Mectilde de Bar: September 2012 Archives

Mectilde de Bar: Anam Cara

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Mother Mectilde wrote this letter to her friend, Marguerite, the Duchesse of Orléans. The poor Duchess didn't have an easy life. Her marriage was one of heartbreak and false-starts. Intelligent, and extremely sensitive, she fell easily into self-absorption and depression. Mother Mectilde was more than a friend to Marguerite; she was what the modern school of spirituality would call a spiritual director. (Personally, I don't care for that term. It is not part of the traditional monastic spirituality.) The Irish term anam cara -- friend of the soul -- seems more suitable. Mother Mectilde invites the Duchess to contemplative prayer, without requiring that she change her state in life. Moreover, she provides her with practical advice on how to go about becoming a contemplative in the midst of the world and its disappointments and challenges. The letter was difficult to translate. Mother Mectilde's French is very grand siècle, with long run-on sentences and subordinate clauses. I think, none the less, that I have done a fair job of it.

Surrender and Abandon
It will be impossible for you to keep on much longer if you are going to let your afflictions weigh you down so. Our Lord wills that your soul should rise above all that surrounds you. Attach yourself gently to God. You possess Him, in faith, within yourself. You needn't search for Him long. He wants you to be renewed in His Spirit. Your suffering nature, which, I see, has almost no vigour, needs to make a little effort. It mustn't happen that so beautiful an offering* be consumed in any fire other than that of of pure and divine love; this would be to fall short of God's designs on your soul. Your soul cannot ignore that you are being led by the gentleness and love that make one rest in God. Simply surrender all that you are to His holy Providence. Abandon everything to Him and you will no more be anxious about anything.
Put Aside What Your Mind Sees
I know well that this practice is quite difficult for a quick mind [like yours] that, once penetrated, sees in a moment more than the most enlightened people would be able to say to you. I admit this, but you need to simplify or, at least, put aside, what your mind sees, and should there be no remedy for this, you must surrender yourself to the goodness of God with a humble resignation and with confidence.
God Is
I am certain that, if we but had a little more faith, we should often see miracles in the the things that concern us, but the greatest of these would be peace and tranquility in our inmost being. I have a burning desire that you come to possess this state, that you may be so intimately united to Jesus that you will be unchangeable in the midst of the vicissitudes of this life, which is composed of nothing but vanity, inconstancy, and affliction of spirit. This is why one must hold on things in a passing way, making use of them as if not using them, remaining free in the midst of cares, relying on this infallible truth: God is.
A Quarter of an Hour Each Day
I humbly beg you to spend a quarter of an hour each day on this truth, pondering it in faith. This is how to do it: at the most free and convenient hour of the day, you need to shut yourself up in a little room where, kneeling down, or seated if you cannot do otherwise, by a simple act of faith in God, you believe Him present in your innermost soul, believing in Him without making distinctions, in all His attributes and divine perfections. You can say, "My God, You are, I believe that You are what You are, and I believe myself to be a pure nothing in your holy Presence." After these words, or others that the Holy Spirit inspires, you must remain in silence, in a profound respect of this infinite greatness, humbling yourself profoundly, leaving aside every [mental] operation, reasoning, and consideration, to let yourself sink into this adorable All. You have to restrain the acts of your mind during this quarter of an hour, so as to feel only the delicate touches of the Holy Spirit in your innermost heart. Don't think this a waste of time; if you are faithful to it, you will see that this [kind of] prayer contains an inexhaustible treasury of grace. As beginnings are a little difficult, you will only do a quarter of an hour, but do this without fail. If you give me the pleasure of coming to see me, we will talk about it more particularly.
Heaven on Earth
Let us learn to live here below as the saints live in heaven, and practise doing on earth what we hope to do for all eternity. Let us love, adore, and possess within ourselves the same God who is the glory and felicity of the blessed [in heaven]. So be it.

*Mother Mectilde uses the word "victim" here. I replaced it with "offering", which transmits the sense of what she means: a person made over entirely to God in a sacrificial oblation of self.

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In her letters to Marguerite, the Duchess of Orléans (1613-1672), Mother Mectilde de Bar has some very beautiful things to say about the mystery of the Child Jesus. To me they seem to reflect something of the experience of Jesus, the King of Love, that one finds in the writings of Saint Thérèse, of the Trappist Abbot, Dom Vital Léhodey, and of Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Here, in my own translation, is what Mother Mectilde has to say:

It seemed to me that the desire to belong to God and to love Him enlivened your heart several times. Your heart wants to rise above itself, so as to abide in God: but the weight of human misery does not allow it to enjoy this happiness without intermission in this life. One must suffer the length of our exile in patience. This will be lighter for us to bear i we look upon the Eternal Word under the figure of our flesh; he comes . . . to make Himself our companion on pilgrimage.
He comes into the world, and the world has not received Him. He comes among His own, and they know Him not. Here, then, is Jesus upon earth like a stranger who has nowhere to rest His head. It is the love He bears us that reduces Him to this indigence. But, my God, how great this love is, that it casts Jesus into nothingness. Among His subjects, He is like a slave, and all that He does are but wondrous inventions of His love to draw us to Himself. It is to win our hearts, and to give us the freedom to converse with Him, and never more to doubt of his kindnesses toward us; and so that we will cling no longer to the thoughts of distrust and fear that get in our way and disquiet our spirits. . . .
If this Child God manifests Himself in the secret of your soul, His presence will bring you joy, and His love will make you strong. There is nothing so sweet as to love and to know (and to love) Jesus; the prophet assures us of this. Love, love this lovable Saviour who loves you so tenderly, and who presses upon you His merits and all that He is in Himself. Possess Him, and find in His fulness all that you lack. Make use of His virtues and of His love to make up for everything, and rest in His goodness by means of a childlike confidence. And you will experience that your hope is not in vain, nor your confidence disappointed.

A Charism Exhaled in Love

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Images: details of an anonymous 13th century Italian fresco of the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

Charism

After the momentous ceremony of 12 March 1654, life in the newly established monastery in rue Férou began to unfold. Mother Mectilde insisted on what, today, we would call the specific charism of the foundation, that is, the graced identity by which a particular community fulfills its unique mission in the Church. For Mother Mectilde, this graced identity found expression in a continuous presence of adoration and reparation before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The foundress was well aware of the sacrileges and abominations perpetrated against Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. She knew of the diabolical machinations of people involved in superstition, witchcraft, and magic, and of Sacred Hosts stolen and exchanged among the perfidious adherents of secret societies and cults. She suffered whenever the Most Holy Sacrament was treated with irreverence, ingratitude, indifference, and scorn. She grieved when priests offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass hastily and unworthily, with scant fervour, attention, and devotion. She suffered the ignominy endured by Our Lord when He descended sacramentally into souls chilled and darkened by grave sin.

