The Call to Adoration

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Gamelin's painting depicts a vestal virgin being punished for some infidelity. Curiously, it was a painting of this type that caused Catherine-Mectilde de Bar to ask why there was no monastery in the Church dedicated to tending the perpetual fires of adoration and love before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

On the Move Again

It became evident that Mother Mectilde's little community would have to find a house better adapted to monastic observance than their somewhat makeshift lodgings in the hospice of Le Bon Ami in the rue du Bac. Several offers came her way, among them were a priory at Vire in Normandy; a convent in Paris that would amalgamate all the homeless and wandering religious of the capital; a succursal of Port Royal in the suburb of Saint-Marcel. Mother Mectilde refused all of these, in particular the sucursal of Port Royal. She would have nothing to do with the Jansenists. The gentlemen of Port Royal, miffed by her refusal, cut off all donations to Mother Mectilde's community.

The Idea of Perpetual Adoration

While all of this was going on, one Abbé Gontier, treasurer of the Sainte-Chapelle of Dijon and vicar general of Langres, proposed to Mother Mectilde that she should establish perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament in her monastery. This worthy priest had, of his own initiative, established in all the parishes of his diocese the recitation of an act of honourable amendment -- we would say, reparation -- every Thursday. This amende honorable read by a priest, kneeling before the monstrance, and holding a lighted taper in his hand. Mother Mectilde found the idea attractive. Elements of the practice were later incorporated into the ritual of the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament. Mother Mectilde proposed the practice to a group of noble ladies, all friends of hers who, influenced by Monsieur de Bernières, saw in the project a means of keeping Mother Mectilde in Paris.

A Strange Painting and Its Effect

Then something very curious happened. One day when Mectilde was visiting her friend, Madame de Boves, she noticed a painting that depicted ancient pagans rendering homage to an idol set upon an altar. A pagan priest surrounded by priestesses knelt in adoration, holding lighted candles in their hands. A sacred fire was burning in the background, tended by vestal virgins. In the distance torturers were punishing the negligent virgins. However bizarre one may find all this, the Spirit of God used it to touch Mother Mectilde's heart. A short while before this incident, a priest had said to her, "Rejoice, because God intends to use you to accomplish something very great for the honour of the Most Holy Sacrament. Prepare yourself. God revealed this to me during Holy Mass."

Idolators Will Rise Up to Judge Us

As Mectilde contemplated the strange painting, the prophetic words of the priest came back to her. She began to think, "By means of this idolatrous work of art, God is inciting me to an assiduous presence before the tabernacle, that he might be adored at all hours of the day and night." Turning to the Marquise de Boves, she said, "Madame, the idolators will one day rise up to condemn us, for we Christians show such little respect for the Blessed Sacrament in our churches. Alas! Shall we not do for our God what the pagans did for their false gods? Why, in the house where God continually dwells, is He not continually adored? Why do not virgins here on earth sing unceasingly the canticle of the Angels before His altars? Why do the sentinels of Israel not keep watch, by day and by night, before the throne of the New Solomon of the New Law?"

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Gaston de Renty, A Holy Layman
Born 1611 at the castle of Béni, Diocese of Bayeux in Normandy; died 24 April, 1649. The only son of Charles, Baron de Renty, and Elisabeth de Pastoureau, Gaston studied at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, with the Jesuits at Caen, and finished at the age of seventeen at the College of the Nobles in Paris. He wrote several treatises on mathematics in which he excelled. The reading of the Imitation of Christ aroused the desire to become a Carthusian, but obeying the wish of his parents, he married. In 1638 he abandoned public life and devoted himself to the service of the needy and suffering. Struck by the ignorance, in religious matters, of the travellers who found a night's rest at the Hospital of St. Gervaise in Paris, he gave them catechetical instructions and induced others to do likewise. In the course of his charitable works he made the acquaintance of Henry Michael Buch (b. 1590 in the Duchy of Luxembourg; d. 9 June, 1666 at Paris; surnamed der gute Heinrich) and induced him to found a congregation of shoemakers and tailors, Frères Cordonniers. They worked honestly at their trade, divided their earnings with the poor and performed special acts of devotion prescribed by the pastor of St. Paul's. The statutes were approved by the Archbishop of Paris, John Francis de Gondi. After his death, Renty's body was brought to Citri in the Diocese of Soissons. When the coffin was opened nine years later his body was found intact The bishop ordered it placed in a marble tomb behind the high altar. Throughout his career at court, in the army, and in politics he merited the esteem of all, and took an active part in public good works. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Prophecies and Visions

Mother Mectilde, in pronouncing these words, was not unaware of the predictions made by a number of mystics known to her. Barbe, a poor maidservant of Compiègne, directed by none other than the great Father de Condren, had prophesied: "There will come a time in which there will be religious totally dedicated to the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament." Monsieur Gaston de Renty, one of the outstanding spiritual figures of Normany had said, "Very soon there will be an institute of religious wholly dedicated to the worship of the Most Holy Sacrament. They will be chosen souls." And, in Paris itself. Marie de Gournay, a wine merchant's wife, had a vision in which she saw the future monastery, and heard the words, "Behold the work of my servant Catherine."

God Provides Funding

Mother Mectilde's reflection on the painting so struck Madame de Boves, a woman already animated by a fervent Eucharistic piety, that she resolved to do all in her power to promote the foundation of a monastery of perpetual adoration. Together with the Countess of Châteauvieux, and Madames Cessac and Mangot, she raised a total of 31,000 pounds for the establishment of a monastery of reformed Benedictines in which, "ceaselessly, by day and by night, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar would be adored to make reparation, insofar as possible, for the lack of respect, indifference, profanations, sacrileges, and offenses committed against this most adorable Sacrament."

A Charism, A Mission

These Benedictine adorers would, further, beg God to take pity on France, to grant peace in its borders, and to protect the King. Their mission would be to make up for the failure of so many souls to show reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament, either by ignorance or malice. They would adore Jesus Christ truly present in the Sacrament of His Love for the sake of those who do not adore, or refuse to adore, or never thinking of pausing in adoration before Him.

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It is significant that for Mother Mectilde and indeed for the Church of her time, Eucharistic adoration was not synonymous with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. Exposition was reserved for special occasions, marked by a festive solemnity and by a loving display of artistry and beauty in homage to the Eucharistic King. The practice of exposition on Thursdays transformed every Thursday into a weekly feast of Corpus Christi. On ordinary days, the perpetual adoration was carried out before the closed tabernacle, mindful of the words of the prophet Isaias, Vere tu es Deus absconditus, Deus Salvator; "Truly Thou art a hidden God, O God our Saviour." (Isaias 45:15)

The new monastery would bind itself to the celebration of the Mass and Office of the Most Blessed Sacrament (that of the feast of Corpus Christi) every Thursday, and to exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance until the end of Vespers on Thursday as well. A touching detail: in addition to the oil lamp burning before the Most Holy Sacrament, they promised to keep a lamp burning before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary every Saturday.

Thus did the form and spirit of the new monastery begin to emerge from the hearts of Mother Mectilde and her friends: to adore and make reparation for the indifference of so many Christians to the Sacrament of Our Lord's Love. Mother Mectilde promised to execute the project within two years' time.

To be continued.

1 Comments

Amazing! Thanks very much for this post! I love reading of these holy men and women and their love for the Eucharist! Also, the burning desire to make Him known and loved! I am happy to see how they burned with this desire... explains to me my own desire to bring the children to adore... Bless you Father! :)

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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