Happy feast day to us!

What with all the distractions of unexpectedly good episcopal appointments this year in England, and the debate about Catholic, especially clerical, bloggers, and the crisis in the Ukraine, it may understandably escpae the notice of most members of the Church that today Benedictines celebrate the Solemnity of the Transitus (or Passing) of St Benedict.

Below is a translation of the Latin hymn set for this feast, which you otherwise might never see.

Shout, all ye people! Let your measured praises
Ring through the churches solemnly and sweetly;
On this feast day Benedict ascended
Heaven’s high summit.

He, when his youthful joyous years were blooming,
Yet in his boyhood left his native dwelling,
Seeking concealment hid within a cavern
Lonely and silent.

There amid nettles, rigid thorns and briars
Won he the battle over youth’s enticement,
Nurse of pollution; then he wrote a Holy Rule
of blest living.

Thy brazen image, infamous Apollo,
soon hath he smitten; burnt the grove of Venus,
Then to the Baptist, on the sacred mountain,
Established a chapel.

Now doth he witness happily in heaven
Seraphim, leading thongs of shining angels,
While he refreshes faithful hearts of who hear him
With living waters.

Praise to the Father, to the Sole-begotten,
And to Thee, always with the Twain co-equal,
Fostering Spirit; One only Godhead
Through all ages.

“Measured praises” is the sure sign of a hymn that originates in the noble simplicity of the Roman rite. Moreover, the tenor of all St Benedict’s Rule is one of measured common sense. In the midst of all his moderation, St Benedict had no time for pagan idols, the shrines of which he overturned in a moment. With the Church beset by a neo-pagan secularism, she needs even more the quiet witness of faithful, godly monks and nuns.

Please remember Douai Abbey in your prayers, and all English Benedictines, and also the brethren at Silverstream Priory.

May God, who has begun a good work in you, bring it to fulfillment, through Christ our Lord.

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict

 

Birth interrupts blogging

A blog post has had to go on hold for a while due to the birth of our first lamb of the year.

Born in brilliant, blessed sunshine this morning was Basil, named in honour of our own Dom Basil Gwydir, whose centenary of death we keep this year. He was one of several of our monks who served as military chaplains in the Great War. He died when the hospital ship, HMHS Rohilla, sank off Whitby on 30 October 1914, not long after the war had begun. It is said of Fr Basil that he remained below decks with sailors who were immobile and unable to escape, and so drowned with them.

Sinking of the Rohilla

Maiorem hac dilectionem nemo habet, ut animam suam ponat qui pro amicis suis. (John 15:13)

The new Basil is hale and hearty, and of full voice.

Basil

Shearing time!

This evening, muggy and threatening rain, my little flock was sheared. Not by me, though I helped with the worming, tagging, and dosing. Jack and Chris, two sturdy young bairns, did the honours. The flock clearly felt the relief of losing their heavy, hot coats.

Two quick pics. Jack and Chris hard at it:

Shearing

 

A lovely pile of fleece for our oblate Teresa, who will use a goodly portion of it to make sleeping mats for the homeless.

Jpeg

 

Little Malcolm was glad when it was all over.

malcom

Lounging lambs

The cold still bites here in Royal Berkshire, but at least the sun has managed to put his hat on occasionally, and to lovely effect. That said, yesterday was mostly filled with flurries of snow flakes, and the daffodils are terribly confused.

One effect of the sunshine is to encourage a little ritual lambs are fond of indulging in. After joining in the feeding frenzy on barley and hay with the ewes, they like to have a little chill time and think on the eternal verities. And they like to do it together. Normally in the sun they would play, but in the recent bleak and freezing weather they prefer to act like solar cells, and soak up as much warmth as possible. It begins when a nice bed of strewn hay is found in full sun. A couple will settle, satisfactorily gorged for now, and other lambs decide that they have the right idea.

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Quickly you have five settling in for some sun.

