Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Feast of St Bernard

Yesterday was the Feast of our Holy Father St. Bernard. Two of my confrères took final vows.

I described the rite of solemn profession of vows on an earlier occasion 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 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. Then 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: Stift Heiligenkreuz

“The man who loves God above all else and with his whole being”

 

Da mihi hominem, qui ante omnia quidem ex toto se diligat Deum; se vero et proximum, in quantum diligunt ipsum; inimicum autem, tanquam aliquando forsitan dilecturum; porro parentes carnis suae germanius, propter naturam; spirituales vero eruditores suos profusius, propter gratiam; atque in hunc modum ad caetera quaeque Dei ordinato intendat amore, despiciens terram, suspiciens coelum, utens hoc mundo tanquam non utens, et inter utenda et fruenda intimo quodam mentis sapore discernens, ut transitoria transitorie, et ad id duntaxat quod opus, et prout opus est curet, aeterna desiderio amplectatur aeterno: talem, inquam, da mihi hominem, et ego audacter illum sapientem pronuntio, cui nimirum quaeque res revera sapiunt prout sunt, et cui in veritate atque securitate competit gloriari, et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Sed ubi ille, aut quando ista? Quod flens dico, quousque odoramus, et non gustamus, prospicientes patriam, et non apprehendentes, suspirantes, et de longe salutantes? O veritas exsulum patria, exsilii finis? video te, sed intrare non sinor carne retentus, sed nec dignus admitti, peccatis sordens. O Sapientia, quae attingis a fine usque ad finem fortiter in instituendis et continendis rebus; et disponis omnia suaviter in beandis et ordinandis affectibus! dirige actus nostros, prout nostra temporalis necessitas poscit; et dispone affectus nostros, prout tua veritas aeterna requirit, ut possit unusquisque nostrum secure in te gloriari et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Tu es enim Dei virtus et A Dei sapientia, Christus sponsus Ecclesiae, Dominus noster, super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula. Amen.

(Give me the man who loves God above all else and with his whole being; who loves himself and his neighbour in the measure in which they both love God; his enemy as one who will perhaps one day love God; his natural parents tenderly as nature prompts, his spiritual parents – namely his teachers – unreservedly as gratitude requires. And in this way he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love, looking down on the earth and up to heaven, dealing with this world as though uninvolved, and distinguishing with an inward refinement of the soul between what is to be merely employed and what enjoyed, paying passing attention to the transient, and that only as need requires, while embracing all things eternal with a desire that never flags. Give me, I say, a man like that and I dare to proclaim him wise. Such a man takes all things as they really are, and is able with truth and confidence to boast: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ But where is such a man and when shall these things be? Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour. we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar? O Truth, homeland of wanderers and the end of exile! I see you, and yet, detained still in the body, I may not enter in, nor am I worthy of admittance, grimed as I am with sin. O Wisdom, you who span the universe with power, beginning and preservation of all that is,  you who order our affections without coercion, distilling your blessing, so govern our acts that our present obligations are discharged, and dispose our affections to reflect the etemal values of your truth, so that each one of us may safely glory in you and say: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ For you, O Christ, are the power and wisdom of God, the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and God blessed for ever more. Amen. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica Canticorum, Sermo 50; trans. Pauline Matarasso))

Isidore of Seville on the Beginnings of Vice

Melius est peccatum cauere quam emendare. Facilius enim resistimus hosti a quo nondum uicti sumus, quam ei a quo iam superati ac deuicti cognoscimur. Omne peccatum, antequam admittatur, amplius pertimescitur. Quamuis autem graue sit, dum in usum uenerit, leue existimatur, et sine ullo metu committitur. Istis fomitibus, quasi quibusdam gradibus, coalescit omne peccatum: cogitatio namque praua delectationem parit; delectatio consensionem, consensio actionem, actio consuetudinem, consuetude necessitatem. Sicque his uinculis homo inplicatus, quadam catena uitiorum tenetur adstrictus, ita ut ab ea euelli nequaquam ualeat, nisi diuina gratia manum iacentis adprehendat.

It is better to avoid sin than to correct it. For it is easier to resist an enemy by whom we have never been defeated, than one who has once seen us overcome and conquered. Every sin is more feared before we have once allowed ourselves to give in to it. However great the sin, as soon as has come to be carried out in action, it is considered light, and committed without any fear. From such kindling wood, as from the rungs of a ladder, all sin is built up: perverse thoughts give rise to pleasure, pleasure to consent, consent to action, action to habit, habit to necessity. The man who is caught in such bonds is as it were chained and held fast by vice; he can never escape unless the Grace of God take his hand as he lies on the ground. (St Isidore of Seville, Sententiae II, 23 1-3; cf. Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Diadema Monachorum34).

