Inspiration from the monastery

This year I have returned to a Benedictine Monastery for the Easter Triduum.  It is a place that I have been coming to, on and off, for over thirty years and which holds a most special place in my heart. I have been greatly affected and informed in my liturgical sensibilities by this monastery, despite the fact that its liturgical "style" is very different from our Vigil Mass Group. I find myself reflecting on why it is I feel so at home here. What is it that I can take back to a parish situation.

Firstly, liturgy is important to the Benedictines. It is not merely something that they must follow or abide by: it moulds their very life, it provides a structure to their life and forms them. It is not just an extension or addendum to their life; it is part of the fabric of who they are. So familiar are they with, for example, the Psalms in the Office, that they will naturally refer to them when making a point about their relationship with God. Liturgy is part of their very essence.

Because liturgy is so important, so central to their lives, they think very carefully about it. Every aspect of the liturgy is carefully planned. Different monks will have responsibility for different aspects of the liturgy, which they carry out meticulously. But there is also what we might call "joined up thinking" - the right hand absolutely knows what the left hand is doing. Because of this careful preparation, we in the congregation are presented with a seamless experience which allows us to be unconsciously immersed in the liturgy. A useful analogy is that of a waiter: you are never conscious of the presence of good waiter - you can simply immerse yourself in the meal knowing that the practicalities of what needs to happen will, in fact, happen.

Finally, there is.........and I don't like to use this word.........ambition.  The community makes their liturgy as beautiful as possible. Not to impress or show off; but because what is beautiful is of God and better enables us to perceive God.  Having been coming here for so many years I can see how they have slowly but surely been refining what they do, sometimes even adapting due to circumstances, but always with higher motives and not merely settling for what is "enough".

This, I believe, is what our parishes can learn from the monastics.


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