Monday, October 07, 2013

Review of the 2014 Calendar from the Monks of Norcia

Readers of this blog are already well acquainted with the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia, Italy, a flourishing international community with Fr. Cassian Folsom, O.S.B., as its prior. The monks have made headlines for their superlative home-made beer, which I was fortunate enough to taste in person this past July during an all-too-brief visit to Norcia. I can say, without fear of exaggeration, that it is either the very best beer I have ever tasted, or a top competitor for that rank. It is comforting to know that the monks, who live pretty much in the center of the old city, are now in a better position to support their operations than before, due to this modest but eminently worthwhile industry within their walls.

If we come to the heart of their life, however, the monks of Norcia are best known for their dedication to the full traditional monastic Divine Office and the traditional Roman Rite of the Mass, which they celebrate with profound reverence, peaceful fervor, and soul-stirring beauty. During my few visits to the monastery, there have been times when I have felt transported out of this world into the courts of the heavenly Jerusalem. That foretaste of bliss has not left me months or years later; it lingers on as a fragrant memory, like the scent of incense that lingers in a church long after the liturgy is done.

Alas, Wyoming is a long way from Norcia, and I imagine that many of my readers are in a similar plight: we admire the monks, we may even listen to the broadcasts of their monastic hours, but we don’t expect to be able to visit them in person any time soon. Fortunately, the monks have produced for us a work of beauty and utility that connects us, however distant we may be, to the concrete realities of their monastic life and the overarching scheme of the Church’s liturgical year. It is their annual calendar, the 2014 edition of which is now available.

And what an improvement it is over the 2013 calendar! First, they have chosen a fairly large format (almost 12”x12”--the pitchpipe and watch are included for scale), which allows plenty of room for photographs and makes the calendar entries more legible. Second, they have chosen a much wider selection of photos that run the gamut from moments of private and public prayer, to monks involved in manual labor, to scenes of the town, its monuments, and its bucolic surroundings, to architectural and archaeological subjects. I particularly appreciated the close-ups of little things like monastic books, a wine pitcher, burning coals in a thurible, surplices, and grains of malt. This exhibits a Vermeeresque sensitivity to the beauty of the quotidian that I have always associated with the Benedictine charism. Third, the calendar furnishes useful information on fasting, abstinence, and traditional penitential practices.

Then we come to the calendar in its simple functionality as a calendar. As a choir director who leads music at both forms of the Roman Rite, and being devoted to saints ancient and modern alike, I have always needed and wanted to know the Sundays, solemnities, and feastdays of both the traditional (1962) and modern (1970) calendars. The Norcia calendar includes both, clearly marked as “Trad.” or “New,” and adds important historical feastdays that are not in either universal calendar but can be found in the Martyrology. (It also adds saints proper to the Benedictines and to the diocese of Spoleto-Norcia in which the monks are located.) Each saint’s year of death, or birth into eternal life, is also indicated. I especially appreciate how saints are listed even when their feasts fall on a Sunday (and, as a result, might not be celebrated at Mass); after all, it is still their feastday and we can still celebrate them by invoking their intecession. There are clear markings for days of fast and abstinence.

Overall, I have not found a more useful calendar on the market for one who wishes to have a neat bird’s-eye view of the Roman Rite’s liturgical cycle.

Finally, however, it is the beauty of the calendar that must speak the final word. (The calendar is on whiter paper; the photos, taken in the evening, make it look a bit darker.)

The calendar serves as a fundraiser to assist the monks. If you are interested in purchasing a copy or copies, please go here.

May God bless the good monks of Norcia!

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