Holy Spirit: May 2008 Archives

The Spirit and the Bride

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Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is, in its own special way, a feast of the Holy Spirit, a fitting sequel to the Solemnity of Pentecost that we celebrated just three weeks ago.

The Visitation

The Church ponders the mystery of the Visitation two or three times a year: today, on May 31st, in preparation for the solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24th; during Advent, on December 21st; and again on the Fourth Sunday of Advent of the Year C.

The Roman liturgy gives us two Mass formularies for the Visitation: the one given in the Missal for May 31st, and a second one found in the Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987). This latter contains four explicit mentions of the Holy Spirit. The translations are my own.

The Collect

O God, Saviour of mankind, who by the blessed Virgin Mary,
the ark of the new covenant, brought salvation and gladness
to the house of Elizabeth,
grant, we beseech you, that, by yielding to the breath of the Spirit,
we may carry Christ to our brothers and sisters,
magnifying you by our praises and by the holiness of our way of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

This Collect uses a very evocative phrase: “yielding to the breath of the Spirit.” To yield to the Holy Spirit requires suppleness; it obliges us to let go of our plans, to make changes in our program, to “arise and go with haste into the hill country” (Lk 1:39). In going to Elizabeth, Mary yielded to the breath of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady could do this because she was light as a feather carried on a gentle breeze; light, I say, because she was utterly poor —empty of self — and utterly virginal — pure capacity for God.

What keeps us from yielding to the breath of the Spirit if not the heaviness that clings to us and weighs us down, the burden of our preoccupation with self, the load of all our attachments? What happens when we yield — give in — to the breath of the Spirit? We may be carried where would rather not go. One thing is certain, and this too is in the Collect, we will be free to carry the hidden Christ, to others and to magnify God with praise and with holy living.

The Prayer Over the Offerings

Lord, we beseech you
let your Spirit hallow these our gifts,
the very Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature,
so that from her, bathed in dew from heaven,
would rise the fruit of salvation, Jesus Christ your Son,
who is Lord forever and ever.

This Prayer Over the Offerings asks the Father to hallow them by sending upon them the same Spirit who formed the Virgin Mary to be a new creature: an allusion to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It goes on to describe the Blessed Virgin as “bathed in dew from heaven”: a reference to her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation.

The Dew of Your Spirit

The same image of dew is used for the Holy Spirit at the Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer II: “Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit, that they may become for us the Body + and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mary most holy, bathed in the dew of the Spirit, brought forth the fruit of salvation, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. That same fruit of salvation is given us in the Most Holy Eucharist, by the power of the same Spirit, descending invisibly like dew from heaven on our oblations of bread and wine.


Blessed Columba Marmion (1858–1923) wrote this prayer to the Holy Spirit at the Abbey of Mont-César in Louvain on Christmas 1908. It is part of his Consecration to the Holy Trinity:

O Holy Spirit,
Love of the Father and of the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts,
and ever transport on high our thoughts, our affections, and our actions,
like ardent flames,
even into the bosom of the Father.
Let our entire life be a Gloria Patri,
et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto

Virginie Danion (1819–1900) founded the Community of Thanksgiving (L'Action de Grâces) of Mauron in France. At the end of the Octave of Pentecost she writes, "Oh! How I would want to prolong this week of the Holy Spirit! With what regret do it see it come to an end." Then she addresses the Holy Spirit:

O Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, heart of my heart,
I want always to find Thee in the most intimate place of my being.
In this humble and hidden sanctuary thou wilt not be forsaken;
no longer wilt thou remain inactive,
and all that is within me shall obey Thee.
It is true that my wickedness, my faults, and my miseries
will often oppose Thee,
but Thou, all-powerful, wilt overturn, or break, or annihilate
all that would rise up against Thee.
The abyss that is Thine shall fill up the abyss that is mine.
Abyssus abyssum invocat.

I find that Virginie Danion's prayer has, however remotely, something of John Donne's magnificent Holy Sonnet XIV:

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.


Apart from the universally treasured Veni Creator Spiritus and the Veni Sancte Spiritus there are a few prayers to the Holy Spirit that have rooted themselves in my heart and served me well over the years. I thought that I might share them with the readers of Vultus Christi.

