so many years and I have persevered in that. I am not like others who have broken under the strain or somehow been relieved of their burdens.” Ignatius, knowing that wild beasts wait to tear him to pieces in Rome, says, “I feel now that I am beginning to be Christ’s disciple; I desire none of those things which are seen, if so be I may find Christ Jesus.” It makes me want to say to myself every morning upon waking, “I have not yet begun to be Christ’s disciple.” And then, lest I give into hopelessness, I am bound to add, “But, today I begin.”

Wheat for Purest Bread
Ignatius describes his impending martyrdom in eucharistic terms: “I am his wheat, ground fine by lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” It is significant that this martyr of the first century should interpret his own sufferings in explicitly Eucharistic terms. The words of the martyr are, of course, the reason for today’s Gospel of the grain of wheat that, falling into ground, dies, and bears much fruit. Ignatius saw himself as a eucharistic host, a sacrificial offering, an oblation placed upon the altar with Christ.

Frumentum Christi Sum
Most unusually, today’s Communion Antiphon is not taken from the Psalms nor is it taken from the Gospel of the day. As we approach the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s adorable Body and Blood, the Church wants us to sing, to repeat, to pray, to hold in our hearts, the words of Saint Ignatius: Frumentum Christi sum . . . I am the wheat of Christ ground by the teeth of beasts to become a pure bread.” The Church clothes the text of this Communion Antiphon in an exquisite third mode melody that expresses its inner meaning perfectly. The summit of the melody is on the word panis, bread. The Gregorian melody is, effectively, a mystical exegesis of the text. The summit of the Christian life is in our eucharistification, our mystical identification with Christ, Victim and Priest.

Vir Eucharisticus
We are, all of us, wheat being ground into pure bread for the offering. We are ground fine, not by the teeth of wild beasts, but by one another, and by what Saint Benedict calls, “all the hard and repugnant things by which one goes to God” (RB 58:8). As I was reading Blessed John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul last week in conjunction with his feast, I was moved to discover that he wrote that he wanted but one thing in life: to become a vir eucharisticus, a eucharistic man. Today, reading Saint Ignatius, I realized that Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in the first century and Blessed John XXIII, the Pope of Rome in the twentieth, professed the same singlehearted desire. The spirituality of victimhood is the logical consequence of “full, conscious, and actual participation” (SC, art. 14) — plena et actuosa participatio — in the mystery of the Eucharist.

Come to the Father
The next time you feel as if you are being ground up, remember the words of Saint Ignatius, remember the wheat, remember the bread, remember the last Mass at which you received the Body and Blood of Christ, and say or sing to yourself softly: Frumentum Christi sum . . . I am the wheat of Christ, being ground to become a pure bread, a host for the oblation.” And then, if you listen with the ear of the heart, you may hear that voice like a murmur of living water that whispered to Saint Ignatius, “Come to the Father.”

Behold this Heart

Margherita Sacro Cuore.jpegThe Mystical Invasion
Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582. Thirty-two years later, on 31 December 1614, Catherine Mectilde de Bar was born at Saint–Dié in Lorraine. On 22 July 1647, sixty-five years after the death of Saint Teresa and thirty-three years after the birth of Mother Mectilde, Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in L’Hautecour in Burgundy.

The spiritual climate in Europe, following the Council of Trent, was one of extraordinary incandescence. Henri Brémond in his monumental Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France speaks of a “mystical invasion.” Saint Teresa’s Carmel had crossed the Pyrenees, introducing men and women of all states of life to the way of interior prayer. The Jesuits had launched their missions to North America or, as they called it, “New France.” Men and women of God, too many to be counted, undertook great things for His glory. It was the golden age of great friendships in God. In 1610, the young widow, Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal, together with Francis de Sales, established at Annecy the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, declaring “that no great severity shall prevent the feeble and the weak from joining it.”

The Choice of God
When Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitation Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, it was assumed that she, like so many other women, would disappear into the cloister, leaving behind no more than the sweet lingering fragrance of another life given to Christ. But, as always, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Contemplating the Pierced Side
The icy wind of Jansenism was blowing through the chinks in more than one cloister. It chilled the heart with the fear of a distant and vindictive God, eclipsing the mission of Jesus sent by the Father, in the power of the Holy Ghost, “to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). While the hearts of many around her grew cold, Saint Margaret Mary fixed her gaze upon the wounds of Jesus Crucified. Like Saint John the Apostle, like Saints Bernard, Lutgarde, Gertrude, Mechthild, and countless others before and after her, the humble Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial was compelled by the Holy Ghost to look upon Jesus’ pierced Side. “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Zacharias 12:10; John 19:37).