Self-Emptying

The new Institute was brought into existence to offer Our Lord, present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, souls that would enter into His own state of profound self-emptying (kenosis), souls that would enter into the humility, silence, obedience, and hiddenness of His sacramental state. The new Benedictines would draw this imitation of the Eucharistic Jesus, the Deus absconditus (hidden God), by persevering in an unbroken watch of adoration and reparation by abiding, by day and by night, before His Face, close to His Heart.

Christus Passus

One cannot abide for any length of time in faith, in hope, and in love, before the Most Blessed Sacrament without being drawn into the mysterious action of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, who in the stillness of the tabernacle, or from the centre of the monstrance, offers Himself to the Father with same dispositions that rose once from the altar of the Cross on Calvary. The Eucharistic Christ is, as I have had occasion to write before, the Christus passus: Christ in the very act of offering Himself to the Father; Christ, the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, so described in the Roman Canon.

Language of Symbols

Mectilde be Bar had an understanding of the language of symbols, not after the fashion of contemporary anthropologists, but rather as a daughter of Church immersed in sacred signs and rites of the liturgy. She made use of symbols -- among them the lighted candle and the cord about the neck -- to express outwardly the mystical realities that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, she had apprehended inwardly. Even as such symbols give outward expression to what is essentially hidden, they engrave upon the souls of those who make use of them a vivid impression of what they signify. Fluency in this language of symbols has always been, and continues to be, integral to the pedagogy of monastic life.

Appeal to Souls

Mother Mectilde prescribed the hourly ringing of the bell five times as a way of recalling the community to mindfulness of the abiding presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. The peal from the belfry was, in effect, an appeal to souls. She writes in her Constitutions:

To keep alive the memory of the inestimable benefit contained in the divine Eucharist, and to renew thanksgiving for it, one shall ring, at all the hours of the day and of the night, five strokes of the largest bell, whilst the one ringing as well as all those who hear it, say: Praised and adored forever be the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!

Perpetual Adoration

Hour after hour, a rota of adorers would assure a living, loving presence before the tabernacle. On Thursdays, the community would sing the Office and Mass of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed in the monstrance from the end of Holy Mass until Compline, concluding with the amende honorable and Benediction.

Special Feasts

Certain days were to be solemnized, particularly Holy Thursday, Corpus Domini, the Thursday of Sexagesima (feast of The Great Reparation), and January 1st, the Circumcision, seen as the inauguration of the victimhood of Christ. A renewal of the vows of monastic profession marked the first day of the New Year.

Our Lady

The Blessed Virgin Mary, elected Abbess of the Institute on 22 August 1654, shared in every corporate action of the community's life. In all the regular places of the monastery, the image of the Mother of God occupied the place of honour. The Most Holy Virgin, insisted Mother Mectilde, would keep the community faithful to its charism. The practice of perpetual adoration, being entrusted into Our Lady's hands, would remain vigorous, stable, and permanent. After God, Mother Mectilde turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary to preserve the monastery from falling into laxity, and to the insidious compromises that would weaken or alter its mission.

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Saint Benedict and His Rule

As for the Benedictine identity of the new monastery, it rested upon the rigorous observance of the Holy Rule that Mother Mectilde had first learned at Rambervillers, a community marked by the reform of Dom Dider de la Cour (1550 - 1623), founder of the Congregation of Saint Vanne and Saint Hydulphe. In Paris, the proximity of the monks of the Congregation of Saint Maur at Saint-Germain-des-Prés assured the new monastery of adorers a stable point of reference within the Benedictine tradition.

The Benedictine identity of the Institute derived, even more, from Mectilde's mystical understanding of the death or transitus of the great Patriarch, as recounted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues. Mother Mectilde writes:

Wanting to leave a testimony to the love that he nourished for the Most Holy Sacrament, [Saint Benedict] could not render It a greater honour, nor a more eloquent demonstration of his faith and of his charity, than by breathing his last in Its holy presence, and by entrusting the last beats of his heart to this adorable Host. . . so as to generate, in the time fixed by God, sons of his Order, who until the end of the world, would render to [the Most Holy Sacrament] adoration, reverence, and the witness of uninterrupted love and reparation. Do you not see, my sisters, that Saint Benedict died standing up, so as to make us understand that, in a supreme act of love, he "exhaled" the sacred Institute to which we are professed? He conceived it in the Eucharist, so that, nearly twelve centuries later, it would come to birth.

To be continued.

Mother Mectilde and Thursday

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Painting: The Eucharistic Transitus, or holy death, of Saint Benedict, in which Mother Mectilde de Bar recognized a "breathing forth" of the charism entrusted to her. According to tradition, Saint Benedict passed from this life on a Thursday.

Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Thursday

Six days after the memorable events of 12 March 1654, Dom Placide Roussel gave permission for exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament every Thursday. Thursday thus became a weekly rememoration of that first Holy Thursday when, in the Cenacle, Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist, offering Himself to the Father, and nourishing His Apostles with the life-giving mysteries of His Body and Blood.

Response to an Inquiring Reader

One reader of Vultus Christi, in reading my translation of Mother Mectilde's text on The Solemnity of Thursday (from La journée religieuse) questioned her affirmation that Thursday is a day of Pascha. How are we to understand this affirmation of Mother Mectilde, which, at first, seems surprising to those who think more in chronological than in theological terms? Mother Mectilde's affirmation is rooted in an profoundly intuitive experience of the liturgy of Holy Thursday. The Introit of the Mass on Holy Thursday is a synthesis of the entire Paschal Mystery. What does the Church sing on the threshold of the Sacred Paschal Triduum?

It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection:
through whom we have been saved and set free. (cf. Gal 6:14)

The Sacred Paschal Triduum

The liturgy of the Church does not wait until Easter Sunday to sing of "salvation, life, and resurrection." It is the whole Paschal Triduum, beginning with the Evening Mass In Coena Domini on Thursday that actualizes the mysteries of Our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Holy Thursday includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, and these days include within themselves the mystery already announced, and realized, and communicated in the Cenacle on Thursday in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Ces français!