I don't remember where or how I came across the first of these prayers. It was written by Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (1851–1926). I vaguely remember that it was printed on a little leaflet. Cardinal Mercier wrote this prayer on the back of a holy picture while on pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. In 1926, while preaching a retreat, he offered a little commentary on it:

"I am going to reveal to you a secret of holiness and of happiness. Every day for five minutes, silence your imagination, closing your eyes to things of the senses and your ears to all earthly sounds so as to withdraw into yourselves, and there in the sanctuary of your baptized soul, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, speak to that Divine Spirit, saying:

Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore Thee;
enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me;
tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it,
I promise to be submissive in everything that Thou shalt ask of me
and to accept all that Thou permittest to happen to me,
only show me what is Thy will.

If you do this, your life will flow along in happiness, serenity, and consolation, even in the midst of sorrows, because grace will be proportioned to your trials, giving you the strength to bear them, and you will arrive at the gates of Paradise laden with merits. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of holiness."

I found the second prayer when I was about fifteen years old. It was in a small paperback edition of the Pastoral Prayer of Saint Aelred, published in England. I believe it came into my hands on an early visit to Saint Joseph's Trappist Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. The prayer so impressed me that I copied it out on the last blank page of the breviary I was using at the time:

"Lord, may Thy good, sweet Spirit descend into my heart,
and fashion there a dwelling for Himself,
cleansing it from all defilement both of flesh and spirit,
inpouring into it the increment of faith and hope and love,
disposing it to penitence and love and gentleness.
May He quench with the dew of His blessing the heat of my desires
and with His power put to death my carnal impulses and fleshly lusts.
In labours and in watchings and in fastings
may He afford me fervour and discretion,
to love and to praise Thee:
to pray and think of Thee:
and may He give me the power and devotion to order every act and thought
according to Thy will,
and also persevere in these virtues until my life's end. Amen."

To be continued.

Timor Domini

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Saturday: The Gift of Fear of the Lord

The Gift of Fear of the Lord is the antidote to pride and the beginning of the humility by which the soul arrives at union with God. In Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule Saint Benedict says: "The first degree of humility then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness, and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded." The Gift of Holy Fear fills one with the utmost reverence for God and for all that pertains to his service. It makes one recoil from occasions of sin and desire a burning purity of heart for the worship of God “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 95:9).

One deficient in fear of the Lord is careless in His service, easily flirts with temptation, and takes stupid risks, walking a tight rope over the abyss of sin. One lacking fear of God approaches holy things casually and treats lightly of what is sacred. American culture, especially suburban American culture, fosters a casual approach to all things, including the worship of the Divine Majesty. The past forty years have witnessed an incremental loss of reverence in our churches.

The Gift of the Fear of the Lord causes us to shun carelessness in His service. Fear of the Lord is far removed from anything resembling a morbid and self-centred scrupulosity; it is marked by joy in the Holy Spirit and fosters a holy boldness in the presence of the Father. One graced with Fear of the Lord knows that, hidden in the secret of the Face of Christ and assumed into His filial and priestly prayer to the Father, there is nothing to fear.

Fear of the Lord colours the way we carry out the Sacred Liturgy; it inspires a loving attention even to the smallest details. It constitutes a kind of enclosure around the Holy of Holies lest we fall into an attitude of casual familiarity and into the soulless routine that is the death of true devotion. Fear of the Lord imbues us with a holy awe and with that quality of “Eucharistic amazement” which Pope John Paul II sought to reawaken in the Church during his Year of the Eucharist. Finally, the Gift of Fear of the Lord associates us with the angels who, with veiled faces, tremble and ceaselessly cry out: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:3).


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Friday: The Gift of Piety

Pietas is a word wonderfully rich in meaning and full of nuances. It is notoriously difficult to translate. In the end one settles for “piety,” and then tries to unpack some of the meaning of the word. Piety has to do with the relations between a father and his child, and between a child and his father. People will sometimes say of a certain man, "He is utterly devoted to his children"; this is paternal piety. People will sometimes say of a son, "He is utterly devoted to his father"; this is filial piety.

Before we can begin to understand anything of the filial piety we owe God, we have to reflect on the paternal piety of God toward us. God relates to us not as a master to his slave, but as the most tender of fathers to his child. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 1:11–13). God is utterly devoted to each of His children by adoption.

