Christmas at Silverstream Priory

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Crèche Silverstream 2012.JPG

Here is the crèche at Silverstream Priory: beneath the figures of the Holy Family there is a beautiful, soft carpet of Irish moss. The crèche is in the great hall of the main house.

A Monastic Christmas

Friends, relatives, and visitors to the monastery have been asking, "How do you spend Christmas?" and "What did you do for Christmas?" For the men newly-come to monastic life, Christmas can be a difficult time. Even adult men miss their families at Christmas. For a veteran monk like myself, long accustomed to being far from my beloved family at ChrIstmas, the experience is not the same; in spite of the distance that separates us, I feel very close to them and, standing at the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice, time and distance are mysteriously swallowed up in the divine here and now.

The monastic celebration of Christmas is primarily liturgical. We planned on having First Vespers of Christmas early on Christmas Eve, at 3:00 p.m., in fact. By the time the last visitor had left The Gatehouse, and all was in readiness, it was closer to 3:30 p.m.. In a nascent monastery one mustn't expect things to happen right on time. Announced times are necessarily approximate times, and must have a healthy ability to adapt with good grace to things unexpected and unforeseen.

First Vespers

Following the First Vespers of the Nativity of the Lord (after a day of fasting) we had our first Christmas meal in front of the blazing fire in the great hall. Friends of the monastery delivered this delicious meal -- their gift to us -- shortly before Vespers. We are not using the refectory at the moment; it is difficult to heat. The great hall with its welcoming hearth tends to become the focus of much of what we do together. After our meal, we chanted Compline, and then repaired to our cells for a few hours rest before Matins.

Matins

At 10:45 p.m., we were back in our choir stalls, ready to begin the Night Office of Matins, also called Vigils or Nocturns. Matins opens with a splendid Invitatory Antiphon: Christ is born for us. O come, let us adore! The Invitatory Antiphon is musically embroidered in and around the verses of Psalm 94. A chain of antiphons, psalms, blessings, lessons, and responsories follow, lasting well over one hour. The high point of Matins is the chanting of the Gospel of Our Lord's Genealogy, preceded by the Te Deum Laudamus, and followed by the Te Decet Laus, both ancient hymns of praise.

The First Mass of Christmas: at Midnight

Matins leads directly into Holy Mass, the first Mass of the Nativity of the Lord, called In nocte, that is, in the night. The Introit of the Mass (Dominus dixit ad me) sets the tone; it is contained and contemplative. It is the voice of the Only-Begotten Son telling us what the Father says to Him from all eternity: "Thou art my Son; today, have I begotten Thee" (Psalm 2:7).

The Second Mass of Christmas: at Dawn

We took a little refreshment after Holy Mass -- by this time it was 2:30 in the morning -- and again repaired to our cells for a few hours rest before rising again for the Second Mass of Christmas, the so-called Dawn Mass (Lux fulgebit), at 8:00 a.m. The Hours of Lauds and Prime followed the Second Mass of Christmas, prolonging it in a lavish outpouring of praise and jubilation.

The Third Mass of Christmas: in the Day

At 11:00 a.m. we were in choir again for Tierce, and then had the Third Mass of Christmas (Puer natus est) with the chanting of the sublime Prologue of Saint John. According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John -- the mystery of the Word out of silence -- calls for what the Venerable John Paul II described as an "adoring silence." Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

Dinner

After Holy Mass we began preparations for our Christmas dinner, grateful to Divine Providence and to the friends and benefactors who supplied us with everything necessary, and then some. After dinner, a good Christmas day nap was in order, having been awake most of the night before.

Evening of the First Day

None, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Vespers, and Compline brought our Christmas Day to a peaceful close. And thus ended the First Day of Christmas at Silverstream Priory in County Meath.

2 Comments

Dearest Dom Mark Kirby, This post on the monastic celebration of Christmas brought tears to my eyes and they linger in my soul. So deeply grateful am I for the ardor and the unction of your fledgling community. Here are the words spoken by Our Lady of Good Success as recorded in the book Our Lady of Good Success Prophecies for Our Times, by Horvat, p.66 "She then explained the significance of the large ampulla carried by the Archangel Raphael and the exquisite perfume it emitted. The glass vessel represented the faithful cloisters and monasteries; the purity and chastity that exists there constitute 'the exquisite fragrance that perfumes the fortunate countries that posess monasteries and convents. They purify the air polluted by those in the world who are delivered over to the most shameful vices and passions... "Woe to the world should it lack monasteries and convents! Men do not comprehend their importance, for, if they understood,they would use their wealth to multiply them, because they provide the remedy for all physical and moral evils..." Our Lady of Good Success to Mother Marianne of Jesus de Torres.

You see, good Father, the reason for my tears of gratitude for the Monks of Silverstream Priory! Bless you on this day of the Queen's Men,on this day of John.
Susan Joy

A final comment if I may, one more quote from Our Lady of Good Success, and a final expression of gratitude from the laity for your faithfulness in the vocation which sustains us all:

Our Lady spoke these words to Mother Marianne of Jesus de Torres in the early 17th century in Quito Equador:

"No one on the face of the earth realizes whence comes the salvation of souls, the conversion of great sinners, the deferral of great scourges, the production and fertility of the lands, the end of pestilence and wars, and harmony among nations. All this is due to the prayers that rise up from monasteries and convents." (Our Lady of Good Success, Prophecies for Our Times by Horvat, p.66.)

Thank you for the sustaining prayers of Silverstream Monastery. We are deeply grateful for your participation in our lives, unseen, unheard, but deeply felt. God bless you all.

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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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