Sunday, February 27, 2011

NLM; Lenten preparation; A Year for Nuns; my fourth book; and other matters

I've sent NLM the links to the 'Amazing Retreats' photo gallery and to which has many photos of the new Stanbrook at Wass. Nothing yet on NLM's site as a result. I'm told they get innundated with stuff but will nag them if necessary. More people should know and see for themselves what has happened, than can possibly be reached by my blog.

The last few days have been spent catching up with domestic and other work that had been shelved because of the Stanbrook series, - with preparing for Lent, and making some related decisions. I say related, because although before every Lent I make a list of intended intensified practice under the three traditional Lenten headings, every year for at least the last 20, the Lord has sent me an an additional, unexpected and usually surprising task, one which knocks the sails out of me, but which I always try to embrace to the best of my ability, praying always for His help and that of his Blessed Mother.

I will not post often during Lent, maybe only once a week. Please follow me and I will explain during the coming weeks what I believe I have to do this year.

The first thing, I can tell you now, is to do everything I can to promote a Holy Year for Nuns. (My first Lenten post will probably be about that. And very soon, I will , and must, tell you more about St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association. )

Since my retirement in 2006, I had more or less given up the idea that I would ever write the fourth book in the unfinished quartet. Somehow at the end of the present winter, the indications are very different. I will tell you all about this a time goes on. And we will see. The actual writing of a book is no mean task in itself, but the other stages one goes through, from proposal to publication, are perhaps even more demanding. I've been through them three times. If it's God's will, I will go through them for a fourth time and happily, that I may be less and He may be more.

In the meantime, I really believe my Guardian Angel has been looking after me. Yesterday I went out into our courtayard to give the cats their afternoon meal. I slipped on a rotting leaf and fell flat on my back. This had nothing to do with my chronic vertigo. Fortunately I fell on the grass rather than on the adjacent concrete path which did graze my head, but had no impact on the top of the spine. After I hit the ground, I lay there in the shock of the moment, thinking that it would be remarkable if I had avoided severe injury. Fortunately, as usual, my husband was watching from the study window and came out to help me back to the vertical. It was a remarkable escape. I appear to have sustained a bruised coxyx. That is all.

Deo gratias, and of course to my Guardian Angel. There was another thing tonight about a failing gas bottle and a Yorkshire pudding, but that could have been St. Martha!

In closing tonight, if you have not yet signed the NLM Summorum Pontificum petition, or contributed to the WDTPRS spiritual bouquet for Pope Benedict's baptismal feast, PLEASE DO SO at your earliest possible convenience.

In Christo pro Papa


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Personal Tribute to Dame Felicitas Corrigan O.S.B. (March 6 1908-Oct 7 2003)

" I think the communion of saints is stronger than we realise. You haven't got to meet a person in the flesh really to get to know them, to affect one another very deeply at a spiritual level."

This was Dame Felicitas' response to someone who had asked her whether, in the writing of her 1976 award-winning biography of Helen Waddell, she had felt disadvantaged by never having met her subject. It was a fatuous question in any case but you will note that Dame Felicitas' answer immediately spiritualises its context. It speaks a truth about spiritual correspondence in general, and one which was borne out in my own association with her. I am NOT suggesting that I had any spiritual effect on HER, but she most certainly did on me. We never met and yet my three books would not have been written without her willing involvement and advice. This appreciation of her gifts to me is most definitely not an attempt to 'puff'' my own books, but in order to show how Dame Felicitas helped me, I will need to say something about their content and structure.

The Beginning
My former parish priest Canon Michael Richards (RIP) knew Dame Felicitas quite well through his editorship of the Clergy Review. It was he who recommended that I write to her for advice as to which publishers I should approach with a proposal, for what I originally thought would be a single book. Admiring Dame Felicitas' own writing, I was somewhat in awe of her, but did as Canon Richards suggested. I don't think it was more than a fortnight before I received her first letter. That and subsequent ones, changed my life in all its aspects.

The books constitute a spirituality of gardening, but not in an airy-fairy new age sort of way. They are firmly rooted in the liturgical year of the Church, in her Mass readings, the Divine Office and the history of her saints and feasts.

The Development
At the time of her first letter Dame Felicitas must have been in her late eighties, but her cogency and clarity leapt from the pages of neat and compact handwriting. Having given a name for me to write to, and explaining that she had by then little contact with publishers, she went on to address the content of my work. I had sent her the 13 page preface I had already written. This was eventually to appear as the introduction of my first book. It was obvious that she had studied it closely but did not suggest any alterations or additions. She corrected one very careless spelling mistake (oh the shame for me an English teacher!) and adjusted the way I had laid out a quotation from one of the psalms. Then she let me know that she had consulted two other nuns about the standard of gardening knowledge I had demonstrated. Having conveyed to me that I had passed their tests, she went on to compliment me on my scriptural knowledge and later gave the command on the subjects of gardening, prayer and Holy Writ, "Write everything you know!" That would have been daunting enough, even had she not earlier given the dictum "Every word must count." During the writing of the books I would struggle with obedience to those two imperatives.

My initial reaction to her first instruction was a weak-kneed realisation that it couldn't be achieved in one book. There would have to be four of them, each dealing with a specific period of the Church year. (Advent and Christmastide; Lent-Pentecost; Trinity Sunday-Exaltation of the Holy Cross; Seven Sorrows of Our Lady - Feast of St. Andrew. This scheme was completely unbalanced by later publishing decisions, but that is another story) The inner structure of the books came directly as a result of Dame Felicitas' reactions. A plant is chosen for each day and its entry is divided as follows - Brief Cultivation Notes; History and Lore of plant and Feast; Towards Meditation; List of Biblical Readings; Suggested Place of Spiritual Retreat. Suffice to say that only three books are written. (see cover illustrations lower down sidebar to the left) Dame Felicitas is waiting for me to get on with the fourth!