We in turn are bound to offer God the dutiful obedience of loving children: piety is the expression in daily life of filial devotedness to the Heavenly Father. The Gift of Piety strengthens the virtue of religion, making us zealous for the worship of God and eager to put all that we are and do into the hands of Christ the Priest to be offered to the Father in His Sacrifice. Piety is the gift by which everything in life is ordered ad Patrem, toward the Father. One might say that the Gift of Piety unites the soul to the inner dispositions of Christ revealed throughout the Fourth Gospel: “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). To my mind, the Church's Doctor Pietatis ought to be Blessed Columba Marmion.

The Gift of Piety delivers one from that oppressive sense of obligation that makes all things burdensome and tedious. One lacking the Gift of Piety has no zeal for prayer. Both private and liturgical prayer are carried out in a perfunctory manner, often with one eye on the clock. One contents oneself with doing the bare minimum. One short on piety asks, “How little can I get away with doing and still fulfill the letter of the law?” One graced with the Gift of Piety asks: “How much can do to show my Father that I love him, that I am attached to him, and that all my joy is in the service of His majesty.”


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Thursday: The Gift of Knowledge

“How deep is the mine of God's wisdom, of his knowledge; how inscrutable are his judgments, how undiscoverable his ways! Who has ever understood the Lord's thoughts, or been his counsellor?” (Rom 11:33-34).

The Gift of Knowledge is a way of seeing to the core of things. It is insight into situations and persons. It is a light projected onto the Word of God or, again, a light projected from the Word of God into the heart. It is that occasional pulling back of the corner of the veil that gives one just a fleeting glance into the inscrutable mysteries of God.

The Gift of Knowledge produces a quiet joy in the soul, a delight in the truth, a desire for union with the Beloved. In this way, the Gift of Knowledge is directly related to the development of the twelfth fruit of the Holy Spirit: chastity.

The Gift of Knowledge allows one to sort things out in the light of God; it obliges one to a closer conformity with His designs. With knowledge comes responsibility. With knowledge also comes a deeper capacity for compassion. The Gift of Knowledge does not make one an arrogant know-it-all. It makes one meek and lowly of heart. Above all it fills the soul with admiration, making one sing, Quam magnificata sunt opera tua, Domine! “How great are thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom” (Ps 103:24). The more one uses the Gift of Knowledge, the lower one descends into adoration.

A Gift for Each Day

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The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

What are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? The Catechism names them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. It is customary to associate each day of the Octave of Pentecost with one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Pentecost Sunday: Wisdom
Monday: Understanding
Tuesday: Counsel
Wednesday: Fortitude
Thursday: Knowledge
Friday: Piety
Saturday: Fear of the Lord

The seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The three theological virtues come directly from God and are ordered directly to union with God; they give us the capacity to live as children of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, that is, in a state of grace. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit allow us to express the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in daily life; they make us docile in following divine inspirations. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit flower in the faithful soul and mature into the Holy Spirit's Twelve Fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, and purity.

Pentecost Sunday: The Gift of Wisdom

The Gift of Wisdom gives a taste for the things that will make us truly happy. The wise person is one who consistently and habitually chooses the things that will make him happy, not with a fleeting, deceptive happiness, but with the happiness that comes from being in right relationship with God. Saint Paul, graced with wisdom, says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The Gift of Wisdom is that by which one “sets nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21). One graced with wisdom knows what will make him happy because he has tasted it; he sings with the psalmist, “O taste and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man who hopes in him” (Ps 33:8).

The Gift of Wisdom makes one take delight in the companionship of the saints, in the example of their lives, and in their writings. The saints are wisdom’s children. A proverb says, “Tell me with whom you keep company, and I will tell you who you are.” The wise Christian never tires of reading the lives of the saints; he prays before their images, kneels humbly before their relics, and, in their company, discovers wisdom’s secrets.

One who lacks wisdom makes foolish choices. There will be disorder in his priorities: an inability to put first things first. One who lacks wisdom will have little or no taste for the things of God, for things holy, heavenly, and divine. He will forever be looking elsewhere for happiness. The unwise person lacks stability. In his search for happiness he knocks at all the wrong doors, passing by the one door open to receive him: the pierced Heart of Christ.

Pentecost Monday: The Gift of Understanding

The Gift of Understanding opens the mind and heart to the splendour of the truth. One graced with understanding is at home in an adoring silence. One graced with understanding will be open to God, receptive to the truth and, for that reason, always full of wonderment and ready to adore.

