Friday, 18 April 2008

Back From Retreat...

...Should a return from retreat be known as an advance??

With the school "Easter" holiday (sorry, "Spring Break") so late this year in relation to the Easter festivities, I decided that it was a good time to make a retreat. Nothing formal, no set programme, just me. I considered Aylesford, but it can be a little busy in the holidays (with day visitors who just turn up for a chance to visit the beautiful grounds) and I thought I could do with some "serious" prayer time. A friend of mine had joined the Abbey of St. Cecilia six and a half years ago, and I'd been meaning to pay her a visit for ages... that, combined with the idea of an enclosed convent where the nuns chanted the Office in Latin, seemed to be just the ticket.

I made the decision to leave the car at home - partly because the ferry fares to the Isle of Wight are exorbitant (making the stretch of water between the island and the mainland the most expensive anywhere in the UK) and partly because it provided a perfect opportunity to get my car serviced and MOT'd.

Guests usually stay in The Garth, a small cottage next to the Abbey. There is another house, The Hermitage, but this is reserved for visiting priests and religious. My room, on the ground floor, was spacious and comfortable, though Sister Claire, (the Guest-Mistress) assured me that it was the smallest of the rooms.

The Garth is self-catering, and so I needed to make a visit to the local shops as soon as I'd had a chance to unpack. I didn't bring anything with me from home, as I just didn't have room in my suitcase, and carrying extra bags of shopping with me on public transport really wasn't an option. At my slow pace, the nearest shops were about 20 minutes' walk away. Fortunately, it was not only dry, but sunny and not too cold as well, so it made a pleasant excursion. You can see the sea as you walk down the road from The Garth...

The first time I visited the Abbey church was for Vespers. The view from the laity's side of the church was pretty uninspiring: a bare marble altar in the middle of the Sanctuary, and on the "back" wall there is a cross (not a crucifix) with the word "Pax" carved in the centre, and a statue of St. Cecilia just below it.

The Tabernacle, obviously bang in the centre as far as the Community is concerned (which is absolutely as it should be), is actually quite difficult to see from the laity's side: it is set into a recess which obscures the Tabernacle from view.

I enjoyed Vespers, and, later on, Compline - I was able to follow the psalms in a little booklet which gave the Latin texts and their English translations, but didn't attempt to sing along. The chanting was beautiful, and made all the more ethereal because the nuns were not visible from the pews on the laity's side of the church. My indication to the elderly Sister at the door that I wished to attend Lauds was greeted with consternation: apparently several books would be needed, and it would prove complicated to follow. I promised to bring my own Office and pray that instead, which reassured her, and she told me that the door would be opened just before Lauds at about 6:50am.

In fact this proved to be very agreeable: because chanting takes so much longer than simply saying the words, and because there are more psalms prayed in each of the Benedictine Offices, I was able to pray the Office of Readings and Lauds together, and then sit and listen to the remainder of Lauds chanted by the sisters as I prayed quietly. This is something I would not have been comfortable with prior to attending the Extraordinary Form; I would have felt "lost" without following every word.

As well as a short time for discussion with the Guest-Mistress each morning after Mass, I was also able to meet up with my friend, Sr. Madeleine. Her own sister (and family) were also visiting, so we had a little reunion in the parlour. I was delighted to see that the grill wasn't quite as ferocious as the types shown in old films!

It is quite dreadful to think that contemplative orders such as the Sisters at St. Cecilia's may soon lose charitable status in this country, because they are deemed by the State not to provide any public benefit or service. On the contrary: the ceaseless worship of God on our behalf and the prayers of intercession for the needs of the world are the greatest possible benefit to our society, and we need to pray that more young people will make this supreme sacrifice and answer Our Lord's call.

1 comment:

Volpius Leonius said...

Perhaps if the secularists don't want our prayers we should have a mass exodus, and leave God free to deal with them as justice demands. Then they will realise the great value of prayer.

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