I rather suspect that the reader who questioned Mother Mectilde's affirmation that Thursday is a day of Pascha may be French! The dear French, with their gift of clear thinking and of making fine distinctions, are often rigidly fixated on an "either/or" perception of things, and intellectually challenged by the inclusive "both/and". This, at least, has been my experience in over forty years of exposure to, and participation in the richness of French culture and French theologizing. It is not, then, a question, of Thursday or Sunday, but of Thursday and Sunday: Thursday contains, as in a kernel, the complete mystery that unfolds over Friday and Saturday, to emerge into a glorious light on Sunday.

Kairos and Chronos

Mother Mectilde's affirmation springs from her own contemplative participation in the liturgy of the Church, and from her intuitive grasp that the liturgy is played out in kairos -- God's moment, the liturgical hodie -- rather than in chronos, the human way of measuring time.

The Mystery of the Cross

Mother Mectilde focused on Thursday, and established it in her Institute as a kind of weekly Fête-Dieu, because she understood that the Most Holy Eucharist is the sacramental demonstration of the Cross. Is this not what the Apostle teaches? "For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Eucharistic Amazement

The Most Holy Eucharist makes present the Cross as the altar of Christ, Eternal High Priest and spotless Victim. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the sacrifice of the Cross set before the eyes of faith, not as something dim and ineffectual, but as an astonishing inbreaking, here and now, of "the power of God and the wisdom of God"(1 Cor 1:24). This is, to borrow the expression of Blessed John Paul II, the source of Mother Mectilde's "Eucharistic amazement." This is this realization that leaves us, together with her and with the saints of every age, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, "lost, all lost in wonder."

In the Crucible of Love

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Stability Amidst Life's Chances and Changes

One of the most encouraging things about the lifelong journey of Mectilde de Bar is that she was often obliged to leave one place for another, to begin afresh, and to adapt to new circumstances. Again and again she experienced change, keeping always her heart fixed where true joys are found: in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, as in the heavenly sanctuary not made by hands. For me, Mother Mectilde is the model of what the Church asks in the Collect of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis: ut inter mundanas varietates ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant to Thy people to love that which Thou commandest and desire that which Thou dost promise; that so, among the changing things of this world, our hearts may be set where true joys are to be found.

Trust and Perseverance

In times of social upheaval and unrest, as in times of upheaval and unrest in the Church, such as I lived through in the 1960s and 70s, the ideal of monastic stability is often shattered against the jagged rocks of reality. Happily, God calls a man, not to an ideal, but to utter trust in Him and to humble perseverance in the face of things as they are -- imperfect, gritty, and disappointing -- even if this means beginning afresh over and over again. For me, Catherine Mectilde de Bar is a model of just this. God can and does, in fact, use such paradoxical and disconcerting circumstances as a crucible in which he hammers out something something new, something purified, something conceived in the infinite love and wisdom of His Heart.

The Humble and Costly Yes

There are those, who judging the twists and turns of another's life, through the lens of their own experience and prejudices, see only discontinuity where God sees, rather, the continuity of a humble and costly "yes," repeated again and again, to the unfolding of His plan. For the one engaged in such a circuitous and unconventional journey, there will be the subtle but cruel humiliations of the raised eyebrow, the sceptical glance, the condescending smirk, and the whispered (or not so whispered) inference. Religious types can be pitiless when it comes to such things.

Naysayers and Friends

By God's providence, Mother Mectilde was surrounded, not only by critics and naysayers, but also by supportive and faithful friends who believed in her vocation and made sacrifices in order for her work, Our Lord's work, to prosper. Thus, when it became clear that, because of the lack of space at the house in the rue du Bac, the little community had to relocate once again, this time to a rented house belonging to Madame de Rochefort in the rue Férou, close to the church of Saint-Sulpice. There, on 12 March 1654, the Father Prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Dom Roussel, who, by this time had nuanced his opinion of Mother Mectilde's community, established the monastic enclosure.

Memorable Day

On the same day, the mother of Louis XIV, Anne of Austria herself, arrived at the new monastery with an imposing retinue of courtiers. She directed Dom Roussel to afix the cross to the wall above the door of the house, and established it officially as a royal foundation. Dom Roussel blessed the bell, the oratory, and the regular places. During a Solemn Mass, a Carmelite of Les Billettes, one Père Léon, preacher to the Queen, delivered the sermon. At the end of Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance.

The Amende Honorable

That afternoon, la musique du Roi, Louis XIV"s own musicians, presented their homage to Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic King enthroned upon the altar. Then, before Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Anne of Austria advanced to the middle of the choir, knelt in adoration, and with a cord about her neck and a burning taper in her hand, read the Amende Honorable, or act of reparation, composed by Mother Mectilde. As the Queen gave utterance to Mother Mectilde's prayer, it was the voice of France that reached the ears of God, making reparation for the countless offenses, sacrileges, and outrages perpetrated against the Sacred Host.

The Painting

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Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) immortalized the solemn scene in the painting reproduced above. Looking at it from left to right, we see two gentleman courtiers, finely dressed. The one whose face is in shadow is whispering a comment to the other, while he points to the altar. His companion is listening to him, but appears more recollected and moved. His head is bowed; his face bears an expression of sweetness and compunction. I wonder how this moment affected his life thereafter. Kneeling in front of the gentlemen are two ladies in waiting; they too appear awed by what is taking place. They have to take their cue from the Queen. There are six Benedictines, each one with the cord that symbolizes identification with the Suffering Servant about her neck, and a burning candle, the symbol of readiness and love, in her hand.

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Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria has removed her crown and placed it on the cushion at her feet, leaving her bareheaded. She too wears the cord about her neck, and carries the burning candle, a sign of her self-offering in adoration and in reparation. For all her royal finery, her face reveals an inward simplicity of soul. One senses that she is a good woman.

Face to Face

Mother Mectilde is the figure next to the Queen. In Mother Mectilde's features, there is gentle majesty. Her whole being appears drawn to the altar, to the monstrance, to the Eucharistic Face of the Son of God. Of all the faces depicted in the painting, that of Mother Mectilde is, I think, the most expressive. The little nun crouching next to the altar represents l'anéantissement, en-nothingment, profound humility in the presence of the Divine Majesty.