The Gift of Understanding is the undoing of pride. The prideful person clings to his own perceptions and resists growth, saying, “I know what I know, and what I know is enough for me.” One lacking the gift of understanding is literally unintelligent, that is to say, he cannot read the deeper meaning of events and circumstances. He approaches the Word of God superficially and skims on the surface of the Sacred Liturgy instead of plunging into its depths.

The Gift of Understanding pushes one to one’s knees in the presence of God. The Gift of Understanding also makes one compassionate toward others. Understanding the ways of God is the beginning of understanding the human person created in His image and likeness. Understanding produces joy, the joy of discovering the glory of God “shining in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), and the joy of perceiving that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of God, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Pentecost Tuesday: The Gift of Counsel

The Gift of Counsel enables one to make choices in harmony with the providence of the Father, the mind of Christ, and the leadings of the Holy Spirit. With the Gift of Counsel one walks securely and serenely, know that it is possible at every moment to consult the best of Counselors, “soul’s sweet Guest.” The Virgin Mary, associated with the Holy Spirit in all His works, is the Mother of Good Counsel. She is present to us in our perplexities, close to us when we stand at life’s crossroads. “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5) is the word of loving encouragement she addresses to the disciples of her Son.

One without the gift of counsel suffers an endless succession of false starts and goes from one spiritual calamity to another. He acts hastily, is easily manipulated, and makes decisions under the sway of emotions, especially fear. One graced with the Gift of Counsel, on the other hand, will be serene, calm, and full of trust that God’s kindly light will lead him one step at a time.

Pentecost Wednesday: The Gift of Fortitude

The Gift of Fortitude makes one distrust oneself and place all one’s trust in the strength that comes from the grace of Christ. “Separated from me, “ says Our Lord, “you have no power to do anything” (Jn 15:5). He does not say, “Separated from me you can do something,” or “you can do a little bit.” It is the grace of Christ that makes all the difference. The words of Our Lord to Saint Paul give the measure of the Gift of Fortitude: “My grace is enough for thee; my strength finds its full scope in thy weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Saint Paul, taking the word of the Lord to heart, declares: “Nothing is beyond my powers, thanks to the strength God gives me” (Ph 4:13).

It is in the martyrs that we see the most striking illustration of the Gift of Fortitude. The Preface of the Mass of Holy Martyrs sings: “You make strength perfect in weakness, and you strengthen our feeble powers, that they might bear witness to you.” Children give yet another illustration of the Gift of Fortitude, as striking as it is touching. I am thinking, in particular, of Saint Agnes, Saint Maria Goretti, the Blessed Children of Fatima, Francisco and Jacinta, and the Servant of God Nennolina.

One graced with the Gift of Fortitude goes along steadily; he is not intimidated by the apparent force of evil. He faces challenges, weaknesses, temptations, trials, and setbacks with equanimity and courage, knowing that no matter what befalls him the power of Christ is stronger, and the power of Christ is his, communicated to the weak by the Holy Spirit, especially in the Most Holy Eucharist: the food and drink of the strong.

To be continued.

Veni Sancte Spiritus

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This is, I think, my favourite English translation of the "Golden Sequence," the Veni Sancte Spiritus. I found it in Maurice Zundel's classic, The Splendour of the Liturgy (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939), a book to which I return again and again, and always with a new delight.

Holy Spirit, come and shine
On our souls with beams divine,
Issuing from thy radiance bright.

Come, O Father of the poor,
Ever bounteous of thy store,
Come, our hearts' unfailing light.

Come, consoler, kindest, best,
Come our bosom's dearest guest,
Sweet refreshment, sweet repose.

Rest in labour, coolness sweet,
Tempering the burning heat,
Truest comfort of our woes.

O divinest light, impart
Unto every faithful heart,
Plenteous streams from love's bright flood.

But for thy Blest Deity,
Nothing pure in man could be:
Nothing harmless, nothing good.

Wash away each sinful stain,
Gently shed thy gracious rain
On the dry and fruitless soil.

Heal each wound and bend each will,
Warm our hearts benumbed and chill,
All our wayword steps control.

Unto all thy faithful just,
Who in thee confide and trust,
Deign thy sevenfold gift to send.

Grant us virtue's blest increase,
Grant a death of hope and peace,
Grant the joys that never end.

Amen. Alleluia.


