The video embedded above shows the Mass of the Assumption in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, during which four of my confrères made their solemn profession of vows. The Assumption is the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches, and it is very often the occasion of vows. During the glorious liturgy I thought back to the first time that I witnessed solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Assumption day of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. It was then that I decided to enter Heiligenkreuz myself. And, of course, I thought back to my own solemn vows on Assumption day of 2010. Each subsequent Feast of the Assumption has been for me a renewal of joy and gratitude at being a monk of this abbey.
On such occasions the abbey appears most visibly as what it is: a particular church that is an image of the universal Church, the new creation, the beloved of God splendid with all the graces that he has conferred on her. Urbs Jerusalem beata: the blessed city of the vision of peace. A friend of mine once said (after attending a solemn liturgy in Heiligenkreuz) that she now understood why I am a monarchist. And I can see what she meant. A solemn liturgy is, as it where, a preview of the heavenly court; the intricate order and hierarchy of infinite bliss in which the hosts of angles and saints pay homage before the throne of the eternal king. Human life is good to the extent that it participates in, and depicts that glory.
The community life has its penitential as well as its consolatory elements, but Looking at our community yesterday I recalled a passage of St. Bernard’s sermons on the feast of the dedication of the abbey Church of Clairvaux:
Quod majus miraculum, quando tot juvenes, tot adolescentes, tot nobiles, universi denique quos hic video, velut in carcere aperto tenentur sine vinculis, solo Dei timore confixi; quod in tanta perseverant afflictione poenitentiae, ultra virtutem humanam, supra naturam, contra consuetudinem? Ipsi, credo, videtis quanta jam possemus invenire miracula, si perscrutari singillatim liceret singulorum exitum de Aegypto, et deserti viam, id est abrenuntiationem saeculi, introitum monasterii, in monasterio conversationem. Quid vero sunt haec, nisi manifesta inhabitantis in vobis Spiritus sancti argumenta?
On a previous occasion I described the rite of profession of solemn vows as follows:
The ceremony for solemn vows follows more or less the outline described by St Benedict in the Rule, and is marked by St Benedict’s Roman sobriety. After the gospel the candidates prostrate themselves before the Abbot, who asks: Quid pétitis? They respond Misericórdiam Dei et Ordinis. The abbot then tells them to arise and preaches a sermon, sitting on the faldstool with the candidates standing in front of him. Then comes the feudal “homagium,” in which the candidates lay their hands in the abbot’s and promise him and his successors obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict “usque ad mortem.” Then every one kneels down and the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. Then come the actual vows. The candidates read out the vows of stability, conversion of morals and obedience, which they have written by hand on parchment. They then sign the vow charts on the altar. The charts remain on the altar and are offered to God together with the gifts of the Mass. After signing the vows they sing Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum et vívam; † et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea three times. They then kneel down in front of each and every [solemnly professed] monk in the community, saying Ora pro me Pater, to which the monks reply Dóminus custódiat intróitum tuum et éxitum tuum. While this is going on cantors sing the Miserere. The newly professed monks are then blessed with an extraordinary three part prayer, addressed to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity in turn. They are then clothed in the cowl and the Mass proceeds.
Photos and Video: Elisabeth Fürst