The first book was published in 2002, the year before Dame Felicitas died. I sent a copy to the Abbey, but I think by then that she was in a home or hospital. In her reply to my accompanying lettter Abbess Joanna, said she was just about to visit Dame Felicitas and would give her my messages of concern and promise of prayers. I was not informed as to her exact whereabouts, probably because she was by then too weak to receive correspondence.

The above details give some idea of Dame Felicitas' thoroughness and integrity in dealing with her vast correspondence. It was as if she put everything and everybody else out of her mind, except the detailed needs of the person she was addressing. In my own case, it was not just the help she gave with the structure, content and lay-out of the books, but that her interest gave me the confidence and the courage to write them. She 'spoke' to me as if she assumed that I could and would do it. That perhaps was the most amazing thing.

There is no end to the story.
2005 -
The third book was published in 2005, and therefore written before the election of Pope Benedict XVI. It is dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation in memory of Dame Felicitas, and of Rumer Godden her novelist and poet friend. I have not published anything since then, but as hinted earlier, I now feel the stirrings of renewed courage to write a proposal for the last book of the unfinished quartet.

She must have known about the planned move from Stanbrook, and we have to wonder whether she approved. We do know from her Telegraph obituary, that if she didn't approve, she would have said so. " No, Mother, I don't agree.' "

If the move to Wass would have been against her wishes, I have to record a sad relief that at the age of 95 she was spared the experience, going to her eternal reward some 6 years before the move happened. Whether or no, I pray that she had a happy and peaceful end. I thank her now and always. I find it difficult to believe she is not already in heaven and so I ask her prayers and remember her daily in my own.


Final update:
Dame Joanna is now Novice Mistress.
Dame Maria Boulding died in 2009 after only a few months at Wass.

But that is another part of 'The Benedictine Tapestry', not to be explored today.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) - Messe Vidi turbam magnam - Exaltent eum (...

H/t to Br. Laurence Lew, O.P. for his post today at NLM "The Feast of St. Peter's Chair". He has a video of Britten's 'Hymn to St. Peter' (You won't be surprised, that although I appreciate the Britten, I prefer to celebrate the feast with Allegri!) Br. Laurence's suggested meditation for today, written by Pope Benedict, is "Primacy in Love. The Chair Altar of St. Peter's in Rome" If you have a copy of 'Images of Hope', the meditation appears on pages 29-35 therein.) Br. Laurence gives a link to Ignatius Insight where the text may be found. Here it is again.

Have a holy, happy feast.

In Christo pro Papa.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Final post in current Stanbrook series; the need to rediscover, understand and promote the Contemplative ideal

I intend to put up the final Stanbrook post on Thursday, although it may be possible before that. Largely, it will be about the influence Dame Felicitas Corrigan had on me, and will contain my tribute to her.

The previous post to this one gives a clue as to what kept me busy all morning. (The afternoon was a wash out because it was shopping day, a weekly item on the agenda which I dread and detest!)
I had already decided to send links to NLM re photos of the old and new Stanbrooks. It is merely a matter of recording history now, and the photos will be seen by many more people at NLM, if only they see it as important enough to post them. (Anyone is welcome to forward these links, the more exposure, the better.)
After reading Father Tim's post this morning (thank you Father). I contacted Catholic Heritage by email and have not had a reply yet. They are a specifically Irish group devoted to the EF Mass. In spite of the strength and effectiveness of the English and Welsh LMS, perhaps we need an English/Welsh equivalent of this group. However the suggestion about having a Year for Nuns started me off on a search for names and addresses of people we could write to in Rome in order to earnestly suggest a 'Year for the Nuns'.

Some of you may remember that several months ago I learned from experience that it is pretty useless to write directly to the Pope. (It wasn't like that at the beginning of his Pontificate, so it was quite a painful lesson to learn.) Writing to the Dicastery most closely concerned, therefore seemed the best first step. So I began to look up names and addresses at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, in order to post them here for you. Archbishop Tobin is the Secretary, so for Anglophones, he would be a good idea. Then I discovered a John Allen Interview with one of the under-Secretaries, Sister Enrica Rosanna, a Salesian nun, who was appointed to the post by Venerable John Paul II in 2004. The Allen interview is long and very informative about Sister Enrica's history and attitudes. It can be found here and I recommend you read or re-read it. She is 72 now and still in post as the first woman ever to hold such high responsibility in the Roman curia. I will study it again but the first perusal kept me busy for some time this morning. Apart from anything else she makes a lot of points that I simply have not had time to include in short blogposts, and of course she expresses them more cogently than I could have done, even with all the time in the world!

Later this week, I will post the other information I found, to save you the trouble of looking up addresses etc. The more letters the Dicastery receives, the more chance there will be of a 'Year for Nuns'.
The reason I think this so important is that I believe it essential that we pray for female vocations to the Contemplative Life. The 'they are wasting their lives' argument must be refuted and countered. There needs to be a Church-wide new apologia for the female contemplative life. They are doing well in the traditional pockets of the Church, (Dominicans at Ann Arbor USA, Franciscans of the Immaculate in Lanherne UK for instance, but in mainstream Catholicism, as Fr Mark suggests in his comment, the modern revisionist trend (at least in England) is moribund, its minimalist architecture passe and cold. For the good of the Church, new life must be breathed into it.