Our principal application in prayer must be to hold ourselves before the greatness and supreme majesty of God in the Most Holy Sacrament, with the most profound respect, with total confidence and abandonment, with submission, accepting simply all the dispositions of Divine Providence, each one according to her degree of grace, either by making acts [of prayer] or in some other way. (M. Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement)

To be continued.

All that paradise loves and adores

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Difficulties

Mother Mectilde and her community now found themselves under the authority of Dom Placide Roussel, the prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From all accounts, Dom Roussel was anything but placid, in spite of his name. A Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, Dom Roussel was a difficult man: legalistic, pessimistic, stubborn, and authoritarian. He had the talent of seeing difficulties where no one else could see them. More than once, Mother Mectilde and the Countess de Châteauvieux returned completely discouraged from a meeting with Dom Roussel. To a friend, Mother Mectilde wrote, "We were to see the Reverend Father Prior who, as much as possible, turns everything upside down."

Dom Roussel required that Mectilde puchase land to build a future monastery and that she collect a large sum of money to assure the upkeep of a community of five. His exigences blocked the establishment of the monastery at every turn.

Dom Roussel Relents

Mectilde held her peace; she prayed, did penance, and waited. On 24 March, 1653, in response to an intervention by Madame de Châteauvieux, the dreaded Dom Roussel surprised Mother Mectilde by sending her a message authorizing exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the following day, the feast of the Annunciation. Benefactors of the monastery had previously provided a chalice, patien, monstrance, and thurible, so that all would be in readiness once the long-awaited permission came.

The First Solemn Exposition

On the feast of the Annunciation, then, 25 March 1653, Holy Mass was sung in the Oratory of the house, and the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance. Alerted at the last minute, a considerable number of the faithful attended the celebration. During Holy Mass, Mother Mectilde saw the Most Holy Virgin Mary, clothed in the raiment of an abbess, and holding the crosier in her hand. Our Lady presented the nascent community to Jesus the Host, as victims offered to His Eucharistic love. Even today, the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament consider this feast of the Annunciation 1653 as the first solemnity of perpetual adoration of the Institute.

Mother Mectilde wrote to Madame de Châteauvieux, "All that paradise loves and adores, I now possess, thanks to you."

To be continued.

On the Solemnity of Thursday

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For a long time I have wanted to translate this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar entitled "On the Solemnity of Thursday." In it, she pours out her soul in a torrent of amazement and thanksgiving and adoration. She sets forth why, in her particular Benedictine observance, Thursday is celebrated as a weekly return to the Cenacle where Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of His Love, and as a weekly festival of Corpus Christi. Catherine-Mectilde de Bar is, without any doubt, the most Eucharistic soul in what was a Eucharistic century par excellence, and a century of saints surpassing all others, le grand siècle, the great century of France's mystic invasion, and the full flowering of the Council of Trent's renewal of the Church in holiness.


O Precious Day!

Thursday: one can name it the day of the magnificences and profusions of divine love. It is on this day that Jesus Christ unfurls all the grandeurs of His munificence and gives to men the most incomprehensible proof of His charity, by instituting the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. O precious day! Day that we shall never know how to celebrate enough! Holy day, happy day, of which every instant must be infinitely precious to us who have the honour of being wholly consecrated to this august mystery.

Thursday: a Day of Pascha

For the victims* of the Holy Sacrament, Thursday must be a day of Pascha, a day of solemnity and of rejoicing. This day is so abundant in graces that one can say that it exhausts all that Our Lord Jesus Christ is and can do. What more can He do after the institution of the divine Eucharist? What is there that is not [contained] in this august mystery?

*The Meaning of Victim in the Writings of Mother Mectilde
The word victim frightens some people; it exercises an unhealthy attraction over others; and for still others has an unplesasantly melodramatic ring about it. When Mother Mectilde de Bar uses the word victim, what exactly does she mean?
First of all, she uses it as the proper title of those who are vowed to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament under the Rule of Saint Benedict in her Institute. While others, she says, may enter religious life to save their own souls and gain eternal glory in heaven, the Benedictine of the Most Holy Sacrament must so forget herself, and even the needs of her own soul, that she sacrifices all self-interest and enters the monastery for one reason only: to adore and glorify the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and to make up by this sacrifice of all spiritual self-interest for those who never adore Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love or, even worse, offend Him by unspeakable sins of irreverence and sacrilege.
Secondly, she uses the word victim in the same way the texts of the sacred liturgy use it. I could cite here any number of Secrets and Postcommunions from both the Temporal and Sanctoral Masses. A victim is a living being made over to God alone in so radical and irrevocable way that she no longer has any life outside of life in God, for God, and by God. The liturgical use of the term victim makes it very clear that this is the ordinary state of anyone who receives Holy Communion consciously and devoutly. By being at-oned [joined] to the Divine Victim, the Lamb of God, one becomes a single victim with Him, that is, an offering made over to the Father in a holocaust of love.
Thirdly, she uses the word to express the profound communion of the soul with Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, where He is forever the Christus passus, Christ in the very act of His immolation and self-offering to the Father. Our Lord present in the tabernacle is not there in a state of suspended animation or divine inertia; He is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament as He is in the sanctuary of Heaven: the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, offered at every moment to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. One who adores the Blessed Sacrament will be, sooner or later, drawn into a mystic participation in the victimhood of the Lamb.

Sunday and Thursday

Sunday is held in singular veneration among all christians, because it is dedicated and consecrated in a special manner to the Most Holy Trinity. One author has said that so abundant in blessings is this day that all creatures participate in them, each according to his nature and capacity. If this is so of Sunday, what then must be said of Thursday? The same God whom we adore on Sunday in Himself, gives Himself entirely to us on Thursday. Thursday is the day of God's great communications to His creatures. Oh! who is not ravished by the infinite goodness of the King of kings! He gives us all that He has, all that He is, all -- without reservation.

