In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.


The Prayer of Dedication and Monastic Life


On the 12th of October we celebrate the anniversary of the Dedication of our Abbey Church


I am confining myself tonight, as a non-liturgist, to some spiritual aspects of the Dedication, applying the Prayer of Dedication, pronounced by the Bishop in the Rite of Dedication, to our monastic life.  This is a fairly smooth exercise, unsurprisingly, on account of the ecclesial dimension of the monastery and applicable to us, too, as individuals, since we are living stones both of the Church and the monastery.


            The Prayer begins: ‘Today we come before You, to dedicate to Your lasting service this house of prayer, this temple of worship, this home in which we are nourished by Your Word and Your sacraments.’


            Today: our life has the atmosphere of eternity and therefore of the eternal present, because it is plunged in the liturgy, the life of the Risen and ascended Lord who transcends all time.  We come before YouCoram Deo is the whole sense of our life, as St Benedict keeps reminding us.  Our life is lived in the sight of God and His angels and saints.  It is a rehearsal for the vision of God in heaven.  To Your lasting service.  Our service is not the matter of a moment but something that endures to our last breath.  Anything less would not be worthy of God who has bestowed life and breath and everything upon us.  The appellations which follow tell us in what that service consists: House of prayer, temple of worship.  The monastery is the place for the Opus Dei, the Work of God – perhaps less our work for God than God’s work for us of continuing salvation, His plan for mankind of abundant life, now poured out in and through praise and adoration.  The home in which we are nourished by your Word and your sacraments.  The monastery is our home, that is, it is our dwelling place with God, His dwelling place with us, where he reveals Himself to us through His work and transforms us by the sacraments.  Man has always sought for a home, remarks Jean Corbon in ‘The Wellspring of Worship’, ever since he left the one prepared for him by God in Paradise.  Instead of ‘throwing it open for welcome and encounter,’ man turned that home into a ‘hiding place for his self-centredness’.  ‘Where are you?’ God is obliged to ask (Genesis 3:4).  Corbon continues in a fine passage: ‘Henceforth inhospitable to human beings in flight from their God, land becomes captive to a tragic ambiguity: fruitfulness and death, garden and wilderness, home and exile.’  A promise, however, springs from the Father’s Heart.  The world will become, through the salvific plan, ‘a dwelling-place for children who believe in His love.  The ambiguity will be removed, for human beings will be able to dwell in the land of their God only if their hearts become trusting once again.’  It is the Son of the Father who is the fulfilment of this promise, who becomes incarnate in order to lead us back to the Father’s House.  In the consecrated Church the ‘Father’s House is again thrown open to us’.  Emerging from the hiding-place of his own construction, man has at last found an abiding home, the sacred place where he can ‘exist in trust with life as its fruit.’


            The home which is the monastery is a paradox but not an ambiguity.  It is an enclosure, a sealed garden; a hidden place, not a hiding-place; closed off and yet open spiritually to the world and to heaven.  It is a place where, through obedience, we have the chance to become trusting and innocent children again.  Reclaiming a parcel of the earth for God, the inhabitants exist in filial trust, with life as their fruit.


            The Prayer of Dedication proclaims at this point that the mystery of the whole Church, that is, the Body and Bride of Christ, is reflected in the particular, material Church.  The monastery and the individual likewise represent the essence of the Church.  As if the Prayer had this in mind, it goes on: ‘The Church is fruitful, made holy by the Blood of Christ: a bride made radiant with His glory; a virgin splendid in the wholeness of her faith, a mother blessed through the power of the Spirit.’  As a Christian, the nun is redeemed and sanctified by the Saviour’s Blood.  As a consecrated person, she is spouse and partner of the Lord in the Holy Spirit, receiving all her beauty and holiness from the reflection of His glory.  Vowed to chastity, she strives for integrity of faith and life; and in increasing union with Christ, she is fruitful in the world by means of her spiritual motherhood in prayer and sacrifice.  What is said of the individual here may also be said of the community to which she is joined usque ad mortem, bone of bone and flesh of flesh.  The monastery, the little church, in so far as it is united in its members and joined to Christ the Head, gives the same witness to chastity, fruitfulness and spiritual beauty; indeed, a greater witness, because it transcends the individual.  Like the wider Church, of which it is a microcosm, it is greater than the sum of its members.