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham produces the first 'home-grown' traditional Order in the UK. I think there's a beloved and Most Holy gentleman in Rome who wouldn't be surprised either, in fact he's probably counting on it!

Increase in number of faithful and priests, decline in nuns

Not very encouraging in relation to my last post.

Deo gratias. Have just seen a marvellous idea highlighted at Father Tim's blog. 'A Holy Year for Nuns'. Let us do all we can to help it become a reality.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stanbrook 6 continued

When I was a young woman, and young in my Catholicism, I firmly believed and still do, in several things, some of which are now, astonishingly to me, a subject of apparently legitimate debate in the Church. One of those sureties of belief was/is, in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I have enough desperately worried private correspondence from people in English Catholic parishes who tell me that there are people in those communities who declare disbelief in the Real Presence and yet receive Communion every week.

Another certainty of my youth upon which all seemed to agree at the time, was that the contemplative vocation was essential to the life, health and survival of the Church. Few of us could aspire to it, but that did not mean we did not know about it, value it, and wish to see it promoted. Quite the reverse, it made us see how essential these 'power houses of prayer' (like Stanbrook) actually were/are. I think that since the second Vatican Council, the emphasis has been so much on the laity doing everything for themselves, that the earlier necessity and concentration has been almost entirely obliterated. And it is this above all, I think, that has allowed Stanbrook to fade from relevance and awareness.

In the video, Dame Julian, unquestionably a holy nun, says that the Stanbrook nuns are there for all of us, but she doesn't really explain the reasons, and how they go about it in prayer. She doesn't speak of Jesus Christ as the centre of everything for her, of the Divine Office as her major work as a Benedictine.. I'm sure Jesus is central to her, as is the Office, but we need her to tell us, and so does the rest of the world. You can watch the video and come away with a creationist, ashram sort of feel. Rather than promoting contemplative life and attempting to explain it to the outside world, the video comes over as a defence of the ecological convictions which have led the nuns to do as they have done, not as a reason for trying to follow the Benedictine vision..

Whether it is generally known now or not, Stanbrook, for the last 150 years, has been the jewel in the crown of English female Benedictinism, althought I think that St. Cecilia's in Ryde may have overtaken it and been less affected by modern trends. Ryde has stuck unswervingly to the Latin liturgy. Stanbrook has not, regardless of Dame Laurentia. Ryde is of the Solesmes group, and not EBC. They have suffered from the deaths of many of their nuns in recent years, as has Stanbrook, but they have kept up their numbers. As for Stanbrook, I pray that they will have many vocations in the next few years. Without these it is difficult to hope for a happy future for a community of whom at least half are over 60.

Stanbrook 6: Why, when and how

First, an extract from "The Religious Orders of Great Britain and Ireland" by Peter Anson (1949 published by Stanbrook Abbey. I bought my copy of this classic, circa 1961, at the old CTS bookshop opposite Westminster Cathedral. It carries a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, and has a Dedication to the Abbess and Community of Talacre Abbey, now at Curzon Park, Chester. I probably paid about two shillings for it. only lists two available copies, the cheapest at £100; lists it as currently unavailable)

"The Abbey of Our Lady of Consolation was founded at Cambrai, Flanders in 1625...was promoted by the newly restored English Benedictine Congregation. ....the first Abbess was Dame Catherine Gasgoine.............the actual foundress was DAme Gertrude More, through whom the community is linked to St. Thomas More.

"On the outbreak to the French Revolution in 1793 the nuns were..........imprisoned at Compiegne . Here they remained for eighteen months, in daily expectation of sentence of execution, which their companions, the Carmelite martyrs, actually received. Four (of them) died in prison. When the rest were released, they were broken in health and almost destitute. The community managed to reach England...................

They took refuge first at Woolton in Lancashire and then at Salford Hall Warwickshire where they spent 31 years, before finally, and with some subterfuge, buying Stanbrook in 1938. In his Stanbrook entry Anson refers to the Abbey's connection with the restoration of plainchant, but he doesn't date that, nor does he acknowledge the valuable work of Dame Laurentia McLachlan. the latter omission was probably due to the fact that until recently, if a nun authored a published work or did anything of scholastic, artistic merit, she was only named as 'a nun of Stanbrook'. This habit, was probably in place to protect humility, but it makes things very difficult now, it one is trying to assemble proof of the vast contribution made by Stanbrook Abbey not only to musical scholarship, but to other areas of study. There is a site that lists 'Stanbrook Contributions' but I should think is far from complete.

'In a Great Tradition', now generally acknowledged to have been penned by Dame Felicitas Corrigan, appeared in 1956 as being by the Benedictines of Stanbrook. It gives a detailed account of Dame Laurentia's contribution, and her connection with Abbot Gueranger and other Solesmes luminaries.The book is a must-read for students of chant and its history. It is now out of print
but several used copies are available at Amazon's two English sites. (cheapest £9.50 and for the US $16.50) Dame Felicitas who died on the Feast of the Holy Rosar in 2003, was no light weight when it came to writings about the history of female Benedictinism and Stanbrook itself.. Google her name for access to several obits. that appeared in the British press at the time. Whilst you're at it try the same with Dame Maria Boulding, who went to her reward in 2009 not long after the move to Wass. Between 1985 and 2004, she had left the Abbey for the eremitical life, but was requested to return and prepare the the Stanbrook Library of 40,000 volumes in advance of the move.

I mention all the above out of general interest, but specifically because a certain nunly modesty may have prevented the significance of their work from being more widely known amongst Catholics. I'm sure it played a small part, but there are other reasons, which I am sure are leaping into the minds of my readers. I will mention them briefly after supper before going on to say what I propose to do about it all..

