In this valley of tears

Each evening, in all Cistercian monasteries in the world, we enter the night by singing the Salve Regina. We must do this also with a thought toward the darkness that often shrouds mankind, filling it with the fear of being lost in it. In the Salve Regina we ask that, over the whole “valley of tears” of the world, and over all the “exiled children of Eve,” there shine the sweet and consoling light of the “merciful eyes” of the Queen and Mother of Mercy, so that, in every circumstance, in every night and peril, the gaze of Mary show us Jesus, show us that Jesus is present, that he comforts us, that he heals us and saves us. Our whole vocation and mission is described in this prayer.  (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)

We should always live like this

The current Situation reminds us and all Christians a little bit of what St. Benedict says of the time of Lent (cf. RB 49:1-3): we should always live like this, with this sensitivity to the drama of life, with this sense of our structural frailty, with this capacity to renounce what is superfluous to safeguard what is more profound and true in us and among us, with this faith that our life is not in our hands but in the hands of God. We should even always live with the awareness that we are all responsible for each other, mutually joined in the good and the ill of our choices, of our behaviours, even the most hidden and apparently insignificant. (Abbot General Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.)

Abt Christian Feurstein, 1958-2017

Abbot Christian in his days as Prior of Heiligenkreuz

Of your charity, pray for the repose of the soul of Abbot Christian Feurstein, O.Cist., former Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria, who died last night after a long struggle with heart disease. Abbot Christian was a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz before being postulated as abbot by the monks of Stift Rein. For many years he was prior and novice master in Heiligenkreuz. He was my novice master, and I will be eternally grateful for kindness and patience in leading me into the monastic life. Every day for a year the other novices and I had lessons on the Rule of St. Benedict and Psalms from him. I’m afraid that I may have been a somewhat trying disciple. “It befitteth a master to speak and teach,” St. Benedict teaches in the Holy Rule, “and it beseemeth a disciple to hold his peace and listen.” But I had come fresh from the disputatious atmosphere of the great books seminars of my college, and was accustomed to speak and argue, while a tutor held his peace and listened. But if Pater Christian found me trying, I never knew it; his patience with me was boundless.

The novices of ’06-’07 and ’07-’08 with Novice Master Pater Christian, Abbot Gregor, and the Subprior of Stiepel, P. Jakobus. The author of this blog is in the back row on the far left.

He was not a man of great speculative brilliance, but he had a deep experiential wisdom from a life of fidelity to Christ. He was great example of true monastic humility. I do not think that I have ever met a more humble man. “The seventh degree of humility,” St. Benedict teaches, “is not only to pronounce with his tongue, but also in his very heart to believe himself to be the most abject, and inferior to all.” I remember Pater Christian telling us about some renowned intellectual giving a talk at Heiligenkreuz’s priory in Stiepel, in the Ruhr Valley (P. Christian was one of the founding monks of that priory). The intellectual was talking about how the seventh degree of humility is terribly bad, and that a healthy person has to have self-esteem etc. P. Christian tried to defend St. Benedict, but was unable to convince the intellectual. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew that the seventh degree of humility was good. I think that he knew it con-naturally, because he had attained it in his own life. In recounting this story, P. Christian laughed. He had not, you see, attained the tenth degree of humility, for he was very prompt to laugh.

Abbot Christian (second from left) at his Abbatial Blessing in Stift Rein

He was postulated as Abbot of Stift Rein in Styria in 2010, the year that I took solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz. Once when I visited him there he was preparing to go officiate at a funeral in a nearby parish. Someone else told me that the abbot was constantly doing funerals in that parish, since the parish priest there, a monk of Stift Rein, was “too busy.” It was typical of Abbot Christian that despite the many burdens of his abbatial office he did not think himself too busy to help out in parishes. In 2015 he resigned as Abbot of Rein on account of his heart condition, and returned to Heiligenkreuz. He suffered much through his long sickness. After a stroke that followed one operation he was unable to speak. But he could still smile. He died last night in the hospital with a number of the confrères praying the commendatio animae  at his bedside. His body will first be taken to Stift Rein, where the Bishop of Graz-Sekau will sing a requiem for him on March 21st, and then his body will be taken to Stift Heiligenkreuz where the Requiem and burial will be on March 24th.

Requiescat in pace.

Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

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. Continue reading

The New Cistercian Secretary for Liturgy

Congratulations to our master of ceremonies in Heiligenkreuz, Pater Cœlestin, who has been appointed secretary of the Liturgical Secretariat of the Cistercian Order. An excellent choice; Pater Cœlestin is a tremendously efficient, hard working, good humored fellow; a great lover of the beauty of the liturgy, but one with the practical skills to get things done. (How time flies! I remember when P. Cœlestin first came to the monastery as a guest, and asked me what Tu autem Domine means).

Pater Cœlestin’s first letter to the order as secretary has just been published in various languages, including English, and the original German. The English translation, by Fr. John of Dallas, is quite good, but it omits the most characteristic sentence of the whole text. In bewailing the fact that the Trappists of Westmalle no-longer print the beautiful books of Cistercian chant for which they were once famous, Pater Cœlestin writes, “Heute machen sie nur noch Bier” (today they only produce beer). The sentence is simply omitted in the translation.

The early Cistercians put a lot of emphasis on liturgical uniformity in the order, as witnessed by a line from the Charta Caritatis, which Pater Cœlestin put in the heading of his letter as a kind of motto: una caritate, una regula, similibus vivamus moribus. In context the line reads:

And because we receive all monks coming from other monasteries into ours, and they in like manner receive ours; it seems proper to us, that all our monasteries should have the same usage in chanting, and the same books for divine office day and night and the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as we have in the New Monastery [Cîteaux]; that there may be no discord in our daily actions, but that we may all live together in the bond of charity under one rule, and in the practice of the same observances.

The vicissitudes of history, however, and especially ill-conceived attempts at aggiornamento following the last ecumenical council, have introduced a bewildering diversity into liturgical practice of the order. Thus, for example, Pater Cœlestin notes that 75% of Cistercian monasteries now celebrate the Divine Office in the vernacular (in direct opposition to Bl. Paul VI’s Sacrificium laudis). That makes the task of the Liturgical Secretariat difficult. It is to be hoped, however, that Pater Cœlestin will be able to realize some long contemplated projects: such as a new edition of the Cistercian Gradual.

neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption

I wish to follow with all my strength the lowly Jesus ; I wish Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me, to embrace me with the arms of His love, which suffered in my stead; but I must also feed on the Paschal Lamb, for unless I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to hold Him, another to feed on Him. To follow Him is a life-giving purpose ; to hold and embrace Him a solemn joy ; to feed on Him a blissful life. For His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is He who cometh down from Heaven and giveth life to the world (S. John vi. 56, 33). What stability is there for joy, what constancy of purpose, without life ? Surely no more than for a picture without a solid basis. Similarly neither the examples of humility nor the proofs of charity are anything without the sacrament of our redemption. (St. Bernard, Letter On the Errors of Peter Abelard)

Original:

Volo totis nisibus humilem sequi Jesum; cupio eum qui dilexit me, et tradidit semetipsum pro me, quibusdam brachiis vicariae dilectionis amplecti: sed oportet me et Agnum manducare paschalem. Nisi enim manducavero carnem ejus, et bibero ejus sanguinem, non habebo vitam in memetipso. Aliud sequi Jesum, aliud tenere, aliud manducare. Sequi, salubre consilium; tenere et amplecti, solemne gaudium; manducare, vita beata. Caro enim ejus vere est cibus, et sanguis ejus vere est potus. Panis est Dei qui de coelo descendit, et dat vitam mundo (Joan. VI, 56, 33). Quis status gaudio, sive consilio, absque vita? Nempe haud alius quam picturae absque solido. Ergo nec humilitatis exempla, nec charitatis insignia, praeter redemptionis sacramentum, sunt aliquid.

Bl. Isaac of Stella vs. St Bernard on the Crusades

Benet Oxon has posted a careful analysis of St Bernard’s theology of crusade at The Josias, showing how St Bernard applied St Augustine’s theology of just war. St Bernard’s position is sometimes dismissed with an appeal to the customary way of thinking of his time—‘everyone thought that way back then,’ it is said, ‘and so we needn’t take his arguments seriously.’ But this neglects the fact that St Bernard’s position was contested by other theologians at the time—even within the Cistercian order. Blessed Isaac of Stella, for example, mocks the ideals of the Knights Templar, in terms that sound very much like the anti-crusade clichés of our own time: Continue reading

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child. Continue reading