            Blessed through the power of the Spirit, then, ‘The Church is holy, your chosen vineyard: its branches envelop the world, its tendrils carried on the tree of the cross, reach up to the kingdom of heaven.’  The vineyard: the Biblical image for Israel and for the Church, God’s precious planting.  The Holy Father speaks of the fruit the Lord expects from the vineyard: ‘a love that accepts the mystery of the Cross and becomes a participation in His self-giving … Fruit and love belong together: the true fruit is the love that has passed through the Cross, through God’s purifications.’  We are not only the vineyard, but are grafted into the true Vine, Christ.  Only by remaining in His Vine, are we able to bear the fruit He expects.  But if we do remain, then we share in the Church’s capacity to ‘envelop the world’ and to ‘reach up to the kingdom of heaven.’  It is an image of growth and fecundity, yet such flourishing relies on being always a hidden branch of the vine.  It depends on a surrender of autonomy and self-will to the One who is the true Vine.  We understand from this the vital nature of our obedience and our stability, our conversion, too, which is the dynamic principle of growth.


            The Church is favoured, the dwelling place of God on earth, a temple built of living stones, founded on the apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone.’  We heard earlier of man’s search for a dwelling place.  Here the emphasis is God’s desire to dwell on earth with us.


            The image changes from vine or vineyard to temple, yet there is, in this symbol, still the sense of belonging integrally to Christ, of being built up, as living stones, on Him as the keystone and on our forefathers in the faith, the Apostles.  There is still, in other words, a sense of growth and upbuilding, just as there is in a monastery, with its ebb and flow of life, yet with its strong foundation on Christ and Rule.  The Church is not only a structure, but a space, a capacity, which is, in Corbon’s thought, both expectant and filled, ‘a space that supports the world and is drawn to the kingdom.’  This is true, again, of a monastery that looks always to the Lord, while holding up to His mercy the aspirations and sorrows of the world.  Here, in both church and monastery is a ‘place where the Spirit descends and every offering is transformed into the Body of Christ.’  While this is sacramentally true of the material Church, there is the sense that in the monastery as well, the descent of the Spirit into souls touches and transforms them.


            After laying before us the essential nature of the Church, the petitions proper now begin.  The principal supplication is precisely for the descent of the Spirit upon this ‘city set upon a mountain, beacon to the whole world, bright with the glory of the Lamb and echoing the prayers of the saints,’ a description we can hardly claim, as such, for the humble monastery, yet which goes to the heart of our apostolate of prayer.  ‘Lord’, the prayer continues, ‘send your Holy Spirit from heaven to make this church an ever holy place and this altar a ready table for the sacrifice of Christ.’  This recalls to us the epiclesis of the Mass, the central action that takes place in our church and, as a result, the centre of our whole life as Christians and religious.  We note the prominence of the altar in the prayer.  It is the focal point of the Church, what Corbon calls the sign of the empty tomb, the ‘non-place’ of the Risen Christ.  ‘The altar tells us that the Body of Christ is no longer here nor there in a mortal place, but is risen and fills everywhere with its presence.  This ‘non-place’ for death becomes the place where the paschal sacrifice is offered.’


            If we think of this in relation to the monastery, we might say that all our prayers are an epiclesis, a begging for the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon us and for our growth in love and truth, in a word, for our holiness.  Our heart becomes an altar (cf Corbon), in the sense that all authentic prayer is a sacrifice, a self-giving, a self-forgetfulness, a descent into silence and even death (of the ego), so that from that death may rise the incense of pure praise.  It is the fiat voluntas tua which is always heard, so that our will is God’s and God’s is ours.  The prayer returns briefly to the words of baptism which ‘overwhelm the shame of sin’ and make us ‘live again through grace as your children’, recalling to us the blessed grace of religious profession and our vocation to live as children of God.  The prayer sees us as children, also, when we gather round the altar where Christ’s sacrifice takes place and the work of human hands is transubstantiated.  It is not afraid to show us as hungry children clamouring to be fed.  ‘Here may your children, gathered round your altar, celebrate the memorial of the Paschal Lamb and be fed at the table of Christ’s Word and Body.’  Communion in the Body and Blood means witness.  We are sent out.  In our case, this is a spiritual sending mainly, although we have the joy and duty of witnessing to each other of the love and truth of Christ.  As if the prayer recognises our special vocation of prayer, it continues ‘Here may prayer, the Church’s banquet, resound through heaven and earth, as a plea for the world’s salvation.’ While we do not often have a chance to give the ‘poor … justice, the victims of oppression, true freedom,’ we can embody these values in our monastic simplicity of life and the freedom of spirit which comes from a voluntary, glad obedience.


            The motif of spiritual childhood recurs yet once more in the closing strophe: ‘From here may the whole world, clothed in the dignity of the children of God, enter with gladness your city of peace.’  May the whole world be gathered up in our monastic prayer and sanctified by the Holy Spirit; may it be held in our hearts, in our own home of peace and wholly offered in communion with the Blessed Trinity.


            The prayer concludes: ‘We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.’

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