To be continued later this evening.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Note relevant to current Stanbrook series

First, a heartfelt thank you to 'Gertrude' of CP&S for her kindness in having sent me a copy of the 2011 Benedictine Year Book. It arrived this morning and the first perusal shows details that will enable me to be as up-to-date as possible in the remaining posts of this series. I think about two posts will cover everything I want to say, for the moment at any rate!

'STANBROOK 6' WILL FOLLOW TOMORROW AFTERNOON (It's been a busy day here clearing up after Thursday's plaster-boarding event and in any case I can see from stats that people are still catching up on what I've already posted.) I'm pleased that the subject generates so much interest, but have to plead the time consuming nature of finding stuff on the Internet, of which there seems relatively little, apart from news and many pictures of the new monastery in Wass. Quite a lot about that, but very little comment on the Catholic blogosphere about the build up to the move. Father Tim Hermeneuticalness had two posts (2nd and 13th Feb 2008, a few months before I started this blog) which attempted to draw attention to the Abbey's possible fate; NLM picked up on Fr Tim's posts but after receiving no comments, didn't pursue it thereafter. Catholic Church Conservation had a one line alert, with no explanation; and the BCEW site had a page saying the Community would be moving. When I checked yesterday, the page had been removed. (Perhaps I got that information from DT at Holy Smoke.). And as far as I can see they have not reported on it since.

It seems that Stanbrook had already slipped below the radar of Catholic consciousness, even before the 2002 announcement by Abbess Joanna that the community intended to move. Catholics just don't know about its past glories anymore, and I'm afraid that there are some who couldn't care a fig about their ignorance of it. I was astonished when a dear friend, commented on an early post in this series, that she had never heard of Stanbrook. I know for a fact that she WOULD have cared had she known about it.

So Stanbrook 6 will deal with how, when and why, the English Catholic Church began the inexorable loss of this most valuable female Benedictine part of her heritage. Sure as eggs, it didn't begin when the 22-strong Stanbrook community decided they wanted to go 'green'.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stanbrook Abbey series alert:photos of the empty Abbey

Will try to get to the next stage tonight. In the meantime do check this link to 'Amazing Retreats' who bought Stanbrook Abbey. Do not let the word 'Retreats' raise your hopes too much. Do have a look at the gallery of about 70 photographs (internal and external) for a poignant, and to me very upsetting, impression of what the nuns have left behind. They are valuable photographs. I think they were taken before the 'refurbishment' began. Click on each small image to enlarge. tMy heart lurched and I was brought to tears by many of these images, particularly of the deserted choir stalls, the Abbey's two cemeteries and the library shelves now stripped of their precious volumes.

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

Stanbrook: 5

After half a century of enclosed contemplative life, Dame Joanna's experience at the Art School in modern East-End London must have been like a cacophonous vision of hell. It would have destroyed a person of less courage, strength, determination and faith, and one has tremendous admiration for her. And yet the decision to make this sojourn was her own choice. She 'had been intructed' to take a year out after the election of her successor, but did not follow the usual practice, in such circumstances, of spending the time at another Abbey. Permission must have been given for her to do as she wished. When she returned to Stanbrook, before the move to Wass, Abbess Andrea apponted her as Sacristan and gave permission for her to spend the rest of her time on her Art. What a wonderfully compassionate two-fold gift of balm!

Rumer Godden's novel 'In this House of Brede' (first published 1969) was largely based on Stanbrook, and written in response to Dame Felicitas Corrigan's wish that 'someone would write a book about nuns as they really are, not as the author wants them to be'. The book is based on countless private and individual interviews with the nuns. Its dedication hints that these took place over a period of five years. Just one of the things that stands out, is that after appointment as Sacristan, the recipient of that office is the happiest nun in the Abbey. No believing orthodox Catholic will be surprised by that. I was very disappointed that in the Fergussun/Times piece Dame Joanna did not mention happiness at this part of her new job. (Perhaps she did say something and it was edited out as not being relevant to the main thrust of the article - one of the dangers of giving interviews to secular press.) She does mention great relief at being allowed to continue with her art and says she would probably have had a breakdown otherwise. She then goes on to speak of the difficulty of living the two vocations of Nun and Artist. I leave that to the reactions of my readers, but it worries me.

An Abbess has tremendous power and control over her Community, approaching that of a bishop in his diocese, although, like a bishop consulting with his Priests, she consults with her Council of senior nuns before making any major decision. However, the whole question of Obedience must be taken into account. If the Abbess (or indeed, the bishop) gets a bee in the bonnet about a certain issue and exerts undue pressure and persuasion on her Council, what then? Unless there have been radical changes of which I am unaware, at the end of all discussion and debate, agree or not, they must obey the final decision of the Abbess or break one of their vows. Of course it's possible that at Stanbrook a member or members of the Council, having been bitten by the 'green' bug', presented the ecological move to the Abbess whilst she was trying to discern the future. She was persuaded and it all went full 'reed bed' ahead. Others have hinted that the idea came from her and that she railroaded her Community into its fulfilment.

