Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Immaculate Conception in St. Wandrille Abbey, France

by Dom Christopher Lazowski, OSB for the NLM.
A monk of St-Wandrille Abbey, France

Dom Prosper Guéranger, who restored the monastery of Solesmes and Benedictine monastic life in France after the destruction wrought by the French Revolution, and founded what is now called the Congregation of Solesmes, had a great devotion both to the mystery of the Incarnation, and to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, by which God prepared the way for His coming in the flesh. Since the time of Dom Guéranger, the monks of the Congregation renew their consecration to the Immaculate Conception every year on 8th December. This year, as the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falls on a Saturday during Advent and so does not have second Vespers, the ceremony, which usually takes place on the evening of the feast, was carried out before first Vespers.

It is broadly the same in all the houses of the Congregation, but I will describe what we just did here at Saint-Wandrille.

The brethren took their places as usual, in order of seniority, in the cloisters in front of the statute of Our Lady for the statio which precedes Vespers. However, this evening, as they arrived, a novice handed each brother a lighted candle. Then, after five minutes of silent prayer, at the sound of the last bell, the second master of ceremonies, the thurifer, the deacon, bearing the processional cross between two taperers, four cantors vested in copes, the crozier bearer holding the abbot's crozier, the first master of ceremonies (and author of these lines) the abbot, carrying a lighted candle and walking between his two assistants who held the edges of his cope (which they do at all pontifical offices!), and the bearers of the mitre and the book, left the sacristy and took their places in the cloister. The cantors began the litany of Our Lady, and the procession set off for the abbey church.

In the church, the community stood in two lines in front of the statue of Our Lady that is between the choir and the nave. At the end of the litany and the versicle and response “Dignare me laudare te, Virgo sacrata” “Da mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos”, the abbot sang the collect:

“Deus, qui de beatae Mariae Virginis utero Verbum tuum, angelo nuntiante, carnem suscipere voluisti, praesta supplicibus tuis, ut, qui vere eam Genetricem Dei credimus, eius apud te intercessionibus adiuvemur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.”

Then all knelt, as the abbot read the prayer of consecration in French. I have done a rough and ready, and very literal, translation:

“In this 114th year since the restoration of the monastery of Fontenelle, we, abbot and monks of Saint-Wandrille, celebrate in joy the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the glorious Mother of God, and beseech her to keep us, her sons, under her sweet and faithful protection. Thus, we recommend and consecrate, with heartfelt confidence, ourselves and our goods. May God and His most holy Mother remain our help.”

All then rose, and the abbot intoned thrice the verse “Monstra te esse matrem” of the hymn “Ave maris stella”, going up a tone each time. After the community had sung the verse the third time, the organist improvised on the tune as the abbot incensed the statue. The brethren then moved to the choir for Vespers.

As today is also first Friday, Vespers was followed by Benediction in honour of the Sacred Heart, another great devotion of Dom Guéranger, whose attachment to this devotion went hand in hand with his visceral horror of Jansenism. He made a vow to institute first Friday Benediction when he was in Rome seeking approbation of the constitutions of the Congregation. Indeed, he was one of the great apostles of devotion to the Sacred Heart in nineteenth century France.

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