The Excessive Charity of God

Jesus, says Saint John, having loved his own, loved them to the end. And, in effect, what greater mark of love could He give them than to institute the Holy Eucharist? How great is the marvel that He works for us on this day, and who shall be able to understand it? It is here that all must remain in the silence of admiration. A God makes himself our food! O astonishing prodigy! What are all the miracles worked by Jesus Christ during the course of his earthly life in comparison to this one? What a spectacle! What bounty! What charity! A God who gives Himself to us! O love! He who with three fingers sustains the universe is held by the priest. He who commands all of nature obeys a being who is nothing. He who is all-powerful makes Himself so dependent that he is in the power of His creatures; they carry Him, they bring Him wherever they choose. This is too much. Your charity, my Saviour, goes even to excess! O incomprehensible miracle! Mystery forever inconceivable! No, the thought of man would not know how to attain it.

Man Can Love, Man Can Adore

Man cannot understand; but man can love, man can adore. We, especially, who by a special favour see the Most Holy Sacrament exposed on our altars every Thursday,** with what fervour should we not be animated? The solemnity of Thursday must be or us a solemnity forever new; it must also set our hearts ablaze with a love that is new. Let us not settle for drawing people to the feet of Jesus the Host by the outward worship that we render Him more particularly on this day. Let us redouble our readiness to attend to His holy presence. Let the whole Community, if possible, remain in adoration to recognize the gift that the Eternal Father has made to the world in Jesus Christ, His Son, in this God whose love constrains Him to stay among men even unto the consummation of the ages.

**As I have written elsewhere, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament must not be confused with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Among the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament, exposition was limited to Thursdays and the following feasts: Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Annunciation, Assumption, Saint Benedict on 21 March and on 11 July, and Saint Scholastica. On all the other days the perpetual adoration was carried out before the closed tabernacle.

Paradise on Earth

In the Eucharist, our adorable Saviour has a love that surpasses all other loves; His heart is open to all as a wellspring abounding in graces and in mercies. How hard one would have to be not to be touched by so excessive a kindness, not to be burned by this most ardent charity! How obliged we are to Jesus Christ for having readily willed to set, in this way, Paradise on earth! A God makes Himself captive for us! He is in our new arks like a prisoner in his jail cell! How happy we are to possess in this way our most lovable Saviour in the Most Holy Sacrament, since we have in this august mystery the One whom the angels and the saints love and adore in heaven, the One who is the object of their eternal beatitude. What marvels! Can one contemplate them without falling into an eternal ravishment? Oh! the prodigious invention of divine charity! What is it, my God, what is the creature that You fill it so with the abundance of your graces? Man is but a nothing, and you are not satisfied with having created him, redeemed him, shed even the last drop of your blood for him, dying for his salvation. You yourself still give yourself to him . . . O ineffable grace! O inestimable gift!

Thanksgiving

If we but had a little faith, what meditations, what sublime contemplations would the sight of a God giving Himself to man not inspire us! But no, we are blind and know not how to appreciate so great a happiness; we are insensible and Jesus the Host does not touch us; we are so miserable that the least trifle occupies us entirely, and we remain closed to heaven's most precious graces, to the infinite benefits of our God. Have we ever duly given thanks for the ineffable gift of the Eucharist? What thanksgivings have we made for it? Alas!, one must say in groaning that the greater number of men never even think of Jesus present among them.

Of All Marvels the Most Prodigious

A God -- greatness, power, richness itself -- reduces Himself to nothing for us in the Host, and we think no more of it than one would of something commonplace and ordinary. O stupidity! Oh, the ingratitude of men! One does not think of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and, yet, is this not this of all mysteries the most divine, of all marvels the most prodigious, the most inconceivable? What has one said of this divine mystery up until the present that in any way approaches the reality of it? What are the most learned men's discourses next to what is in truth? No, no, there is not a tongue that would know how to express the grandeurs, the riches hidden in our tabernacles. It is an abyss impenetrable to the human spirit. You Yourself, O God, reveal to some privileged soul the secret of this mystery, and put your spirit within her, that she might speak of it worthily for, in truth, we know nothing of it.

If Thou but Knew the Gift of God

No, no, we do not know what the Eucharist is. We believe in this mystery, but it is with a faith that is languishing and unrefined; we are content to believe in the presence of Jesus Christ on the altar, without deepening anything, without penetrating ourselves through with the wonders that He works there. What is this, then, O my God, what is this great Sacrament, so incomprehensible, so admirable, so miraculous? What is Jesus the Host, and what does He do when He descends into His creature, when He loses Himself in her by Holy Communion? O my soul, if thou but knew the gift of God! Si scires donum Dei! If thou but understood something of this mystery of faith, mysterium fidei! If thou but knew the One who hides Himself, who buries Himself, who annihilates Himself in thee? I thou couldst but plumb the depths of His love! Wouldst thou be able to live a single instant without giving thyself to Him? A God who visits us, a God who gives Himself to us; He comes to raise us up from our woes and to deliver us from the tyranny of sin, and we do not die of love for Him? Ah, I pray You, lift the veil that conceals You from our eyes; let the torch of faith illumine us, that we might penetrate all that You are, all that You do for us on the altar and in our hearts.

A God Who Wants to Be Our Happiness

Let us try to recognize the excess of divine charity, and let this be the measure of our gratitude and of our love. What shall we give to God to pay Him for giving HImself to us? Let us not search outside of ourselves; it ourselves that He asks for, it is our love that He purchases with His own. He gives Himself to us only so that we might give ourselves to Him. He asks for ourselves, not that we should be His happiness, but that He should be ours; because the felicity of the creature is found only in the possession of God. Oh! Far too greedy is the soul for whom Jesus Christ is not enough! All of us, let us find our contentment in Him and leave to Him all the rest! He wants to be our unique possession, to the exclusion of ourselves and of all that is created. My God, what more can we desire after having received You in our hearts? In giving Yourself to us, do You not give all things with Yourself? No, no, the Holy Sacrament alone is enough for a true victim*; she finds all in Him; she has no need of anything else to sanctify herself, to perfect herself; for her, all is contained in the sacred Eucharistic Bread. Jesus Christ sacrificed in all her science, all her love, all her treasure. She finds in Him the lights and the knowledge she needs.

The Wisdom of the Father Remains in Silence

Let us draw near to Him and we shall be enlightened! Accedite ad eum et illuminamini. Jesus Christ, silent in the Host, carries out, as He did during HIs mortal life, the office of Master and of Doctor. A saint said that the cross was, as it were, a pulpit for this Man-God. One can say the same thing of our tabernacles: the different states that he there assumes are so many lessons that He is giving us: He wants us to live by His eucharistic life, His life sacrificed, His life annihilated, His life of absolute death to all created things. Let us deepen this divine mystery; we shall see that the Author of Life is there in a state of death, that the Wisdom of the Father remains in silence, that Infinite Beng encloses Himself in an imperceptible particle, that the Sovereign and All-Powerful obeys a weak mortal.