Sheridan Gilley(Emeritus Reader, University of Durham) wrote to the Times 23 Jan 2006 commenting on an article (17 Jan 2006) title 'Nuns, Pugin and a grotesque redevelopment' The original article was sympathetic to the catholic heritage argument, and to the nuns, although it hints that the Abbess was determined to sell, and gives some proof of that. Apparently she counterpetitioned an earlier petition to the Prince of Wales that a sale should be avoided at all costs. It claims that there was disagreement among the nuns and that four 'dissenters' had left as a result. Dame Catherine (now at East Hendred) responded to Morrison, and whilst not denying that she had left because of disagreement over the sale, she objects to the word 'dissenters' and states that she and two others left because of a 'matter of conscience'.. This does not quite tie in with her New Statesman post, in which she claimed that her superiors had said she would have to leave, at least for a while. (This article has one of those infuriatingly long links. It's quicker for you to Google the article title and I do recommend it) Sheridan Gilley in his comment does not mention the 'green fever' that seems to have been taking over at Stanbrook, and concentrates more on the Abbess's determination to sell. He lays the blame firmly at the door of post-conciliar liberalism which has done 'immense harm to the English Catholic Church and looks likely to consign the Stanbrook community to extinction.' He then goes on to blame the Abbess personally, who 'seems oppressed not only by her Puginian Gothic surroundings but by the memories preserve of great scholarly nuns such as Dame Laurentia McLachlan and Dame Felicitas Corrigan.........................'

We will probably never get to the entire truth of the matter. As I said some time ago, maybe it's not our business. However, there is usually 'no smoke without a fire', and my own view is that the results of this whole sorry affair most definitely are our business.

(It's been an exceptionally and unexpectedly noisy and dusty day here. The builders have been up and down replacing some plaster board in the library ceiling This post will continue under the following headings asap. I will alert you when it is complete.)

Well, we should be grateful that the empty Abbey was not vandalised or 'squatted' during the 4 or five months between the Nuns' departure and its eventul purchase by Clarenco (Amazing Retreats). All who cared about the place worried about those possibilities at the time. On their own site, the Abbess states that she and her community are satisfied that the purchaser will treat the Abbey with sensitivity, both in its refurbishment and the use to which it will eventually be put. The word 'retreats' is mentioned and I had high hopes when investigating Clarenco. Perhaps the Abbess didn't know that the world generally applies the word to quiet hideaways and bizarre follies, a la English heritage.. In this worldly use, there is certainly no assurance of spirituality being part of it. Yes, it does look as if Clarenco will be sensitive, at least to the history of Stanbrook, but the idea of banqueting and dancing in the Pugin chapel is unpalatable to say the least. On the other hand, apparently the nuns have retained the right of access to the two cemeteries. It is a tremendous relief to know that they will not be disturbed. On balance it could have been a lot worse. Several groups prayed regularly that the Abbey would not be sold and that somehow, the nuns would be able to stay, whether or not they suspected that the Abbess wanted to move in any case, as suggested in the earlier part of this post. Those groups, must have thought their prayer was being answered, until the thrice delayed sale finally went through. It must have been, and still must be, a terribly sad time for the lay community surrounding Callow End, The nuns acknowledge that the village grew up around them and their Abbey. That is just such a Benedictine thing, a pattern that goes back to medieval times. To take it away is rather like taking Winchester Cathedral out of Winchester At places where there used to be a priory or an Abbey, Walsingham and Shaftesbury for instance, I always feel sad, and sense the ancient pain in the place that must have been felt at the original amputation. At the very least what has happened to the community surrounding Stanbrook is a sociological rupture. The Callow End community was small but loyal. It will take a long time for its members to adjust to the loss of Benedictine presence at the centre of their lives. One hopes that some of them will find work with 'Amazing Retreats' and guide the owners away from ignorant mistkes in future. They are in my prayers, just as much as are the nuns who have gone.

The remaining sections mentioned below will appear in future posts of their own.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pergolesi Stabat Mater - Cambridge ensemble 01

Whilst I get on with 'Stanbrook 5', here is a treasure to enjoy in celebration of tomorrow's memoria of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite order, and to put us in a Lenten frame of mind.

Personal memory: this was the first piece of Catholic music I ever learned, at least the chorus parts, for a public performance in Sheffield City Hall when I was 13. It was a civic thing and not organised by the RC church. The young choir was selected from schools across the city. How I got in I have absolutely no idea. It was a good two or three years before I took Catholic instruction and certainly had no idea at the time about conversion from the C. of E. But Latin is good for you, so 'Forest Murmurs' said today. It was always good for me. With the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi a door began to open.

Hope to post other parts of this during Lent.

Stanbrook 5 in preparation ...

...for posting tomorrow afternoon, DV.

The Hollies - Carrie Anne

After yesterday's loss of bloglist, a vicious hale storm later in the afternoon which sent the computer into crash mode, and this morning, the item on Zenit about Bishop Keiran Conry's latest public evidence of a change of mind, (and one hopes, heart) about the Pope, I have to burst out with a little frivolity before returning to the very serious matter of STANBROOK ABBEY. All day the Hollies' tune has been zinging through my brain with a slightly changed title as in brackets above. I had to check the words of the original song. Not really ideal but some of the lines made me smile. Anyway its a pleasant bit of nostalgia.
It's not that I'm questioning the Bishop's sincerity, but it would have been more edifying had he admitted that Pope Benedict has worked wonders on HIS OWN previously published opinions . It isn't surprising that his current volte face is confusing, if not unconvincing, to some of us who had been alarmed by several of his decidedly unhelpful statements between the Ad Limina and the Pope's visit.

Of course we pray constantly for the Pope and for all our Bishops.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A moment of panic

I nearly fell over myself in excitement about the new CTS blog (h/t to Protect the Pope). In my haste to get it into my side bar, I thought I may have lost the whole list. Then it appeared again. Is it still there? Hardly dare look. If it is, the link to the new blog should still be there..

Yes, I've just checked and the whole list is lost. It will take ages to rebuild. Oh well a good lenten job. Don't think I can face it at the moment. Could be sheer accident, or a devilish gremlin in the works, or perhaps St. Scholastica is trying to tell me something................