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And soon there are six, as a couple of the early comers start warming to their task of… warming.

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After some maternal intrusion and subsequent re-arrangement, they resettle to reveal the sun-and-slumber party has grown to eight.

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Malcolm, the youngest, is very much his own lamb and sits off a little to the side, balancing community with independence… and sleep.

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And looking back to the main assembly we find the other nine have finally settled together, Cher, the only girl among them, showing a suitable juvenile female disdain for boys.

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And they shall stay till the next human diversion arrives; for now, I have become far too boring to notice.

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Pax!

An Easter Lamb

The Triduum is a busy time for a monk who is both sacristan and cantor. Unexpectedly, my shepherd’s hat was on today as well – a surprise lamb born today, Holy Saturday, in the midst of our first period of sunshine for quite a while (though it still be chilly).

Though untimely born, she is well-omened. So Frances is our Easter lamb. 11 live lambs this year, our best crop ever (and this after three dead at birth). Alas, only two of them girls. A weird year. Given North Korea’s excessively loud belligerence, perhaps the end of the world is nigh. Repent, while we have the light of life.

Below is the little girl and her young mother (barely over a year old herself, and rejected by her own mother last year), taken with shaky, frozen hand on a mobile phone.

HAPPY EASTER!

Frances, the Easter lamb.

A novena and an omen

Yesterday afternoon two more lambs were born, which makes 7 in three days, and 9 in total – an ovine novena. Alas I only heard yesterday’s twins had arrived after dark, so after a fretful night I went out, after an earlier breakfast, through the sun-pierced fog and across crunching frost hoping for the best. And it was granted. A first time mother, Josephine, had given birth to a loud twin-set of lungs on legs. After her panic as I hoisted the lambs into the nursery pen, she followed us in and calmed down to the point of serenity. Having docked the lambs’ tails, and realised I had yet two more boys, I had a little play with the lads before they fed from mother while she wolfed down some barley (all photos should enlarge on being clicked): Feeding on all frontsIn light of the papal theme, it seemed apropos to name these two after the two most favoured papabili for the upcoming conclave. Our new albino boy, Angelo, declared approval: Angelo roarsHis brother, Marc, looked equally pleased, though he was forced to keep quiet by his more urgent need to lick his lips after downing a warming draught of mother’s best: Lip-licking goodWhen I let in the others, who were all waiting expectantly by the gate, there was a wonderful confusion of excited lambs escaping briefly the maternal leash, and of mothers frantically trying to put them back on the leash. All sorted in time: Meet and greetReturning this afternoon with some long-awaited mineral lick, it was lovely to see Cephas (at right) sitting near his grandmother with her boys Joseph and Benedict. Extended familyThe sunshine was very popular. Sunbathing was order of the day. Sonny and Cher slept through most of my visit: Sonny and CherJoseph and Benedict showed already signs of being scallywags, trespassing on other mothers and then sampling the mineral lick when they thought no one was looking: Sprung!The two eldest, Alban and Bartholomew, seemed lost in contemplation of the sun among the molehills, and I thought I might get quite close for a promo shot: ContentBut I was spotted and cast a disdainful look: SprungMeanwhile the new boys were finding their legs and learning the art of brotherly love: Brothers for lifeIn light of this preponderance of boys, 8 out of 9 lambs in total, surely there is a clear omen discernible. This is a near-certain sign that the next pope will be male. You heard it here first.

Lambs galore!

Another chap born at the end of High Mass today, in glorious sunshine. I waited around in case a twin was still to pop out but the mother happily munched away without any sign of impending delivery, so this lad is a solo act. That makes 5 in 24 hours – the nursery paddock is abuzz with doting mothers and inquisitive lambs. But 6 boys and 1 girl makes for an annoying gender imbalance.

Anyway, meet…….

Cephas! (If you know your gospels, and you know this week’s events, you know why.)

Ecce Cephas!

 

Meanwhile Sonny and Cher spent their second day, with Mum, sunbathing.