Let Your Sanctity Purify Us

Truly, it is in the Holy Eucharist that Jesus Christ is, according to the language of Scripture, the hidden God, the self-emptied God. . . . And what reduces him to this profound exinanition? Why, but little satisfied with having become a mortal man capable of suffering, does He make Himself, in this way, His creature's most ordinary food? Always the same answer: Jesus Christ has loved us. When will it be given us to render love for love? Let us love, O my sisters, let us love without delay this lovable Saviour who hides the brightness of His glory that we might have a way to draw near to Him, who empties Himself of His grandeurs to honour His Father in our place, who ceaselessly sacrifices Himself to deflect from our heads the rigors of divine justice. Let us employ all our care to adore Him well; let us put all our glory in rendering Him the homage that we owe Him. Really let us be victims, according to the commitment we have made. Are we not very happy that God has chosen us to belong to Him in so particular a manner, and to keep Him company in His sacred mystery? For whom does He put Himself more specially in the Host, if not for us? One can say that Jesus Christ Himself produced us at the altar for Himself; because the Work He accomplished in establishing this Institute immolate us and sacrifices us altogether to His self-emptied greatness in the adorable Eucharist. Let us deepen the holiness of this Work and, seized with astonishment at the sight of our unworthiness, we shall cry out in transport: "O God, is it possible that you willed to suffer such poor and wretched creatures in Your temple and in the place of Your perpetual adorations?" Let us cast overselves low, let us empty ourselves out, in considering God's bounties for us. O my Saviour! Let Your sanctity purify us! Let it render us worthy of adoring eternally Your divine Sacrament! Let us live henceforth only to glorify you, as so many hosts consecrated to Your august Majesty, and who, consequently, have no right at all over themselves!

Victimhood: Identification with Jesus Christ

By the vow of victimhood, in no way do we belong any more to ourselves; Jesus Christ claims all His rights over us. Our life, our movements, our thoughts, our operations both inward and outward, all belongs to Him; we are, in a word, daughters of the Holy Sacrament. How august and mysterious this name is! We are daughters of the Holy Sacrament, that is to say that we must be altogether entered and passed over into Jesus Christ, with crosses for our heritage with Him, with disgraces, humiliations, rejections, contradictions, sufferings, temptations, and whatsoever crucifies our nature. There is all our portion, there our heritage. We would be mistaken to expect anything else; we cannot be victims without the sword, without the cord, without torment, without sorrow, without death.

The Cross

Associated to Jesus Christ in HIs quality of pledge for sinners, let us ever have before our eyes the obligations that this title confers and let us not forget that we are victims of the divine justice. By our profession, we only began our sacrifice; it must be consummated and brought to its final perfection. For that crosses are needed, agonies, and annihilations. Let us, then, run towards all that crucifies our nature. This is the example given us by Jesus Christ. This is what He expects of us. This is what we engaged ourselves to do in entering the Institute. Without crosses we would not truly be daughters of the Holy Sacrament; without crosses, Jesus Christ would not be able to take His delights in us. He gave Himself and still gives Himself to us entirely. He wills that, in the same way, we should give ourselves entirely to Him to become victim-hosts of His justice.

Participation in the Passion of Christ

By the sacrifice of ourselves, we shall yet arrive at establishing the life of Jesus Christ in us. This is His desire: He wills that we should live for Him as He lives for His Father, and so be able, all of us, to say with the Apostle: I live, no longer I, but it is Jesus Christ who lives in me. In this way, God will be uniquely and sovereignly glorified in us, for time and for eternity. Live no longer, then, except for our Victim; let us convert ourselves totally in Him ; He expects this of our fidelity, and we owe it to our precious title of daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us work at renouncing ourselves, at mortification and, as Saint Paul says, let us accomplish in us what is lacking to the passion of Jesus Christ.

Strength from His Weakness

To strengthen our weakness, have recourse to Our Lord. Let us raise up our courage and our confidence: Jesus Christ suffers and dies for us; let us draw our strength from His weakness, and our life from His death. Pray Him to come into us, to show that He is our God and our absolute Sovereign. In spite of all the opposition and the repugnances of our nature, let Him bring us entirely into subjection to His empire, to His power, and to His laws. Let us make to Him as perfect a sacrifice of ourselves as He desires.

Emptying-Out of Self in His Presence

When we are before the Most Holy Sacrament, we must not be content merely to adore Him with lip-service; we need to lower ourselves into a profound emptying out of self, and recognize that we are nothing, that we are less than nothing and, in this disposition, offer to the spotless Lamb who immolates Himself for the salvation of the world not only a sacrifice of adoration and of thanksgiving, but again a sacrifice of submission, of abandonment, and of consecration. Let us adhere to His divine will, detach ourselves from creatures, and renounce all human consolation, so as to life in Jesus only and only for Jesus.

At the Feet of Our Divine Master

We must never lose sight of our holy tabernacles: it is there that we find our strength and our virtue. If human infirmity and affairs allowed, we should pass our whole life at the feet of our divine Master; at least let us go there as often as possible, and quit so many futile occupations that rob us of precious time claimed for what we owe the love of a God.

To Live with Jesus

Far from us be disgust, negligence, and frivolity. Alas! Is it possible that it should be burdensome for us to converse with our Sovereign Lord? Where is one better than close to one's Father, to one's Spouse, to one's all? To live with Jesus, is this not to begin to live on earth the life that we are called to live in heaven? Ah! Can we say that we have faith if we complain of the length of time that we spend before the Most Holy Sacrament?

Imitate the Saints

What, however, does one see in the world, and perhaps even among us? Poor creatures, fragile nothings, worms of the earth to whom it costs to spend a half hour with the King of heaven and of earth. People consecrate days and nights to vain conversations, to futile entertainments, and always find too long the moments given to a God who forgets Himself for love of us. O heavens, be astonished! My Saviour, pardon them, or they know not what they do. Happy, says the Prophet, are those who dwell in Your house, O Lord, and who praise you unceasingly. The saints understand this truth; also, how many there are who spent their days and nights with God, and who complained all the same of the rapid passage of time. So do the saints act and think, because they are quickened by a lively faith: let us have their faith, and we will think and act as they did.