Stanbrook: 4

I have decided, mainly because of lack of time, to link you to the current Stanbrook Abbey site.

The other reason for the link is to provide access to info. that is already in the public domain. I'd like you to read it before I express any further personal opinion, or write about my own experiences as promised.

Judging from the interest already shown, as reflected in my stats, many of you will already have found the Stanbrook site. Several of its sections show Abbess Joanna Jamieson's thinking and rationale behind the move. For more about what Abbess Joanna did after she resigned in 2007, go to this Times Online article by Maggie Fergusson (Times Dec 14 2008). It reports an interview with Dame Joanna conducted the day before she returned to Stanbrook, and now includes an additional paragraph about what has happened since she returned to the old Abbey before the move to Wass.

I will post again either later today or tomorrow afternoon

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stanbrook Abbey 3: East Hendred continued

In one sense it could be said that the inner workings of an enclosed contemplative order are no business of an outsider, not even a devoted Catholic lay person. But if those workings have a bearing on a place like Stanbrook then I would at least invoke the Catholic Heritage argument as mentioned earlier. Originally I did not set out in 2008 to know the details of what went on at Stanbrook during the last decade. It was only when I found Dame Catherine's piece online a couple of years ago, (written 24th Jan 2008), that I began to feel uneasy about what may have happened there. It may of course have nothing to do with the move decision, but as I said earlier the timing of it all occasioned deep misgivings.
In her New Statesman Faith Column post, Dame Catherine wrote as follows about her life at Stanbrook and what brought it to an end: (Post title "What matters is not the sacrifice but the music: the role of work is central to the Benedictine way of life") She speaks first of a period of adjustment to work in the monastery scullery and the kitchen. She is a Cambridge graduate and was in banking before entering the monastery. Then she goes on:
"Assignment to the printing room* brought with it two great blessings.: I began to work alongside a woman of rare nobility and huge moral stature, Dame Hildelith Cummings, who made me think aboutthe white space on the page, the colour of black, the texture and smell of paper and ink, the moral import of all we do. I also found in my Junior Mistress Dame Gertrude Brown, a wise and generous friend, with whom I could argue to my heart's content about all the questions that bubbled up inside. Both were as one in focusing on the contemplative quest of 'preferring nothing whatever to Christ.'

Then my world fell apart. The next few years were lonely and difficult, made all the more so because I was forced into a position where I could not openly tell all I knew and had to endure a number of false accusations....."

It shook her faith in the Church and her institutions and she goes on to say how she was saved by the Rule of St Benedict.

There were several sympathetic comments from people who know Dame Catherine and some from a person who criticised her for washing dirty linen in public, a particularly nasty phrase in view of the circumstances. Dame Catherine reacted with dignity and charity, inviting the person (who had written under a pseudonym) to write to her privately.

It was an unfair accusation. Dame C had tried to do the impossible, that is, tell the truth about why she had left Stanbrook without naming the people who had hurt her or giving any details of how they had done it. To my knowledge, apart from this slight lifting of the veil, both Stanbrook and EH have been silent on the issue. Except, I've just remembered that Dame C wrote a short letter to the Times Editor in 2006 stating that she and two others had left because of ' a matter of conscience'. I only discovered this letter online yesterday.

My own feelings in her favour were increased by the fact that Dame Teresa Rodrigues, a senior nun and a famous scholar in her own right among those who know the Benedictine English world, also left Stanbrook and went with Dame CW and Dame Lucy King to EH. To leave S. must have been even worse for her. Dame TR died at the beginning of 2010 aged 79 (RIP) I had correspondence with her in 2004, from EH but did not know the situation then. She put me in touch with Rumer Godden's daughter, who in her turn gave me an unpublished poem by her late mother, 'The Christmas Rose' . May she too rest in peace.

More Stanbrook musings asap, probably Tuesday DV, when I will share more of my own Stanbrook experiences and particularly of Dame Felicitas Corrigan, may she rest in peace. Also need to bring you up to date with what has happened to Dame Joanna Jamieson, the former Abbess.

* The print room: Many of you will know that Stanbrook was famous for its fine printing. It had the oldest printing press in the country. I do hope the Community have taken it with them to Wass.

Message for Deacon Edwin Barnes

Congratulations and a warm welcome. Next time I look forwaard to addressing you as Father.

Many prayers for you and the entire Ordinariate. May it grow and flourish.

(Stanbrook Abbey series of posts to continue this evening)

Stanbrook Abbey 2

My Stanbrook Abbey 1 post, and the video, explain the mixed feelings to which I referred. Clearly the nuns who speak on the video (4 out of 22) are happy and hopeful for the future. Clearly they are women of great faith who believe that the Holy Spirit guides them. The Stanbrook reports in the Benedictine Yearbooks between 2003-9 often refer to a process of discerment that led to the decision to move. It's hard to argue with the basic decision. The old Stanbrook was too big for them and was cripplingly expensive to run. Oil and gas heating was costing them sometimes as much as £6,000 a month. There were no lifts to ease the movement of old incapacitated sisters, and lifts would have been prohibitively costly to put in. Set against these arguments is the one that raises hands in horror at the loss to our Catholic Heritage of historic Stanbrook, its contents and associations with many literary and musical nuns of the past, and their famous friends. When George Bernard Shaw brought a gift of a stone from the Holy Land, his friend Abbess Laurentia cast it into the garden where it would make the whole place holy ground because no one would be able to identify it from any other. This last argument was firmly knocked on the head by the new Abbess when she said in one interview 'we are not museum curators'.

