Thursday, September 17, 2020

A Monastic Profession in France

On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Monastère Saint Benoît in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, celebrated the solemn profession of one of the monks, Dom Ildephonse, in the course of a solemn Mass. With the kind permission of the Prior, Dom Alcuin Reid, we are happy to share these pictures, and the text of his address to the newly professed monk. Notice in particular the beautiful rite by which the newly professed monk lies on the ground in the middle of the church and is covered with a funeral pall, from the Offertory until Communion. This symbolizes the death of the old man and the putting on of the new in the permanent acceptance of the religious state, and the offering of himself to God.

Dom Ildephonse signs his written promise of profession on the altar of the community’s new chapel. In August they moved to a medieval commandery of the Knights Templar with an 11th century Romanesque chapel, and have restored it to monastic use.

The rite of profession begins after the Offertory is chanted; here is Dom Alcuin’s address to Dom Ildephonse, which is given before the rite itself.
“My son: after you have pronounced your vows this morning you shall lie prostrate on the floor of the chapel and be covered with the funeral pall. The death knell shall sound on our largest bell. Thus, these sacred rites shall bespeak your death to the world, the death of the old man (who in truth is not that old at all).
Some would regard you as foolish. Why should a well-educated young man with many gifts seemingly throw them all away to live a life of renunciation and penance in the cloister? Some, indeed, may even regard our monastery as foolish. Who in their right mind would seek to restore these conventual buildings to their purposed use? Is it not a folly even to hope so to do? And yet, as we have been privileged to experience in the past month, there is goodness, beauty and truth to be found in restoring this chapel to the worship of Almighty God after more than two hundred years. There is a rightness about the return of the refectory to monastic recollection. So too, in the life of the cloister. Goodness, truth and beauty – Almighty God Himself – are to be found there, as you have experienced day in and day out in the three years since pronouncing your monastic vows. You have encountered that pax inter spinas in the reality of our daily monastic life. This morning you state publicly before the Church – all of the faithful, present, absent, living and dead – that you desire nothing else and you solemnly commit yourself to that quest for as long as you shall live.
You do so before the relics of many monastic saints and beati who themselves have made their solemn profession as you are to do today. Indeed, most probably, some of them have even knelt in prayer within these very walls. They, too, were young and foolish in the eyes of the world, and through their supposed foolishness they have done great things for God. Their perseverance has won them the crown of eternal life and glory.
You may rely on their prayers to assist you in your perseverance, as you may rely on those of your brethren. And you may be sure that Almighty God shall reward your self-oblation today with that particular grace that comes with monastic profession and which enables us to persevere and find that peace amongst the thorns of this life in the sure hope of unending peace in the next.
Shortly before Holy Communion, the deacon of the Mass will instruct you with the words, ‘Get up, thou who sleep, and arise from death, and Christ enlighten thee.’ You will arise to a new life of consummated dedication to Christ alone according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitutions and customs of our monastery.
Dearest Dom Ildephonse, it is our fervent prayer this morning that the next time the funeral pall shall cover your mortal body – and may it be many years, full of humility and good works, into the future - you may be found already rejoicing having received the crown of unending life together with the saints who have preceded us. Stay faithful to the vows you pronounce today, my son, and all this and more shall be yours.”
He then recites a collect:
Dom Ildephonse reads his charter of profession.
Bowing low, the monk making his profession sings the first part of Psalm 118, 116, “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam.” He then rises and raises his hands, singing the second part, “et non confudas me ab expectatione mea.” (Receive me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope.) In the Benedictine Office, this verse is sung at Terce of Monday; in the Breviary, it is traditionally printed in small capitals, as a weekly reminder of the rite of profession.
The prior clothes the new monk with the cowl.
The monk then prostrates himself before the altar...
and is covered with the funeral pall, which is left in place until Communion.

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