Pure Faith

All Christians ought to be in perpetual adoration before the Son of God in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is to make up for their coldness and indifference that the Institute was established. Let us carry out fervently so glorious a function and make of the altar our delights. Let our spirit and our body be bound thereto like two victims under the mastery of a pure and simple faith. If we are without taste for it, without light, without sensible consolation, we can, by the obscurity of our senses, render homage to this God who is hidden and brought to nothing. Let us abide before Him with patience, humility, and abandonment. Always it is for us a great honour to be able to keep watch with Jesus Christ.

Reparation

If nearly all Christians are ungrateful towards this mystery of love, we, at least, will not be and we will recognize the gift of God. One can say that the Eternal Father gives us, in our Institute, all that is most august of what He has; that He makes us the depositors and guardians of His most precious treasures. He gives us His divine Son, in whom He has placed all His good pleasure. This infinite gift, He gave first of all to men, and they failed to recognize it. He sought souls who would know how to appreciate its value, and He chose us. May Jesus find abundantly in us the glory and the delight that others refuse Him elsewhere! May we, by our ardour, worthily repair for the coldness and impiety of so many others. Weep without ceasing over their ingratitude, and ask our heavenly Father to take pity on those who profane His divine Son. Even if the humiliations He endures in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist had occurred but one time, we should want to groan all our life long to make reparation for them. They are renewed every day; yes, every day, and in an infinity of places, Jesus Christ is the object of the most cutting outrages, of the most horrible sacrileges. What shall we do at the sight of so many crimes? My God, we ought to die of sorrow.. Ah, at least, I will consecrate to You the rest of my life to repair, as best I can, Your glory, and to obtain of You that these cruel indignities to which You are exposed, at last come to an end.

Humble and Contrite of Heart Before Him

We must be ready at all times to die for the interests of Jesus the Host, and as we would never have the courage to sustain His interests at the price of our own blood if we do not begin to sustain them by death to ourselves, let us hold ourselves like victims always ready and die ceaselessly to ourselves in all the occasions of sacrifice that present themselves. Let us begin by repairing in us the glory of our Saviour by establishing His reign within us, and let us abandon ourselves to the justice of God so that He may make of us true daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us keep ourselves from putting obstacles in the way of His designs, and that we might begin to enter into them, let us break our hearts with a sincere contrition at the sight of our past infidelities, and cast ourselves into a profound abasement before the infinite Majesty of God.

Fidelity to the Vocation

All our life, let us thank Him for having chosen us to consecrate us to His Son in so special a manner. Let us not forget the obligations that this favour imposes, and let us fear that our grace be taken away from us to pass into more faithful hands.

Before the altar, let us often examine if we are corresponding to our vocation. What a sad thing it would be if the Institute were to come to nothing by our fault and if Our Lord were deprived of the glory that He rightly expects of us.

Humility

Let us make haste to enter into the usages of the precious quality of victimhood by a great simplicity of spirit, by a perfect obedience of heart and, above all, by a profound humility. Without humility, all our reparations would be no more than illusions.

Vigilance

Since Our Lord has made the Institute for us, since He has entrusted it to us, and since its progress and perfection depend on us, let us keep watch and pray. Take care lest we profane it rather than sanctify it. An exact account will be required of all our failings, of the graces of which we will have drawn no profit, and also of those which were destined for us, and of which we made ourselves unworthy. The account will be faithful, the judgment rigorous: think of that.

All things work together unto good

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Navigating the Avenues of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

One does not found a monastery without obtaining ecclesiastical authorization. Monasteries come to birth, and develop, and thrive within the Body of Christ, that is the Catholic Church. At the time of Mectilde de Bar, the avenues of ecclesiastical jurisdiction were exceedingly complex. Given that Mectilde and her little community were living in the territory of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, she needed, first of all, to secure the permission of the abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the natural son of Henri IV, who was the Duke of Verneuil, the bishop of Metz.

The Request Refused

The Abbot-Duke was utterly opposed to the foundation of new monasteries. Paris, he argued, was already cluttered with too many cloisters vying for economic support. He had promised the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria, that he would forbid the foundation of new monasteries in his territory. Already, for lack of resources, six ancient communities under his authority had ceased to exist. In vain did the Countess of Châteauvieux beg the Queen to make an exception; the Queen remained inflexible.

A Vow in Time of Crisis

Divine Providence was at work, all the same. "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Romans 8:28) France was in complete turmoil. Forces in rebellion against the crown were gaining ground. The court was obliged to flee to Compiègne. The Queen Regent learned, to her dismay, that the rebellion had spread from Paris and Bordeaux to Orléans and Angers. In desperation she turned to the Abbé Picoté, a priest of Saint-Sulpice, and beseeched him to make whatever vow he thought necessary to obtain from God the return of peace, order, and stability to France.

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The Queen's Vow: Adoration and Reparation

The good priest, knowing absolutely nothing of Mother Mectilde's proposed foundation, vowed that if tranquillity were restored to France, the Queen would found a house of religious vowed to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the outrages committed against the Sacred Body of Christ. The Abbé Picoté, in all likelihood, had heard that the consecrated Host was, more than once, trampled under foot by soldiers, and even fed to their horses. Miraculously, no sooner was the vow made in the name of the Queen, than the whole situation changed. On 21 October 1652, Louis XIV entered Paris in triumph. The revolt was over; peace returned.

The Royal Yes

In the meantime, the Abbé Picoté learned of Mother Mectilde's project. Struck by the affinity between the vow he had made in the name of the Queen and the foundation that Mother Mectilde desired to undertake, he spoke of it to the Queen on 8 December 1652 while the latter was in retreat at the Benedictine abbey of Val-de-Grâce. The graces of the retreat must have been in operation because he found the Queen well disposed. In execution of her vow, the Queen ordered the Duke of Verneuil to authorize the foundation in his territory of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The Duke-Abbot immediately entrusted the whole affair to his Vicar General, Dom Roussel, a Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, and the prior of Saint Germain-des-Prés.

To be continued.

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.

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An anonymous painting of the Battle of the Fronde at the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine by the Walls of the Bastille.