There is another thing that worries me and that is the departure from Stanbrook in 2003 by three of its nuns to East Hendred Monastery near Oxford which was founded in 2004 by Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth, but not mentioned in the Yearbook until 2008. The timing of this incident leads one to wonder whether there had been a mini-rebellion at the decision to abandon Stanbrook. One of those nuns Dame Catherine Wyebourne stated in a New Statesman interview that in 2003, she was told by her superiors that she would have to leave Stanbrook, at least for a while.

More about this in the next post.

The nuns of Stanbrook Abbey

Stanbrook Abbey - I

I intend to write a second post this afternoon.. It's hard to have anything other than divided feelings about the sale of Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire. It was originally on the market as early as 2003, maybe the year before that, for £6 million. Three sales fell through before it was finally sold last August to Clarenco LLP, a conglomerate of Property Purchasers based in Buckinghamshire, and who have a section advertised as 'Amazing Retreats'. (More about this later)It's not been easy to find out the exact amount that the group paid for Stanbrook, but piecing together other financial details that have been made public, it seems to have been sold for 4 million pounds sterling. This will enable the nuns, who moved to North Yorkshire in May 2009, to finish paying for the first building phase of their new ecological monastery. This leaves them with another 4 Million pounds to raise before remaining phases can begin, that is for their Church, Library and Guest accommodation.

To most ordinary folk, the purchase of land and the building of an architect designed property into which one moves before one's old property has been sold, seems a somewhat risky way of going about things. As it was it seems that the nuns are about 2 million short on their originally hoped-for financial calcultions. If they had professional financial advice, well, one wonders.......

Before going further, I want to let the nuns speak for themselves and will link you to a video showing the new Monastery. This gives me a break to prepare Sunday lunch. I'll be back later.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stanbrook Abbey:Apologies for delay;Medjugorje; Georg Ratzinger etc.

I'm sorry to delay the Stanbrook post. I needed to do a little more surfing to see what else I could find. And before that Francis Phillips Catholic Herald blog posting on Medjugorje and its full combox kept me occupied for longer than I ought to have spent. Gertrude at CP&S says the post is 'reasoned', and has a link to the Herald page. I agree with her. It's a complex issue and a tall order for Cardinal Ruini's Commission to sort out. By the time I'd finished everything else I had to do today it was time for the late afternoon Rosary. Now, another day has almost gone.

I had a long conversation on Friday night with a dear friend who told me that Georg Ratzinger had a knee replacement operation a week yesterday. (How I missed that news item I don't know.) I thought the Pope wasn't quite himself at Wednesday's GA. A very natural worry about his brother could explain it. Anyhow he seemed distracted. Very unusual for him. We agreed how sad it was that the Holy Father can't be given time off to go and visit his brother. Isn't there a gap in the diary, now the Spanish football squad have postponed their Papal Audience because of training demands before their match against Arsenal?!. Well I'm praying that he will be able to visit his brother privately, and praying for Msgr Georg's recovery.

A demain

In Christo pro Papa

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jubilee Year - Lourdes 11th-14th February 2008

Father Mark recommends we make a spiritual Pilgrimage to Lourdes today.. by praying the Akathist to Our Lady of Lourdes. See text at his Vultus Christi post today. I've printed it off and will put the Lourdes Webcam on my screen to pray the Akathist this evening. It's quite long so if you haven't time, here's a video for you which has a plainchant soundtrack. The pictures are rather blurred but really give you the 'feel' of spiritual Lourdes. Have a good 'pilgrimage' and a blessed and happy feast day.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

More up to date information about Stanbrook, tomorrow I hope.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Final agenda for WYD 2011 in Madrid is released

Final Agenda? And no mention of a Papal presentation of YouCat?
Final Agenda? Fortunately that's for the Pope to decide, and carry out, but I'm grateful for a basic outline.

A Fragrant Flower for Saint Scholastica

My first book 'Gardening with God' covers this period of the Liturgical year. The following is an extract from my entry for Saint Scholastica's day, and explains why I chose Dame's Violet for her.

DAME'S VIOLET Hesperis Matronalis
(Sweet Violet, Vesper Flower)

'History and Lore:
It is chosen for St Scholastica because nuns of the English Benedictine Congregation are formaslly addressed as Dame. But there are other reasons. In flower lore the plant represents watchfulness, a quality that Scholastica possessed in more ways than one. The name 'Vesper Flower' comes from the fact that it is at its most fragrant after sunset. This too is appropriate for the sister of St Benedict. Also the plant sometimes sends out new shoots from the old roots. Here I am thinking of the nunneries founded in Australia, Brazil,Peru and India from our English monasteries of Stanbrook, * Tyburn and Saint Cecilia's Isle of Wight. Lastly, Benedict and his sister were born in Umbria and although Dame's Violet is found throughout Europe and North America, it is native to Italy. As well as being part of the plant's botanical name, Hesperis also means 'the western land', that is Italy. '
Copyright Jane Mossendew 2002

*Additional note added today.
Of course the original Stanbrook is now empty, at least I think it still is, since the community moved to a specially designed set of modern monastery buildings at Wass on the North Yorkshire Moors. The last time I checked their site, the chapel was not ready and I don't think the old Stanbrook has been sold yet. I've no doubt that Abbess Joanna Jameson, who presided over the decision to abandon the original monastery, would see this as an example of putting out new shoots from old roots. I reserve judgment on the wisdom with which this was handled but pray for the Stanbrook community in their new home. They have a new Abbess, Dame Andrea Savage. Following her retirement as Abbess, Dame Joanna took a year's sabbatical in a London art school

Saint Scholastica, pray for all Benedictine nuns, particularly those of the new Stanbrook.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Father Z's Poll about Women's head-covering in church

I'm sure most of my blogging friends have voted by now, but if not, please head over to WDTPRS and register your vote, particularly women. And if you have a blog please advertise the poll.