Sonny & Cher with Ma

 

Joseph and Benedict likewise took some sun, and seemed destined to stick together like limpet mines.

Benedict & Joseph stick together

 

Meanwhile the two eldest boys do not know what all the fuss is about.

Bartholomew & Alban noble in reposeBuona domenica.

Lamb Alert

Yesterday four little bundles of ovine joy were delivered here. One ewe had twin boys, who light of the current situation just had to be called Joseph and Benedict. Benedict is the one who has more papal white about him:

Joseph (left) and Benedict

Joseph (left) and Benedict

Another ewe had twins covering both sexes, and to balance the sacred with some profane, they are now Sonny and Cher:

Sonny (standing) and Cher

Sonny (standing) and Cher

May they graze as safely as we have under our good Shepherd, Benedict XVI.

From a monastery window

This afternoon I looked to my left and saw one of the windows of my neighbour (the Subprior)…

IMG_9272Not a window to stand under for a while.

And looking left I saw this chap…

munjack

Heading for the trees, this munjack deer must have realised he was a little too conspicuous today.

A changing church – part 1

Over at the New Liturgical Movement one can find a rich resource for charting the changes that liturgical reform has brought to church architecture and liturgical vestments. Very few churches go through life without being modified in some way to meet new circumstances, or as a result of war or disaster. Some changes are good; some are woeful. Even Douai Abbey‘s relatively young and humble abbey church has seen a good deal of change, nearly all of it before my arrival here. Nevertheless our photo archive affords a glimpse into the changes that have been made to our church in its near 80 years of existence. It fascinated me, and perhaps some others will find the photos of interest. They will enlarge on being clicked.

Construction circa 1929, seen from the top floor of the then monastery block, the Ark, later to become a dormitory for the school. The church was designed by Arnold Crush (1885-1936), a convert from Birmingham, and a pupil of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

The west end of the abbey church under construction, with what was originally intended as the chapter house on the right. In the event it was for a time the novitiate, and now houses the sacristy, some offices and some guest rooms.

The abbey church in the year of its opening, 1933. The original plan was not completed due to lack of funds. It was to be a very large church in red-brick Decorated Gothic.  What was built here was meant to be the lady chapel and chancel. A temporary west end was built, which became semi-permanent, remaining 60 years. This represents only one-third of Crush’s design, as much as was ever built.

The abbey church and its ‘temporary’ west end, seen through the monastery gates. The Ark, at this time the monastery, can be seen at far right.

The interior of the abbey church prior to some minor renovation in 1952. The choir stalls are still in use, the eagle-ambo long gone, and the cantors’ stools, relics from old Douai, now elsewhere in the monastery. The seating for the boys seems rather attractive to me; if only we still had those seats.

A postcard view of the abbey church prior to 1952. Its current Grade II* listing is in no small way due to the church being an early example of the innovation of structural stone-clad concrete.

A closer view of the pre-1952 altar, with its lovely sanctuary carpet. The postcard entitles it the Lady Altar, a nod to the fact that this area, though used as the choir and sanctuary, was intended as the Lady Chapel. Until 1978 this was the principal altar of the church.

In what is now the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was the St Benedict Chapel. The simple yet elegant altar remains to this day, with fine lettering by Christopher Derrick. The squat candlesticks we still use today on the main altar.

Between the St Benedict Chapel and the entrance to the choir was the altar of St Joseph. Now long gone, victim to the reforming zeal for one altar only in a church, the area today is behind the new Tickell organ and is a chair store. The triptych is now rather awkwardly placed in the sacristy for the house chapel.

A poor quality photo showing the church arrayed for a Requiem offered on the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939. Note the unbleached candles and the papal tiara (made of cardboard I believe!).

In time the church was equipped with the first of its organs. Here is a shot with a young Fr Romuald (+2012 – RIP) tickling the keys.

Part 2 to come in due course. Pax!