“Christ chooses what we would like to eliminate”

As St Teresa would say, “this is very useful to read.” From the  Christmas letter of the Cistercian Abbot General, Dom Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori:

For me, this is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the Christian event: that Christ chooses what we would like to eliminate, what disturbs and disgusts us more, as the place where the encounter with Him becomes for us the clear and safe path of our lives. Why does our community always seem to us to be full of defects and not up to the greatness of its vocation? Why do the superior, the brothers and sisters with whom we must closely share life, seem to us to be the least fit to ensure our happiness and are often the people with whom we have more problems in living together? In fact, the community of Damascus was like this for Saul of Tarsus. This is the place where Christ sends us in order to give fulfillment to our encounter with Him, with Him who is persecuted, crucified, not loved, and first of all, by ourselves.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents in Heiligenkreuz

Holy Innocents2

In many monasteries on the Feast of the Holy Innocents the order of seniority is reversed, and the novices rule. This custom is particularly elaborate in the Carmel, as a cousin of mine in the Carmel of Graz attests (cf. also Sackville-West), but it is also among the Cistercians. In Heiligenkreuz the reversal takes place only at lunch. The youngest novice this year gave a very amusing exhortation before lunch.

Holy Innocents

The abbot, prior, cellerar, and novice-master had to serve at table, while the sub-prior read the table reading.

Holy Innocents3

Afterwards the novices commanded that Kaffee und Kuchen be served in the recreation room.

Holy Innocents4

The Incarnation and Passion as Dance

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Another quote from Abbot John of Ford’s Commentary on the Song of Songs:

Among all the marvels of God, what marvel is equal to this, that the king of glory came as a servant to rescue his bride from the yoke of servitude? That from heaven he desired her beauty, though up to now she was black with Ethiopian ugliness? That having sold himself into slavery to serve more fittingly, he stripped off his beauty, stripped off his strength, girt himself with servile lowliness, and in every way made himself ready and apt to wash away her defects? Have you opened wide your mouth about him, daughter of Saul? Have you thrust out your tongue at him, daughter of Canaan and not of Judah? Have you reproached the king of glory for dancing naked before the ark? For you said, wagging your head at him: ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself before the eyes of his servant’s maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’ Yes, inglorious in your eyes, blinded by the lowliness of that nakedness. But blessed are the eyes of the bride who in the total emptying of her Solomon, crowned with a crown of thorns, not only took no scandal, but all the more eagerly, all the more lovingly, ran to his embrace and threw herself into his arms! How fortunate you are, bride of God, how glorious, to be the reward of such a loving servitude, the fruit of such a long and lasting pilgrimage, the prize of such a difficult undertaking, in short, the price of his precious blood! (Sermon V; p. 128-129)

Quid inter omnia mirabilia Dei aeque mirabile huic, quod rex gloriae ut sponsam suam, euius eum adhuc Aethiopissae deformitate sorderet, decorem de coelo concupierat, a iugo seruitutis eriperet seruire uenit ; et ut seruituti congrueret in seruum uenumdatus decorem exuit, exuit fortitudinern, et seruili humilitate praecinctus ad maculas eius abluendas se omnimodis reddidit idoneum et expeditum? Super quem dilatasti os, filia Saul, super quem eiecisti linguam, filia Canaan et non Iuda, exprobrans regi gloriae quod nudus ante arcam Dei saltaret ? Dixisti enim mouens super eum caput tuum : Quam gloriosus fuit hodie rex Israel discooperiens se ante oculos ancillarum suarum uelut si nudetur unus ex scurris. Vere ante oculos tuos inglorius quos nuditatis istius humilitas excaecauit, sed sponsae oculi beati quae in tanta exinanitione sui Salomonis spinarum diademate coronati non solum nullum sustinet seandalum sed eo auidius eoque deuotius currit ad amplexus eius et in oscula ruit. Quam felix tu, et quam gloriosa, O sponsa Dei, quae tam piae seruitutis merces, tam longinquae tamque diuturnae peregrinationis fructus, tam laboriosae negotiationis acquisitio, tam pretiosi denique sanguinis pretium es.

(Sermo V, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Maediavalis, Vol. XVII, p 63)

Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz

Yesterday was the Feast of the Assumption, the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches. Three of my confrères took final vows, and one monk from another abbey transferred his vows to Heiligenkreuz. The Bishop of Regensburg happening to be here, he celebrated Mass, with our Abbot of course receiving the vows.1371_520d4e97cb2

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 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. Then 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: Stift Heiligenkreuz

Abbot John of Ford on Praise

Form Abbot John of Ford‘s Commentary on the Song of Songs:

Without any doubt, praise awakens love and preserves it. Hence it is that the citizens of Jerusalem feed the flame of eternal love by eternal praises. They cease not to cry aloud so as to be steadfast in love. Their cry has no rest, because love knows no intermission. So praise is the food of love.  And you, too, if deep within you there is a little spark of sacred love, do all you can to apply to this spark the oil of your praise, so that your tiny fire may live and grow.

[Laus siquidem amoris incentiua et custos est. Hinc est quod ciues Ierusalem laudibus aeternis aeterni amoris incendium nutriunt. Non cessant clamare, ut amare perseuerent. Non habet requiem uociferatio, quia non habet interpolationem dilectio. Laus ergo amoris pabulum est. Et tu, si amoris sacri penes te scintillulam habes, admoue sedulus scintillulae tuae laudationis oleum, quo uiuat et uegetetur igniculus tuus. (Sermo III, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Maediavalis, Vol. XVII, p 48)]