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A Pentecost Meditation

Today the Spirit of the Lord has invaded the cosmos and filled it!
Life spills out of the Cenacle
and, like a torrent of wine,
courses through the streets of Jerusalem.
God arises and His enemies are scattered;
those that hate Him flee before his face,
and those that love Him sing: Alleluia!

Today He who came down to see Babel’s tower
and confused the speech of the proud
visits the Upper Room.
He unties the tongues of the humble
and unites into one holy people those long divided by sin.
Amazed at what she sees and hears,
the Church intones her birthday song: Alleluia!

Today He who on Sinai descended in fire,
causing rocks to quake and peaks to pale,
descends upon Jerusalem;
tongues of fire dance over the heads of those
who, cloistered in the Cenacle, waited to meet their God
and at His coming, they cry out: Alleluia.

Today the valley of dry bones
begins to stir, to rattle, and to reverberate.
Behold, I will cause the Spirit to enter you,
and you shall live:
and they lived and stood upon their feet,
an exceeding great host
singing: Alleluia!

Today the Cenacle sealed like tomb
opens, a joyful Mother’s fruitful womb.
None was ever born of the Spirit
who did not take his birth from her,
and each, claiming from her the springs of his life,
calls her forever glorious, repeating: Alleluia!

Today the Spirit is poured out in superabundance;
today sons and daughters prophesy;
today old men dream dreams and young men see visions;
today menservants and maidservants
join the choir to chant with one many-tongued voice: Alleluia!

Today the Virgin whom the Spirit covered with His shadow
is wrapped in Love and crowned in flame.
Today the Woman who interceded at Cana
tastes New Wine, for the Hour has come.
Today the Mother who stood watching by the Tree
remembers the stream of water and of blood
and filled with sweetness, cries: Alleluia!
Today the Spirit helps us in our weakness
and we who do not know to pray as we ought,
pray in a way that is wonderful and new;
for now the Spirit Himself intercedes for us
with sighs too deep for words.
In the valley of the shadow of death
there rises the canticle of life: Alleluia!


Invoke the Holy Spirit

We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness.

The Forgiveness of Sins

And chiefly that first requisite of man, the forgiveness of sins, must be sought for from Him: "It is the special character of the Holy Ghost that He is the Gift of the Father and the Son. Now the remission of all sins is given by the Holy Ghost as by the Gift of God" (Summ. Th. 3a, q. iii., a. 8, ad 3m). Concerning this Spirit the words of the Liturgy are very explicit: "For He is the remission of all sins" (Roman Missal, Tuesday after Pentecost).

Sweet Guest of the Soul

How He should be invoked is clearly taught by the Church, who addresses Him in humble supplication, calling upon Him by the sweetest of names: "Come, Father of the poor! Come, Giver of gifts! Come, Light of our hearts! O, best of Consolers, sweet Guest of the soul, our refreshment!" (Veni Sancte Spiritus). She earnestly implores Him to wash, heal, water our minds and hearts, and to give to us who trust in Him "the merit of virtue, the acquirement of salvation, and joy everlasting." Nor can it be in any way doubted that He will listen to such prayer, since we read the words written by His own inspiration: "The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Rom 8., 26).

Trentotto anni di messa!

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For The Reverend Monsignor Arthur B. Calkins on the 38th Anniversary of His Ordination to the Holy Priesthood:

"The Holy Spirit will honour Mary and, through Mary, the Holy Spirit will be honoured, beginning from the heart of priests. Two new glories are held in reserve for the world: the reign of the Holy Spirit through Mary and a new awareness stirred up by the Holy Spirit in the spiritual and Christian world of the sorrowful and loving years of Mary's solitude. In these two things, I too will be honoured together with my Father from whom I never separate myself, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

And so, if my priests want to make progress in virtue they must do it by means of Mary; if they want to grow in knowledge and in love for the Holy Spirit, they must become ever more hers. More and more then let them make known and glorify these years of her solitude.

There is nothing surer than to avail themselves of the Holy Spirit and of Mary for their transformation into Me and, even more, for the perfection (insofar as this is possible on earth) of the union of the members of the Church among themselves, and the perfect Unity in the Trinity that I am seeking in a thousand ways."

The text is from Sacerdoti di Cristo by Conchita Cabrera de Armida, p. 387. The translation is my own.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory