Like anyone who had participated in the Abbatial Blessing over a week ago, I was filled with positive impressions and happy memories. I certainly felt that there is reason to contribute a post after the event but was less sure of the approach to take. Fortunately Abbot Joseph used the Blessing as the subject of his Sunday Chapter Talk to our monastic community just yesterday, 23 October. I think that’s a very good point of reference for my own reflections in this post.
For those of you unable to attend, the open invitation through the website did not result in our being swamped with guests that day. Some seventy-one guests had responded and of those, about eleven were monastic guests who’d be accommodated in the monastic choir. Allowing for people who would show up without responding, there was seating in the Guest Chapel for over one-hundred and twenty visitors. Everyone was comfortably accommodated without any crowding. We had well over a dozen clergy concelebrating, mostly Cistercian monks, either Abbots or representatives of their communities. Two abbesses and a prioress of our nuns were with us as well as sisters from Crozet and the Benedictine sisters of Bristow, Virginia, and their prioress. The combined forces formed quite a choir and the Bristow sisters proviuded some exquisite harmony. Our Book Keeper, Paul English, brought three of singers of Early Music to anticipate the ceremony with four-part anthems about fifteen minutes before the Blessing and then, during the Preparation of the Gifts.
Before the procession formed, Bishop Loverde blessed in the Sacristy the Abbatial insignia–pectoral cross, ring and crozier. The ring was a gift from our sisters at Crozet where Fr. Joseph had been Chaplain. Bishop Loverde and his secretary, Fr. Robert Wagner who acted as his Master of Ceremonies, are no strangers to Holy Cross Abbey. They are clearly at home here and the Bishop was at his personable and creative best as warm and welcoming to all as any monastic community would wish to be. Bishop Loverde conscientiously referred to the years of service of Abbot Emeritus Robert Barnes and invited him to offer part of the Eucharistic Prayer.
George Patterson, who is completing editorial work on the film about us, Saving Grace, Saving Place, was on hand to film the proceedings; this allowed Abbot Joseph’s family in South Africa to watch it live over the internet–as some of you also did.
In his Chapter Talk, Abbot Joseph highlighted a few aspects of the total experience. One was the preparations–preparing rooms, planning the reception for our guests and the evening meal for our monastic guests, picking up monastic guests at the airport, the flowers, the food, the music and liturgy. This was the outcome of people pulling together. Work was done by the community, yes, but also by friends and neighbors and the Lay Cistercians. Trips to the airport, the catering, the flowers, the filming, the singers–the broader community of our benefactors, our friends made this possible. That’s certainly symptomatic of a kind of collaboration and, we hope, mutual support, that is new to our monastic community and that will probably characterize our future. Certainly the interplay of engagement and hospitality, while respecting the boundaries of enclosure, have been nicely balanced so far. It is our challenge for the future to deepen these values.
Bishop Loverde’s wise words and effective celebration displayed another aspect of such interaction with the broader community: our engagement in the local Church. As a monastic community, as an enclosed community, we have our unique role to play in the life of the local Church. Like the hospitality we extend through the Retreat House, the Abbatial Blessing is another manifestation of Benedictine hospitality to our visitors, sharing the riches of both silence, solitude and liturgy.
The Cistercian presence at the celebration is reminder of both our solidarity with and support from our Order. We share the same challenges and similar solutions and responses. We are not left to fend for ourselves but draw upon the experience and candor our other communities. Certainly this, too, is nothing new for us. Since we began our strategic planning in 2007 we have had the steady support of the superiors of our USA Region and the help of the Bristow community of Benedictine sisters.
I think we were all struck by the singing at the celebration. But, as Abbot Joseph pointed out in Chapter, it just wasn’t the supplementary forces; our own choir is re-inhabiting our liturgical music as we also re-explore how we worship and how, collectively we can shape a liturgy that reflects the life of prayer we are called to live. At the same time, the joy of the celebration speaks volumes of a growth in interpersonal depth, in a development from individuals living under the same roof becoming a community of interdependent members.
These are all signs of hope. Each and every aspect indicates what we are already becoming; at the same time, each aspect also a challenges us to take the commitment deeper, to keep growing and never rest on out laurels.