A Priest, A Friend
In the Jesuit priest, Claude La Colombière, Margaret Mary found a friend, one capable of standing with her at the Cross, of listening with her to the murmurings of the Holy Ghost, of gazing with her at the pierced Side of Jesus, and of entering with her to dwell in his Heart. The words of the apostle Paul seem to be those of Saint Claude to Margaret Mary: “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22)

The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus
In contemplating the pierced Side of the Crucified, Saint Margaret Mary discovered what many had forgotten: “the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18). It was given her to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” and fills “with all the completion God has to give” (Ephesians 3:19). She discovered, moreover, that the open Side of Jesus beckons to all from the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, and that His Eucharistic Heart is, at every moment, ablaze with love.

“Behold this Heart,” He said, “which, not withstanding the burning love for man with which it is consumed and exhausted, meets with no other return from the generality of Christians than sacrilege, contempt, indifference, and ingratitude, even in the Sacrament of my Love. But what pierces my Heart most deeply is, that I am subjected to those insults by persons specially consecrated to my service.”

Reparation, Saint Margaret Mary understood, is an imperative of love. The Side of Jesus remains open in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and men pass it by — some with a cold indifference, others with a merely formalistic token of acknowledgement, and still others without the slightest indication of grateful adoration — and among these, alas, are priests and consecrated souls. In this age of locked churches, of tabernacles forsaken from one Sunday to the next, of the Sacred Species so often handled casually and without reverence, and in the wake of public sacrileges perpetrated against the Blessed Sacrament, reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is, more than ever, necessary.

The Cenacle, the Cross, the Altar
Saint Margaret Mary invites us to re-discover the Heart of Jesus ablaze with love in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Christ, the Christus Passus, abides in our midst as Priest and Victim. There He perpetuates the oblation made first in the Cenacle, and then from the altar of the Cross. In every age souls, like Saint Margaret Mary, have been polarized by the mysteries of the Cenacle and of the Cross actualized in the Most Holy Eucharist. In some way, the Holy Ghost continually reproduces Saint John’s icon of the Church contemplating the pierced Side of Jesus on Calvary: “Standing by the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. . . . and the disciple whom He loved” (John 19:25-26).

I Look Round for Pity
The Sacred Heart is at the center of the Most Holy Eucharist both as sacrifice and as sacrament. The sacred action of the Mass perpetuates the Sacrifice of Calvary by which Christ, obedient unto death, hands Himself over to His Father and to those who partake of His Body and Blood. The priestly Heart of Jesus that beats with love in the Sacrifice of the Mass where He offers Himself as Victim, lives and burns with the same fire of love in the Sacrament of the Altar. From the tabernacle, as once from the Cross, He seeks souls to console Him, saying in the psalmist’s words: “I look round for pity, where pity is none, for comfort where there is no comfort to be found” (Psalm 68:21).

The Burning Furnace of Love
One cannot look long at Jesus Crucified without “the eyes of the heart” (Ephesians 1:18) being drawn to His pierced Side, and without entering, drawn on by the Holy Spirit, through the door of His pierced Side, into what men and women of every age have experienced as a “burning furnace of love.” The “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, contemplated “for now, as in a mirror darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), are given us, until the return of the Lord in glory, in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. And so, we go to the altar and to the tabernacle again and again to taste “with all the saints” (Ephesians 3:18), the “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

In the School of the Saints

Saint Teresa: La Madre
Saint Teresa of Jesus, mystic, teacher of prayer, reformer, and Doctor of the Church, has, without any doubt, set the benchmark for measuring the influence of holy women in the life of the Church. People do not, for example, find it at all odd that La Madre, as she is widely known, should be the primary reference for men who embrace life in any of the reformed expressions of Carmel that claim her as their inspiration and teacher. I have often heard Carmelite friars speak enthusiastically of Saint Teresa as their “holy mother.” So well known was Saint Teresa in the 17th century that Bossuet, “the eagle of Meaux”, found no better way of describing Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, the intrepid mystic of Tours and of Québec, than to call her “the Teresa of the New World”.