Peter Seewald effectively waspish about dissenting theologians

Catholic Culture has the report here
The quote from 2 Timothy 4:3 is an absolute corker! Now I wonder who could have suggested that text to him?! Someone who can't say it himself, but wants us all to see it in the media. Even if he didn't suggest it, he is fairly certain to have read it and is probably still chuckling.

Thank you Herr Seewald. You deserve a Bene Merenti at least!

PS Have tried the link twice and it's not working cleanly. It will redirect you to Cath News Headlines front page. At the foot of the report on German Bishops reaction there is a link to the Seewald item. It's worth the trouble I promise you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

O Sacrum Convivium - Richard Farrant [1530 - 1585]

I've put this up tonight because I'm sorting some CDs to sell via 'Bones' Catholic Store'. I've only one CD that includes it and I simply can't bear to lose this motet. So it has to be here for my sake! The first Communion motet I ever learned. Easy? Yes. Great? Not really. But very special and with so many beautiful memories for me.
Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why isn't 'YouCat' all over the Blogosphere?

Well, as far as I can see it isn't, and I read fairly widely as I'm sure you realise. Apart from this morning's Episcopal ordinations in St. Peter's, it's been a day of miserable whingeing dissent, with illogical and distinctly unhelpful 'contibutions' from 144 German-speaking 'soi-disant' theologians; from the Benedictine (ICEL) Father Ruff, and from the Irish Priests who object to the corrected version of the Missal as being 'sexist and elitist'. (see Catholic Herald, Fr. Z. and Protect the Pope)

Of course we have to face up to these negatives and the above-mentioned sources must not be underrated. They richly deserve our gratitude and their place on all our bloglists. But yet again, Father Mark Kirby saves the day with his remarkable post on Vultus Christi about the Holy Father's message to youth, not only introducing YouCat (well-named) but giving them some honest and clear explanations, from his personal experience, as to the history and inception of the CCC on which YouCat is based. PLEASE go read Father Mark. His post will cheer you up, increase your hope for the future, and your faith that we have a great and wise Pope. Love him, trust him, pray for him, and Father Mark too!

In Christo pro Papa


Candlelit Vigil organised by the Vaughan Parents' Action Group

h/t to Damian Thompson Holy Smoke

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bold child greets Pope at the Vatican

UK Bishops prepare for the 'new' Mass

Zenit has this report
(The link took rather a long time when I tested it just now but it did work.)

You will note the absence of the honest and accurate phrase 'more correct', to describe the new translation of the Mass. It has to be eschewed at all costs, because its use would be to admit that for four decades the bishops have condoned and encouraged the inaccurate version. Difficult to admit that the Flock has been misled. The content of the first handout in 'Praying the Mass' for Priests and others in leadership roles' (link on the Zenit report), certainly shows that the Archbishop realises they need to be put back on track, but I could find no advice about how to deal with laity, and I'm afraid some priests, who object to having this 'new' version 'foisted' upon them. I hope people like this will not create too much difficulty, but surely one needs to be ready for them. People will want to know WHY this or that phrase has changed. Many may still need to be convinced that the changes are necessary. Yes, it is an opportunity for catechesis if people know the reasoning behind the changes. To explain this simply and clearly, there needs to be a three-fold table in the following parallel columns 1. The original Latin 2. A straightforward English translation 3. The outgoing English 'translation'. That's all that's needed to START proper catechesis. Of course when people see how inaccurate the 'old' version is, they could be forgiven for asking why it was ever allowed, let alone for so long. Another difficult one for the Conference to answer. But their Excellencies shouldn't worry too much. After all, people are so loving and obedient to them as their shepherds and are so tolerant and forgiving these days, aren't they?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The festivity of Saint Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik

This film, I think made for distribution by UNESCO, is interesting, but its commentary falls short for me because it concentrates on the cultural, historical, and doesn't sufficiently address the spiritual. It twice refers to the 'worship' of saints. Tut, Tut!

I think I last had my throat blessed on St. Blaise's day in the late sixties, probably at Holy Apostles, Pimlico in London, or it may have been in Sheffield at St. Vincent's Solly Street.... It is a dim, distant but treasured memory. Do please let me know if you are aware of a church in England and Wales where the Blessing of Throats still takes place on this day..

Anyway, have a holy and happy feast of Saint Blaise.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nunc Dimittis - County Upper School

Burgon's Nunc Dimittis sung at an Evensong in Wells Cathedral by the choir of County Upper School, Bury St. Edmunds. At our London RC church we had the Latin version, as well as this more generally heard English one. We used to alternate the two settings year by year. A rare example of English being as beautiful as Latin in liturgical music, well almost!! Obviously I admit that the English is appropriate for Wells, and particularly in these early days of the Ordinariate.

If you are nostalgic for the BBC credits of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' click the next up title after the Wells version has finished.

Have a holy and happy Candlemas.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Message for 'Epsilon'

After all this time I have at last managed to link to your blog. It hasn't worked for months. Hope you look here occasionally and will see that I've done so.

God bless,


William Byrd: Alleluia Senex portabat puerum

On the Eve of the Presentation of the Lord - a musical treat from the English patrimony - William Byrd sung by the choir of Hereford Anglican Cathedral : 'The old man held the child but the child was his king..." Magnificat Antiphon for First Vespers.

More music tomorrow on the Feast itself.