Civil Unrest and Poverty

Paris, in 1651, was in turmoil. The famous battle of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine (July 2, 1652) led to the victory of the royalists over the princes and nobles, but then took a strange turn when the indomitable Grande Mademoiselle, had the gates of Paris opened to Condé's army, and fired from the Bastille on those fighting on the side of Louis XIV. The poor Benedictines living in the "hospice" called Le Bon Ami (the former house of prostitution) in the faubourg Saint-Germain had started selling off their furniture and household effects in order to survive. They had not so much as a bale of hay on which to sleep, and practically nothing to eat. The future was very dim indeed.

Temptation to Flee

Mother Mectilde was, at this time, thinking of withdrawing completely from what seemed to her an impossible situation. (Having lived through a number of impossible situations myself, I understand well her temptation to take flight.) She seriously considered exiling herself in the south of France to live as a hermit in the mountainous wilds of Sainte-Baume, the region that, according to tradition, was the place of Saint Mary Magdalene's long solitary penitence.

A Word in the Night

On Easter night 1651, an interior voice spoke to Mother Mectilde, saying, "Renounce, adore, and submit to my designs". In the grace of this word, she gave up her project of living as a hermit and, in pure faith, embraced the mysterious plan of God.

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Mother Mectilde and Abba Arsenius

I cannot help but compare this word spoken to Mother Mectilde with a similar word given to Abba Arsenius: Fuge, tace, quiesce, "Flee, be silent, be at rest." Mectilde is told to flee from her own projects, desires, and fears. She is told to adore God, perfect and loving in all His designs. Finally, she is told to submit, that is, to bow low beneath the Hand of God, cleaving to His Will with an unconditional and irrevocable "Yes".

The three words that Mother Mectilde heard spoken in her soul contain all that is necessary for one to be happy in this life and in the next. Would that I had the wisdom to repeat them to myself every time I experience temptation, fear, disappointment, or darkness: "Renounce, adore, and submit." These three words, in effect, go to the heart of what has been called the Mectildian-Benedictine charism. More on that later.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

The day came when there was no bread in the house. With her community around her, Mother Mectilde knelt down to say the Our Father. An instant later, who should arrive at the house but Monsieur de Margeuil, physician to Mother Mectilde's compatriot, the Duchess of Orléans, Margeurite de Lorraine. De Margueil, appalled by the destitute conditions he discovered, appealed to the Duchess of Lorraine for help. Without delay, a group of charitable noble ladies arrived in a flurry, bringing relief: the Marquise de Boves, the Marquise de Cessac, Madame Mangot, the Présidente de Hercé, and Marie de la Guesle, the Countess of Châteauvieux, who would become Mother Mectilde's closest spiritual friend.

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A Friendship

The indefectible friendship that grew up between the enclosed Benedictine and the grand lady of the world bore fruit in a remarkable correspondence. The Countess treasured Mectilde's letters to her, and gathered them into a volume that she called her "breviary". Happily, the so-called "breviary" of letters was copied, and has survived to the present. It represents, on the part of Mother Mectilde, a remarkably astute and demanding ministry of spiritual direction. The relationship between Mother Mectilde and Marie de la Guesle resembles, in many ways, that between Saint Teresa of Avila and her friend, the Duchess of Alba.

Providence

Father Bonnefonds, the Jesuit who had originally found the house at Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, took it upon himself to preach an eloquent appeal to benefit the Benedictines. As a result, he was able to present Mother Mectilde with a tidy sum. Then, the Bishop of Babylon, who lived quite nearby, spoke of the fledgling monastery to the parishioners of Saint-Sulpice, who responded generously to his request for help. With all of this, the financial situation of the monastery turned around, and its material future was assured.

To be continued.

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The photo shows the interior of the Abbey Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris. It was on the territory of the abbey that Mother Mectilde de Bar found a home for her community in a former house of prostitution in 1651.

Called to Caen

Just when Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde thought she was about to enjoy a respite of stability at Saint-Maur in Paris with her little group of Benedictine refugees from Lorraine, she was asked to take on yet another formidable task. The Benedictine community of Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours in Caen was in crisis. The six choir nuns and two lay sisters who composed the community were, to put it plainly, an ignorant lot. The prioress forbade all reading, and judged that one's crucifix could take the place of books. The community was severely dysfunctional.

A Three Year Interval

The secular patron of this sorry monastery, Madame the Marquise of Mouÿ, insisted that Mother Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde accept a three-year term as prioress to restore balance, and peace, and order to the community in Caen; in exchange, she promised financial support for the restoration of the monastery in Rambervillers, to which Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde still belonged by virtue of her Benedictine profession. Mother Bernardine, the prioress of Rambervillers, agreed to the arrangement, provided that Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde give in writing a promise not to forsake the monastery of her profession. When Mother Mectilde (as she was often called, leaving off the first part of her name) arrived at Caen, she found a community that was divided and hostile. With firmness, and with an extraordinary gentleness, she succeeded in winning over even the most recalcitrant old ladies among them. After three years, they did not want to let her go.

Return to Rambervillers and Flight to Paris

On 28 August 1650, Mectilde returned to Rambervillers, the monastery of her profession, hoping to disappear, at last, into the silence and hiddenness of an ordinary Benedictine life. Thanks to the generous financial support of the Marquise de Mouÿ, the house at Rambervillers was flourishing but, before long, the region around it again became a battlefield. The situation was worse than when the Swedes invaded. On 1 March 1651, Mother Mectilde, together with four young Sisters, left for Saint-Maur-des-Fossés in Paris, while six senior nuns remained at Ramerbervillers with Mother Bernardine.

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Adoration in a Former House of Prostitution

Mectilde arrived in Paris to find it in the midst of the revolt of the Fronde, and the complexities of the Franco-Spanish War. Louis XIV was on the throne, and the detested Cardinal Mazarin (see image) was his chief minister. Given the civil unrest in the capital, there was no way she and her charges could make their way to Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. They stopped to hear Holy Mass at Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs. There, Madame Butin, a pious parishioner recognized them as religious and offered them hospitality in her own home. A few days later, Mother Mectilde learned that the community of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés had taken refuge in a "hospice" in the rue du Bac of the faubourg Saint-Germain, and joined them there. This "hospice" was nothing other than . . . a former house of prostitution. It was in this house that the Institute of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament would be born. How like God!

To be continued.

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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