Dyed-in-the-Wool Benedictine
Is Saint Teresa the only woman at whose feet men are permitted to sit as disciples at the feet of a master? Is she so unique in the annals of holiness that, as far as men are concerned, a vast chasm separates her from all other mystics and doctors of her sex? My own veneration for Saint Teresa is immense. I would consider it a wondrous blessing to sit at her feet and be numbered among her spiritual progeny . . . but God had another idea for me. He called me to the Benedictine way of life. Ever since Blessed Abbot Marmion introduced me to the Benedictine ideal of holiness, in the middle of the madness of the 60s, I have experienced, over and over again, that it suits me better than any other school of Christian life.

The Benedictine Way
There is no doubt that grace builds on nature. A natural predisposition to the full liturgical life made me take to Benedictine life with a certain ease and, sometimes, with positive delight. Who can describe the enchantment produced in a soul by an antiphon, by a psalm, a responsory, or a collect? The givenness of the liturgy is a masterpiece of divine craftsmanship. The Holy Ghost infuses every detail with a freshness and grace that is hidden from the learned and the clever, but disclosed to little souls, to the man who trudges into choir day after day, knowing, in faith, that there Christ waits for him, and that there, the prayer of Christ will fill his soul.

Enter Henri Brémond
Only when I was nineteen years old did I meet the great lady who would, in these later years of my life, become my own Teresa of Avila. Like Saint Teresa, Mectilde de Bar is a mystic, a teacher of prayer, and a reformer. She is not a Doctor of the Church, but she certainly has the makings of one. It was Henri Brémond (31 July 1865 – 17 August 1933)  who, in his monumental 11 volume Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu’a nos jours introduced me to Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement. I was blessed to have a Benedictine spiritual mentor, Dom R.C., who supplied me with one volume after another of Brémond’s master work. Being nineteen, and having a youthful appetite for reading, I made my way through all 11 volumes, poring over them well past my bedtime. Something about Mectilde de Bar struck a chord deep inside my own soul. Little did I suspect then that the chord would continue resounding even into the sixth decade of my life.

Who is Mectilde de Bar?
So who is Catherine Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698), and why would I want to sit at her feet? Why do I call her the Benedictine Teresa of Avila? Her God-seeking journey, though consistent, was torturous, and marked by danger, exile, illness, poverty, and uncertainties on all sides. If Mother Mectilde is, as I believe, of the stature of a Saint Teresa of Avila, her message must have about it a certain timeless quality: a resonance in the life of the Church in every age. I have identified ten points that, I believe, illustrate the message of Mother Mectilde for the Church today:

1. Catherine Mectilde de Bar, born at Saint–Dié in Lorraine (France) on 31 December 1614, deserves to be universally known in the Church. She is a woman of the stature of a Gertrude the Great, of a Teresa of Avila, and of a Marie de l’Incarnation (Guyart–Martin). Mother Mectilde’s  life and mission are a vivid and compelling demonstration of the role of women in the Church today and in every age. Her writings, steeped in Sacred Scripture and in the liturgical tradition that formed her as a Benedictine nun, reveal a woman of profound human insights and of supernatural wisdom.

2. Mother Mectilde presents the grace of Baptism as being intrinsically ordered to actual participation in the victimhood of Christ by reception of the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. In affirming this, she elucidates with the brightness of her own experience the Eucharistic form of the Christian life articulated by Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis:

Here the eucharistic celebration appears in all its power as the source and summit of the Church’s life, since it expresses at once both the origin and the fulfilment of the new and definitive worship of God, the logiké latreía. (200) Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Romans in this regard is a concise description of how the Eucharist makes our whole life a spiritual worship pleasing to God: “I appeal to you therefore, my brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). In these words the new worship appears as a total self-offering made in communion with the whole Church. The Apostle’s insistence on the offering of our bodies emphasizes the concrete human reality of a worship which is anything but disincarnate. The Bishop of Hippo goes on to say that “this is the sacrifice of Christians: that we, though many, are one body in Christ. The Church celebrates this mystery in the sacrament of the altar, as the faithful know, and there she shows them clearly that in what is offered, she herself is offered.” (201) Catholic doctrine, in fact, affirms that the Eucharist, as the sacrifice of Christ, is also the sacrifice of the Church, and thus of all the faithful. (202) This insistence on sacrifice – a “making sacred” – expresses all the existential depth implied in the transformation of our human reality as taken up by Christ (cf. Phil 3:12).

3. The vocational journey of Catherine Mectilde de Bar was marked by unforeseen turns, by sufferings of body and soul, by new beginnings, by constant displacements, and by an immutable stability in the One Thing Necessary. In this, Mother Mectilde speaks to the young men and women of today who must follow their vocations with an immense courage in the midst of uncertainty, movement, and rapid change. In a time when many shrink back from saying a “Yes” that binds until death, Mother Mectilde shows that happiness lies, not in the subjective indulgence of endless and tortuous discernments, but in the simplicity of a decision made in faith and in abandonment to Divine Providence.

