After lunch yesterday a band of volunteer labor readied the Chapter Room as our monastic church for at least the next three months. Five of the fourteen pews from the guest chapel were moved into the Chapter Room and the built in benches around the room have become our choir. Luckily, Br. Martin remembered the smoke detectors in the Chapter Rooms ceiling; Abbot Joseph decided to suspend our usual celebration of Benediction after Sunday Vespers until we learn whether incense would set off the smoke alarms.
Our regular Monday guests assisted at Mass with us this morning, reassuring me that we can comfortable accommodate, too, the guests from our retreat house. But I would certainly encourage our regular Sunday guests to go elsewhere on Sundays. The Chapter Room has no flexibility for an overflow crowd. It’s only temporary and we will be back to normal–but not right away.
The space is liturgically functional and is certainly intimate. In the forty years I’ve been a member of this community, this is the third time we’ve used the Chapter Room to worship while work is done on the church. It never phased me in the past–but I don’t feel comfortable for a change. Perhaps I’m feeling that way because we have recently made some changes in our practice that I’ve found so satisfying. The other two times, it was more escaping from an inflexible style of liturgy and, perhaps, I found any change welcome! I have to remind myself not to overlook what gifts there may be in this new configuration, in the greater proximity to our guests.
Midday Prayer is now celebrated in private by the community in the refectory. At 2:00 PM, the hour of Midday Prayer, Monday through Saturday, the noise level in the church is high and just spills over into the adjacent Chapter Room. But all the other Offices are open to the public, even Vigils at 3:30 AM (there were just no takers today–no surprise!). By and large the Chapter Room is open to our guests about ten minutes before a scheduled Office. For the time being, it is not available to those who enjoyed the quiet of our church in the afternoon. At present, they’d find none of that quiet but what sounds to me like dentistry being practiced on a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Visually, I’m finding the sight of all those books lining the Chapter Room walls too “noisy” for my taste. But others have a different impression of the space. For the moment we can all enjoy, instead, the beautiful autumn days and the charm of the Valley outside.