Friday, April 8, 2011
Last Weekend's visits to the Abbey of Ste. Marie de Maumont 1
BACKGROUND Throughout the 1990s, and before my discovery of this Abbey of Benedictine nuns at Maumont, whenever possible we used to attend Sunday Mass at the Abbey of Trappistines at Echourgnac, just over the border into the Dordogne. The Liturgy at Aubeterre had become extremely modernistic and occasionally abusive. These visits to Echourgnac were a real spiritual shot in the arm. Yes, it was the Novus Ordo facing the choir of the nuns and the lay chapel at the west end of the church. The community of nuns numbered over 30 and it was apparent from their ages that this abbey has enjoyed a steady flow of vocations over past decades. The standard of the monastic singing was extremely high but there was hardly any Latin or Gregorian Chant. At that time modern chant in French was a novelty to me. Since then I have become less enamoured of it. (More about this on another occasion) The Mass itself was as different from the one at Aubeterre as chalk is from cheese. I'm sure this was because of the nuns themselves, who are primarily there for God and not for the sake of the assembled congregation of their lay guests. That being said, one always felt absorbed into the community of worshippers. Early in the next decade I learned about Maumont via the Internet. I had not realised that it was as near to us as Echourgnac, but to the north west instead of the south east. Quite by coincidence I already had a CD of Gregorian Chant recorded by the nuns of Maumont and therefore was delighted and somewhat surprised to find that they sing ALL the propers of the Mass according to the Roman Gradual. Their Chant is superb. The Ordinary of the Mass is sung to De Angelis or one of the other Masses in the Liber Usualis, according to the season. Otherwise the Mass is the same as at Echourgnac. I should also mention that at both Abbeys on does not present a 'sore thumb' spectacle if one kneels for the Consecration, or after Communion. At Maumont though, Communion on the tongue rather than in the hand, is made an easy althernative, and is adopted by more than half the congregation including children. Since we no longer have a car I can't get there as often as I would like. I therefore jumped at the chance last weekend, when the lady who takes me to Mass at Saint Severin, invited me to go with her to Maumont for a Penitential service which would include the opportunity for individual Confessions. I was assured that there would be an English speaking priest to whom I could go. This was a great relief because although my social French is very good, I've never been to Confession in French before. Nor have I ever been to a 'Penitential Service' , either in England or France and admit that I regard them with some suspicion, as being a substitute for the Sacrament of Penance in areas where the priest shortage is dire. Further, I admit that it was the chance of making a 'proper' Confession that overcame my reluctance to go to the Penitential Service. SATURDAY AFTERNOON - As it turned out, the fact that I didn't know what to expect, was a distraction that I had to fight all afternoon (i.e. 2.30pm until 5pm.) I castigated myself for lack of self-discipline in this regard, and in fact included it in my eventual Confession. I could have been better prepared if only the printed handout had explained that the service would in fact be an hour-long 'lectio divina' on St. Matthew's account of our Lord's tempations in the desert, that there would then be half an hour of private prayer, followed by a 'gathering' before the Sacrament of Penance. The 'Lectio' was given by a visiting Professor of Biblical Studies at Bordeaux Seminary. It was preceded by various lay people reading out St. Matthew's text. The 'Lectio' itself was a workman-like exposition, but there was no attempt to lead us afterwards to a connection with the text and the Confession we would later make. Nor even a suggestion that we should attempt that connection in the reflective period that followed it. The result was that each section of the afternoon had no clearly stated connection with the others. My Confessor turned out to be the nuns' chaplain, a kind, wise and venerable old priest. Life is made diffricult for me because I have to walk with a stick, and had to be led to the place in the church whence I would be called by one of the nuns when the priest was ready for me. It wasn't anyone's fault but I strongly dislike being made to stick out like this. Once I explained that I was used to traditional Confession in a box in Westminster Cathedral, he seemed to understand why the whole shape of the afternoon had unsettled me. I told him that much of what I'd planned to say had gone out of my head. He seemed to recognise my desire to be thorough and told me not to worry about it but that he would be happy for me to telephone him and make an appointment for another Confession in an atmosphere that would be more in keeping with my 'habitudes'. He asked me if I prayed regularly and we had a conversation about my visits to the Blessed Sacrament reserved here in St. Romain. He gave me Absolution and then gave me a lighted votive candle before I left him. When I got back into the church people were still going to Confession in other concealed areas. The same nun who had ushered me in, was waiting for me and made it clear that the expectation was that I would take the light up to a series of tables next to the altar as everyone else was apparently doing. By then I was feeling very dizzy and asked her to do it for me. I would have done it myself had I not been afraid that in spite of the walking stick, my vertigo would cause me to stumble, or even fall. She was very kind and understanding. Back in my place I gained some calm and recollection. It was then that I realised that I had not been given a penance. Only now that I'm writing about it do I suspect that Father realised that the whole experience had been enough of a penance! Even if only from the aspect of 'culture shock'. In the car on the way home I told Christiane what the priest had said to me about telephoning him for an appointment. She immediately offered to take me to Maumont whenever such a time had been arranged. A feeling flooded over me that was somewhat akin to the one I always experience after Confession, quite unnecessay to describe it to you, my dear readers. Suffice to say that my gratitude to Christiane knows no bounds. Later on in the journey she confirmed something I had already suspected. In the years between 1970 and very recently, the Sacrament of Penance became a thing of the past in this neck of the woods. Not just because of the shortage of priests, but because priests themselves did very little to preach or encourage it. She said that you had to be satisfied during that time with these 'Penitential Services'. In fact it was the only thing available in Holy Week, that is, until now. I am sure it is the young priests, like our own Pere Florian Marchand, who have a new attitude.. And the faithful are responding. They know in their bones that it is wrong to keep going to Communion and never to Confession. There were over a hundred of them at Maumont last Saturday, and all partook of the Sacrament of Penance. Never doubt the vitality of 'the eldest daughter of the Church'. Regardless of my misgivings about the way the afternoon was constructed, I truly do believe that the tide is beginning to turn. Next post: LAETARE SUNDAY, MASS AT MAUMONT ABBEY My apologies for lack of paragraphing in this and in recent posts. For some reason the wretched system is refusing to accept my instructions. Will try to sort it out next time.