4. The past fifty years have witnessed a massive loss of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and in Holy Mass as a visible though unbloody sacrifice making present the mystery of Christ, Priest and Victim, in His oblation to the Father. Mother Mectilde’s lucid and fiery Eucharistic doctrine defies every attempt to empty the Mass of its essentially sacrificial character as defined by the Council of Trent.

5. The study of the life and writings of Catherine Mectilde de Bar constitute a precious locus theologicus in which it will be possible to engage certain key teachings of the Council of Trent with the authentic magisterium of subsequent critical periods in such a way as to arrive at a fruitful synthesis of liturgical continuity, Eucharistic theology, and mystical experience.

6. Mother Mectilde offers a vision of Benedictine life capable of rejuvenating monasticism — especially where it has become institutionalized and listless — with an infusion of Eucharistic vitality. Her commitment to perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament corresponds to a contemporary yearning, especially among young people, for a personal, transforming encounter with the Face of God.

7. Catherine Mectilde de Bar’s intimate and cordial relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model of life–giving Marian piety. The place she gives to Our Lady as the abbess of her monasteries suggests that every community and family can become, under Mary’s royal  protection, and consecrated to her maternal Heart, the cenacle of a continuous Pentecost, a school of apostles and evangelists, and a fruitful womb bearing new life in every generation.

8. Mother Mectilde’s attachment to the sacred liturgy, to the worthy celebration of the Holy Mysteries in an environment marked by beauty, by profound reverence, and by a humble decorum is an invitation to the recovery of what shaped and expressed the faith of past generations while, at the same time, recognizing every effort at growth and progress duly undertaken in organic continuity, without rupture and, above all, in charity.

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. (Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio Data” Summorum Pontificum, 7 July 2007)

9. Catherine Mectilde de Bar lived in a time marked by superstition, sorcery, dalliance with the powers of darkness, blasphemy and sacrilege. Recent distressing events in churches on every continent have demonstrated that global society today has more in common with  war–torn 17th century France than one might think.  Mother Mectilde bound herself in self–sacrificing love to the perpetrators of such horrible crimes, offering herself as a victim of reparation, that is, as an offering irrevocably made over to God, with the intention of supplying for the love and adoration denied Him by those who hate Him and outrage His holiness while, at the same time, praying God to show them mercy and grace them with repentance.

10. Catherine Mectilde de Bar is an icon of the kind of spiritual motherhood needed in the Church today, not only in monastic and religious communities, but in every context where the Church is being born, and born again, of the Most Holy Eucharist. Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Mother Mectilde demonstrates that the altar itself — the place set apart for the immolation of the Divine Victim — becomes a wellspring of supernatural fecundity in the life of every soul who adhering to the Holy Sacrifice, enters into the victimhood of Christ and, with Him, adores the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Blessed Columba Marmion

A Great Irish Benedictine
Today is the feast of a great Irish saint! Born and educated in Dublin, Joseph Marmion served as a curate in Dundrum and seminary professor at Clonliffe before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. Dom Columba Marmion was elected of Abbot of Maredsous in 1909. He chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on Rosary Sunday. It fell that year on October 3rd. When Pope John Paul II beatified Abbot Columba Marmion in 2000, the liturgical memorial of the new Blessed was fixed on the date of his Abbatial Blessing, rather than on the day of his death, January 30th.

Saint John Paul II
In 1985 Pope Saint John Paul II visited Belgium. When the papal helicopter flew over the Abbey of Maredsous on the way from Brussels to Beauraing, the Holy Father confided to one of his aides: “I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer.” The saints engender saints, and this in every age.

Cardinal Mercier, and Others
Cardinal Mercier, the holy Archbishop of Malines in Belgium and a contemporary of the Abbot wrote, after reading Christ, the Life of the Soul: “The perfume of Holy Scripture, to be breathed in at each page of this volume, gives the impression that it was conceived and prepared during prayer, at the foot of the altar, before being given to the public.” Pope Benedict XV kept the writings of Abbot Marmion close at hand and recommended them to the saintly head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Metropolitan Andrei Sheptitsky of Lviv, saying: “Read this, it is the pure doctrine of the Church.”

A Lad Reads Marmion
My own introduction to Abbot Marmion came when I was fifteen years old. I was visiting Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Father Marius Granato, O.C.S.O., charged at that time with helping young men — even very young men — seek God, put Christ, the Ideal of the Monk into my hands. He even let me take the precious green-covered volume home with me. With all the ardour of my fifteen years I devoured it. No book had ever spoken to my heart in quite the same way.

I read and re-read Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. At fifteen one is profoundly marked by what one reads. The impressions made on a soul at that age determine the course of one’s life. As I pursued my desire to seek God, I relied on Abbot Marmion. I chose him not only as my monastic patron, but also as my spiritual father, my intercessor, and my guide.

A Good Spiritual Director
If you are looking for a good spiritual director, choose Blessed Columba Marmion. His books are being re-edited in attractive, revised translations that present his timeless doctrine in all its freshness and beauty. From his place in heaven he remains attentive to souls and ready at every moment to direct them to Christ.

Goodness and Humour
Those who knew Dom Marmion bore witness to the vivacity of his Irish temperament and to his marvelous sense of humour, capable of humanizing even the most solemn occasions. He showed an immense goodness as abbot and priest; he had a special place in his heart for the poor, the little ones, and those wounded by life. He sought always to bring happiness to people, allowing the best human qualities to flourish. “Grace,” he often affirmed, “does not destroy nature, nor does it suppress one’s personality.”

As a novice, Columba suffered under the direction of a Master of Novices who was singularly lacking in human warmth. He never forgot this and, later in his monastic life when he was entrusted with positions of authority, he did everything possible to be jovial, joyful, and full of compassionate sympathy in his relations with others. He did this in spite of long periods of spiritual darkness, even as he struggled through the seasons of depression that marked his whole life.

Devotion to the Way of the Cross
Abbot Marmion tried always to bear his burdens of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering without allowing them to become a weight on others. All his life, he was intensely devoted to the Passion of Christ, making the Way of the Cross every day. His meditations on the Way of the Cross in Christ in His Mysteries are, to my mind, unequalled.

Participation in Our Lord’s Redemptive Passion
Blessed Columba entered deeply into the sentiments of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. Through the writings of Saint John and Saint Paul, he contemplated the Face of Christ set toward the Father’s perfect will, the fulfillment of the Father’s saving design of love, the Father’s promise of glory. Thus did he come to see his own sufferings of body, mind, and spirit as participation in the redemptive sufferings of Christ.

The Word of God
Blessed Abbot Marmion had the gift of teaching souls to relish the Word of God. In his own experience, Sacred Scripture was, first of all, proclaimed, chanted, heard, held in the heart, and prayed, in the context of the liturgy. His astonishing familiarity with the Bible came to him not by way of study but through the Divine Office, the daily round of the Opus Dei, the Work of God celebrated in choir.

A Theology That Adores
Dom Marmion attributed to the words of the Bible the grace of a particular unction: something penetrating, a kind of sacramentality that puts us in communion with Christ himself, the Word before whom every human tongue falls silent. It was recounted that when Dom Marmion taught theology to the young monks, they would leave the classroom after his lectures in a reverent silence and go directly to the choir to adore. This is monastic theology!

The Soul of the Liturgy
As a spiritual father, Blessed Columba insisted on the primacy of the liturgy. Well before the Second Vatican Council, he preached the liturgy as “source and summit” of the life of the Church. He quenched his thirst for God in drinking directly from the liturgy’s pure wellsprings and led a great number of Christians to do the same. Dom Lambert Beauduin, another father of the classic Liturgical Movement, wrote concerning Abbot Marmion: “He revealed to us the soul of the liturgy; by this I mean all the elements of doctrine and of life, that the liturgy reserves for us beneath the visible veil of its rites and symbols.”

Christ, the Ideal of the Monk
In his book, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, Blessed Columba generated a movement of return to the Rule of Saint Benedict and offered a re-reading of the text capable of irrigating the monastic life of every generation. His vision of Benedictine life is profoundly human and profoundly supernatural. He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved. He presents the abbot at the service of his brothers as a Father, as a Spirit-bearing Doctor, and as the Pontiff, the one who assembles the community to pass over into Christ’s own worship of the Father.

The Most Holy Eucharist
Let us seek the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion today for ourselves and for each other. He will obtain for us the grace of fixing our gaze on the Face of Christ set toward all that the Father wills, toward the mystery of the Cross through which joy has come into the world. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Life of the Soul. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ in His Mysteries. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. How blessed we are to be called, with Abbot Marmion and all the saints, to the Banquet of the Lamb.

Support the monks of Silverstream Priory:

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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